Emerge Therapy

The Stroke Bank Challenge


How much are you depositing in the Stroke Bank? This simple concept might just be the easiest way to start improving your relationship. Take the challenge today and see improvements in your relationship within 5 days.

In the 1960’s Eric Berne, a Canadian born Psychiatrist and developer of Transactional Analysis, introduced us to the concept of Psychological strokes (Berne 1961). Berne defined a stroke as a unit of human recognition. More broadly the term stroke can encompass any human interaction that meets our need for contact. This can be a simple smile or nod of the head, a compliment, or a more formal recognition of achievements such as an award or certificate. Berne used the phrase  Strokes to show how as adults we try to replace the physical touch of our infant years with more subtle forms of recognition. Of course, Strokes can also be negative.

So how does this relate to your relationship? The Gottman Institute (www.gottman.com) found that successful couples had a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative strokes. I really like this statistic. It acknowledges that even good relationships have a level of disagreement and conflict, but furthermore, the solution lies in simply being nice to each other.

So often when couples present in counselling the stroke ratio has fallen dramatically below the 5:1 level. In fact, some couples in therapy find it difficult to say anything positive about their partner without adding a “but”.

One of the techniques I use to help you rebuild your relationship is to introduce the idea of a Stroke Bank. Like a real bank, you make deposits, withdrawals and sometimes go overdrawn. Every time you compliment or acknowledge your partner’s needs you are putting deposits in the bank and every time you criticise or show contempt you are making withdrawals.  And like a real bank if you do not have enough credit in the bank to cover your withdrawal then you go overdrawn.

Most couples can manage a small amount of day to day conflict because they have a nice positive balance in the Stroke Bank. They know that any negative comments are easily outweighed by the abundant positive strokes. The negative strokes are cushioned by strong memories of positive and loving transactions.

But if you go overdrawn in the Stroke Bank your relationship is moving into difficult terrain. The criticism and insults really hit home. Positive strokes seem few and far between as your memories of better times become more distant. Once you are overdrawn your attempts to give positive Strokes are needed to simply pay off the overdraft and are not felt with the warmth and love intended.

Most couples cannot survive spending extended periods of time in overdraft so it is important that when addressing the issues in your relationship you start by making some deposits in the Stroke Bank.

So are you ready to take the 5 Day Stroke Bank Challenge? Over the next 5 days, the aim is to build a nice healthy balance in your Stoke Bank. Let’s aim for at least 5 positive transactions each day. By the end of the week, you will have a healthy balance in your Stoke Bank. More importantly, you will have started to build a habit of positive transactions that will form the bedrock for a long and healthy relationship.

Here are some pointers to get you going if you are struggling. Remember Strokes don’t have to be verbal but if you choose a non verbal stroke (e.g a hug or making someone a cuppa) try and follow it up with some words so the Stroke hits home. A hug accompanied by the words “I really appreciate all you do for me” is twice as powerful as the hug on its own.

Ideally, the task is best done as a couple but even if you do it alone it will have benefit.

Day 1: Start simply by appreciating the small things. Has your partner helped with the chores? Made you a cuppa? Let you watch your favourite TV program. Make sure you show your appreciation with a positive stroke. No matter how small the gesture your appreciation will be heard by your partner.

Day 2: Look for reasons to complement your partner. Again it doesn’t matter what you choose. The task is about you looking for, and stating the positive aspects of your relationship.

Day 3: Write down 5 things that initially attracted you to your partner. Look for opportunities during the day to show how much you still feel about them.

Day 4: Surprise your partner. Who doesn’t love a surprise? Plan a date, give a small gift, pack their lunch with a loving note, or complete a chore that your partner usually does. Even a small gesture can show your appreciation.

Day 5: It’s the last day of the challenge so let’s pull out all the stops. See how many ways you can give your partner positive strokes.Use a range of verbal and nonverbal strokes. Have fun with it. Making your partner laugh can be a great stroke in itself.

At the end of the challenge take a moment to reflect on how your relationship has been over the past 5 days. If all has gone well you should be starting to feel a stronger connection developing between you both. Think about which Strokes particularly worked well and build on this over the next month.

Remember at some point you will have to make a withdrawal from the Stroke Bank so make sure your relationship has a healthy balance.


Berne, E (1961) Transactional Analysis in Psychotherapy, New York: Grove Press

Post Tags:

How much are you depositing in the Stroke Bank? This simple concept might just be the easiest way to start improving your relationship. Take the challenge today and see improvements in your relationship within 5 days.

About Us