Emotional Bank Account, Build an Ongoing Healthy Relationship

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In this video, I go over The Emotional Bank Account – a concept from Stephen Covey’s classic self help book: “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.” Safety and trust are KEY issues in building healthy relationships – and often influence your relationship dynamic.

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My Notes

When we talk about “staying away from negative people” or we say “so-and-so is toxic” – we are addressing issues of safety.

In The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (one of my favorite books!), Stephen Covey talks about a concept called “The Emotional Bank Account”.  It’s a very important one – for reasons I will explain below.

What is The Emotional Bank Account?

The Emotional Bank Account is a metaphor used to describe the amount of trust that’s built up in a relationship.  It’s the feeling of safety that you have with another human being.

Ways to Add to The Emotional Bank Account

Just like a real bank account, one can deposit into someone else’s Emotional Bank Account by:

  • Being Courteous
  • Showing Kindness
  • Being Honest
  • Keeping Commitments
  • etc.

When the Emotional Bank Account is high, there is a high level of trust.

Benefits of Making Deposits 

When trust is high in a relationship, it provides a good foundation for long term happiness.  An Emotional Bank Account where both people constantly make deposits, allows for the following:

  • Mistakes are not big big deals (the emotional reserve will take care of it)
  • Communication is easy, instant, and effective
  • “Wording” is not so important, meaning and intent are understood

Ways to Withdraw from The Emotional Bank Account of Others

Just like a real bank account, one can also withdraw from The Emotional Bank Account of others.  Withdrawing can happen accidentally (we all make mistakes), but when it happens too much, the account can be OVERDRAWN — trust levels get too low.  Safety is at risk.

Ways to withdraw from The Emotional Bank Account of others:

  • Showing discourtesy
  • Being disrespectful
  • Cutting others off
  • Overreacting
  • Ignoring the other person
  • Betraying trust
  • Threatening the other person
  • etc.

What Happens When an Emotional Bank Account is Overdrawn? 

Immediately, trust levels go down when Emotional Bank Accounts are withdrawn from.  Safety is at risk.

The following can happen:

  • Walking on eggshells
  • You have to be careful about the words used
  • Every word is measured
  • Tensions are high
  • You have to protect yourself
  • Flight or Fight modes of being
  • Hostility and Defensiveness
  • Silence or refusal to talk

Why Should We Care?  My Thoughts on The Emotional Bank Account

Make sure you are making DEPOSITS into the Emotional Bank Account of others – and not withdrawing.

It’s simple.

Relationships are the fabric of life.  The Emotional Bank Account is fundamental to healthy, positive relationships that inspire you.

For relationships like marriage – deposits need to happen all the time.  People break up and divorce because they feel victimized — or in other words, they feel the other person has OVERDRAWN from their Emotional Bank Account for too long.  They have had it.

Karma is real.  

You get, what you give.  If all you are doing is withdrawing from other’s Emotional Bank Account, over time, others will start to get back at you.  Fight or flight ensures – which will start draining your Emotional Bank Account.

Stephen Covey gave a great example that I feel, many kids experience:

“Suppose you have a teenage son and your normal conversation is something like, ‘Clean your room. Button your shirt. Turn down the radio. Go get a haircut. And don’t forget to take out the garbage!’ Over a period of time, the withdrawals (from your emotional bank account) far exceed the deposits.


Now suppose this son is in the process of making some important decisions that will affect the rest of his life. But the trust level is so low and the communication process so closed, mechanical, and unsatisfying that he simply will not be open to your counsel. You may have the wisdom and the knowledge to help him, but because your account is so overdrawn, he will end up making his decisions from a short-range emotional perspective, which may well result in many negative long-range consequences.


You need a balance to communicate on these tender issues.”

Now isn’t that the most insightful quote you have ever read?  Makes a lot of sense.  This is why advice like: “Focus on the positive aspects of your relationship” or “you are being too sensitive” doesn’t help.  The account is going on empty.

Maintain the flow of deposits with each other.  To not allow others to withdraw from your account – and at the same time, not withdraw from their account — is an art!

Deposits or withdrawals can have a long term effect.  

Children can harbor resentment and anger towards their parents much much later in life because of the withdrawals from their Emotional Bank Account when they were younger.

And the opposite is true.  Friends who haven’t seen each other for so long, can pick up where they left off – simply because the deposits made from long ago, allow for the easiness of the relationship years later.

The choice is always yours.  To deposit or withdraw is up to you.

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