How to Balance Your Emotional Debit and Credit Cards

Balancing financial budgets can be tough — even tougher are the emotional ones we unconsciously keep score of.

The ones piling up as yet another day goes by where your partner doesn't seem to hear you speak. Another day when you wait patiently to be noticed. Another day when your voice feels choked because what you want to say about how you feel never seems to come out right.

So in the end you keep a silent score until that long thin fuse is lit and slowly, ever so slowly the simmering burns until an emotional explosion over something so insignificant bursts into flame and that little voice inside shifts from whimpering to screaming.

Things change for a while. But it's not long before the prison bars feel as if they're closing in again and somewhere inside hope's flame feels as if it's being snuffed out.

Memories of early times together relieve the ho-hum of routine that's sapping any spark and ageing you beyond your years. But memories can't sustain you forever. 

So how long will this last? More importantly, how long can you last?

And what can you even do about it?

When people begin to worry their relationship has problems, many retreat into a private world hoping that if they put their head down the problem will go away.

While this may work in the short-term as a distraction strategy, it's perilous for long-term relationship recovery.

Dr John Gottman, relationship researcher, says that couples endure problems for about six years before seeking help. Six years of resentment building that makes sure the debit side of the emotional credit card is loaded with destructive evidence proving he or she is the wronged party.

Arguments are part of a healthy relationship. Yet when that's the only level of communication, and the arguments are designed to leave war wounds, the emotional score card has little chance of being balanced.

For every debit, there needs to be five credits added says Gottman, otherwise there's not enough to pad the inevitable fall resulting from diverse points of view.

As humans we're naturally wired to keep note of the negative. As psychologist, Rick Hanson says, "We've got a brain that's loading relational liabilities just like a balance sheet."

No One Is An Isolated Unit

These days I work with people aiming to make positive change in their life — and often this involves finding their purpose — their reason to be. Yet as part of this search the identity created within their relationships and the environment supporting them needs unpacking — layer by layer. Because often the reason for feeling ‘stuck’ in one’s life is found in the space filled with expectations about how a relationship ‘should’ be and what needs ‘must’ be met by it.

No one exists in isolation. And in relationships it’s easy for one partner to lose vitality and essence until all that’s left is a vapour — a whiff of what the person used to be.

Holding a Lens To Your Own Relationship Takes Courage and Wisdom

When relationship problems appear they’re usually expressed with a heavy dose of ‘negativity bias’. Leading with blame followed by justification, the emotional budget can sway heavily into debit against the partner deemed as ‘needing to be fixed’.

“If only he’d …”

“If only she’d …”

The sentence stems of blame often begin the same way.

So … where to start?

Personal integrity

All of us have needs. It’s in knowing what they are, how to express them and how to meet them that either keeps relationships together or ultimately splits them apart.

If in keeping a ‘relational peace’ one partner remains quiet and submissive, assuming the role of ‘emotional caretaker’ to a more demanding other, then abdication  of one's independence results.

Retreating to the small space inside to coddle wounds can feel safer initially in meeting the demands of an emotionally charged relationship. However, this hide-away can very quickly become a hole — and a very deep dark one to climb out of unless other strategies are learned.

Emotional hide-outs destroy intimacy because retreating into oneself means turtling in the hope of protecting soft underbellies that dislike confrontation. So the initial hope of 'keeping the peace' ends up feeling as if you're living in a desert with no mirage on the horizon to seek comfort in.

All we can be lies within ourselves. Our power. Our purpose. Our willingness to give and receive love.

And in knowing one’s needs and bringing personal integrity to how those needs are met means honouring your values and beliefs in such a way that positive healthy relationships are built.

Viktor Frankl wrote: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” 
(In other words, freedom comes when you’re not sucked into old habits.)

Virginia Satir (1916–88), a renowned relationship therapist, ran family workshops as part of her practice. During her workshops she offered a group activity, asking people to gently ‘bump’ into another participant’s belly button with their own. Her aim was to help people see our commonality — our shared sense of humanity and need for internal nourishment. We all come from the same connected place.

While belly buttons may unite us, once back in the job of ‘living’ each of us develops a set of ‘rules’ to live by. Whether we consciously are aware of these rules or not doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

Most would agree that a rule like: ‘stopping at red lights’ keeps us safe. If we follow the rule, we have a good chance of reaching our destination. Adopting rules often happens subliminally by watching and listening to others, seeing what works or doesn’t and modifying the process to suit one’s own needs.

One ‘rule’ I adopted from younger years was: ‘Happy and successful relationships don’t have arguments’. Not very realistic. With hindsight, I think it came from my mother who always hushed raised or angry voices at home with: ‘Shhh, the neighbours will hear — what will they think?’.

While I never recall her actually saying: ‘Happy relationships (aka happy families) don’t have arguments’ — that was the internal message I created from those childhood experiences.

Was it helpful? NOOOOOO!!! Did my belief system around relationships and raised voices need updating? YESSSSS!!!

Arguments and disagreements are problematic if they don’t respect another person. They’re a problem if one person feels intimidated to express an opinion and yelling is the result of pent-up steam being let off. It’s about holding one’s position as part of boundary setting and self-respect.

People in strong relationships look to gain greater awareness around how to communicate in ways that open opportunities for greater intimacy. How to express their own needs in positive ways and how to keep a balanced credit card so that needs are met within a supportive environment.

If you're interested in hearing more about how to build a more mindfully aware relationship, then you're invited to join an upcoming online seminar. Free registration.

A thought …

We learn relational patterns (and how to be in a relationship) through observing those around — usually parents and grandparents. Because of this, our lives can follow generational patterns.

If relationship-building skills are not updated so that you have a well-balanced accounting sheet that can survive a few rough patches, what will your children carry into their relationships that will affect not only their generation but also the ones following?

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