A few weeks ago, my husband I took a workshop to help us strengthen our relationship in preparation for the birth our baby and our transition to parenthood. Our relationship was already great, but we were definitely in get all the lists done mode. We went for a couple of reasons:
Partly because I’m a tool junky – the more high-quality tools in our relationship tool box, the better. And because having a baby for the first time is a huge unknown, especially in regards to a marriage.
So I thought of this as making a disaster preparedness kit – you know, like the one you keep in your car, or on the way out the door, just in case – except for our relationship.
It was an excellent workshop (seriously – if you are in need of a relationship tune up, check out The Gottman Institute. They’ve done their research and their tools are top-notch).
One of the things they talked about was the idea of filling up our own and each other’s emotional bank accounts by learning to turn towards each other rather than away. When our emotional bank account is full, it means that we feel close and connected. An empty account means that we feel distant, disconnected, isolated or even resentful.
If you find that you’re arguing a lot in your relationship, or are unable to help each other solve problems or work to find solutions, then it might mean that your emotional bank accounts are low or empty. Your accounts are foundational to your relationship – everything else builds on top of it. So a very important question becomes – how do you fill your emotional bank account?
You fill your emotional bank account turning toward each other when bids are made. Bids are the way a person expresses what they need at the moment. By tuning in and turning toward each other, our accounts get filled up.
In other words, you choose to set down the to-do list for a few minutes and instead choose to listen to an engage with your partner, to have the types conversations that brought you together in the first place. You make a choice to tune into each other, be with each other, and have fun together.
We all have emotional bank accounts, whether we’re in a relationship or not. We have personal accounts that relate to how well we function in the world.
When our personal emotional bank accounts are full, we feel connected with life, happy and at ease. We solve problems and manage stress like a boss. We get our shit done and have energy left at the end of the day. We are happy with life.
But when our accounts are empty, we feel disconnected with life, scattered, scared and in constant effort just to keep the ship from sinking. We don’t manage stress well, we might not sleep well, and find ourselves eating a dinner of jalepeno cheese puffs and grape juice. We’re overwhelmed with life.
For your bank account to be full, the rules of the fulfilling the relationship-related emotional bank account still apply, but toward yourself – you must choose to set down the to-do list and turn toward yourself. To tune in and turn toward yourself and choose to get your needs met. If your account is just a little low, filling it up might simply be treating yourself to a healthy meal to help your body feel better. But if your account is really low, you might need to no to everything you can for a week. Take a personal day. Tell your family or your friends to stay home so you can nestle into your couch like a queen and enjoy your favorite fantasy novel. Maybe you’ll still choose the cheese puffs, who knows?
You know what blocks the filling of the emotional bank account like no other thing can? Perfectionism.
That nasty, nasty energy that prances around in your space like a sleek, leather-clad assassin, guns blazing right at your fun list, keeping you on track to accomplish all of your to-do’s rightthisminute unless the guns be turned on you.
Perfectionism will kill your fun. It will shoot holes in your emotional bank account. It will turn you toward your tasks like the angry task master that it is, all because it’s afraid of what it means to not accomplish, not perform, not complete.
In other words, perfectionism will keep you afraid. And when you’re afraid, it’s very difficult to turn toward your needs, because needs are inherently vulnerable.
Notice for yourself – is your emotional bank account full, or are you running on empty? If you’re running on empty, what is perfection telling you to be afraid of? Take an honest look at those fears – are they as big, real and scary as they seem to be?
What I found when I really asked myself that question was – no, they aren’t. Had I developed a preference for a beautifully cleaned house that could impress the most spur-of-the-moment guest? Yes. But was it necessary? No. My needs of rest and preparation for baby were more important. Did I value efficiency and productivity in my work? Yes. But was it necessary at the expense of my well-being? No.
Really dig in – will taking a day off of work really throw everything away? If so, how about an afternoon? An hour? Do those piles around your house have to be picked up now or the sky will fall? Or can they wait until next weekend?
What can you let go for the sake of filling up your own emotional bank account?
For me, I’m letting the piles of baby crap spread around my house stay there for a little longer. I haven’t tripped over them yet. I’ll get those sorted later (or I won’t – I’m sure the baby won’t care). Instead, I’m knitting. Because I love knitting and I simply need something joyful to keep my hands busy. I’ve put down the parenting books because oh my god I’m going to do it wrong anyway, and picked up a loved novel, because damn that feels good. I’ve stopped apologizing for the state of my house to guests, because if I really dig deep, I’m not really sorry. I’m eight months pregnant and I’m tired. I spend cleaning times connecting with my husband because that feels better than scrubbing toilets.
Your emotional bank account is yours to fill. Perfection is the voice of (un)reason. Fill up your account by teaching it who’s boss.