Have you ever wondered if you and the guy you just started dating will make it long term? Or are you about to get married, and wish you could really predict if it will last? Do you ever wonder if you and your wife's relationship is as happy as it can be? What do you think accounts for those who seem madly in love, versus couples who don't make it or seem miserable together?
Most of us can think of all sorts of elements that might make a happy couple. But there's one key factor that almost everyone overlooks: Emotional Intelligence (EI). In fact, a new research meta-analysis shows a significant association between Emotional Intelligence and relationship satisfaction. This means that couples with high Emotional Intelligence tend to be happier in their love life together. This finding was true for both men and women.
What is Emotional Intelligence, exactly? Your level of EI is defined by how effectively you perceive and relate to your emotions. With high EI, there are four main components at play:
- Emotional Awareness: You're consciously aware of your own emotions, and are able to monitor and understand your own feelings. Rather than push your emotions away, you experience and examine them.
- Regulating Emotions: You have the ability to manage your emotions, such as being able to calm down quickly or self soothe when you're upset. Emotions don't overwhelm you, even the more difficult emotions such as fear, sadness, anxiety or anger.
- Harnessing Emotions: You're able to harness your emotions in a helpful way: to achieve goals, solve problems or generally better your situation.
- Highly Perceptive: You're sensitive to the feelings of others. You're able to tune into how others are feeling, and are engaged in the process of listening, showing empathy, and attending to other's emotional states.
We know that couples where both people have high levels of Emotional Intelligence are closer, are more committed to one another, and are more satisfied in their relationships. But what is it about EI that is so helpful? The study authors suggest that being able to manage your own emotions, understand your partners' emotions and behave in emotionally competent ways, all contribute to a happy love life. They also suggest that you likely model good emotional skills when you're high in EI, and these skills may rub off on you partner, benefiting you both.
Increasing Emotional Intelligence
What if you have a feeling that your Emotion Intelligence is slightly lacking in refinement? Worry not. Like any skill, emotional intelligence is something you can learn, practice and improve. Couples counseling with a focus on emotional intelligence is an excellent way to develop these abilities together.
Another simple way to increase your emotional intelligence right away is to begin emotion labeling. To do this, simply pick three times a day (possibly at mealtimes, to make it easier to remember) and take stock of your emotional state. Label your emotions right in that moment. "I'm feeling frustrated." Then label why you might feel that way. "I'm feeling frustrated because I'd wanted to leave work by 5PM but there's no way I'm leaving here until 7PM with this workload." Lastly, label the intensity of your emotion on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being high intensity and 1 being low intensity. "I'm frustrated at about a level 6." As you begin to practice this type of emotional mindfulness, you'll find that you can more easily identify your own emotions and intensity throughout the day on a consistent basis.
So if you're single and looking, be sure to pay attention to your date's level of emotional awareness to see if you're on the same page. If you're about to walk down the aisle, consider pre-marital counseling to assess your EI as a couple and how you can help improve it together. And if you're struggling to understand why you're having problems in your current relationship, consider Emotional Intelligence as a factor that's worth looking at more closely.
Shannon Kolakowski, PsyD, is a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice. She is the author of When Depression Hurts Your Relationship and Single, Shy, and Looking for Love: A Dating Guide for the Shy and Socially Anxious.