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The Emotional Bank Account: Is A Relationship Just About Making More Deposits Than Withdrawals?
By Heath Shive
Imagine the perfect mate. The two of you never argue, never fight, and never make fun of each other’s family.
This is basically the plot line of the classic movie The Stepford Wives.
But sweetness is not the same as flavor – which is why you don’t see a plain bowl of sugar on a dessert menu. Sometimes, it is the tartness (as in berries) or bitterness (as in chocolate) that makes something wonderful.
So what is the prime balance between sweet and sour?
Or in this case, what is the ratio of positive to negative that is healthy for a relationship?
To the science!
The Emotional Bank Account
The idea of a perfect mate is either impossible or pathological. Therefore, there has to be a mixture of positive and negative that psychologist John Gottman compared to a stable predator-prey dynamic – that “there is a balance between the necessary predator of negative affect and the necessary prey of positive affect.”
John Gottman is a noteworthy psychologist who specializes in couple dynamics. He runs a couple’s therapy think-tank called the Gottman Insititute. Blog articles for the institute regularly mention a concept called the Emotional Bank Account.
The concept is rooted in an earlier study by psychologists Gary Birchler, Robert Weiss, and John P. Vincent.
According to the Birchler team, nondistressed couples had a positive-to-negative (“pleases” to “displeases”) ratio of 29.6 to 1. Distressed couples only had a ratio of 4.3 to 1.
So you needed 29 pleasing moments to 1 negative moment to be a happy couple?
Gottman in one of his works reported that the ratio of positive to negative interaction during conflict resolution was 5 to 1, whereas the ratio was 0.8 to 1 in unstable marriages.
So 29 to 1 for "good," but at 5 to 1 the relationship needs help.
So if the relationship is getting “rocky,” you will need to make positive deposits in your Emotional Bank Account - because a little negative feels like a big withdrawal.
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Birchler, G.R., Weiss, R.L., & Vincent, J.P. (1975). Multimethod analysis of social reinforcement exchange between martially distressed and nondistressed spouse and stranger dyads. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 31, 349-360.
Gottman, J.M., Coan, J., Carrere, S., & Swanson, C. (1998). Predicting marital happiness and stability from newlywed interactions. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 60 (1), 5-22.
Hello! My name is Heath Shive, content manager at ScholarFox. I'll be the author of most of the blog posts. I'm a former geologist and currently a freelance writer. The world is complex and seemingly crazy. Good! Because when you love to learn, you'll never be bored.