Harriet heard the front door open and the jangle of keys. From the sounds, she recognized that it was her housemate, Mary. Mary came into the kitchen where Harriet was putting together a salad. A pot of soup simmered on the stove. Mary said, “Hi.”
Harriet looked up, smiled and responded, “Hi.”
Mary looked around, sniffed the air, and said, “Smells good in here. What are we having for dinner?”
“Split pea soup, a big salad and bread that I made. How does that sound?”
“Heavenly. Comfort food. How soon to dinner? Where is Jane?” She moved towards the silverware drawer and opened it.
Harriet responded, “She texted me and said she’d be late and that we shouldn’t wait for her. We can eat as soon as I’ve finished making this salad.”
“Great. I’m famished. I’ll set the table just for us. How was your day?”
What’s Going on Here?
Does this seem like a normal exchange to you? I hope so. This is a little vignette of three home-mates on a normal day. Within it are elements of what makes a housemate relationship work. Let’s look at it more closely. First, there is a spoken greeting. Acknowledging the presence of the other feels good to the other and opens an exchange.
Then Mary takes in what is happening in the kitchen and offers a compliment to the person who is preparing her dinner. When she says the kitchen “smells good” she is recognizing that Harriet has been at work and appreciates it. Most likely Harriet is pleased. The compliment warms up the relationship between them.
Then Mary gets to work setting the table. She sees what needs to be done and does it. She participates.
To set the table she needs to know how many she is setting for. Since Jane has been in touch that she won’t be at dinner, Mary has a clear answer and knows what to expect.
Greetings, compliments, sharing tasks, and communication are the ingredients in this exchange. If you think about it, these are the elements that make any relationship work.
The Emotional Bank Account
Steven Covey, in Seven Habits of Highly Successful People, uses the metaphor of a bank account to illustrate the importance of the cumulative effect of interactions on relationships. One makes deposits into the account building up a good relationship. Deposits into the emotional bank account are made through:
- understanding the individual
- keeping commitments
- clarifying expectations
- paying attention to little things
- showing personal integrity and
- apologizing when you make a withdrawal
Our little vignette has three of these elements. Do you see them?
- Keeping commitments is showing up on time for dinner and cooking dinner when it’s your turn.
- Clarifying expectations is Jane calling to say she’ll be late for dinner and not to wait.
- Paying attention to the little things is Mary complimenting Harriet on the smell of the cooking she is doing and recognizing that she can pitch in and set the table.
Also implied in the vignette is Mary’s willingness to understand Harriet when she asks her how her day was.
For Covey, understanding the individual is the key to all the other deposits. To do this you have to really listen to who that person is, not your idea of who the person is. This is the Golden Rule, do unto others as you would have them do unto you in action. To understand the individual means to pay attention to the person and to listen with empathy.
Showing personal integrity is keeping promises and fulfilling expectations. It’s being true to oneself.
Withdrawals happen where there are misunderstandings or disagreements, which are usually the product of some mistake that was made. Finding the mistake and acknowledging the mistake and offering to fix it is a deposit to the emotional bank account.
The key idea here is that if you have a healthy emotional bank account the withdrawal is not as hurtful to the relationship. The more deposits you make the easier it is to deal with withdrawals. There is enough positive energy in the relationship to weather the disruption. It is worth reading the full description the emotional bank account. (Seven Habits, the chapter called “Paradigms of Interdependence.”) You can also find many articles online. Start here.
If you are a regular reader of this blog you should know that the most important part of living with a home-mate is choosing the right person to live with. It is in the selection process that you begin to know each other. It’s in the selection process that the emotional bank account begins to form. You are discovering whether you like and respect each other. This is essential if you are to have the relationship that is comfortable and in sync. You may not eat together, you may simply enjoy having a home while you live independent lives, but you have to have the comfort of a healthy emotional bank account.
Which of your relationships have a healthy emotional bank account? How did they get there? Do you see the six elements in your relationships? Do you have any with negative balances? How did that happen? Comment below.
Read about real people sharing housing: Experiences of Home Sharing (and What Makes it Work) , The Timing Was Right