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Life Planning

Are your emotional bank accounts in the red?


Kim Potgieter

Kim Potgieter

January 21, 2015
Feelings of resentment, guilt and distrust, or feeling as though you are owed something, are all signs that your emotional bank account is in the red.  And when these emotions go unchecked, they become corrosive, eating away at your most important relationships.

I see numerous couples every year and for the most part they are in reasonably good shape financially.  Most of them have a vision for their life’s journey, and if they don’t, it usually doesn’t take long to figure out what makes them tick and to help them make plans for their future.  What I spend most of my time doing, however, is relationship work.  I usually work with the couple, but my work often extends to the wider family too.  What I have discovered is that we often operate unconsciously, not realising how powerful our words and actions can be.  Those destructive emotions I mentioned earlier creep into our relationships surreptitiously.  While they go unnoticed at first, they multiply and compound over the years, and can eventually result in strained relations with the people we love the most.

One of the first tell-tale signs is fractured communication.  I am continually amazed at how often I have husband or wife sharing things with me that they wouldn’t dream of telling their partner.  It is, then, the powerful life planning process which puts them in a safe enough space to tell each other how they really feel.

Stephen Covey, in his book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families”, encourages us to implement a system of accounting when it comes to our personal relationships.  We all have an emotional bank account for each of our relationships.  One is for our relationship with our spouse, one is for each of our children and friends, and we also hold separate accounts for our mother, father, brothers and sisters.  And emotional bank accounts, like with normal bank accounts, work on a system of deposits and withdrawals.

You make deposits by proactively doing things that build relationships, and you make withdrawals by reactively doing things that decrease the level of trust.  At any given time, the balance of trust in the account determines how well you can communicate and solve problems with another person.

If you have a high balance in your emotional bank account with others, then there’s a high level of trust.  Communication is open and free.  Even if you make a mistake in the relationship, the emotional reserves will compensate for it.

But if the account balance is low or even overdrawn, then there’s no trust and thus no authentic communication.  It’s like walking in a minefield – you’re always on edge and watching every move you make.  Even your better intentions are misunderstood.

You make deposits by:

Doing something for someone else.  This could be something you don’t necessarily enjoy but which makes the other person happy.

Being kind to someone who is having a bad day, even if it just means listening and letting that person offload.

Saying the magic words “I’m sorry.”

Genuinely complimenting somebody

Try, however, to avoid tit-for-tat scenarios where you are accounting for every word, deed and action.  Rather use the emotional bank account to see everyday interactions as opportunities to build relationships of love and trust.  Use them as a way to become more conscious of your actions in your relationships, and how they affect the people you love.

Why not use the newness of spring to initiate a new way of approaching your most valuable relationships.  Start by evaluating your emotional bank accounts.  Are you overdrawn in your relationship with your spouse?  Perhaps there are feelings of being taken-advantage-of as far as a close friend is concerned.  I encourage you now to make intentional deposits where necessary.  Mend the rifts and imbalances, and go forward with a heightened awareness.

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