The Emotional Bank Account

Welcome to format Free Fridays at, the one day a week when I break the format of answering your questions and I dispense that which we rarely welcome in life: Unsolicited advice.

A good friend called me this week in a crisis.  His partner had cheated on him and he was devastated.

“Deep breath,” I told him.  “You’re not alone and we’ll get you through this.”

“I know I’ll get through it.  It happened with my ex.  But Jesus, do you know how much fucking work it took to rebuild the trust after that?  I just don’t know if I have the strength.”

I couldn’t dispute his reality.  I know how difficult rebuilding trust can be.  And it got me thinking about the inequity of trust:  A hundred good actions and words don’t equate to one lie.  When it comes to emotions, it seems the currency of negativity clearly outweighs the currency of positivity.  And it reminded me of a metaphor I’ve used with couples:  The Emotional Bank Account.

The emotional bank account works like a financial bank account.  Each partner makes deposits by saying and doing positive things and periodically, one or both partners makes a withdrawal by saying and/or doing something negative.  If you think of a deposit as having the value of 1 dollar and a withdrawal as having the value of 100 dollars, you begin to understand why my friend was overwhelmed by the amount of work it will take to repair the trust in his relationship.

Each relationship that we have has an emotional bank account.  I have one with each of my clients, with my wife, with each of my family members and with each of my friends.  Take 5 minutes to assess where you stand with each emotional bank account.  Are you in the Red?  Black?

Emotional bank accounts build over time by making consistent deposits of honesty, empathy, thoughtful acts and support.  Spend the next week looking for opportunities to beef up your deposits.  Show up on time.  Initiate plans.  Bring home his/her favorite dessert without being asked.  Offer to bring a co-worker a Starbucks on your way back to the office.  By the end of the week, you’ll find that you feel more confident in each of these relationships, and it won’t be coincidental.  Now go on.  Do something good.