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Dr. Hendrie Weisinger Headshot

Want a Better Marriage?...Add Some Emotional Intelligence

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Would you like your marriage to be significantly more rewarding? If you answer yes, I am not going to recommend you and your partner visit a marriage counselor or that you spend money to attend a marriage encounter weekend. I will recommend that you sweeten your relationship by adding some emotional intelligence, EI for short.

Emotional Intelligence. You've heard the term. I will define it as the ability to use your emotions, feelings, moods -- and the emotions, feelings, moods of others-as a source of information that allows you to make better choices so that you can navigate more effectively throughout life.

To develop and apply your emotional intelligence, I would instruct you to increase your self awareness, learn to manage and harness your emotions, and develop skills such as listening that make you more effective interacting with others.

As you are probably well aware, there is considerable empirical research indicating those who apply emotional intelligence to their lives are more broadly successful than those who don't.

As a recognized expert in the EI field, it's an easy stretch to confidently say marriages that apply EI are much more successful than those that don't. A patient never told me he or she was leaving his or her marriage because their partner was too understanding, or attentive to their needs, or always supportive and encouraging.

I'll spare you the case history of the couple that couldn't resolve conflict, give positive criticism to each other, laugh together, and share their intimate thoughts and feelings, but then, as they applied EI to their marriage, it miraculously became better -- just trust the point, that if you want better returns on your marriage investment, add some EI. Two actions to help you get started: are building relationship awareness and managing marriage emotions.

Build Relationship Awareness. High self-awareness tells you what your emotional nutrients are -- the factors that you need to thrive, but for a marriage to thrive, you and your partner have to be aware of each other's emotional nutrients so that you can assist each other in having your needs met. After all, you first entered the relationship because it met your emotional nutrients at the time.

What we need to grow changes all the time so it is EI marriage policy to frequently be aware of whether or not the marriage is supplying the emotional nutrients to your partner. When partners feel their relationship helps them grow, they are motivated to keep it going. Here is an EI marriage exercise to help:

You and your partner independently make two lists.
List 1: write down your three most important emotional nutrients.
List 11: write down what you think are the three most important emotional nutrients for your partner.
Exchange the list and use the results to brainstorm how the marriage can do better in meeting both your emotional nutrients.

Managing Marriage Emotions. An important finding in emotional research is that emotions impact performance for better or for worse. Some emotions, like anger and anxiety can either enhance or impede relationships and performance, while confidence, optimism, tenacity and enthusiasm typically enhance performance and make relationships productive. Depression almost always impedes performance and has a long-term effect of souring the relationship.

The implication here is that marriages that can manage anger and anxiety advantageously, avoid depression, and can create confidence, optimism, tenacity, and enthusiasm will be more rewarding than those who let anger and anxiety get out of hand or unable to generate happy times

What makes it difficult to manage marriage emotions? The emotional landscape that occurs when you are with your partner, is a process called emotional contagion. The term refers to the well documented fact that emotions can be likened to a social virus in that they spread from one person to another. Put another way, you can literally catch your partner's anger, anxiety and depression, or similarly, you can mood infect your partner with confidence and enthusiasm.

Using emotional contagion to your advantage is the key to managing the emotions that impact your marriage. There are many skills you will need to learn.

The first step is to make sure you can "relax on cue." Doing so reflects using your EI ability of being able to regulate your emotional arousal. Being able to regulate your emotional arousal allows you to immunize yourself to catching your partner's emotions, thus allowing you to keep proper emotional perspective, something that is typically lost when both partners are experiencing anger, anxiety, frustration and fear.

These emotions typically increase emotional arousal and cause a mental rigidity that prevents one from making accurate interpretations of the situation and generate counter productive behaviors, like a shouting match or storming out of the house. Furthermore, when both partners simultaneously experience these emotions, the tendency is for each to feed the other, causing an upward spiral that fuels emotional turmoil. This is the danger of emotional contagion.

When both partners can regulate their emotional arousal, each is able to make accurate interpretations of the situation and in so doing, free themselves from being negatively influenced by the other's emotions; you don't yell back at your partner because she yelled at you, or you don't become anxious when your partner's anxiety about household expenses gets out of hand.

Staying relaxed in the face of these emotions allows, at least one person in the marriage, to keep proper emotional perspective and thus guide the marriage to better grounds.

Here's an EI Marriage tip: On a daily basis for the next two months, practice a relaxation exercise with your partner.

The result will be that you will find that your marriage is better able to manage emotions that typically send partners to opposite sides of the house.

In future articles, I will provide more specifics on adding EI to your marriage. For now, building relationship awareness and combating emotional contagion so anger, anxiety, and fear do not get out of hand, is a good beginning to sweetening the deal you made with your partner -- more better than worse!

For those of you in a rush to add EI to your relationship, go to www.drhankw.com and check out the new CD, Ten Tips for Applying Your EI.
www.drhankw.com

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