The credit and debit of relationships

Do you believe in love at first sight? Do you think that if something is meant to be, problems will work themselves out? If you do, I suggest you don’t read on because the following idea is going to be anathema to your idea of what a relationship should be.

Over the past few years I’ve come to realise something that all strong, healthy relationships have in common: they work. Not in the sense that the people involved are right for each other, whatever that means. But that the people involved are willing to work tirelessly on their problems and weaknesses.

In a healthy relationship, there are boundaries and there is constant communication. If person A needs space, they tell person B, and that wish is respected. If person A is being selfish, person B tells them, and person A absorbs the feedback and adapts accordingly.

There are more examples, but I don’t want to labor the point. And the point is this: good relationships—strong, healthy, enduring, relationships—are hard work. They require unceasing care and attention to preserve and maintain them. A constant back-and-forth. That goes for friends, family, and romantic partners. 

Now, if you subscribe to the idea that real relationships require real work, you might also consider another idea; you can view a relationship like a bank account. Every word spoken and action taken carries a positive or negative weight. It either credits or debits the account. Here are a few examples.

Debits: Ignoring your spouse when they walk through the door after a hard day at work. Seeing that someone is upset and trying to avoid talking about it. Talking only about yourself all the time. Not taking an interest in your partner’s social life. 

Credits: Stopping what you’re doing and greeting your spouse with a hug and a kiss when they get home. Sensing a problem between the two of you and talking about it at the first possible moment. Being sincerely interested in your partner’s social life. 

There’s an endless amount of examples. Some are universal: it’s obviously a debit if you verbally abuse your spouse. And some are specific to the people involved: folding your partner’s washing in just the right way. Nevertheless, the aim is to accumulate as much capital as possible in your relationship’s bank account. 

Because the relationships that break down and end go are the ones that go into debt. All the involved parties make so many debits on their relationship’s account that they sink deeper and deeper into the red, to the point where they can’t climb back out. And that’s where the relationship ends. With a declaration of bankruptcy.