Filling Your Love Bank

Marriage Counseling Insights From Westlake Village-Based Patricia McTague-Loft

Folk wisdom can touch on all aspects of our relationships. Take the idea of a “love bank,” for example. In simpler times, wise old grandparents would often sit down with a newly betrothed grandson or granddaughter and offer a bit of advice. “Be sure to fill your love bank,” they’d say — a metaphorical piggy bank that you add a token to every time you give an unexpected hug or a genuine compliment. “Then,” they’d continue, “make sure it’s nice and full. Because every time you do something to make your beloved crazy — and you will — a token is going to be taken out of your bank. If your love bank is ever empty, you’re going to be in trouble.”

It turns out that’s pretty good advice, confirmed by modern psychological research. Mark Travers, Ph.D., writing for, cites renowned psychologist Dr. John Gottman, saying, he “has extensively studied what makes relationships thrive and discovered a principle known as the 5:1 ratio, or the magic ratio. This ratio suggests that for every negative interaction, such as criticism, defensiveness, dismissiveness, or even passive-aggressive body language like eye-rolling, there should be five or more positive interactions to keep the relationship healthy and resilient.”

There’s an important point to remember about Gottman’s principle. People, almost by nature, seem to fixate on negative experiences and forget positive ones. Hence, the “5:1” ratio. It takes a lot of hugs to make up for one eye-roll.

But what else can you do besides surprising your partner with a hug? Travers give five suggestions.

“Express Appreciation Daily.” Whether it’s exercise or strengthening your relationship, frequency counts. You can’t stay in shape working out once a week. The point, of course, is to make your partner feel special. Travers refers to research that confirms that “individuals who feel more appreciated by their romantic partners tend to be more appreciative in return, leading to greater responsiveness to their partners’ needs. Additionally, appreciative individuals report higher commitment levels and are more likely to remain in their relationships over time.”

What can you do on a daily basis? Travers has a few suggestions.

  • “Acknowledge the little things.” Routines may not be exciting but they are necessary. They also give you almost endless opportunities to show a little gratitude out of the blue — hey, thanks for picking up the kids — I know that can be a drag sometimes!
  • “Compliment their strengths.” The added bonus here is that it makes you think about what you love in your partner. You’re so upbeat — you make me happy even when I’m having a tough day.
  • “Celebrate achievements.” Accomplishing a goal doesn’t happen by accident. Recognize what your partner has done and add a simple, wow, I’m proud of you.

“Prioritize Quality Time.” It says a lot about our stressful times that research indicates quality time can be defined as simply time spent together not in conflict. Of course, sitting on the couch and not fighting isn’t much of a goal. So make the effort to do more: plan date nights or take part, even as a spectator, in your partner’s sport or hobby.

“Apologize and Forgive.” Forgiveness is complex, so much so that entire books are written on the subject. Apologizing precedes forgiveness, though, so a good, simple formula to remember is: acknowledge your offense; state that you know it hurt your partner; explain what happened (without making excuses); express remorse (adding that you feel ashamed — if you actually feel shame); and then offer to make amends.  

“Accept Their Perspective.” Travers turns to a study from the Journal of Sex Research to emphasize the value of seeing the situation from your partner’s viewpoint. “Considering your partner’s viewpoint shifts focus from immediate, self-centered desires to broader relationship concerns and long-term consequences,” Travers writes. “This perspective-taking can lead to behaviors that ensure long-term happiness for both partners. Individuals who consider their partner’s viewpoint often feel closer, more caring and more inclined to spend time together. These feelings of concern can also help de-escalate conflicts, supporting relationship well-being during challenges both within and outside the relationship.”

“Keep It Light.” Adding to your Love Bank doesn’t have to be work. The best way both partners can add to their bank is to have fun together. Sharing inside jokes, playfully teasing and just seeing the humor in everyday situations builds intimacy.