I’ve been talking in my classes recently about the power of the emotional bank account, how it’s critical to keep the balance in the relationship with our children high by making deposits and avoiding withdrawals. This means that you have to understand what constitutes a withdrawal and what is a deposit. And it also means recognizing that different people define deposits – ie meaningful expressions of affection – differently. That can complicate things when someone thinks he has been building the balance and then realizes that what he thought he was giving wasn’t being received as it was intended.
We have to learn to give what a person wants to receive, not what we want to give or what’s easy for us to give – that’s what true giving is all about! My ds4 gave me a plastic credit card and two rubber bands wrapped up nicely for a Chanukah present, and I thought it was so sweet of him to want to give me something! However, while it’s cute and sweet when a 4 year old gives you what he has because that’s what he has, it’s not so cute when it’s an adult that you would expect to be aware of your likes/needs who gives you something that’s really not at all what you want or need.
Tonight someone asked me about how to respond to her husband, who recently gave her a diamond necklace. The problem? She hates the necklace (doesn’t like diamonds or the style), hates how much money was spent on it, and doesn’t want the expectation that she’ll now wear it every day. Though her husband intended to be generous and loving, she told me this was probably the biggest withdrawal in the history of their marriage – that he gave her something so totally unsuited to her, which is obvious to anyone who knows her even casually, something that is perceived as more of a burden than a gift.
So how can we avoid this? When attempting to build a relationship, look for clues as to what’s important to the other person. The easiest way to do this is to see how they make deposits for others! This can be challenging since recognizing other ways of showing love can go under our radar if it differs very much from our own way. Sometimes we get frustrated with others who have different ways of showing their love, and it helps to realize that it’s not that they’re selfish or clueless, just that we’re speaking a different language.
I recently realized with a relationship in my life that has had a good bit of friction that we have diametrically opposed way of showing that we care. I do things for people I like, and when people do things for me (or even just express the desire/willingness to do something for me), this is the biggest way they can show they appreciate me. And so I did a lot of nice things for this person, some small and some big, in addition to verbally expressing a lot of appreciation, inviting her to our home on regular occasions, spending time visiting with her, etc. This was challenging because it felt like a one way relationship, but I continued to make what I felt were deposits because I wanted to show the person I cared.
Imagine my surprise when I recently got an email from this person telling me that basically all I ever do is take from her and that I’m selfish and uncaring! To say I was taken aback would be an understatement. I had to work really hard not to respond emotionally, and instead to think about why she would say something like that. I assumed she said she felt I was unloving because she felt unloved, which pushed me to think hard about what I wasn’t doing for her, what I wasn’t successfully communicating. How would she prefer I show her I cared?
Because I had given so much of what I would have wanted, this wasn’t easy for me to consider, but telling ourselves all the reasons we’re right and others are wrong isn’t what moves a person forward in life! What I realized based on a comment in that email (complained that I never call her) is that she appreciates long chatty phone calls just talking about nothing in particular (which honestly frustrates me – very different from my communication style), and that she’d be happier if I called her for even ten minutes every week than everything else I was doing put together! Since I kept my phone contact with her minimal and short when we did need to speak by phone, you can see how despite my best intentions, I wasn’t giving her what she wanted and she felt I didn’t care about her.
This has been a growing opportunity for me to stretch myself beyond my comfort zone for the sake of this relationship. No, it’s really not easy for me, but you can’t say you really care about someone when you don’t take time to think about what matters to them.
Sometimes you can make deposits even when you imperfectly do something. My husband gave me a lovely fleece scarf recently. I love it! But what I love most about it is that he tried to find a color and pattern that he thought I would like, based on some comments I had made about other clothing I had. Even though the colors weren’t quite what I would have chosen, it was very different than what he would have gotten in the past, and it was obvious that he cared enough to think about my preferences. Knowing that he made the purchase based on that was a deposit for me, and I feel loved everytime I put on the scarf to go out!