How emotional intelligence (EQ) impacts relationships
by Jeanne Segal, Ph.D.
Emotional intelligence (EQ) is the secret of lasting intimate relationships, largely because it makes us extremely aware of the changes—large and small—that are constantly occurring in ourselves and others. By building your EQ, you’ll have the sensitivity that each of us is always seeking in a significant other. You’ll automatically sense, through active awareness and empathy, the little shifts in the dynamics of your romance that signal a need for action.
We have the potential to attain the kind of love we all dream of—deep intimacy, mutual kindness, real commitment, soulful caring—simply because of empathy, our innate ability to share emotional experience. But to reach the height of romance we need all the skills of a high EQ: sharp emotional awareness to avoid mistaking infatuation or lust for lasting love; acceptance to experience emotions that could harm a relationship if left to fester; and a vigilant active awareness to appraise us of what’s working and what isn’t.
Building emotionally intelligent romantic relationships
We don’t have to choose the wrong lovers, end up in multiple failed marriages, or let the romance seep out of our long-term relationships. We don’t have to let conflicting needs and wants to come between two people who love each other. We don’t have to resign ourselves to boredom or bickering in our love lives.
We have the potential to attain the kind of love we all dream of—deep intimacy and mutual kindness, real committed, soulful caring—simply because of empathy and our innate ability to share emotional experience. But to achieve those relationship goals, we need all the skills of a high EQ:
- astute emotional awareness to avoid mistaking infatuation or lust for lasting love
- acceptance to experience emotions that could harm a relationship if left to fester, and
- vigilant active awareness to apprise us of what’s working and what isn’t.
Fortunately, your EQ doesn’t need to have peaked before you embark on love. In fact, for many people, falling in love serves as motivation for reeducating the heart. That’s why some of the most deeply passionate lovers are in their eighties: They discover that two high EQs add up to a romance that never stops growing, never loses excitement, and always strengthens them both, individually as well as collectively.
Actively seek change in your relationship
When you ride out your fear of change, you discover that different does not necessarily mean worse. Things often come out better than ever on the far side of change. Relationships are organisms themselves, and by nature must change. Any relationships not nudged toward the kind of growth you want will drift into change of another kind—maybe one you don’t want. Your ability to embrace change pays off in courage and optimism. Ask yourself, does your lover need something new from you? Do you need to schedule some time to reevaluate together? Are external influences demanding a change in your respective roles? Are you as happy as you used to be? Without EQ, such questions are often just too scary to face, so many lovers ignore signals of change until it’s too late.
View the challenges you encounter as opportunities rather than problems
Your courage and optimism allow you to view dilemmas not as problems, but as challenging opportunities. How creative can the two of you be? When you don’t need to blame each other for your emotions, you’re not controlled by negative emotional memories, and you’re alert not to repeat the same old mistake. When you have a high EQ, you’re liberated from ruts and resignation, and you can get down to resourceful problem solving. You can meet differences between you and unavoidable crises, as invitations to find each other, challenges to get closer and emerge individually and collectively stronger.
Respect all the feelings you have for each other
We’re not always delighted by the discoveries we make about the person we love, but when it comes to emotions, it’s necessary to accept them all. Being in love doesn’t mean never feeling angry, disappointed, hurt, or jealous. How you act on your emotions is up to you; what’s important is that you actually feel them. Many relationships have been ruined by blame, and millions of couples have missed out on deep intimacy because of shame. Both are cruel remainders of unfelt anger, fear, and anxiety. If you’ve done the work of building EQ, you’ll experience the emotions and get on with your life together.
Keep the laughter in your love life
To avoid intellectualizing emotions you, need acceptance, and a big part of your acceptance comes from laughter. Lovers who can’t laugh together about themselves probably aren’t very accepting of their relationships. They may not be able to tolerate its unique flaws and inevitable stumbles, any more than they can put up with their own. They’re also less likely to be open to a relationship’s most pleasant surprises. Your high EQ, in contrast, means you can keep improving your relationship, but you’ll never get trapped by intolerant expectations of perfection.
10 Ways to Love Smart
If you’re new to love or new to EQ, your course will be surer if you remember to stick to these tips:
- Let the three gauges of well-being inform you about the romantic choices you make. If you feel energized, mentally clear, and more loving generally, you’re in a relationship with a future.
- Let your lover know what you feel. If you’re going to communicate anything, express what you feel—as it defines who you are. If you pretend to be someone or something you’re not, you’ll never feel loved.
- Listen from emotional experience. Attune to your lover’s feelings as you listen to his or her words.
- Show the support and love that your lover needs. One person may find a suggestion or a helping hand useful or comforting; another person may find the same action intrusive. Not everyone likes to be touched in the same way, enjoys being affectionate in public, or responds the same way to receiving gifts. Let empathy guide you.
- When in doubt, ask. Love doesn’t grant that you’ll know everything. If you don’t ask how your lover feels about something, you’ll never know.
- Be prepared to work at the relationship. Why do so many people believe their work is done once they’ve found true love? Relationships grow and thrive with attention, or wither and die of neglect.
- Learn from your lover. Active awareness keeps you from relying on past assumptions.
- Watch out for emotional memories. Emotional remainders of past hurts are most dangerous with those we love today.
- Remember that the only problem with making mistakes is not admitting it. The complexities of relationships guarantee error, but even mistakes are opportunities for growth if met without blame.
- Use change as an opportunity to grow your relationship. Any change is stressful, but it is also an opportunity to renew and revitalize your relationship.
Responding to a low-EQ romantic partner
We don’t all grow emotional muscle at the same rate. If you’re ahead of the one you love, here are some high-EQ ways to respond to low-EQ behavior and poor listeners.
- Take time to consider the feelings as well as the words that you want your partner to hear. If you’re not clear about what you need and why you need it, your message may be mixed up.
- Select a time when you and your partner are not rushed or hassled. Take a walk together or make a date for brunch or dinner, but watch the alcohol if you want them to remember the discussion.
- Send “I feel” messages—about your needs—if you want your partner to hear that something is wrong with them. For example, “I feel like making love more often, but I have this thing about the odor of onions and garlic, so would you be willing to brush your teeth before coming to bed?
- If your partner reacts defensively to the feeling you’ve expressed, repeat their concerns: “You’re afraid that if I take this job you and the kids will be neglected.”
- Repeat your “I feel” message, then listen again and keep up the process until you’re satisfied you’ve been heard.