Emotional Bank Account

When you are kind, honest, caring and friendly to another person, you make deposits on an Emotional Bank Account. However, if you are unkind, disrespectful, uncaring and mean, you draw from this account.

Stephen Covey (The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People) uses the metaphor of Emotional Bank Account to describe “the amount of trust that’s been built up in a relationship” (p. 188). Trust is needed for a relationship to thrive. Without trust, we may manage to accommodate and endure another person, however, it cannot be mutually satisfying in the long run.

It is easy to take another person, a spouse or friend, a relative or anyone we deal with, for granted. Yet, the level of good will that exists in the relationship determines the well-being and ease we feel. It provides the foundation we can build on.

We don’t need money to make a deposit on the Emotional Bank Account of any relationship, and won’t feel richer if we withdrew from it. Nevertheless, it is so easy to waste and erode the level of trust by being thoughtless and critical.

Imagine, a kind word, a compliment, a smile, all add up; while putting down or blaming someone takes away.

When we have a comfortable wealth on our emotional bank account, the relationship is stable so that we can afford to have disagreements or arguments, without immediately seeing red and/or throwing the baby out with the bath-water. Conflicts can be resolved. But when our account is low or even overdrawn, the relationship is in danger. We can’t afford any more withdrawals and need to be mindful to make deposits again, so it can be salvaged and survive.

Sometimes couples wait until it is almost too late before they reach out for support. The sooner downward spiraling patterns can be identified and reversed, the easier it is to regain the trust and good will that provides the basis for any relationship to survive and thrive.

In line with this metaphor is the observation that Michaela Gloeckler shared at a recent conference: Appreciation nurtures our energy body, while criticism drains it.

Just notice what happens to you when you express appreciation. And how do you feel when you are critical? Try to spend a few hours just being appreciative with everyone around you. What happens to your energy level, to your life forces?

Stephen Covey describes 6 major ways of making deposits on the Emotional Bank Account: understanding the individual; attending to little things; keeping commitments; clarifying expectations; showing personal integrity; and apologizing sincerely when you make a “withdrawal”.

Often we are stuck in our own way of thinking and look at the world outside in the same way. To understand the individual means to consider the difference and to cultivate a genuine interest. Do we ask questions with an open mind and heart?

The love and care we feel for another person is expressed in little things, small gestures, courtesies. It is important not to underestimate those. When we consciously set the intention “to be kind” on a daily basis, then our actions are influenced by that. What are the aspirations and intentions that guide us?

We need to be careful when we make commitments. Not to keep them is a major withdrawal from our emotional bank account. What are we really able and willing to commit ourselves to?

Unclear expectations can undermine our communication and trust. “The cause of almost all relationship difficulties is rooted in conflicting or ambiguous expectations around roles and goals.” (Covey, p.194) What are our expectations? Do we communicate them with each other?

We show personal integrity when we “walk our talk”. We also manifest it by refraining from talking badly about someone else, by being “loyal to those who are not present” (ibid. p. 196).

When we make a mistake and someone else gets hurt, it is important to sincerely apologize, from the heart. This is hard to do for people with little inner security. Covey quotes Leo Roskin saying: “It is the weak who are cruel. Softness can only be expected from the strong.” (ibid. p.198)

As we become more loving with ourselves, it is easier to be loving with others. This process can be supported by both partners in an intimate relationship.

We often suggest to couples we work with to cultivate good will by taking time for each other, focusing on what is good in the relationship, and sharing at least one praise a day with each other. It doesn’t have to be big. It may be something that you got used to and took for granted. Notice! Be thankful!

Of course, we can also offer a smile, a kind gesture, a friendly comment to people we work with, to our neighbours, the man/woman in the shop. Just notice how it makes you feel, and observe how you become more and more wealthy on all your emotional bank accounts.

Mirjam Busch & Rudolf Jarosewitsch


Copyright © 8/2000 by Rumijabu | Originally published in Southshore Beacon #120, August 2000

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