Why it’s important to maintain relationships
It is easy to form relationships with new people. What is really hard is to maintain relationships. We all know that it takes real dedication and hard work to maintain relationships.
Most people, however, don’t put in their share of work and instead lead their life on autopilot. Without that effort, those relationships start losing their glitter and eventually become strained and tense.
How can we maintain those relationships and build solid foundations of trust and true understanding? To help you understand this we will discuss a metaphor called Emotional Bank Account, from my favorite book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. It’s a must-read for everyone thinking about personal development.
Our relationships define us
“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”-Jim Rohn
The people we spend the most time with, tend to have the most effect on our character. It affects our way of thinking, our self-esteem, and our decisions. Everyone is unique, but still, research shows that we are more affected by our environments than we think.
In the long run, the people we surround ourselves with amplify parts of our behavior. They also have an effect on our sense of right and wrong and the subconscious choices that we make throughout our days.
People that encourage you and provide constructive criticism as and when needed are essential for attaining a fulfilling life. Their necessity can be understood even more when you have people in your life that have completely opposing attributes.
People living without principles
Most people can’t build lasting relationships because they don’t work on their character. They are driven by personality ethic and It becomes too laborsome for them to put effort and time into a strained relationship.
This way they continue to lead a life where they try to find new relationships every time things get tense. Manipulations and deceptions don’t get them too far and don’t work on the same people twice.
This way all of their relationships are predestined to the same fate. They focus so much on their values that they never even think about a life guided by principles.
We internally know where we are with other people
In all your relationships you internally know where you stand with the other person. You subconsciously know when your friends don’t like something that you did. When you are being avoided you have a hunch that something is wrong.
This is because most of our communications are subconscious. Psychologists call them Honest Signals that are the small involuntary behaviors that give away cues to the right hemisphere of the brain.
As soon as you think of a person close to you, your brain thinks about the moments you spent with them over the past few days and weeks and overviews the interactions you had with them.
This way you can always judge whether you felt an emotional strain with them. By that, you know how close you are to them now and if the relationship still has its spark.
When relationships get tense
When a relationship is tense we are always walking on eggshells. Anything that we do gets judged and tempers are really high. This becomes even more stressful when these relationships are intimate.
People instead of working through these issues try to think of a technique or a quick fix solution. These fixes are only bandaids to the chronic issues and can only provide temporary relief while the real problems keep getting worse.
The shortest path to mending those relationships is by working inwards rather than trying to change the other person. Our short term mentality will never be able to solve the deep-rooted issues that exist in our relationships.
Working with a long term mentality mindset is essential to garnering the trust that is lost over the course of our relationship.
Nobody wins in an argument
When we are tense we react emotionally. Often times we say things we don’t mean just in the heat of the moment to win an argument. These things cause irreparable harm to our relationships.
We think we won the argument but the hurt caused is etched in the memory of the other person. It is important therefore to understand that insulting never works. Trey Gowdy, a prosecutor who never lost a case in his life said while giving a speech to graduates-
“Insulted, you become even more dogmatic in holding your incorrect beliefs than you were before you were insulted.”-Trey Gowdy
I recommend that you watch his entire speech here. In it, he explains that instead of insults we need honest and authentic communication. The person needs to know that we care about them. We can thus conclude that no one wins in an argument.
For that, we need to have more control over our actions. It’s important that we live more consciously and choose our responses rather than reacting.
Our definition of love
In our blog on how to have fulfilling relationships, we talk about the importance of redefining love. Most of us view our relationships in terms of what we can get out of them.
We think that those relationships are the source of our happiness and thus our mind focuses on things that are out of our control. Instead of focusing on our own actions we try to control the actions of others. This way we become more possessive and controlling rather than accepting.
When you think about your best friend do you think about all the things your best friend does for you? Have you ever thought of your best friend in terms of what you can do for them?
The more we shift our perception away from our selfish needs more fulfilling our relationships become. You can read more in detail about it here.
Spontaneousness can’t solve problems
The problem is that people believe relationships are something spontaneous that happens naturally. They think that they don’t need to work on your relationships.
It’s a collaborative reunion when people are in sync. It needs work to understand each other and develop a relationship. We need to understand the psychology of relationships.
Our relationships aren’t a solution to our problems. When you think about your relationships as a solution to your problems you are in a dependent relationship. Over the long run, such a relationship will only lead to misery. Because in it you make someone else the source of your happiness.
It’s important that you recognize that you need to work on yourself and your relationships to make them work. It can’t happen naturally.
How do we maintain our relationships?
In his book, 7 habits of highly effective people Mr. Stephen Covey talks about a metaphor called The Emotional Bank Account. He says that this signifies how safe we feel with another person and is a level of trust we have over the other person.
“If I make deposits into an emotional bank account with you through courtesy, kindness, honesty, and keeping my commitments to you, I build up a reserve. Your trust toward me becomes higher, and I can call upon that trust many times if I need to. I can even make mistakes and that trust level, That emotional reserve will compensate for it.”–Stephen R Covey, 7 habits of highly effective people
What happens if we don’t maintain relationships?
