3 Ways to Nurture Emotional Intelligence in Your Marriage

Couple sits at kitchen counter, looking happily at each other while deep in conversationDo 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

© Copyright 2016 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Ellen Schrier, MS, LPC, NCC, GoodTherapy.org Topic Expert Contributor

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Rowena

    November 3rd, 2016 at 11:47 AM

    Marriage is not the time to be a whiny little baby. This is a personality that should be left far behind in the childhood years.

  • danna

    November 5th, 2016 at 8:19 AM

    One of the biggest things that you can learn to do is have a discussion without feeling like it has to turn into an argument. Not everything out there is worth fighting about, but most everything involves talking things through and coming to a resolution. I think that there are many couples who believe that they really have to duke out every single situation that they come across and my theory is that yes, it is good to talk about it, but come on. Not everything is worth that amount of energy that an argument is going to take. I think that once you find that sweet spot of being able to talk like adults and work things out or even agree to disagree, that is when you realize that this is a person who is worthy of that time and energy.

  • Missty

    November 7th, 2016 at 10:27 AM

    My general mechanism is to turn away from those whom I may have hurt and who may have hurt me, so it is hard for me to turn toward them instead.
    Useful for sure, but hard for me.

  • Leslie

    November 8th, 2016 at 1:43 PM

    Ummm I am the classic avoider of conflict. I don’t like angst and disagreement, and I guess that I will go out of my way to make sure that there is not any even when I know that I am compromising myself to make that happen. I do ti with my husband especially because it just makes things feel more comfortable at home. I am easily persuaded to do what others want to do mainly because I don’t want to ever be the one to rock the boat.

  • frannie

    November 10th, 2016 at 12:38 PM

    Truly I have a wonderful husband and I think that one thing that has made it so great is that he and I have grown up together, we have learned and loved together, and somehow through thick and thin we have always made it work.

  • Rod

    November 11th, 2016 at 11:35 AM

    Simply sitting down and having a meaningful conversation with this person can do wonders.
    Talk about something that really matters to you, not a problem or a concern but something that is simply very important to you. It is amazing how opening up to someone about your deepest and sometimes even your scariest feelings can do wonders for the relationship.

  • Ramona C.

    November 7th, 2018 at 7:00 AM

    really enjoy reading your articles

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