The relationship account.

Relationships are important to us. As humans we have evolved to understand building and maintaining strong relationships are pivotal to our survival and to meet our basic human needs. As cavemen we evolved as pack animals, knowing we are safer and stronger if we have a community which we are part of. We have multiple layers of relationships in our lives from our family, to friends, and to the loved ones we choose to spend our life. Outside of this circle are relationships with colleagues and also those we create with the strangers we meet. As a Life Coach, no coaching programme would be complete without my client discussing their relationships and over time I have developed a metaphor which supports my clients in better understanding their relationships and their role within them. While I will use the relationship between partners, this approach works just as well to review your relationships with family, friends, colleagues, etc.

The relationship account works on the theory we have a joint account, like a bank account, which we share with each person with whom we have a relationship.

For the purpose of this article, let’s review the relationship account of a husband and wife. A husband and wife share a relationship account, a bank account into which they both make deposits and withdrawals. I would argue the strongest relationships are those where each partner make the same amount of deposit and withdrawal as their partner. Relationships break down when one partner feels they are making more deposits than the other or where it appears one partner is making higher withdrawals from the account than the other. This is a straightforward approach to take, but as with the world of finance, there are additional complexities.

One such complexity is the exchange rate. Relationships often lack communication, and this leads to assumptions being made about what your partner values. You are making what you believe to be deposited into the account yet your partner does not see these as deposits and if they do, they have a lower exchange rate than you think. You are completing actions you believe have a value of £100 only to discover to your partner they’re worth £10 at most. Similarly, you are not seeing the deposits made by your partner, or if you are, maybe you are applying a lower exchange rate, and the deposits are therefore worth less than your partner intends.

Clients love this simple concept and are always keen to understand their relationship better and also their partner’s perception of the joint account. Here are the steps I set clients to complete with their partner.

  1. List deposits you make into the relationship account – these are things you do for the other person, whether it’s a routine, favour, to make their life easier, or just something you do which you hadn’t thought of until now.
  2. List the withdrawals you consider yourself to make from the account – these are things you expect from your partner and which are delivered by them, these might also be things you’ve taken for granted up until now.
  3. Write a list of deposits and withdrawals you think your partner will have listed.
  4. Share your lists with one another and schedule to talk through them. There are no right or wrong answers and respect one another’s lists even if you don’t consider what they’ve listed to be either deposits or withdrawals. If one another’s lists surprise you this is a great sign of communication opening and moving to your being on the same page.
  5. The conversations can also be an opportunity to explore what you both would like your partner to deposit into the relationship, e.g. surprising you by taking you out, doing more together.
  6. If the lists create controversy and outside support is required arrange to speak with a third party, potentially a coach, counsellor or therapist.

As discussed, you can apply this approach to all your relationships, and as challenging as it can be, a key to having healthy self-esteem is to build and maintain relationships where your deposits and withdrawals are equal. One note, if you’re reviewing your relationship with your parents or your children, it’s often worth considering that as parents you invest a lot upfront and get a return, years down the line, one of the best investments!

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