Do you know of a simple way to grow a positive, strong relationship with practically anyone – your parent, sibling, spouse or child? Let me introduce you to the Emotional Bank Account (EBA) Concept. The EBA works pretty much like the money you keep in a bank. Each time you deposit money, your balance grows. Each time you withdraw money, your balance drops. Meaning, in any relationship, each time you do something kind or thoughtful that is appreciated by the other person, your EBA grows.
To illustrate, suppose you had an argument with a sibling. You wish to make things better. You could perhaps make them a favourite drink, acknowledge a good deed they did in front of other family members or buy them a gift. Simple acts of kindness like these are examples of making deposits in your EBA with the other person. The more you do them, the bigger the balance you have.
On the contrary, doing unkind things that hurt the other person – not bothering to look up and listen when they have something important to share with you, leaving them in the dark on matters that concern both of you, making snide remarks about them in front of others – is akin to withdrawing your EBA. Each time you did any of these things, your balance drops.
What if a couple had tied the knot for years, and their relationship had slipped from loving and kind to tardy and uncaring to one another?
Chances are, they have made withdrawal after withdrawal to the point that their balance is negative. We may call this relationship “bankrupt”; there is nothing left in the balance.
The trick to grow your EBA over time is to be proactive. Every day, make it a point to ask yourself how you can perform simple acts of kindness to the other person.
What if you find yourself thinking, “Yeah, sure, I could be nice. But it seems that I’m the one who’s always making the extra effort to be nice.” Well, ask yourself: Why not? Realise that you have nothing to lose and everything to gain by being nice. Being nice and kind makes you feel good about yourself, which is a reward in itself.
Gratitude and love come together. Feeling grateful is a powerful form of growing love. So often, our expectations rise over time and the good things a person does is taken for granted. Familiarity may reduce a person’s worth in your eyes. Rather than feeling grateful for the little acts of kindness they did, you keep noticing the things they overlooked.
Have you ever been helped by a good Samaritan, a stranger who happened to be there at the right place, at the right time? Perhaps someone who gave up his seat for you in a packed train ride? Or a person who offered to carry your basket full of groceries?
We tend to appreciate acts of kindness more when it comes from someone we don’t know. Yet, when these kind gestures are done by someone we know well – parent, sibling, spouse or child – the fact that we are used to receiving them may reduce our sense of gratitude and appreciation.
Instead of feeling grateful, you began to take more notice of the things you expected the other person to do but missed.
You failed to notice how gently your spouse pulled the covers over you when you were drifting off to sleep dead tired from work. But you noticed how he kept leaving his smelly socks in his shoes. You failed to notice how many times she had sewn a loose button on your shirt. But you counted how many times she forgot to switch off the lights in the storeroom.
If this is you, it’s time you do a reality check on how much your expectations have changed over time. Familiarity tends to breed ingratitude. To combat this, every night before you go to bed, do a bit of muhasabah; an honest form of self-assessment. Instead of reflecting on how others failed to meet your expectations, ask yourself what you can do to make things better.
(Note: The above works in the absence of serious issues e.g. abuse or drug addiction or alcohol dependency.)
Featured Image by Sasin Tipchai