Developing and maintaining the satisfaction and happiness of our marriage is like putting money in the bank. When we make deposits in our relationship account, we build a positive balance. When we make too many withdrawals from our relationship account we soon have a deficit. All couples are happier when our relationship accounts are in the black, not in the red. But red numbers have their purpose too. They warn us to make some deposits or risk bankruptcy!
How do we make deposits in our relationship?
We have many opportunities every day to make deposits in our relationship account. Whenever we turn towards our spouse, responding positively, we add to our account. Most of our deposits are small, but like cents, they can mount up over time. Dr. John Gottman’s research shows that the key to keeping marriages fulfilling is three words: small things often.
Let’s look at some ways we can reach out for connection and ways we may respond. But first, some definitions. In the table below, approaches are the ways we try to create a moment of connection with our spouse. Responses are the different ways we show that we want to connect too.
|A glance, a wink, a nod||A smile, a wave, a flying kiss|
|A message||A smiley face or short answer|
|Calling their name||“What?” spoken pleasantly|
|A pat, a kiss, a hug||A reciprocal physical sign of affection|
|Ask for help by word or action||Offer to help|
|Express a need or desire||Recognition and plan for fulfilling|
|Offering to help or do a chore||Gratefully accepting|
These were all positive responses to different kinds of approaches. Practiced consistently, they will all add to the happiness of your relationship. In other words, you get a richer marriage through investment.
How do we make withdrawals in our relationship?
We also have many opportunities to withdraw from the relationship account. Our negative response may be to turn away from our mate or to turn against them. Turning away will subtract a small amount, but turning against subtracts much more. Note that all of the reactions in the table below are negatives. The difference is the degree of irritation or outright hostility they express. Those on the left (turning away) are irritating. Those on the right are much more damaging.
|Turning Away||Turning Against|
|Not responding to our name being called||Snarling, “What!”|
|Ignoring comments- too distracted to hear||Answering with a complaint or criticism|
|Forgetting appointments with spouse||Not making appointments with spouse|
|Getting discouraged||Picking fights|
Whenever we turn away from, or turn against our spouse, we hurt our relationship. It is not possible to make deposits in your relationship account if you don’t choose to turn towards your spouse when they send a cue for connection. When we notice too many withdrawals, we must move quickly to deposit time, attention, and action into our relationship.
We may be missing the cues our spouse sends us because we are not aware of their needs.
When we were courting, we took great pains to anticipate and see their needs. When a slight cloud crossed their face, we diligently searched out the cause and made the adjustments needed to bring the sunshine back.
After marriage, and especially after baby, we may get so busy and preoccupied that we miss the cues our spouse is sending. Now, instead of a cloud, it takes a thunderstorm to get our attention.
Time for Some Practice
Try our Expressing Desires Exercise to boost your positive connections and add to your relationship account.
A final note. All the information and the exercises in this article are based on professional research of thousands of couples. You can see more about that research by visiting this website: Gottman Institute
Learn more about Turning Towards Instead of Away with this Gottman article.
The next article in this series is Relationship Disconnects.