We all understand the importance of having a bit of money put aside in the bank against a ‘rainy day’. If we don’t have this cushion and something happens to challenge our financial stability, things can go south pretty fast.
In the same way, it is important to build up emotional capital in our relationship to help it withstand threats and negativity. According to marriage expert, John Gottman, for every negative interaction between couples, such as a piece of hurtful criticism, it takes at least five positive interactions, such as doing something thoughtful for the other person, to restore the balance.
So, you can see that in times when a couple is under pressure, it is quite easy to seriously deplete the emotional bank balance- and some relationships ‘go bankrupt’ and never recover from this.
Investing in your relationship
Investing emotionally in our relationship through expressions of love, compliments, kindnesses, having fun together, showing respect for the other’s opinion and needs, can provide a cushion against hard times.
And, perhaps even more importantly, we can try and become more aware of how we are depleting our emotional capital through negative behaviours. When a relationship fails most people assume that someone did something terrible, but often it is ultimately down to the insidious build up of sarcasm, criticism and eye-rolling which left the relationship in the red and unable to recover when it hit a stressful period caused by, say, illness, or redundancy.
How to deal with criticism
If you’re the one who is always criticised, try not to react defensively by finding something in your partner to criticise back. Instead try to get to the bottom of what they actually want. If they are reasonable and loving this should stop them in their tracks, and get things back on an even keel.
If you’re the criticiser, try and become more aware of what you’re doing. Particularly if we grew up in a family where criticism was frequent, we may not fully realise how damaging constant criticism can be. We probably also spend a lot of time criticising ourselves. Cutting back on criticism does not of course mean that we should just put up with whatever our partner does, but there are more effective and less damaging ways of getting our needs met.
Instead of saying something, ‘Why do you never clear up after yourself? You’re so inconsiderate’, we could try actually asking for what we want. ‘ All these dirty plates piling up makes me feel really stressed. Do you think you could try putting them in the dishwasher as you go?’ Asking in this kind of way won’t run down the emotional bank balance in the same way, and, frankly, is much more likely to get the result you want because the other person won’t feel as ‘got at’.