**This is a work of nonfiction based on actual events that I have experienced firsthand; used with permission.
I am an emotional person, and I thought that was a weakness for a very long time. As a young adult, I was often shamed and guilted for being unapologetically expressive and setting boundaries in my romantic relationships.
But things are different now.
The emotional intelligence that I was once encouraged to tone down allows me to maintain a healthy, fulfilling romantic partnership. Naturally, the relationship with my lover is not flawless. We have weathered our share of challenges, but rather than being on a perpetual emotional rollercoaster ride, we work through things collectively.
We do not blame or shame one another for how we feel, even when our opinions and beliefs are at odds. Our ability to laugh at our shortcomings and be present during difficult conversations, has made us stronger.
We are both committed to growing — individually and together.
How does emotional intelligence impact a relationship?
People with high emotional intelligence are more equipped to nurture relationships, cope with adversity, and empathize.
“Emotional intelligence is a way of recognizing, understanding, and choosing how we think, feel, and act. It shapes our interactions with others and our understanding of ourselves. It defines how and what we learn; it allows us to set priorities; it determines the majority of our daily actions. Research suggests it is responsible for as much as 80 percent of the “success” in our lives.” — Joshua Freedman
In relationships, emotional intelligence creates the potential for deep intimacy and lasting commitment. People who develop a strong sense of emotional awareness can work through the complex and sometimes harmful emotions that arise in romantic relationships.
The ability to evaluate the state of a relationship, to know what’s working, what needs attention without fearing change, are among the benefits that emotional intelligence provides.
If you want to build an exciting relationship that is ripe with growth, that stimulates both you and your partner, here are five ways to do that:
Become aware of your emotional triggers.
It took me years to recognize that silence (a.k.a. stonewalling) is an emotional trigger for me. As a child, silent treatment was one of the ways my parents handled relational discomfort. And while they were doing the best they could, these behaviors were traumatic for me.
The more awareness I have around my emotional triggers (yes, I have more than one), the more manageable they become.
For example, I know that my partner gets laser-focused when he’s working on a project, which often means he doesn’t come up for air for days at a time.
I would have interpreted his silence as a form of abandonment in the past. But instead, I choose to talk about it. Once we discussed his tendency to get lost in his work and my emotional triggers around unprompted silences, we developed a plan that worked for both of us.
Being aware of your emotional triggers allows you to use your words, ask for the support you need, and create solutions.
It’s also important to recognize your emotional states. When you’re feeling happy, sad, angry, or anxious, you need to be able to identify those feelings and understand what’s causing them. This will help you manage your emotions better and constructively respond to situations.
“Deficits in emotional processing and expressivity lead to problems in both romantic and platonic relationships.” — Glenn Geher, Ph.D.
Learn how to regulate your emotions.
Another thing I have found to be true is it’s not enough to be aware of your triggers. You also need to know how to regulate your emotions.
By using healthy coping mechanisms, I can better deal with difficult situations. So rather than giving my partner the cold shoulder, I am honest with myself about how I’m feeling.
The angsty feelings often completely dissolve when I acknowledge them to myself. Other times, I need to take it a step further and meditate or talk it out.
There are many different coping mechanisms, and you may need to try a few until you find one that works for you. Common coping mechanisms include exercise, writing, deep breathing, and talking to a friend.
Another essential part of regulating your emotions is understanding your emotional limits.
As a rule, when I am feeling highly emotional, I take the advice of author and shame researcher Brené Brown, and I don’t call, I don’t text, and I don’t post.
Because let’s face it, when you’re emotional, you can’t think straight or make good decisions. So when you find yourself in this kind of situation, take a step back and give yourself some time to calm down.
Trust me; it’s much easier to take a pause and collect yourself than it is to recover from saying or doing something harmful to the person you love.
“Whether or not we choose to express them, feelings impact us. Regulating our emotions involves dealing with them in a way that allows us to best meet our personal and professional goals — or at least prevent our feelings from interfering with them.” — David B. Feldman, Ph.D.
Practice empathy with others.
I am a firm believer in treating people the way I want to be treated. I do my best to try and understand other people’s feelings and respond in a meaningful and helpful manner — this is called empathy.
Practicing empathy is all about imagining yourself in the other person’s shoes. One way to do that is by asking this simple question: How would I feel if this were me?
When you empathize with someone, you feel what they’re feeling and try to understand why they’re feeling that way. This can help you build a more solid relationship with your partner.
Empathy is a vital component in any healthy relationship, but it’s crucial in romantic relationships. When you can empathize with your partner, you can better understand their needs and wants. You’ll also be more likely to forgive them when they make a mistake.
“When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but with creatures of emotion.” — Dale Carnegie
Communicate effectively and disagree constructively.
I learned early on that communication is the key that unlocks healthy relationships. Growing up, I watched the people around me struggling to find fulfillment simply because they hadn’t developed healthy communication skills.
When you communicate effectively, you can express yourself clearly and concisely. It would help if you also listened to understand so that your partner feels seen and heard by you.
Disagreements are a part of life, but how you handle them can make or break your relationship.
The ability to resolve disagreements constructively is a skill that takes time and practice. But when you’re able to work through the tricky bits, you create relational resilience, the kind that fortifies your connection and deepens intimacy.
It’s important to remember that communication is a two-way street. You need to be willing to listen to your partner’s point of view, even if you disagree with them. The more emotionally intelligent you are, the more you’ll see that agreeing is not nearly as important as respecting each other’s thoughts and opinions.
“Anybody can become angry, that is easy; but to be angry with the right person, and to the right degree, and at the right time, and for the right purpose, and in the right way, that is not within everybody’s power, that is not easy.” — Aristotle
Practicing self-care will help you become more emotionally intelligent.
I wholeheartedly believe that practicing self-care is a part of being emotionally intelligent. And I’m not just talking about mani-pedis and spa days. But also taking exceptional care of yourself mentally and physically.
My self-care practice includes reading, naps, meditation, and stretching. Because when I take care of myself, I feel less stressed and better equipped to handle difficult situations.
Self-care is more than a trendy-hot-button topic for social media consumption. It’s about developing habits that help you connect with yourself more intimately, enabling you to be more present with your partner.
“It takes something more than intelligence to act intelligently.” — Fyodor Dostoyevsky
If you want to improve your emotional intelligence in your relationship, practice the skills listed above. These skills will help you build a stronger foundation for yourself and the person you love.
How has your emotional awareness positively or negatively impacted your relationship?