The most unexpected experiences - and scenes - reveal life more fully so we may move through it more freely.

Do Not Neglect the Love Bank

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I’m going to kick this one off by visiting a scene from He’s Just Not That Into You, the 2009 flick with bombshell Bradley Cooper. Here’s how it all unfolds: Cooper plays Ben who’s married to sweet, simple Janine. Through a series of stupid decisions, he winds up having a passionate affair with Anna, played by sultry Scarlett Johansson.

The irony, though, is that after Ben comes clean about the cheating, Janine keeps her cool. She actually has no real emotional eruption until later, when she realizes that Ben has been lying to her about smoking cigarettes. She finds a pack in his dirty laundry and goes bananas.

That’s weird, right? I mean, wouldn’t you think the news of her husband’s affair would be what sends her into hysterics, instead of a simple pack of smokes?

The thing is, it’s not just the cigarettes that set off Janine. It’s the fact that every time she asks Ben if he’s been smoking, he makes her feel like a paranoid nag. It’s because when he decides to come clean about his affair, it’s in the middle of Home Depot, for Pete’s sake. So much for providing a safe place to process that bomb. Then, to add insult to injury, he says he plans to abandon her and crash at his homeboy Neil’s place because he assumed she’d be kicking him out. (Nice try, Ben. We all know you planned to shack up at Anna’s.)

All those obnoxious behaviors by Ben added up and the straw that broke the camel’s back for Janine was the cigarettes.

In a much milder way, I can relate.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not comparing my husband to pathetic Ben. He’s worlds beyond Cooper’s character. He’s always been faithful and has actually never smoked a cigarette in his life, which is way more than I can say.

When I say I can relate, I mean there have been somewhat significant offenses made by my husband that I find easy to forgive and then one small one – like not wiping his beard trimmings off the sink – will have me all Regina George when she found out Kalteen bars make you gain weight.

Wait. What? How is it that we can let offense after offense slide, and then something so seemingly small can trigger the rage? Sure, we could just assume it’s the volcano effect – the inevitable result of bottling up our emotions. But you know me: I’ve got to look deeper than that. So let’s look at our marriages like bank accounts.

Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, talks about these emotional bank accounts, explaining that we possess a different account for each of our relationships.

Over time, we’re continuously making deposits and withdrawals through our interactions with a person. For those we’re closest with, like our spouse and children, the account requires lots of proactive deposits.

When my husband tells me he loves me, he’s proud of me or that I look good in his gym shorts, deposit, deposit, deposit. When he leaves messes for me to clean, doesn’t give me enough attention or remains emotionally disengaged for too long, withdrawal, withdrawal, withdrawal.

There are days when those withdrawals really don’t irk me much because he’s been rocking it with the consistent deposits. As Covey puts it, “I can make mistakes and that trust level, that emotional reserve, will compensate for it.”

So if I’m on cloud nine because my husband just made a major deposit by telling me I’m the most sensational female he could dream up, it’s going to be awhile before his withdrawals start to wear me down.

But then there are days when deposits have been sparse and the trust level is low. Those are the days that something small – like him kicking back to read right after we put the kids to bed – can have me huffing and puffing that he didn’t first ask me about my day or find out what chores he can help with.

Those days are the consequence of too many withdrawals and my often unknowing husband usually finds himself “walking on mine fields”, as Covey describes it. He has to be careful about each step he takes with me because the account balance is low and there’s no telling what move he might make to send it into bankruptcy, i.e. me Regina Georging out on him.

This is why frequent deposits can keep a marriage afloat. On the flip side, a lack of deposits has it inching closer and closer to a balance of zero. It’s truly all about the deposits because the thing is, withdrawals are really inevitable. No one is perfect so there’s no avoiding withdrawing from that bank from time to time, even if unintentionally.

The only way to keep those inevitable withdrawals from dragging the account balance to zero is to make sure our deposits outnumber them in frequency and size. That’s where Ben dropped the ball. His withdrawals were hefty and frequent with no deposits to maintain a healthy account balance. Smoking behind Janine’s back was a big withdrawal from an overdrawn account.

I have a hunch that if she’d found the cigarettes before he made those major withdrawals, there would’ve been enough trust in their account for her to forgive him for lighting up.

Of course, forgiveness in marriage – and life in general – is necessary no matter how full or deflated your love bank may be. But we can make it fairly easy or pretty darn hard for our partner to pardon our offenses, depending on how much effort we put into making deposits.

I realize this concept can make marriage seem more robotic than intimate. No one wants to treat their passionate union like some well-oiled machine that requires frequent maintenance. However, what brings warmth back to this perspective – at least for me – is realizing that the very ability to make meaningful deposits into a spouse’s love bank requires intimately knowing them.

See, my husband can’t do just any ol’ nice thing for me and rest assured he’s made a deposit. There’s a reason I specified him telling me he loves me, he’s proud of me or that he’s a fan of me wearing his gym shorts. In order to make a true deposit, the act must be made in your spouse’s love language and my love language is unequivocally words of affirmation.

In case you’re unfamiliar with the love languages, there are five of them: words of affirmation, gifts, physical touch, quality time and acts of service.

Don’t get me wrong: I appreciate every single one of these expressions of love. I’m a total cuddler and gifts? Keep ’em coming. But what speaks most powerfully to my heart, reinforces how loved I am, and comes most naturally as my means of expressing love is words of affirmation.

Both my husband and I practice each one of these languages here and there but when it comes to making big deposits into my love bank, he knows I’m hungry to be verbally affirmed. Even though that’s not necessarily his love language, he’s learned to speak it fluently for me.

When he keeps the love bank full with words of affirmation, it’s considerably easier for me to be merciful when he works late. And when I’ve made consistent deposits into his, he’s more able to forgive me for a cleaning rampage that involved accidentally trashing something significant, like our marriage license. True story.

But when you make Ben’s mistake and neglect that bank, there’s no telling which withdrawal will have it overdrawn and require damage control. So learn to speak your partner’s love language and do so fluently and frequently. I’m telling you, your spouse will find your offenses small and seldom, and your lovable attributes big and abundant.