You Don’t Have to Be Rich to Have an Emotionally Wealthy Marriage

Why it is not important to be rich to have an emotionally wealthy marriage?

It turns out the number one thing couples fight about is nothing.

This not-so-earth-shattering discovery was made in Dr. Gottman’s Love Lab after spending more than 40 years studying over 3,000 couples. These couples were not arguing about specific topics like sex, money, or in-laws. They were fighting about the failure to connect emotionally.

Every couple has what Dr. Gottman calls an Emotional Bank Account. When we turn towards Our partner’s bids for connection, we make a deposit. When we turn away, we make a withdrawal. Just like a real bank account, a zero balance is trouble.

An Emotional Bank Account grows when partners make more deposits than withdrawals.

In a six-year follow-up study of newlywed couples, couples who remained married turned toward their partner’s bids for emotional connection 86% of the time in the lab, while those who divorced averaged 33%.

The difference between happy and unhappy couples is how they manage their Emotional Bank Account. Let’s see how this plays out in Wendy and Scott’s relationship as they watch football together on a Sunday afternoon.

Wendy: [Scrolling through Facebook] This hurricane is horrible. I feel so bad for all the people who are losing homes. One of my friends forgot to renew their insurance and lost everything. Isn’t that sad?

Scott: [No response]

Scott turns away from Wendy’s bid, missing an opportunity to make a deposit into their Emotional Bank Account. One single moment like this isn’t that important, but it can compound over time, creating disconnection and distance between partners.

Wendy: [Scrolling through Facebook] This hurricane is horrible. I feel so bad for all the people who are losing homes. One of my friends forgot to renew their insurance and lost everything. Isn’t that sad?

Scott: [Watching the game] That’s terrible. Who?

Wendy: The Johnsons.

Scott: Devastating.

Wendy: Right? I’ll message them and see if there’s anything we can do to support them.

Scott: Great idea. [Continues to watch the game]

Scott turns toward Wendy’s bid, making a deposit in their Emotional Bank Account. He isn’t even that engaged in the conversation, and that’s okay. The key is that he acknowledges her.

Seemingly unimportant moments like this one are essential because each time partners invest in their Emotional Bank Account, they are building up saving that can be used when times get tough.

When the Emotional Bank Account is in the green, partners tend to give each other the benefit of the doubt during the conflict.

They keep their relationship in the positive perspective. When the Emotional Bank Account is in the red, partners tend to question each other’s intentions. They hold grudges.

 

Creating an emotional plan

You have the power to change your relationship by changing how you make and respond to bids for connection. However, not all bids are considered equal. Some are more positive or more negative than others.

So how do you measure the balance of your Emotional Bank Account?

Here is what Dr. Gottman found in his research:

  • To be satisfied in the relationship, couples must focus on increasing deposits and minimize withdrawals
  • 5 positive interactions to every 1 negative interaction during conflict
  • 20 positive interactions to every 1 negative interaction during everyday life

Why the difference? Because when couples are in the heat of conflict, they are already in a negative state, so the added negativity is to be expected. This 5:1 ratio does suggest that you still need to say and do five positive things for every negative thing, even during an argument.

When you’re going through your day and you’re suddenly interrupted by a negative interaction, on the other hand, it has a much bigger impact on your Emotional Bank Account.

It stands that an emotionally wealthy marriage is not cultivated during a two-week vacation to Hawaii. Instead, it’s built on a daily routine of positive habits and interactions.

As Dr. Gottman explains, “For many couples, just realizing that they shouldn’t take their everyday interactions for granted makes an enormous difference in their relationship.”

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The Gottman Institute
The Gottman Institute uses over 40 years of research on thousands of couples to provide research based tips on how to make love last. Our research has saved troubled relationships and strengthened happy ones. Get your free copy of 7 Signs Your Relationship Will Last by clicking hereWorkshot for Couples Professional Training Certificate Courses
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