This is a simple concept and yet many marriage problems come from people not implementing the concept. It’s not that people don’t know or understand how to do this – They just DON’T DO IT.

THE LOVE BANK- Dr. Willard Harley

Inside all of us is a Love Bank with accounts in the names of everyone we know. When these people are associated with our good feelings, “love units” are deposited into their accounts, and when they are associated with our bad feelings, love units are withdrawn. We are emotionally attracted to people with positive balances and repulsed by those with negative balances. This is the way our emotions encourage us to be with people who seem to treat us well and avoid those who hurt us.

The emotional reactions we have toward people are cause by the balance in our Love Bank.  Try “choosing” to be attracted to those you associate with some of your worst experiences — it’s almost impossible. Or try to feel repulsed by those associated with your best feelings. You can’t decide whom you will like or dislike — it’s their association with your feelings, whether they have made Love Bank deposits or withdrawals, that determines your emotional reactions to them.

Romantic Love Threshold

We like those with positive Love Bank balances and dislike those with negative balances. But if an account reaches a certain threshold, a very special emotional reaction is triggered — romantic love. We no longer simply like the person — we are in love. It’s a feeling of incredible attraction to someone of the opposite sex.

The feeling of love is the way our emotions encourage us to spend more time with someone who takes especially good care of us — someone who makes us very happy and knows how to avoid making us unhappy. I want to spend time with someone I like, but add the feeling called love and our emotions give us added motivation. I find myself not only wanting to be with the person, but also craving that person. When we are together, we feel fulfilled, and when apart we feel lonely and incomplete. So, the feeling of love is usually effective not only in drawing people together for significant amounts of time, but also in encouraging them to spend their entire lives together in marriage.

Reciprocity (What you give is what you get)

But our emotions give us more than the feeling of love. When they identify someone who makes us happy, they also motivate us to reciprocate by encouraging us to make that person happy. They do this by making it seem almost effortless to do what makes most of us the happiest. Have you ever noticed that when you are in love, you seem instinctively affectionate, conversant, admiring and willing to make love? That’s because your emotions want to keep that person around, so it gives you instincts to help you make that person happy which, when that happens, triggers his or her feeling of love for you. The “look of love” not only communicates our feeling of love for someone, but also reflects our instinct to do whatever it takes to make that person happy.

When a man and woman are both in love, their emotions encourage them to make each other happy for life. In fact, the thought of spending life apart is scary.  It seems to them that they were made to be together for eternity. In almost every case, a man and woman marry because they are in love, and they are in love because their love bank balances are above the romantic love threshold.

What goes up will usually come down

Love bank balances are no exception. As most married couples have discovered, the feeling of romantic love is much more fragile than originally thought. And if Love Bank balances drop below the romantic love threshold, a couple not only lose their feeling of passion for each other, but they lose their instinct to make each other happy. What was once effortless now becomes awkward, and even repulsive. Instead of the look of love, couples have the look of apathy. And without love, a husband and wife no longer want to spend their lives together. Instead, they start thinking of divorce, or at least living their lives like roommates instead of a partnership.

It should be obvious to you by now that the Love Bank is an extremely important concept in marriage. If we want our instincts and emotions to support our marriages, we must keep our Love Bank accounts over the romantic love threshold. But how can we keep your balances that high? And what can we do if they have already fallen below that threshold?

Can we Fall Back in Love?

I’ve worked long and hard to find answers to those questions, because they hold the key to saving marriages. Without love, spouses are poorly motivated to remain married for life, but with the restoration of love and its accompanying instinct to spend life together, the threat of divorce is overcome. Marriages are saved when love is restored.

If any couple wants to have a happy and have a satisfying marriage, they must make as many

Love Bank deposits as possible and avoid making withdrawals.

To achieve this, behavior must change. A husband and wife must learn how to make each other happy, and how to stop making each other unhappy.

John Gottman – Marriage Researcher

The Emotional Bank Account – watch video here

Essentially, when you turn toward your partner’s bids for connection, you are making a deposit in your Emotional Bank Account. And when you turn away from your partner, you make a withdrawal. Just like a real bank account, a zero balance is trouble, and a negative balance is the real danger zone.

An Emotional Bank Account grows when partners make more deposits than withdrawals. In a six-year follow-up study of newlywed couples, couples who remained married turned toward their partner’s bids for emotional connection 86% of the time in the lab, while those who divorced averaged 33%. The difference between happy and unhappy couples is how they manage their Emotional Bank Account.


