Marriage is a Credit Card.

Mathis WeddingMarriage vows differ from religion to religion, culture to culture and belief system to belief system. In all the diversity, one common thread runs through them all: Better or worse.

What is the purpose?

People view relationships (sans marriage) as transient. They are equally easy to get into and out of because there is no legal impediment to a break. Necessarily, the addition of for better or worse adds a layer of longevity by actually vowing to stick with Mate regardless of the current comfort level.

Easy When It Is Good


The Honeymoon Begins

While dating you are engulfed in fun, happiness and good times. You chose places to go and things to do because of the pleasure they will bring both you and Mate. You attempt new things during the discovery phase to build a closer connection with Mate. Your expenditure of emotional capital is very low and the return is high.

But When It Is Bad…

…you are spending more emotional capital for little or no return.  (Flinches from kick in the inbox. What? Oh, right. I forgot.)

What is emotional capital?

Every emotion requires you to burn something. Happiness burns calories. Fear burns adrenaline. Worry burns vitamin C. All of them take a physical toll on your body. Think of the physical effects as currency. Calories are pennies. Adrenaline is a saw buck. Vitamin C is a C-note.

What is your bank balance?

English: Passbook sample for a fictional bank....

Deposits Should Exceed Withdrawals

At any given point in time, you have a finite amount of resources to spend emotionally. All emotions burn time, which has extremely finite limits. When you look at the time per day you spend in any one particular emotion, you see how you are spending your emotional capital.

When It Is Bad…

…you are spending your capital on worry about (work, money, conflict). Or you are spending energy on (anger, fear, sadness). What you burn in these times is not as easily replaced as the calories you get sharing an ice cream with Mate.

No Pay. No Play.

empty walletOnce you are married, you cannot easily declare emotional bankruptcy because you vowed to stick with the program for better or worse. Just because you are low on (or empty of) emotional capital does not absolve you from the commitment you made to Mate.

Get a loan.

Emotional debt consolidation is a valid path out of emotional bankruptcy. Mate made the same commitment to you. Share the negative emotions. This offers you some instant relief.

You share the feelings, which gives you a sense of camaraderie while allowing you a teammate. Everything is easier with help…especially when the help knows exactly what the situation is.

The Same Interest Rate

By sharing, you and Mate can put forth effort toward solving the problem. You have the same things at stake. By talking about it, you can balance the problem between you. Whether you choose a multi-pronged approach or a united front against your situation, you have strength in numbers. Use the adversity to strengthen your relationship.

A Grace Period

Image by John McDevitt ~ The Aware Writer

Take a break from the strife. When your issue is with forces or situations out of your direct control (friend drama, extended family tragedy, work), simply cut off spending. Give both of you a time to not dwell on the problem.

Spend healthy emotional capital by sharing a meal, an afternoon in bed, a walk or a tennis match. In the endorphin release, one of you may have an epiphany to alleviate some of your stress.

Building Credit

Look back at your relationship. You have been through other patches which were not fields of daisies. These are positive indicators you will get through this rough patch stronger than before. If you think the situation is insurmountable, look at your emotional credit report for a vote of confidence.

Choosing Security

If you and Mate have gotten to the point you cannot see any alternative to emotional bankruptcy, try enlisting the help of a professional (or three). Talk to your physician about your own mental health. Talk to your spiritual adviser, both with and without Mate. Talk to a marriage counselor. All three can give you valuable guidance.

Beware of Scams

Not all of the advice you will get will be in the best interest of your relationship. While friends are great providers of emotional capital when times are good, they are not always the best solution when times are bad. They bring to the table their own prejudices and bad experiences. Even well-meaning friends can give relationship advice which can damage your marriage beyond the point of reconstruction.

Attorneys are not usually on the list of marital advisers. Only in cases where your problem is a legal or probate one is a lawyer the professional to seek.

Annual Fee

Keeping problems out in the open and defeating them as a team strengthen a marriage. Each anniversary build up some additional emotional capital with a celebration of another year together…for better or worse.

What steps do you take to ensure your emotional currency? Do you know of other scams? When is the cost of marital credit too high?

M3 will never endorse any abusive relationship. If your issue is with either emotional or physical abuse, seek help immediately from friends, family, professionals and authorities.

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© Red Dwyer 2012
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  1. Red, curiously, I see marriage as a healthy savings account -the value you put into it grows in an excellent relationship, which can be borrowed against in tough times– without ever running the relationship into a negative balance.
    If a relationship starts out like a credit card and run into an immediate negative balance that has to be repaid, the ‘interest’ ie. the “make up for THAT by doing this” –is a killer.

    • There is a lot of psychology which goes into the metaphor. Good marriages are more like savings accounts (truly more like life insurance policies), but average and poor marriages (which are by far the majority) are credit cards.

  2. bear

     /  January 4, 2012

    I agree with Raymond to a point, the trick is to build the account bigger to the positive and avoiding the interest payment. That mean communications!!! Everyone will now and again need to make an interest payment but if you can stay ahead, the interest payments are not overwhelming!

    • Hey Bear, Unless I miss the mark, it sounds like you are saying communication is a sometimes necessary drudgery in the relationship. Seems that in the previous posts, the majority voiced that open lines of communication were a necessity. Am I misunderstanding your perspective? Please enlighten me.

      • bear

         /  January 5, 2012

        Nope ya missed it , communication is a way of life with anyone. Only with certain people does it become mundane or in fact down right boring. Communication is super important in a marriage not mundane or boring. It goes without saying if there is no communication the marriage will fail. And if you don’t talk, how will the mate know?

    • Yes, communication is making the payment before the interest is due.

      • Thanks Red. I guess the way that I read it, it seemed like he said communication was the interest payment. Thanks for the clarification.

  3. Interesting metaphor Red. Your section on A Grace Period could go further because many people spend too much emotional capital on things they cannot control and lose focus on what they can control. The only thing a person can control is their own thoughts and actions. I believe emotions are a barometer of those thoughts (and actions).

    Focusing on the positive aspects of a mate can cause that barometer to rise just as focusing on the negative aspects will cause the barometer to fall with storms sure to follow. Introspection and perspective might just nudge the balance to a tipping point and a debt free marriage.


    • Very true. Attitude plays a big part in what we perceive to be bad times. Most clouds hold a silver lining. The trick is learning. Thank you, John. Red.

  4. Love this! One thing people miss is that you have to keep putting money in – if both of you only take out – you’re both doomed. I’m going to read this again tomorrow when I’m not tired. Good stuff.

  5. I just try to put in all I can so I don’t go bankrupt. Misery loves company, so watch who you vent too. Unhappy people tend to go towards the doomsday approach.

    • That is so the truth. I prefer to vent to Bear, as opposed to the bobbleheads who will tell me I am right.

  6. It’s not ‘tomorrow’, but I am rereading:) I especially like this: “Just because you are low on (or empty of) emotional capital does not absolve you from the commitment you made to Mate.” So many think it does. I would love to get my son/d-i-l to read this stuff, but I doubt it. Angie

    • Share the link on FB. You may be surprised who picks them up and looks at them. Especially one with this name!

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