Shy Krug, Ph.D., CST
The Emotional Bank Account
For many, keeping some money in the bank as a "rainy day fund" is generally a wise idea. It's valuable to have some money in reserve should you have an unplanned home repair, medical procedure, or other significant expense. There may be times that this fund is a little low, times where you replenish it, and times where you may not even remember it's there but continue to feel the benefits of the peace of mind this fund offers.
We similarly have a bank account for our psychological or emotional currency. When we make a bid, or a gesture where one partner is seeking some emotional connection from the other, we are drawing currency out of our emotional bank account, putting it on the table, and hoping our significant other will receive that bid, and return some of their emotional currency in their response. What does this exchange look like, and what happens when this exchange takes place?
There are three ways to respond to any bid: turning towards, turning away, and turning against. "Turning towards" means you are receiving the bid. It does not mean you are necessarily agreeing to the bid request, but the bid is being acknowledged and being responded to. In doing so, the initiator of the bid feels heard and understood. For example, in response to the bid, "I have the funniest story to tell you!", a towards move can be, "What happened??", "I can't talk right now, but can we talk later tonight?", or "I had a really hard day and I'm really not in the mood to talk, can you tell me tomorrow?" All of these responses involve the listener receiving the bid and turning towards the giver of the bid, even if the answer to the request is "no".
"Turning away" means the listener literally turns away, or ignores, the bid. For example, making eye contact with someone and smiling and the other person turns their back in response, or saying, "How was your day?", and getting silence in return. In these examples, the initiator of the bid took money out of their emotional bank account and did not receive anything in return. There was an absence of an emotionally engaged response. This leaves the initiator of the bid feeling emotionally depleted.
"Turning against" a bid means the listener responds to a bid with aggression. For example, a woman walks in the house and says, "The most amazing thing happened at work today!", and her husband responds by saying, "That's the first thing out of your mouth!? Not, 'How was your day??' Why are you always so selfish!!" Or if someone extends their hand to offer to hold hands and the other person slaps their hand away. In these situations, the initiator of the bid not only does not have their desire for emotional connection met, they are actively harmed in the exchange. This may feel like the initiator's emotional bank account dips even lower. This makes future bids more difficult to make.
What is the impact on the "emotional bank account" when bids are made and responded to? When the initiator of the bid dips into their emotional bank account to extend a bid, there are different potential costs associated with doing so. Asking someone to pass the ketchup might be a relatively low cost bid. Telling someone you love them, for the very first time, can be an enormous investment of emotional energy. The higher the "cost" of the bid, or the higher the risk that a bid will not be "turned towards", the more calculus goes into determining if this is a worthwhile investment.
So what happens when a bid is "turned towards"? Let's say each individual in a relationship has $100 in their emotional bank account. If one were to greet their partner with "Hi, how was your day?", let's say they withdrew $5 from their emotional bank account in this bid. If the receiver takes that $5, then dips into their emotional bank account to turn towards the bid, you might think they are each back to $100. But that's not the case. In the exchange of each partner's emotional currency, there is interest on the investment. Now, instead of each person being at $100, they are each at $101. Each time a bid is made and turned towards, both individuals are recipients of the experience of connection and therefore more emotional currency. The initiator of the bid feels the reward of his or her bid being turned to, and the receiver of the bid feels the benefit of his or her partner reaching out to connect.
With each exchange of a bid and the response, there is an increased likelihood that additional bids will be made in the future and that those bids will be turned towards. This positive feedback loop allows for couples to build up their emotional currency and creates a "rainy day" fund where they can dip into their savings if necessary. This abundance of emotional currency also creates a greater likelihood for building the "positive perspective" discussed in the Sound Relationship House.
If you ever see couples that seem to be thriving together, to be operating with a different kinds of emotional energy, pay attention to their bids. You are likely to see a fluidity in their exchange of bids. Almost like you might see during a tennis match, there is constant back-and-forth of verbal and non-verbal bids in their communication. Similarly, for couples who seem to be struggling, who seem to have a lack of spark or energy in their relationship, pay close attention to what their bids look like. You are more likely to see individuals who feel their emotional bank accounts are depleted, and therefore, either do not extend bids to their partners, or who lack the emotional energy to "turn towards" bids that are extended to them.
For meaningful and fulfilling relationships, we must attend to our emotional bank accounts and make intentional deposits and withdrawals with the people who matter most.