At coffee this morning with a buddy of mine, we were discussing his “emotional bank account” with his wife and the balances/imbalance thereof. While many relationship books and advice talk about this “bank account” and the importance of keeping it in “balance”, this has never sat well with me. In my experience, the problem is not the absolute balance in the emotional bank account at any one time, but the degree of AGENCY you allow the balance is this fictitious “account” over your mood and actions at any given point in time. In short over attachment to the emotional account balance is the problem. The solution is to remove the attachment, reduce the agency of the absolute balance at any one time. As with most things, focus on the process, the journey, not one point in time measurement.
By focusing on the “balance” at any one point in time, one can lose focus of the bigger picture: the journey. That is the core problem with allowing a measurement tool like the emotional bank account to determine or influence your reaction to the world or your current mood. Let us consider the three possible states of the account and the natural reactions to each.
- Even. You feel like the balance in the account is even between you and your partner. Everything is easy, peasy. In balance. And boring! What happens in this state too long is you get restless. Nothing is happening. There is no drama either way. So you get complacent and bored. And you do something to put it out of balance mostly out of boredom rather than any malice. In my experience, “even” has never been a long-term state of an account like this. While ‘even” may seem like a laudable goal, when I have been in it, it never lasts and never satisfies. Identification with an “even” balance in the account always leads to boredom and an abrupt state change in my experience.
- Negative. When my balance is at a deficit somehow. Either I am not getting enough of what I want/need/desire (all problematic words in themselves), or when my partner tells me they are not getting enough (meaning I have not put enough into my side of the equation). However it is calculated, when I feel like I am in a “negative” state, feelings of guilt, shame, unworthiness come up. Also, self-righteousness can rear it’s head “I deserve better than this”, “I am doing all I can and it still isn’t good enough for XXX, why am I bothering?” So I get sensitive and defensive which is never a good state to be in, especially if trying to have a relationship. I have found it is very hard to grow to a positive place when I am focused on how negative the balance in an account is and how much I “deserve” more/better balance. Identification with a “negative ” balance in the account always leads to defensiveness and makes progress out of that state even harder in my experience.
- Positive. When my balance is positive in my favor somehow. Either I have put in (in my mind) multiple deposits over and above the average, or in relation to my “other” in the deal, I am somehow “better” than the other at some point in time. This causes feelings of superiority, separation, and more self-righteousness. Identification with a “positive” balance in the account always leads to feelings of superiority/separateness and makes connections even harder in my experience.
In my experience, I am not happy in any “state” of the emotional balance account. Given that no state of the account produces contentment, nor is any state a stable state (they always change), the best way to deal is to transcend the attachment to ANY STATE. This is not the same as ignoring or denying the existence of the emotional balance sheet. It is a real thing. People generally keep the register in their head. The register is not the problem. It is your identification with any particular STATE of the register which is the problem. You are not your emotional balance sheet state. Transcend identification with the state and you are then FREE of that burden. Be aware of the state, make deposits and withdrawals, but do not IDENTIFY with the STATE.
Also published on Medium.