Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Love Bank

I'm getting married this month. As The Fiance and I contemplate this, we can't help but discuss what kind of marriage we hope to have. We both feel strongly that we have a pretty damn good shot at it. We were both fortunate enough to go through some pretty traumatic relationships and their consequential breakups/divorces. Fortunately for us, we didn't come through them unscathed and we didn't come through them with any illusions about ourselves. 

We came out of these experiences with a strong desire, if not zeal, to never let it happen again. I think what we both learned is that yes, we probably chose the wrong people the last time around. But I think we also learned that neither one of us is perfect, and if we're going to make a relationship work, we're going to have to actually do some work.

The Fiance reminded me of a great site he'd told me about not long after we first met. It's called Marriage Builders and it's based on the work of Dr. Harley. One of the concepts that made a lasting impression on me is the idea of The Love Bank.

Dr. Harley's idea is that we all have a love bank, a reservoir of needs, that must be filled in order for us to feel happy and loved. Having our needs met not only makes us personally happy, it makes us generous with others. If your love bank is full, you're more likely to want to fill your significant other's love bank too. It creates a culture of giving, where the giving is free and easy because it's so abundant. It's how you usually feel in a new relationship.

Now if someone grows unhappy, feels neglected or simply starts to grow apart as is often the case in long-term relationships, that person is not so likely to fill the significant other's love bank. It becomes a, "Screw you. Why should I do something for you, when you're not doing anything for me" culture.

That's bad news, and I suspect we've all been there. I know I have.

So sometimes we've got to take one for the team. I know, I know, it sounds crazy, but I think sometimes, especially early on in relationships (or before things have gone way, way south) we've got to do the nice things for our significant other, even if we don't necessarily feel like it. You've got to keep doing it, just like you've got to keep exercising, or picking up your house or paying your bills. It's maintenance, baby.

I know maintenance doesn't sound particularly romantic, but I think it's necessary. It's not unlike making your bed. Sure, your bed doesn't really have to be made every day. You're just going to get back into anyway. I was a serial non-bedmaker for decades. I was a bedmaking rebel and I held its flag high. 

It wasn't until the past couple of years that I realized it's not about making the bed. It's not about the bed at all. It's about Right Effort. The Buddha said that without effort, nothing can be accomplished. If you don't make your bed in the morning, you leave your bedroom in disharmony. You sense that disharmony when you come home at night. Not making the bed can be like leaving dishes in the sink. It's a pattern of behavior and that behavior is neglect. Neglect begets more neglect. Soon your house is a mess, all the time.

Making regular, consistent, reliable deposits in your significant other's love bank is simply a matter of putting right effort into the relationship. For instance, whenever The Fiance is at my house, I get up first, go downstairs and make a pot of coffee. I bring him a cup of hot coffee when it's done. I never make a pot of coffee during the week when I'm home alone, I do it for him because it makes him feel loved. And guess what? When I'm at his house, he does the same for me.

Sure, it's a small gesture, but it's like making the bed. Bringing each other a cup of coffee is making a deposit in our love banks (yes, I realize this sounds dirty, you pervs). Dr. Harley covers all manner of ways you can make deposits in each other's love banks (stop it), and he also recognizes that all of our love banks are not the same (really now, you should be ashamed of yourselves).

Some of us don't like coffee.

Some of us like back rubs, or going mountain biking together, or receiving presents, or hugs, or sex (happy now?), conversation and attending one another's events. All manner of things. That's why it's important to find out what's important to your significant other, and vice versa.

You've got to get used to making the bed every day and making it the way your significant other likes it. It's got to become habit. Habits are hard to break. But they can be broken, of course. I'm under no illusions that this is easy. Even someone with OCD-lite can stop making the bed if their psyche changes. Depression can lead to neglect, and neglect can lead to disarray.

It's all connected.

Right Effort permeates all facets of our lives, from our romantic relationships to our friendships, to our parenting and our careers. You've got to make the bed every day. You've got to make deposits.

Otherwise you've got nothing. You're broke and your house is trashed.

Friday, December 4, 2009


What a difference elastic-waist pants make!

I'm not kidding. I feel kinder, gentler and more tolerant of mankind in general today. I feel optimistic, as though, yes, I will in fact lose the baby weight within three months of heaving my daughter out into the world. I feel relaxed and cool, as though I'm not afraid of losing my job. I feel an expanding and yea, limitless capacity for love. I want to hold you all collectively to my bosom. Well, symbolically, that is. Don't touch me please.

(I totally had to "bosom." I tried typing it four different ways and none of them were right. Now I want to find a reason to use "bosomy" in this blog.)

I have a bosomy friend who is on She often sends me the choicest of her matches. Today she received this missive from a prospective lover:


I like to ride my bicycle most of all. When I'm home I like to relax and play with my cats and have a cigar and a glass of water and watch a little TV before bedtime."

And there it ended.

I have to admit, I don't know what confuses me the most, that he drinks water with his cigar or that he has cats (multiple) and he likes to play with them. The macho cigar, together with the cats and the glass of water just jars me.

Clearly, something is not right with the man.

My friend bemoans being on and says to me, "I just want to get off Match someday and meet my prince like you did." I had to remind her that I met my "prince" (he's going to love this) on so she's going to have to stay on Match in order to meet her prince and then sign off.

Thank god The Fiance never mentioned smoking cigars while drinking water nor owning a small herd of cats. Though he was separated and not divorced when I met him, and I had vowed never to date a separated man again after I met a few too many separated men who only wanted to talk about their Exes while on lovely dates with me.

The moral of the story, you see, is that everything is better when you're elastic. Give yourself a little room to breathe. Open yourself and expand your mind to men with cats and not-quite-divorced lovers.

You never know, you might be surpised by what fits.

(Or, you might just wind up wearing elastic waist pants. You know, because the not-quite-divorced lover knocked you up.)