Depositing Into the Relationship Bank

Sometimes I feel powerless to change or improve a relationship because of my tendency to assume that the other should change. However, every relationship takes at least two people, and therefore I have control over at least 50% of it. Therefore, regardless of whether the relationship is strong or needs improvement, I always have a choice as to whether to be proactive or passive in the dynamic.

Studies show that relationship resilience depends on how much goodwill and positive emotion has preceded a setback. In other words, I can strengthen a relationship by building positive emotion proactively. According to marriage researcher John Gottman, a successful couple has at least 5 good events/feelings to offset every 1 bad event/feeling.   Willard Harley, author of He Wins, She Wins describes this balance as a Love Bank, whose balance, whether positive or negative, determines whether one pursues a relationship or avoids it. Though less commonly described in terms of the workplace, the Love Bank can apply to colleagues and whether we decide to work with them or work to avoid them.

We may contribute to the creation of a bad relationship when we lack self-awareness of our role in the problem or are closed to our partner’s view of reality. Instead of trying to understand the perspective and viewpoint of the other, we often begin by blaming and needing to be right, then justifying our behavior. As mentioned above, my tendency is to assume the other needs to change rather than examining my own behavior, a habit that I’ve learned to consciously challenge.

Harley sheds light on this interplay by explaining that we tend to cycle between a giver and taker mentality in relationships. Being in the taker cycle may be natural but it is also potentially destructive over time. Blaming the other for being in a taker mentality helps us to avoid our own taker behavior. An honest appraisal of one’s own role in relationship dysfunction takes courage but can make all the difference in moving the relationship forward constructively.

Becoming more aware of such habits and tendencies can be difficult, especially if we are, on some level, trying to avoid the painful admission of our culpability. Regardless of where we are on the giver/taker cycle, every one of us could do a little better in terms of spreading positive energy and emotion to others. How can I cultivate my own positive emotion? How can I more effectively spread that to others? What can I do to help others be successful or feel more appreciated? What can I do to deepen my relationship and build trust and respect? How can I better the world, just a tiny bit, today?