Emotional Intelligence
Makes Relationships Work

Unlike IQ, this one can get better as we get older

Emotional intelligence has been described as the core factor in relationship success.

Based on his research into what it is about successful marriages that makes them work, John Gottman says in his book The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work that the ones that work are "emotionally intelligent." Then he goes on to write a whole book about how it shows up in these successful relationships and how people might go about developing this ability.

Emotional intelligence has been a very popular topic for some time in the world of business where working effectively toward common goals makes more money. It seems to follow that it would apply to the most personal, intense, and challenging relationships in our lives as well.

So, what is emotional intelligence anyway? What are they talking about?

Daniel Goleman has provided a simple, common sense definition that seems to say it as well as any, saying that it consists of the ability to

  • be aware of and to take into account one's own emotions

  • manage one's own emotions in a variety of situations

  • be aware of, understand, and react effectively to others' emotions with a sense of how our own and others' emotions interact

  • to use all this in positive ways to build relationships and manage conflict

OK, people with successful marriages seem to have their share of emotional intelligence in how they live and work and love together. They know what they feel, they are good a knowing what others must be feeling, and they use that skillfully to work effectively together.

How can we best use what emotional intelligence we have and how can we get better at it, you ask?

In a nutshell, when it comes to our close relationships, the simplest and most effective way is the old standby - listening and talking respectfully, with interest, and with the willingness to be affected by the other person.

This starts by simply knowing a lot about them. Taking the time and having the interest to find out all kinds of things that go together to be them. Things from favorite colors, to exactly what they do at work and who has been an effective role model in their life are important. 

Many people find tools like One Thousand Questions For Couples to be very helpful. I even heard of a resourceful guy wrote out all the questions on slips of different colored construction paper which he put into a wide-mouth jar. He gave it to his wife for Christmas with the invitation to pull out one a day for discussion and sharing. 

"But what if talking and listening just isn't my thing?"

Well, it all depends on what you want to have happen.

I hate to be the one to say it, but if you want to have a relationship that lasts and that is really good, it probably would be a good idea to work on that.

If you would rather not talk about relationship problems and you are a guy, you are in the majority. Unfortunately, this is not a situation in which doing what most people are doing is a good idea.

Gottman reports findings from his research that 80% of the time it is the woman who brings up the topic of a problem in their relationship and that often the man doesn't want to talk about it. (He says this is the case in relationships that are working well and the ones that are in trouble.) 

Hmmm! So how does the emotionally intelligent couple who knows this go about getting from "here" to "there" so to speak? 

This is a case where we can draw on what we know about gender differences in communication styles and set this up in a way that is more likely to work.  Check out gender difference in communication preferences such as those described in Deborah Tannen's book shown on the left here.

Conscious Sharing of Power and Responsibilities 

How about treating it as a specific problem to be solved, (something that most of us guys are relatively comfortable dealing with,) complete with worksheets and specific decisions to be made about who will decide what to do about foreseeable events, with how much consultation, etc. ?

Don't worry, how each of you feels about the topics comes into the decision about what to do with it. It just happens in a way that keeps discomfort at a minimum and cooperation at a maximum. This process and a sample worksheet can be found at Power in Relationships

Admittedly it is a bit contrived and it will most likely feel strange at first, but it has reported as working well for couples who have used it.

Implicit in this is that increased levels of emotional intelligence come with decreased levels of certainty that I know everything about how it should be. "My way or the highway" is definitely not the tone of this endeavor.

A warning at this point.

Gottman's research was pretty clear on this, that a willingness to be affected by important others is central to marriages lasting and prospering.

It also is just as clear that consciously or unconsciously, many people do not see the world, their families, or their jobs this way. They do not want their spouses, children, subordinates, co-workers to be in this kind of role with them for a variety of reasons.

If this is you, what follows from Gottman's findings is probably not for you. Though some people who have worked with the Power in Relationships worksheet have found that it results in their making better decisions to have input within defined parameters.

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