Careful management of finances is an extremely important part of relationships and marriage. You may pay close attention to the balance in your joint bank account and take note of any large deposits or withdrawals. However, how much attention do you pay to your joint emotional bank account? In order to illustrate this concept and illuminate how much capital is in the emotional bank account shared by you and your partner, allow us to guide you through a short quiz.
Imagine the following scenarios playing out, and imagine how you and your partner would react if these situations were to arise in your relationship. We know that not all of these scenarios will apply to you, but that’s ok. The key is to imagine how they would be addressed were they to arise. If you do have trouble visualizing any of these scenarios, feel free to mentally replace them with a topic relevant to your particular relationship–but keep the choices of reaction shown below in the quiz the same.
1. You’re trying to figure out how to bring up a prenup without upsetting your partner. Although you don’t anticipate ever getting divorced, your parents taught you that a prenup is an important arrangement to have, just in case. You know that your partner, on the other hand, does not feel the same way. You anticipate that when you bring it up, your partner will…
A. Immediately suspect that you’re planning to leave them or scheming to steal their wealth.
B. React with a mixture of accommodation and defensiveness. They want to understand your position, yet they are also somewhat wary of your motives.
C. Listen calmly and try to understand where you’re coming from, even if they firmly disagree on the necessity of a prenup.
2. The prenup conversation has opened up a discussion about how you’re going to manage money during your marriage. One of you feels that all of both of your income should go into one (or multiple) joint accounts, whereas the other one thinks that you should both keep some of your money separate in order to retain a sense of independence and make purchases the other person isn’t on board with sharing. The two of you negotiate this difference in opinion with…
A. A heated discussion that may involve name-calling, raised voices, passive aggression, criticism, contempt, or defensiveness.
B. A conversation which may become a little intense at times, but which the two of you quickly manage to de-escalate and get back on track.
C. A good-natured inquiry into the reasons behind each of your views, with minimal suspicion of one another’s motives.
3. During this conversation, you begin to feel frustrated because you notice that your fiancé is interrupting a lot more than usual. You think that…
A. They are a very rude person sometimes; it’s completely uncalled for and it’s only a matter of time before you yell at them or storm out.
B. The interruptions are bothersome, and it’s becoming difficult to remain patient.
C. Their interruptions are annoying, but you can understand that this may be a difficult topic for them and you appreciate that they’re willing to engage in the discussion.
4. When you have something you want to share with your partner–be it good news, bad news, or a funny story–you expect that your partner will most likely…
A. Either respond minimally or invalidate your feelings.
B. Listen to what you have to share with a medium level of emotional engagement.
C. Enthusiastically engage with whatever you’re sharing, validate your feelings, and ask follow-up questions.
5. You come home from work and your partner seems to be in a bad mood. He or she snaps at you while you’re getting ready for dinner and walks off in a huff. You…
A. Get upset, ruminate on how rude they’re being, and retaliate or withdraw in a way that further escalates the tension.
B. Feel bad and take note of their transgression, but don’t do much (if anything) to escalate the situation.
C. Think they probably had a bad day, ask if everything is ok, and let it go without escalation. Your relationship is normally great and if they’re acting that way, it must be because something bad happened at work.
What’s an Emotional Bank Account?
Now let’s briefly explore what an emotional bank account is, then we’ll show you how to score the quiz and attempt to shed light on how the emotional bank account you share with your partner is doing.
You have joint emotional bank accounts for all of the relationships in your life–with your colleagues, your family, your partner, your friends, your acquaintances, and that guy who pours your coffee every morning. Every time you have a positive interaction with someone, that is akin to depositing capital into that emotional bank account (Gottman, 2015). And every time you have a negative interaction, you’re withdrawing capital from that account. Unfortunately, negative interactions withdraw a lot more capital than positive ones add. In fact, you need roughly five positive interactions to make up for one negative interaction (Gottman, 2015). Read each of the scoring tiers below to see what happens when there are varying amounts of capital in an emotional bank account.
Scoring: Give yourself…
-1 point for every ‘A’ answer
-2 points for every ‘B’ answer
-3 points for every ‘C’ answer
Your emotional bank account may be running a deficit. This happens when you have too many negative interactions with someone and not enough positive ones. When there are too many withdrawals (in the form of negative interactions) from an emotional bank account, that relationship goes into what is called ‘negative sentiment override’, or NSO. When a relationship is in a state of NSO, both parties are more likely to see the actions of the other person through a negative lens–even if no bad intentions are present. For example, if one person snaps at the other, it’s likely to be viewed as a significant transgression rather than overlooked. Even actions with positive intentions behind them may be misinterpreted in a negative light. Conflict is also more likely to arise when a relationship is in NSO, and when it does arise, it’s more likely to escalate and be more challenging to navigate gracefully (Gottman, 2015). This relationship is not on a good track. In order to turn this around, you’ll need to make sure you start having a lot more positive interactions and less negative ones.
Your emotional bank account is doing ok. There’s not an abundance of capital, but it’s not running a deficit, either. The relationship is neither in a state of negative sentiment override or positive sentiment override. This means that you’re neither overwhelmingly forgiving and adoring of one another, nor overwhelmingly wary of one another. One big negative interaction or a series of smaller negative interactions could easily tip the scales in the wrong direction, though. Be mindful of this account and consider intentionally cultivating some more positive interactions.
Your emotional bank account is doing great; there’s an abundance of capital. You’re very wealthy! This usually happens as a result of a large quantity of positive interactions between the two of you. When you have a lot of positive interactions (and the amount of negative interactions is about 5x less than positive), your relationship goes into a state of positive sentiment override, or PSO. When a relationship is in a state of PSO, both people tend to view one another through a positive lens. Small transgressions are overlooked, and any conflict that arises is unlikely to escalate much and is dealt with gracefully without causing significant damage to the relationship (Gottman, 2015). This relationship is strong; make sure you keep it that way by continuing to engage in plenty of positive interactions.
Whenever you need to have an important conversation–be it about whether or not you need a prenup, how you’re going to manage your wedding budget, if you should have kids, or where to live, having a lot of capital in your emotional bank account will help you arrive more smoothly at an agreement or plan that meets both of your needs. Healthy and wealthy emotional bank accounts also make your day-to-day interactions feel more pleasant, fun, and safe, and enhance your overall physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Happy couples work to nurture their emotional bank accounts at least as much as their monetary ones.
Gottman, John. 2015. The Seven Principles For Making Marriage Work: A practical guide from the international bestselling relationship expert.
Julia Rodgers is HelloPrenup’s CEO and Co-Founder. She is a Massachusetts family law attorney and true believer in the value of prenuptial agreements. HelloPrenup was created with the goal of automating the prenup process, making it more collaborative, time efficient and cost effective. Julia believes that a healthy marriage is one in which couples can openly communicate about finances and life goals. You can read more about us here Questions? Reach out to Julia directly at [email protected].