Make Regular Deposits into Relationship Bank Accounts

Mary had always been a dog person. With three dogs of her own, she spent numerous hours walking them around the neighborhood, always stopping to talk to other dog owners. Dogs were a great conversation starter with neighbors, which resulted in several close friendships.

One Saturday morning, the doorbell rang. Christie, her neighbor across the street, handed her an Iced Mocha, her favorite drink. Christie was always doing nice things for Mary. She was there for her after her husband passed away, babysat Mary’s children on occasion, and kept an eye on her house when they were out of town.

Christie explained that her family was going on a two-week cruise and did not want to board their two labradors. She asked if Mary could take care of them while they were gone. Mary had never watched them before, but they had a reputation for being mischievous. Taking care of five dogs for two weeks would be a big hassle, but Mary agreed to it because Christie had done so much for her.

Two months later, the doorbell rang. Laura, another neighbor from across the street, stood there with her two Shih Tzus. They were adorable and got along great with Mary’s dogs when they were out for walks. Laura was not the friendliest neighbor and only wanted to talk about her life when they were together. After her husband passed away, Mary found out Laura was behind a nasty — and untrue — rumor that Mary broke up a marriage down the street by cheating with the husband. She never confronted her over it — it didn’t even dignify a response.

Laura asked if Mary could watch her dogs while her family went on a cross-country vacation. While she knew her own dogs would love the company, Mary felt no obligation to help this woman. What has she ever done for me other than starting that rumor? She has never shown much interest in me other than when she wants something, so why should I help her out?

Mary politely declined.

In his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens, Sean Covey presents the concept of a relationship bank account (RBA), which is the amount of trust and confidence you have in each of your relationships. Much like a checking account at a bank, you can make deposits in the RBA and improve the relationship, or take withdrawals and weaken it. Steady deposits over a long period are the key to forming a strong and healthy relationship.

Here are some keep features of an RBA:

  1. Unlike a bank where you may have only one or two accounts, you have an RBA with everyone you meet. Suppose you come across a new kid in school. If you smile and say hello, you’ve just opened an account with him. If you ignore him, you’ve just opened an account as well, although a negative one. There’s kinda no getting around it.
  2. Unlike a checking account, once you open an RBA with another person, you can never close it. That’s why you can run into a friend you haven’t seen in years and pick up right where you left off. Not a dollar’s lost. It’s also why people hang on to grudges for years.
  3. In a checking account, ten bucks is ten bucks. In an RBA, deposits and withdrawals are not created equally. It usually takes many deposits to make up for one withdrawal. One subtle but demeaning comment, like “I didn’t know you could fit into a size 4,” can destroy weeks of deposits. So be careful when you open your mouth.

If you are trying to build a great relationship — or repair a broken one — deposits must be made into the RBA one at a time. Unfortunately, there is no quick fix. As your friend, if my RBA with you has a deficit of $1,000 because you have hurt me in the past, you will need to make $1,001 in deposits to get back in the positive.

Whether you realize it or not, you have an RBA with every person in your life — including family, friends, and acquaintances. A positive balance in your life partner’s RBA is the key to a long and healthy relationship, while a negative balance could threaten the relationship.

I love LinkedIn and get quite a few connection requests from people I don’t know. When I see the person’s title has something to do with sales, I can predict what will happen next. I accept their connection request and within hours they will send me a direct message pitching me their product, which they think I will be interested in given my title at the company I work for. I immediately terminate the connection — after all, we just established an RBA and they are trying to make a withdrawal without first making deposits.

The author asked a group of teens, “What’s the most powerful deposit someone has made into your RBA?” and here are some of the responses:

  • When a friend, teacher, loved one, or employer takes the time to say, ‘You look nice’ or ‘Great job.’ A few words go a long way.
  • My friends made me a banner on my birthday.
  • Bragging about me to others.
  • When I make mistakes, they forgive, forget, and help and love.
  • My friend told me, after reading some poems I wrote, that I was brilliant and I should write a book. It was hard to share some of those in the first place.
  • My mother called from California, as well as both of my sisters, to wish me a happy birthday, before I left for school.
  • My brother would always take me to hockey games with his friends.
  • I have four really good friends, and just being together as friends and knowing that we’re all good and are happy keeps me going.
  • I had a friend who told me he believed I was very sincere and always myself. It meant a lot that someone would recognize that.

The concept of the RBA is consistent with the Golden Rule from the bible: “do unto others as you have them do unto you.” If you want a great relationship with your life partner, make deposits into their RBA on a daily basis. Pay them compliments, do nice things for them, and be there when they need you. The same applies to relationships with friendships and family members — you must make deposits to ensure each is built on a firm foundation that will stand the test of time.

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