We all have our daily issues to work through, and we know that every relationship takes work if we want it to last. In recent memory, I’ve been involved in moderating a few difficult discussions, and it seems that in each case, regardless of the circumstance, people want to be heard. For more on how to hear and understand, check out Joseph’s last post on how to use the active skill of listening. From my time as a master’s student in Counseling, I always learned that one of the most fundamental principles to healing and growth came from empathy and understanding.
Despite the basic human need to be loved and cared for, we are often left to figure out how to do so properly on our own. Sure, we have examples from our parents and family members, but there is hardly any formal education to supplement. As a series of trial and errors, it’s easy to fall into certain habits and behaviors which aren’t conducive to developing a positive, healthy relationship. Unfortunately, we aren’t taught in school important aspects of everyday life such as emotional intelligence or financial literacy, and learning these basic principles could have a profound impact on the way we interact with others. As such, there’s an example that helps simplify and clarify things, and makes it easier to think about how we can impact our relationships, regardless of who they are with:
Try thinking of any relationship as a bank account. In life, money is a prime motivator. We spend so much time working for money, trying to ensure that the dollar amount goes up. We need money to function in society and many of us work hard to promote the life we want to live. Yet, when our balance gets too low, we panic, and consider taking on second jobs, refinancing, budgeting more carefully, restricting our spending, and so on. Conversely, in terms of an emotional bank account – do we put in the same amount of thought and effort? If our relationship is truly meaningful, like in the case of a good friend, family member, spouse, or God, it is of utmost importance that we make certain deposits each day in order to avoid “overdrafting”. Without putting in conscious effort to these relationships, we are only withdrawing from the metaphorical bank account, and without replacing some of what we take, eventually we use up all of our funds, thus ruining the account, or killing the relationship.
There are several deposits that we can make into the emotional bank account that will greatly benefit a relationship. These are talked about in greater detail in “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” but one of the most important deposits is understanding the other. At the end of the day, we all desire certain things, and among these is to be loved, cared for, and understood. Understanding can go a long way, because it allows you to be empathetic and feel what the other is feeling. It promotes a deeper connection and stronger bond. Failing to understand can be one of the most detrimental withdrawals from the emotional bank account, because it forces the opposing sides to compete with one another. Instead of working together on common ground, individuals often point out the other’s flaws in response to being misunderstood. If, instead of retorting with all the mistakes of others, one seeks to truly understand how and why the other individual is feeling a certain way, progress can be made. Understanding is a gift, and failing to understand is akin to shutting the bank account down altogether.
Another important deposit to the relationship’s bank account is keeping your commitments. In marriage, you promise to love through the good times and bad, and honoring this commitment each day is a key component. In faith, you often promise to “do your best,” and not give up. Most friends have similar interests, and could agree to “be a good friend” or “want the best” for the other. However, these commitments are often broad and don’t take into account the day-to-day steps necessary to make it work. Thus, this deposit can be achieved more easily by focusing on another deposit: little things are the big things. By doing little things each day, we can truly make a big difference. In a relationship, words of affirmation, quality time, acts of service, gifts, and physical touch are the primary love languages, and knowing your spouse’s or friend’s can help greatly. For example:
Words of Affirmation: sending out a nice text, sincerely saying thank you, giving a heartfelt apology, making a phone call to someone you haven’t spoken with in a while
Quality Time: stopping by to see a friend, spending a night without devices, going a small-staycation, taking a walk together
Acts of Service: doing something that he/she usually does before he/she gets the chance to, surprise-vacuuming the bedroom, getting gas
Gifts: picking up a favorite snack from the grocery store, flowers, making something (instead of buying)
Physical Touch: a warm smile, a simple kiss, a quick massage
These “little things” can make all the difference, especially when done consistently over time. Keeping these little gestures at the forefront of our minds on a daily basis can help keep the commitment, and thus fulfill two more vital deposits.
Deposits into a relationship’s bank account are not limited to these few examples. Much of the work will be dependent upon the type of relationship, and the individuality of the person you are dealing with. The important point to keep in mind is that if the relationship were a bank account, what would the balance be, and what would we be actively doing to help. St. Francis summarized the way to make the most deposits when he said: “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console; to be understood, as to understand; to be loved, as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.”
At the end of the day, whether your relationship is thriving or failing, a question you should ask yourself is: “am I making a withdrawal, or a deposit, into this bank account?”