Mr. Covey further explaining his metaphor goes on to say that when we just keep on withdrawing from this bank account, the relationship starts to become strained. It’s because we only look for our own selfish interests while neglecting the needs of our partners.
“But if I have a habit of showing discourtesy, disrespect, cutting you off, overreacting, ignoring you, becoming arbitrary, betraying your trust, threatening you, or playing little tin god in your life, eventually my Emotional Bank Account is overdrawn. The trust level gets very low. Then what flexibility do I have?-Stephen R Covey, 7 habits of highly effective people
None. I’m walking on mine fields. I have to be very careful of everything I say. I measure every word. It’s Tension city, memo haven. It’s protecting my backside. politicking. And many organizations are filled with it. Many marriages are filled with it. “
It is easy to sometimes take friends and relatives or anyone we deal with, for granted. Mr. Covey says that it’s the level of goodwill that exists in the relationship which determines its depth.
How can we make these emotional deposits in our relationships?
Covey says there are 6 major ways of making a deposit. I highly recommend that you watch him here as he summarises a few of those while mentioning their corresponding withdrawals.
If you can’t watch those, here is a list of those 6 major deposits.
- Understanding the individual
- Attending to little things
- Keeping commitments
- Clarifying expectations
- Showing personal integrity
- Apologizing sincerely when you make a “withdrawal”
1. Understanding the individual
Mr. Covey says whether a task is a withdrawal or a deposit is up to the receiver to decide. What you may perceive as a deposit might even be perceived as a withdrawal if it doesn’t touch the other person’s needs or interests.
Say you take your friend out to a movie, but it’s one he doesn’t want to go in. You might think it’s a deposit, however, it is really a withdrawal.
Story of a college professor
Mr. Covey talks about the principle of making what is important to the other person as important to you as the other person is to you. He gives a powerful story as an example of a college professor who had a terrible relationship with his teenage son.
He felt his son was wasting his life by not working on developing his mind and thus he was always on his son’s back. The deposits he tried to make were perceived as gestures of rejection, comparison, and judgment. The relationship thus got more and more strained.
When he told him about this principle he took it to heart and engaged in a project to build a miniature Wall of China around their home. The project took one and a half years to complete.
The project ended up increasing the desire in his son to develop his mind and became a source of joy and strength for both father and son.
A deeper lesson in empathy
What we learn from this deposit is that we must truly understand the other person first before we can work on our relationships. It’s not enough to do what we think is good from our perspective.
We need to take into account their world view before we can do anything to improve our relationship. This points to a deeper lesson in empathy. A person who cares about their relationships truly listens to the other person before they speak.
This way a relationship becomes more about what I can do for the other person rather than what I can get from them.
2. Attending to the little things
Mr. Covey says that in relationships, little things are the big things. He says that people are very sensitive and tender inside.
The age of people and their experience doesn’t make much difference and even the toughened and calloused exteriors hide tender feelings and emotions of the heart.
When we genuinely care about the people those little things come out naturally. And those little things make the most lasting impact on our relationships.
If however, we give in to taunting or commit acts of unkindness or little forms of disrespect, we make large withdrawals in our relationships.
When we think about the relationships that we have, It’s these little things that we take into account that are done over the course of the past few days and weeks.
It’s these little things that show the genuineness of a person and the authenticity of their character. Walking on the roadside with your son won’t seem like a big deal to you but it makes a lasting difference to your son.
These small things can only be done by a person who truly cares and not just talking the talk.
3. Keeping commitments
Our words have no significance if they aren’t backed by actions. Therefore it’s important that we make our promises very carefully and sparingly. Insecure people make promises easily and freely just to placate people.
When we start to speak in empathetic terms and our actions start to align with those words only then do the relationships begin to improve.
When you follow through on your promises, you build trust and credibility that are the foundations of lasting relationships.
Every commitment is important
When talking about commitments you might feel that breaking small commitments isn’t a big deal however it’s quite the opposite. If you can’t keep small commitments, you will definitely have much more trouble keeping large commitments.
Also, these small commitments are what builds your character. If you can’t value the words you speak how can anyone else value them? When you give importance to the small commitments that you make it builds your influence over people.
They feel as if they can rely on you, that you will come through for them. This credibility takes a lot of effort to build and is the greatest asset a relationship can have.
Even the people that disagree with you will come to your side when you need them because they know that you are a person of principles. You can look at Paul Wellstone who voted against the Iraq war on the eve of his re-election.
He was the only senator facing re-election. It was an unpopular stance and yet his approval rating went up because people recognized he was driven by conviction.
The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.-Martin Luther King Jr
4. Clarifying expectations
Unclear expectations undermine communication and trust. Most of the problems we face in relationships are rooted in conflicting and ambiguous expectations.