When the Emotional Bank Account is in the red, partners tend to question each other’s intentions and feel disconnected, or even lonely.

But when the Emotional Bank Account is in the green, partners tend to give each other the benefit of the doubt during conflict. They keep their relationship in the positive perspective.

5:1 Ratio

So how do you measure the balance of your Emotional Bank Account?  It’s the magic relationship ratio of 5:1.

Five-to-one of what? Well, an act of turning towards, no matter how small or subtle, is a positive interaction. An act of turning away is a negative interaction. There are three key takeaways to help you manage your Emotional Bank Account:

  • To be satisfied in a relationship, couples must focus on increasing deposits (positive interactions) and minimizing withdrawals (negative interactions)
  • During conflict: 5 positive interactions to every 1 negative interaction
  • During everyday life: 20 positive interactions to every 1 negative interaction

Why the difference between everyday life and conflict? Because when couples are in the heat of conflict, they are already in a negative state of mind, so the added negativity is to be expected. This 5:1 ratio does suggest that you still need to say and do five positive things for every negative thing, even during an argument.


That sounds challenging, right? Well, try reframing your approach to conflict you don’t necessarily have to be agreeable or overly accommodating. But you should:

  • turn towards your partner, which means listen to them
  • ask them to tell you more
  • validate their perspective
  • express empathy.

If you can do these four things during a conflict discussion, even if you disagree with your partner and find this issue to be recurring or unsolvable (which most problems in a relationship are due to personality differences), that’s five positive interactions!

On a Regular Day

On the other hand, when you’re going through your day and you’re suddenly interrupted by a negative interaction with your partner, it has a much bigger impact on your Emotional Bank Account.  Positive interactions are small, consistent deposits, but negative interactions are big withdrawals, and too many of them can erase a positive balance.

And remember that grand gestures aren’t the goal here. An emotionally wealthy marriage is not cultivated during a two-week vacation to Hawaii. Instead, it’s built on a daily routine of positive habits and interactions. For many couples, just realizing that they shouldn’t take their everyday interactions for granted makes an enormous difference in their relationship.

Invest in your Emotional Bank Account

While these concepts may be easy to understand, they require intentionality and awareness in order to effectively implement them. To help, here are five science-based methods to keep your Emotional Bank Account in the green for good:

Be mindful

Couples often ignore each other’s emotional needs out of mindlessness, not malice. So, you’ll need to pay attention. Be mindful of your partner’s bids for connection and turn towards them. This will make them feel heard and valued. You may not catch all of them, but the more you focus on those positive bids, the easier it will become to recognize them and turn toward them.

Express appreciation daily

Every day think of all the ways your partner has turned towards you or made emotional bids. Those can be as simple as texting you at work to say that they hope the big meeting went well, or that they spent five minutes asking you about your day while you washed the dishes together. The goal is to remember those positive deposits and then to express appreciation for them. If you can infuse your relationship with a positive perspective on things, it becomes second nature to be grateful for your partner’s support and to tell them so.

This is kind of like having a positive emotional diffuser in the central part of your home.  The fragrance of “Positive” just wafts and flows throughout the house as people come and go.

Talk about stress

One study discovered that the spillover of external stress into a relationship is the single biggest reason many couples relapsed two years after marital therapy. That’s why the Stress Reducing Conversation is probably the most important conversation a couple can have. Take 20-30 minutes of undivided attention with each other, and do not discuss your marriage. Remember that all emotions are welcome during this conversation, and the end goal is to express understanding.  It’s vital to validate your partner’s feelings and perspective.

Communicate understanding

When your partner makes a complaint, don’t try to solve the problem. Instead, express that you can understand why they’re frustrated. You can even go a bit further and take responsibility if you did something to upset them. And if they’re happy about something, share in their excitement. We feel loved when we feel heard and understood, and the more you do that, you’ll build up a reciprocal emotional connection between you both.

Be physically affectionate

Kissing, holding hands, hugging, and cuddling are all opportunities to make deposits into your Emotional Bank Account. The Normal Bar study of more than 70,000 people in 24 countries found that couples who have a great sex life kiss one another passionately for no reason whatsoever, they cuddle, and they are mindful about turning toward.

So, take a moment to look at your Bank statement.  If you don’t have a rich account, start small by noticing your partner’s bids. Turn towards them, again and again, as much as possible. Bid by bid, your interactions will positively sculpt your relationship until your Emotional Bank Account represents the wealth of love and respect you have for each other.

You can’t put a price on that.