Conflict is inevitable in any romantic relationship. Whether it's about washing the dishes, spending habits or political views, we're bound to disagree with our partners at some point or another. Doing so can be very healthy. Research shows that couples who've mastered the art of productive arguing will likely stay together for the long term.

But that's only if their disagreements are constructive, not destructive. That means each person must be able to assert their view while trying to understand their partner’s perspective, reaching a compromise and taking responsibility.

In relationship dynamics where both partners have high emotional intelligence (EQ), this kind of communication and empathy comes pretty easily. However, when one partner lacks EQ, arguments can quickly become vicious.

Curious to learn if your partner might have a low EQ and what you can do to fix it? Read on to find out.

What does low EQ look like in a romantic partner?

As defined by Yale University researchers in the 1990s, emotional intelligence is "the ability to monitor one's own and other's feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one's thinking and actions."

At Truity, we've developed an EQ test that analyzes five facets of EQ: self-awareness, awareness of others, emotional control, empathy and wellbeing. You can take the test for yourself here to learn about your own EQ and, if you think they'll be receptive, you could even share it with your partner.

But, of course, asking someone to take an EQ test is a delicate matter – especially if you suspect the individual has low emotional intelligence. They may find your request offensive or dismiss your suggestion altogether.

Luckily, we've devised this handy list of signs that indicate your partner could have a low EQ.

8 signs your partner has low EQ

  1. They find constructive criticism very difficult. They'll likely get defensive and take your words as a personal attack.
  2. In arguments, they take one of two approaches. They'll either need to be right and have the last word or they’ll start 'stonewalling': refusing to communicate with you, even if you ask repeatedly.
  3. They have poor self-awareness and struggle to share their feelings because they don't understand their internal emotional state.
  4. They are more interested in themselves and their experiences than yours due to high levels of egocentricity.
  5. During difficult periods, they struggle to control and regulate their emotions, leading to emotional outbursts seemingly out of nowhere.
  6. They find your emotions uncomfortable. If you feel sad or angry, they will struggle to know what to do. They may avoid spending time with you until you've regained emotional equilibrium.
  7. You've noticed their relationships with friends, colleagues and family are strained.
  8. They make insensitive remarks, failing to read the room due to low levels of empathy and other awareness.

Does EQ matter in relationships?

If you found yourself saying "yes" to more than five of these signs, it's very likely your partner has a low level of emotional intelligence. As you can see by the characteristics above, building a long-lasting relationship with someone who has a low EQ is likely to be challenging.

Vulnerability, compassion and compromise are all cornerstones of healthy relationships, but these values aren't readily accessible to many individuals lacking in EQ. It's no wonder, then, that research shows that emotional intelligence is the number one predictor of both relationship satisfaction and length.

Of course, all relationships suffer ups and downs, regardless of whether both partners have a high EQ. But partnerships where both people have high EQs are more likely to weather the storms of life with grace, closeness and grit. They are more likely to be a team facing life's obstacles together than the causes of each other's strife.

What causes low EQ?

Discovering your partner has a low EQ can raise many questions; you may wonder why they have a low EQ and whether anything can be done. The good news is that this form of intelligence is a skill. Just like learning a foreign language, anyone can develop it.

We'll cover that in the next section, but first, here are some of the most common causes of a low EQ. 

● Upbringing: If your partner grew up with a parent with low emotional intelligence, they might have never learnt how to regulate their emotions.

● Genetic variations: Science shows our genetics directly impact our ability to empathize by up to 10%, meaning that, for some people, cultivating compassion and understanding is inherently more straightforward than for others. 

● Mental health challenges: Illnesses such as anxiety and depression directly impact a person's ability to regulate their moods, affecting emotional intelligence.

● Environmental factors: In the same way athletic performance is highly dependent on our physiological state, so is our EQ. Factors like a lack of sleep, the menstrual cycle and even our diet can wreak havoc on our wellbeing, leading to a temporarily reduced EQ.

Can I help my partner raise their EQ?

It's valiant to want to help your partner improve their EQ. If they can do it, it will be beneficial both for your relationship and for their wellbeing. Time and time again, studies show that people with high EQs experience more fulfilling relationships, lowered stress levels and better professional success.

However, it's vital to note that you can't force anyone to change – and nor should you. Yes, you can gently nudge your partner in the right direction. But, ultimately, if they're unwilling to do the work, you need to consider whether you can accept your partner exactly as they are, lack of EQ and all.

With that in mind, here are some tips to help open a dialogue around EQ in your relationship and be a positive role model.

#1: Boost your own EQ

There's a phrase that goes: "People who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones." When we believe our partner has a low EQ, it's easy to start blaming them for any problems in the relationship, but this isn't productive.

It's wiser to cultivate empathy and ensure you're the best version of yourself. Essentially, you should model the principles of emotional intelligence: regulating your moods, self-reflecting regularly, looking after your wellbeing and being mindful of how you interact with others.

#2: Remain assertive

One of the all too familiar travesties of having a low EQ partner is swallowing one's feelings for fear of rocking the boat. Although discord is uncomfortable, it's still important to let your other half know when they have overstepped your boundaries.

A strong relationship, after all, is built on communication, so see it as your role to model appropriate, healthy expressions of emotions to your partner.

#3: Help them communicate

Berating your partner for having low emotional intelligence is unlikely to motivate them to change and could even push them away. It's better to take specific actions that help your partner improve their EQ over time, such as exploring ways to communicate. Expressing emotions is inherently tricky for someone with a low EQ. Help your partner find a communication method that feels most comfortable for them. If talking is difficult, for example, you could try keeping a couple's journal to discuss more challenging emotions.

#4: Learn how to disagree healthily

You and your partner can learn the art of healthy disagreements and improve your EQ mutually in the process. There are numerous self-help books and blogs like ours out there that offer multiple tips for productive arguments. Daniel Gottman's What Makes Love Last and The Love Prescription are great places to start.

#5: Label your partner's emotions

Your partner may naturally struggle to identify their moods, but you can help them gain a better understanding of themselves by labeling their feelings. For example, if your partner has an angry outburst due to something that's happened at work, you can channel empathy and affirm their emotions, explaining why they're angry based on the circumstances.

Final words

Ultimately, a low EQ partner can challenge us in ways we never thought possible. It's important to remember that change takes time – and be honest with yourself about whether you're prepared to give it. If you are, then use these tips as a roadmap to help your partner cultivate emotional intelligence one step at a time. Your relationship will thank you for it.

Hannah Pisani
Hannah Pisani is a freelance writer based in London, England. A type 9 INFP, she is passionate about harnessing the power of personality theory to better understand herself and the people around her - and wants to help others do the same. When she's not writing articles, you'll find her composing songs at the piano, advocating for people with learning difficulties, or at the pub with friends and a bottle (or two) of rose.