Clarifying expectations takes a great deal of courage. It’s hard and difficult to do and easier to act as if the differences don’t exist hoping things will work out.
Mr. Covey also talks about the implicit expectations that sometimes people have of each other. Fulfilling these expectations makes great deposits and violating them diminishes trust.
It is much better if we bring all our expectations in front so that we are judged based on those expectations. It saves a lot of pain and anguish down the road as you avoid simple misunderstandings that turn to personality clashes later on.
Story of a teacher
A teacher was feeling frustrated with the way her students were acting in her class. She just felt as if she could do nothing to improve the position her class was in.
The principal showed up and asked her what was wrong and she said that the students in her class weren’t behaving properly.
The principal asked her what were these children supposed to do. She replied that they were supposed to be working on their assignments.
Then the principal asked if they were allowed to talk to each other while they do that. She replied that they weren’t allowed to do that.
He then asked her what should they do if they have a question. She said that they should ask me their teacher. The principal said that there were students raising their hands up is that what they were supposed to do.
She then said that she was working on something else when that happened and a few I saw after I was done, I called them at my desk. The principal asked then if she called everyone at her desk simultaneously.
She said that too many children came to the desk and so she sent some of them back and told them to ask help from their neighbors.
Because she herself is ambiguous about what she expects of the students, she can’t communicate it to them.
This way her expectations keep shifting based on situations. These expectations go full circle and the children stay confused.
5. Showing Personal Integrity
You may do all the above and still fail to build trust in the relationships if you are duplicitous. A lack of integrity undermines everything else that you do.
If you act in a principle-centered way, you build trust with those that are present and defend those who are absent. You can listen about it in the video linked above when Mr. Covey talks about the time he complained about his housing situation to the university president.
Personal integrity is living based on principles. It’s living with character and convictions instead of living based on a personality ethic. When you are driven by principles, you do what’s right even when no-one is watching.
Such a character shuns aside the tasks that normal people do for impression management and instead imbibes within a moral compass that is in sync with core principles of nature such as fidelity, honesty, dignity, growth, service, etc.
Such a life based on working on our character is what Aristotle called for in his Virtue ethics. His virtues were Honesty, Courage, Generosity. He believed that if we could just focus on being principled and moral people, the right actions will follow naturally and effortlessly.
This way of life he said was imperative for happiness and welfare, or what he called Eudaimonia.
Without Integrity, you can’t have a lasting relationship. It is the core of all other deposits that you make. If all your focus is on making an impression, people will see through it and you will be perceived as deceitful and manipulative.
Integrity is treating everyone by the same set of principles. We talk about it in-depth on our blog post on integrity.
6. Apologizing when you make a withdrawal
Mr. Covey says that people with little internal security can’t apologize. It makes them feel too vulnerable and weak. They try to justify and rationalize their own misdeeds as other person’s wrongs.
It takes a great deal of character to apologize and apologize sincerely. We all make mistakes and people generally forgive the mistakes, other people make.
What they can’t forgive are the mistakes of the heart. Mistakes that were a result of bad intentions and prideful.
An apology should not be something you say to diffuse the situation you find yourself in, It should be an honest realization of your error and a promise to consciously work on your character that such a thing doesn’t happen in the future.
Apologizing takes courage, it’s not something that a person with a weak character can do. They will be too prideful and arrogant to do it. They think that if they apologize people will look at them as someone who is weak and can be taken advantage of.
For people with strong character, an apology is an admission of their inadequacies. They recognize that no one is without their flaws and they use their apologies as a way to understand where they need to work on.
Apology thus is not something they think makes them weak but instead, it is what makes them strong. By working on their deficiencies they improve their character. Their humbleness combined with authenticity displayed by their efforts to correct their mistakes in the future makes their relationships even stronger.
Using Emotional bank account
The metaphor of an emotional bank account can help us learn what the first few steps can be to improve our relationships with people close to us. It will guide you on where you go wrong and what are the things you are doing right.
This way of thinking encourages you to do those small little things that later become the foundations of long-lasting relationships. Instead of looking at the situations as a give and take from your own selfish perspective, you will begin to view your relationship from your partner’s perspective.
Such small consistent deposits will lead to a much stronger bond between partners than a life banking on spontaneity will ever be. What will be even more amazing is that when you do these small deposits you will experience real love.
Love the feeling is a side effect of love the verb. We think of love as a feeling that we experience however love is first a verb. It’s the conscious acts of kindness and courtesy that we do that ignite the feeling of love. It’s the very core of a fulfilling relationship.
For this week try to think where you stand with the people you are close with. Have you been living your life on autopilot making withdrawals every single day without thinking about your relationships? Do your actions engender trust and if not, what can you do to maintain your relationships in the future.
We urge you to live more consciously and explore what your callings are. Do you possess the courage to chase them? We provide a free ebook called The perfect beginning that might help you in finding those callings.
Well, that’s all for this post. I hope you have a good day and a good life.