Relationships and Banking

August 2, 2010

You’ve probably heard this analogy before – relationships are like bank accounts. Couples therapists often use this explanation to help people conceptualize what they do (and don’t do) in relationships, in a way that’s easily understood. Often an “aha” is heard as one partner (or both) finally get it, finally understand.

We all make deposits, withdrawals, accrue interest, hit the ATM and from time to time, make financial goals. Now let’s look at how similar factors are at play in our relationships.

First, there is the issue of deposits and withdrawals. In healthy relationships, as in healthy bank accounts, there is an appropriate balance between deposits and withdrawals. When partner give/invest/deposit to each other, they build up a sizeable account of good will, appreciation and love. There’s plenty there to allow for reasonable withdrawals. But there isn’t a healthy balance if one person’s “account” isn’t adding up and the withdrawals are greater than the deposits (a bad sign in banking and relationships). If they feel that they are consistently giving more than they’re getting – in the form of investment, attention, communication, respect, help, intimacy, plans, etc – then we’re looking at a potentially bankrupt relationship. Just as it is important to balance your checkbook, check your financial statemtents and make sure your finances are on track, it is also important to develop a process of checking in with each other and ourselves to make sure we feel a sense of balance and that our relationship “accounts” are healthy and strong.

Second, there is “interest.” In healthy relationships, people grow stronger, are free to challenge themselves and each other, set goals (individually and together), and have the support to follow through with them. The relationship improves over time, as each person continues to invest in it, and in themselves. The more positive deposits we make, the more our “interest” grows and the better the relationships feels over time.

Third, there is “overdraft protection.” What if there isn’t a balance? What if one person feels they are always giving and not receiving? Communication skills (learned from books, classes, etc) and maybe even counseling could be that protection. When we feel out of balance, it’s important to take action so that we can reverse the trend and figure out a way to meet our needs. The balance may be “off,” but you can make sure there is a safety net to help you get back on track. Talking about the issues can help identify problems, get to the root of them, and figure out helpful/productive ways to work toward establishing a more mutually satisfying relationship.

Most of us will periodically stop at the ATM and make a quick withdrawal. The question is – do we do it carefully, with consideration for how it will affect our financial health (especially if we do it often), or do we do it mindlessly (oh, what’s another $20 for a few more sodas..). Like money, love and positive regard can disappear all too easily if we don’t treat them thoughtfully, carefully and with a deliberate plan to nurture and grow them.

The information in bank accounts are cold, hard facts. They are numbers that reflect the actual situation. Things are clear – it’s all right there in black and white when you get your statement. If only everything in life was so easy to understand! Relationships don’t have such clear statements, strict accounting, or simple solutions (cut out the extra sodas and you’ll save $200 more per year!), but it is still important to monitor your deposits and withdrawals; and work towards building up “interest” and protection from overdrafts.

Save, invest, build up your interest…and enjoy the rewards.

Dr. Sarah DeMichele, is Council for Relationships’ Director of Medical Services and Senior Staff Psychiatrist in our University City and Center City offices. She can be reached at 215-382-6680 ext. 3111.