I often share with my clients a simple yet powerful analogy: to think about their relationship as they do about their bank account. That’s because investing in your relationship is similar to saving money; the more you put into your bank account or relationship, the more you can take out when necessary.
The way to develop your emotional wealth is to invest as much equity as possible, so when the going gets tough, you can dig into your savings and avoid going into the red.
Investing in your relationship takes time and effort and is a challenge for all couples. In my own life, for example, I believe my relationship is so important that my wife and I try to schedule time alone together at least once a week to focus on our relationship. Despite the pressures of our busy lives, we try to creativity make sure we are investing in our marriage.
Sometimes we go out to a restaurant to eat or just take a walk down the block together. Other times, we go grocery shopping together or head to the local convenience store in order to enjoy a few minutes alone just schmoozing about our day. When life goes into overdrive and time is limited, we take a “time out” for ourselves, and spend a few minutes in a quiet and secluded room in the home just talking to one another.
It really doesn’t matter what you do or what you talk about during your private times together. What matters most is to give your spouse the feeling that he or she is the most important person in the world.
Of course, the way to build emotional equity in marriage is to make as many deposits as possible. In general, positive statements like complimenting one another, sharing appreciations and speaking kind words are “deposits.” Every time you tell your spouses that you appreciate them, or their actions, you are building more emotional wealth. You can even think of a compliment as a dollar. Imagine how rich you could become if you increase the amount of times per hour you compliment your spouse!
And it’s not just complimenting that works; actions speak louder than words. Helping each other with daily tasks such as shopping for food or just cleaning the house are ways that couples increase their emotional equity with one another. The point is that it doesn’t take a large budget, or a lot of time, to build a relationship. Even the simplest gestures can make a difference in your lives.
The opposite is also true. Couples will deplete their emotional savings by criticizing and exercising external control. Trying to force one another via manipulation or by insulting each other decreases emotional wealth, and can even put some relationships into bankruptcy.
At the end of each month, I suggest that couples take a look and see how their emotional savings account is developing. They should check how many deposits they’ve made and how much was withdrawn. The goal is to become aware of the overall growth of the relationship and to see if it is getting stronger, or needs more nurturing.
The Miraculous Bamboo Tree
One way to illustrate the need to invest in the long-term sustainability of your marriage is to look at the miraculous growth pattern of the Chinese bamboo tree.
It seems that this tree when planted, watered, and nurtured for an entire growing season doesn’t outwardly grow as much as an inch. Then, after the second growing season, a season in which the farmer takes extra care to water, fertilize and care for the bamboo tree, the tree still hasn’t sprouted. So it goes as the sun rises and sets for four solid years. The farmer and his wife have nothing tangible to show for all of their labor trying to grow the tree.
Then, along comes year five. In the fifth year that Chinese bamboo tree seed finally sprouts and the bamboo tree grows up to 80 feet in just one growing season! Or so it seems .
Did the little tree lie dormant for four years only to grow exponentially in the fifth? Or, was the little tree growing underground, developing a root system strong enough to support its potential for outward growth in the fifth year and beyond? The answer is, of course, obvious. Had the tree not developed a strong unseen foundation it could not have sustained its life as it grew.
The same principle is true for people. People who patiently toil toward worthwhile dreams and goals, building strong character while overcoming adversity and challenges, grow the strong internal foundation to handle success, while get-rich-quickers and lottery winners usually are unable to sustain unearned sudden wealth.
Had the Chinese bamboo farmer dug up his little seed every year to see if it was growing, he would have stunted the tree’s growth as surely as a caterpillar is doomed to a life on the ground if it is prematurely freed from its struggle inside the cocoon.
Marriage is like a seed that needs planting, watering, weeding and a lot of sunlight. It takes time, effort, patience and skills to make a difference. The challenge facing many couples is that they have not yet learned the practical skills needed to improve their marriage, nor how to invest in their relationship.
So if you’re looking to improve your marriage, here are some, which I believe can make a big difference in your lives:
- What have you and your spouse done recently for renewal of your relationship?
- What do you think your spouse would like to do for renewal (soon or in the next year)?
- What would you like to do (soon or in the next year)?
- How often do you REALLY just talk as a couple?
- Why are you in this relationship in the first place?
- What can you do as a couple to bring you closer together?
The next article – Part 5 discusses “The Road Map to a Happy Marriage.”
Rabbi Daniel Schonbuch, MA, is the Executive Director of Shalom Task Force and the author of an upcoming book about marriage called First Aid For Jewish Marriages. He maintains a practice in family counseling and is a popular lecturer on S.H.A.L.O.M. Workshop for Engaged Couples. To learn more about Shalom Task Force, visit them online at: www.shalomtaskforce.org. You can e-mail questions to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.