Do you ever wonder how happily married couples stay that way? As it turns out, happy couples are pretty much like every other couple. They have heated arguments. They have work stresses. They struggle to raise their kids. Difficult family situations pop up, and often partners don’t see eye to eye. So what sets happily married couples apart? What keeps them relatively happy and satisfied?
One important distinction that sets happily married couples apart from unhappily married couples is a greater capacity for emotional intelligence (EQ) in their relationship. What exactly is emotional intelligence, you ask? It can be defined as being skilled in awareness of your emotions, understanding your emotions and managing your emotions in a wise and empathetic way. Emotions are a powerful force that sets the tone for a marriage, good or bad.
Happy couples apply their emotional intelligence in their daily interactions with each other. They discuss issues in a courteous way. They listen. Their positive interactions outweigh their negative interactions. They tend to express admiration, understanding, and respect for each other.
There is a feeling that your partner is in your corner, has your back, and will support you no matter what. These characteristics create a positive emotional climate leading to feelings of closeness, intimacy, and greater overall satisfaction and happiness.
The way you feel about your feelings known as meta-emotions affects the way you interact with your partner. If you were taught as a child that negative feelings are bad and you were discouraged from expressing them, you may find yourself minimizing or avoiding conflict as much as possible or you may find yourself denying your feelings and working hard to please others. Uncomfortable negative feelings such as anger, fear, or hurt are useful signals letting you know something is wrong and needs to be attended to. Avoiding these powerful feelings only strengthens their negative impact on you and your relationship, thus making it more difficult to cope when they resurface over and over again.
Make a commitment to acknowledge, understand, and express your emotions without using criticism, blame, or judgment.
Here are a few ways you can raise your emotional intelligence in your relationship:
- Make friends with your feelings. Identify what you are feeling and what triggered this feeling. Take some time, away from your partner if necessary, to understand what is causing you to feel this way. Is there a history to this feeling? Give yourself permission to feel angry, hurt, or afraid. Your feelings do not define who you are as a person.
- Calm down. Negative feelings have a way of overwhelming us and clouding our judgment. When flooded with a negative perspective, it is difficult to be objective and look at things in a balanced way. You may find yourself being more critical or defensive than usual. Decrease your tension by taking a break from the problem. Relax your mind and body with activities you enjoy, such as listening to music, reading, walking, or meditating.
- Turn toward your partner. After you have identified your feelings and returned to a calmer state, you are ready to begin a more productive conversation. Express your needs in an assertive but non-aggressive way. Try to listen to your partner without interrupting. Acknowledge and validate your partner’s feelings. If negative feelings flare up again, take another break from the issue. Do not start a discussion again for anywhere from 20 minutes to 24 hours.
Make a commitment to acknowledge, understand, and express your emotions without using criticism, blame, or judgment. Negative emotions are not the enemy; it’s how they are expressed that can be problematic. When negative emotions come up, take a break, calm down, and then try turning again toward your partner to discuss. Doing so will most likely lead to greater connection and understanding between you, increasing your level of satisfaction and happiness in your relationship.
Gottman, J. M., & Silver, N. (2000). The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country’s Foremost Relationship Expert. New York, NY: Harmony.
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