Romantic comedies and other such movies have severely distorted our ideas about what it means to truly be in love. Women may lose it over Ryan Gosling, Ryan Reynolds, or other leading men named Ryan that they (and their male counterparts) often forget what real romance looks like. Yes, I will admit that it would be swoon-worthy to have Mr. Gosling proclaim that he’s a bird if I’m a bird. But then I remember my own relationship with my husband and quickly snap out of it (in a good way!). The foundation on which a solid, healthy, and happy relationship is built doesn’t look anything like that.
Relationships are built on trust, love, care, and support. Only in the minutia of the day to day interactions can partnerships be built (or in some cases torn down). If you are complaining about your bad day at work, whether your spouse says, “I don’t know why you don’t just let that go” versus “I’m so sorry. That sounds really stressful” can make all the difference. Couples who are feeling distant, argumentative, and emotionally disconnected often complain that they perceive their spouse as unsupportive. But how do you fix that? Well John Gottman, researcher and creator of a unique style of couple’s therapy, has one way to answer that question: The Emotional Bank Account exercise. Gottman hypothesizes that by proactively turning towards your partner in a supportive manner you are building up a savings account that can be drawn from later during times of distress. It also, in my opinion, improves emotional connection and communication skills with your spouse.
So what is it and how do you do it? Schedule 30 minutes once per week (to be increased over time) to sit down with your partner. Each partner is given 15 minutes to discuss and talk about their life stressors (ideally not about the relationship itself). During your spouse’s time, your task is seemingly simple: only respond in a way which engenders deposits in his or her emotional bank account. This means no criticizing, offering advice, or making it about you. Then when your spouse is done it’s your turn. Seems simple enough at face value. However, if your relationship has been struggling, you may notice it winds up being harder than it sounds.
Having trouble in your relationship? Interested in learning more about how to do the emotional bank account exercise? Schedule an appointment for therapy by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org .
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