The Love Bank

How is your bank account doing?

I’m not talking about your financial well-being, I’m talking about your love bank.  If you’ve never heard of the love bank, it was one of the most important concepts I learned from His Needs, Her Needs: Building an Affair Proof Marriage.  This is a fantastic marriage book by William F Harley Jr., and the concept of the Love Bank (which I sometimes refer to as the Love Tank) has been one of the most helpful relationship tools I’ve learned.

Here it is in a nutshell:

With every person you interact with, you develop an internal emotional Love Bank.  Each interaction you have with them either adds despots to your bank account or else exact withdrawals.  Over time, your feelings for a person tend to reflect the number of deposits and withdrawals you have had with them.  If most of your interactions are more positive, you will enjoy that person and seek to be around them.  You’ll also be able to recover more quickly when they do things that bother you.  On the other hand, if your time with them is marked by conflict, turmoil, or other negative emotions, you can start to run a deficit in your love bank.  In these relationships, not only do you seek to avoid them, but even minor annoyances become more amplified because your bank, or tank, is nearly empty.  There’s a sense in which you have sets of Love Banks with each person that’s regularly a part of your life.  Sometimes, if a relationship is particularly costly, it might even draw from your reserves in other relationships.  Conversely, our accounts can be so high accounts with some people that it gives us extra riches to spend on more demanding relationships.

As I write this, it feels so simple.  Why waste time talking about the obvious?

Because the application in our lives can be profound.

Let’s start with a romantic relationship.  You meet someone.  They’re attractive.  Deposit.  They’re nice.  Deposit.  They smell good and have similar interest as you.  Deposit.  You find out they like you.  Super deposit.  In the early stages of your relationship, you tend to have limited time together, and when you do there’s a great deal of intentionality.  You’re making so many deposits into one another, you’re slowly growing your reserves to healthy levels.  The deposits are so great, you easily brush off the withdrawals for conflict and disappointments.  This can happen through the wedding, honeymoon, and happily into your matrimoney.

But something interesting shifts when you are married.  You still have plenty of opportunities to make deposits.  But you’re around one another more, you live in the same space, you share bills and budgets.  You have to visit one another families.  The level of deposits can start to level off because of the relational withdrawals.  Kids arrive.  They are attention monsters.  You start to only have fumes for your spouse.  A date night seems impossible.  There’s job stress.  Someone is chronically sick.  You’ve got a special needs child.

And just like that, you find yourself in a relationship that is now requiring more withdrawals than it is returning with deposits.  As time goes on, without really ever noticing it, your love bank can dwindle.  It’s not that you dislike that person any more.  It’s just that you seem different, and the relationship isn’t so enjoyable.

In my opinion, this is where the vulnerability for affairs really kicks in.  In your married relationship you’ve tipped towards more withdrawals than deposits, and then you meet someone new.  You don’t know everything about them, you don’t share bills with them, you don’t smell their bad breath in the morning.  They’re nice to you. They compliment you.  They appreciate little things you’ve done at work or in some other context.  Your love bank grows.

Whether you actually follow through with an affair or not, you’re in a very dangerous spot in your marriage.  Without change in direction, at best you’re looking at a bitter  marriage where two people effective endure as housemates.  Or, you’re heading towards the ripping of flesh, the deviation and destruction of divorce.

If you’re starting to feel like your love bank is running low or even in the red in your marriage, please take these two steps:

  • Acknowledge: You need to have an open, honest, responsible conversation with your spouse.  Explain to them that you feel like you’re in a cycle where the normal demands of life are making too many withdrawals in your relationship, and that you love them, care too much about them to do nothing.  You don’t have to blame  them, don’t have to accuse them.  You don’t have to bring up a laundry list of hurts.  Likely, you both know that something is wrong.  Sometimes it just takes courage to admit it.
  • Invest: Just like with finances, people don’t generally get into debt in a day, and you don’t get out of debt in a day.  Even if you win the lottery and pay off all of your debts, if you don’t change your life habits, it’s only a matter of time before you’re in the same spot.  So it is with investing in your relationship.  Sure, go for the “lottery” of the big, special, romantic weekend.  But if you don’t change your daily and weekly habits, your Love Banks will be erratic and a you will live on the brink of marital disaster.  Here are some regular, relatively easy investments that you can do at nearly any stage of life.
    • Set aside 15 minutes a day with no phones or technology to share about one another’s day.  Listen.  Ask questions.  Encourage.  Don’t dump your entire load or think you can fix all of those.  But be diligent to have this time each at a minimum.  And if you say you cannot find 15 minutes at any point of the day for one another… try again.
    • Write small notes to each other.  Hide them in places you know they will find. It’s not that hard.  But it goes so far.
    • Schedule a date night.  Or a date morning.  Or a date lunch.  Aim for it to be weekly.  If your broke, have a date in your bedroom after the kids go to bed.
    • Say “I love you” and give hugs like you’re giving out gold.  Because you are.

Start with that.  If you get those simple steps down, you’ll likely figure out the rest on our own anyway.

You’ll notice I didn’t give “Pray” or “Read Your Bible” as a step.  I also didn’t give “Eat breakfast” or “Brush your teeth” as a step.  You should do all of these things.

You were made in the image of God, and He calls you to unconditional love.  But you’re also a person with emotions and feelings that are often frail.  Unconditional love is hard work.  Recovering from a divorce or affair is exponentially harder.

So get to work!

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