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How Your "Emotional Bank Account" Makes Or Breaks Any Relationship


When we talk about "staying away from negative people" or we say "so-and-so is toxic" - we are addressing issues of safety. In The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (one of my favorite books!), Stephen Covey mentions a concept called "The Emotional Bank Account". It's a very key one - for reasons I will make clear below.

The Emotional Bank Account is a metaphor used to illustrate the degree of trust that's built up in a relationship. It's the feeling of safety that you have with another human being.

Ways to Add to The Emotional Bank Account
Just like a real bank account, one can deposit into someone else's Emotional Bank Account by:

  • Being Courteous
  • Showing Kindness
  • Being Honest
  • Keeping Commitments
  • etc.

When the Emotional Bank Account is high, there is a high degree of trust.

Advantages and Benefits of Making Deposits
When trust is high in a relationship, it provides a good foundation for long term happiness. An Emotional Bank Account where both people regularly create deposits, allows for the following:

  • Slipups aren't big big deals (the emotional reserve will take care of it)
  • Communication is straightforward, instant, and effective
  • "Wording" is not so important, meaning and intent are understood

Ways to Withdraw from The Emotional Bank Account of Others
Just like a real bank account, one can additionally withdraw from The Emotional Bank Account of others. Withdrawing can happen accidentally (we all make mistakes), but when it happens too much, the account can be OVERDRAWN -- trust levels get too low. Safety is on the line.

Ways to withdraw from The Emotional Bank Account of other people:

  • Displaying discourtesy
  • Being disrespectful
  • Cutting others off
  • Overreacting
  • Ignoring the other person
  • Betraying trust
  • Threatening the other person
  • etc.

What Happens When an Emotional Bank Account is Overdrawn?
In no time, trust levels go down when Emotional Bank Accounts are withdrawn from. Safety is at risk. The following can happen:

  • Walking on eggshells
  • You have to be careful about the words used
  • Every word is measured
  • Tensions are high
  • You have to protect yourself
  • Flight or Fight modes of being
  • Hostility and Defensiveness
  • Silence or refusal to talk

Why Should We Care? My Thoughts on The Emotional Bank Account...
Make sure you are making DEPOSITS into the Emotional Bank Account of others - and not withdrawing. It's uncomplicated.

Relationships are the heart of life. The Emotional Bank Account is essential to healthy, positive relationships that inspire you. For relationships like marriage - deposits need to happen on a regular basis. People break up and divorce because they feel victimized -- or in other words, they feel the other person has OVERDRAWN from their Emotional Bank Account for too long. They have had it.

Karma is real.

You get, what you give. If all you are doing is withdrawing from other's Emotional Bank Account, after a while, others will start to get back at you. Fight or flight follows - which will begin draining your Emotional Bank Account.

Stephen Covey gave a great example that I feel, many kids experience:

“Suppose you have a teenage son and your normal conversation is something like, ‘Clean your room. Button your shirt. Turn down the radio. Go get a haircut. And don’t forget to take out the garbage!’ Over a period of time, the withdrawals (from your emotional bank account) far exceed the deposits.

Now suppose this son is in the process of making some important decisions that will affect the rest of his life. But the trust level is so low and the communication process so closed, mechanical, and unsatisfying that he simply will not be open to your counsel. You may have the wisdom and the knowledge to help him, but because your account is so overdrawn, he will end up making his decisions from a short-range emotional perspective, which may well result in many negative long-range consequences.

You need a balance to communicate on these tender issues.”

Now isn't that the most insightful quote you have ever read? Makes a lot of sense. This is why advice like: "Focus on the positive aspects of your relationship" or "you are being too sensitive" doesn't help. The account is going on empty.

Of course Assertiveness Strategies -- what this website is about -- is to enable you to maintain the flow of deposits with each other. To not allow others to withdraw from your account - while also, not withdraw from their account -- is an art!

Deposits or withdrawals can have a long term effect. Children can harbor resentment and anger towards their mothers and fathers much much later in life because of the withdrawals from their Emotional Bank Account when they were younger.

And the opposite is true. Friends who haven't seen one another for so long, can pick up where they left off - simply because the deposits made from long prior, allow for the easiness of the relationship years later.

The choice is always yours. To deposit or withdraw is up to you.