Very basically, emotional intelligence is how well individuals manage their own emotions and react to the emotions of others. While it first appeared in a 1964 paper, the term rose to prominence in psychologist and science journalist Daniel Goleman’s 1995 book, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ. Emotional intelligence is important because we live in a social world, meaning we’re forced to interact with others constantly—whether we like it or not. Emotionally intelligent people are better able to manage conflict, understand and respond to the needs of others and keep their own emotions from getting the better of them.
But what about emotionally intelligent couples? For Talkspace therapist Dr. Amy Cirbus, LMHC, LPC, “Emotional intelligence in a couple is when each person in the relationship is doing the work to be aware of their own emotions, emotional reactions and responses and is able to communicate their experience to their partner in a productive way.” She adds that, “Of equal importance is to then be able to listen and respect their partner's emotional experience.” Together, an emotionally intelligent couple works toward helping each other understand the emotional dynamics within the relationship and grow together in a safe and mutually respectful space. Here are five things, per Dr. Cirbus, that emotionally intelligent couples have in common.
1. They do their own individual work
“Our emotional intelligence can fluctuate,” Dr. Cirbus notes. “As we continue to grow and move through life, it's vital that we keep up with staying in tune with what's going on within ourselves.” That means taking stock of where you are individually and putting in the time and effort to tone your emotional intelligence muscles for your sake and your partner’s sake. Here are some ways to improve your emotional intelligence from Harvard’s school of professional development.
2. They take personal inventory and communicate
It’s no surprise that emotionally intelligent couples are excellent communicators—even when stressful situations arise. Dr. Cirbus tells us, “During emotional moments, stop and take a pause. This helps to be intentional about what you're communicating rather than reactive.”
3. They trust their partner's feedback
If your partner has feedback on how you’re talking to them or how you’re acting in certain circumstances, it’s important to take said feedback graciously and trust that they’re genuinely trying to help you better yourself. “In order to learn about how your emotions and behaviors affect your partner, it's vital to trust that not only is what your partner is saying authentic, but that it's meant to aid in understanding and connection rather than personal insult,” Dr. Cirbus says.
4. They avoid judgement
“Try to observe and make decisions without judgement of yourself or your partner,” Dr. Cirbus stresses. Judgment chips away at that level of trust mentioned in the previous note that’s so crucial to maintain—and building—your emotional intelligence as a person and a couple. Acceptance of yourself and of others is an ongoing project.
5. They keep chipping away at difficult conversations
Dr. Cirbus recommends viewing your relationship as a journey to be taken one step at a time. This is especially important to remember when you’re confronted with an important issue or major life decision. When those conversations arise, be patient. “Most hot topics or conversations that spark a great emotional response can't be resolved in one attempt,” Dr. Cirbus notes. “You don't have to do the work all at once.”