Emotional Intelligence in Relationships

Research has shown that emotional intelligence, also called EQ, is one of the major predictors of success and happiness in relationships. Having high EQ in a relationship means that you are able to manage your own emotions and connect effectively with your partner. If low EQ is a problem in your relationship, there are skill building activities that can improve your connection. 

How can you ensure a thriving, long-lasting relationship? While a multitude of factors can tell you if someone is the right partner for you, there is one trait that has been scientifically linked to happier and more satisfying relationships: emotional intelligence. 

While emotional intelligence is a buzzword in the workforce, it’s also a key indicator of relationship fulfillment. Research has shown that being able to have productive conversations, including disagreements, predicts a couple’s long-term success. Another study showed that people with high self-reports of marital satisfaction are more likely to openly discuss relationship problems with their partner and consider their significant other to be emotionally intelligent. 

So how do you know if you or your partner are emotionally intelligent? And if one or both of you have low EQ, is there anything you can do about it? In this article, we’ll break down what high and low emotional intelligence looks like in intimate partnerships and how to develop it in your relationship. But first, let’s take a look at what we currently know about emotional intelligence. 

Overview of Emotional Intelligence in Relationships

Recent research found that 74% of married couples in the United States are happily married. These couples reported that the reasons for their happy unions are strong communication skills, mutual respect and a deep emotional connection. People who are naturally more optimistic also find it easier to maintain a happy marriage. 

What do all of these factors have in common? You guessed it — emotional intelligence. The ability to communicate clearly, especially about more difficult emotional topics, is a pillar of EQ. Overall emotional well-being, or having an overall positive view of life, is also a factor. 

Emotional intelligence is defined as “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." 

There are five factors of EQ: self-awareness, social awareness, emotional control, empathy and emotional well-being. When some or all of these factors are missing from the relationship, it will shape the way the couple communicates, deals with conflict and the overall relationship dynamic. 

How Emotional Intelligence Impacts Relationships 

Emotional intelligence is a key factor in building and maintaining healthy relationships. By understanding and managing your own emotions and the emotions of others, you can create stronger, more satisfying relationships with friends, family and co-workers. 

People with low EQ tend to struggle in relationships. Struggling to understand your emotions or those of others can make constructive conversations especially difficult and draining. Unfortunately, this means that those with lower emotional intelligence often have to work extra hard on their relational dynamics and experience more challenges. 

On the other hand, people who score high in some factors of EQ may also struggle in their relationships. Empathetic people may avoid conflict to “keep the peace” and get along with others, and in doing this, are actually suppressing their own wants and needs. This can lead to resentment and dissatisfaction in the long term. A 2016 study also found that individuals with high self-awareness have an increased likelihood of dealing with mental health challenges like anxiety and depression. 

For these reasons, it’s essential to aim for balance when it comes to developing your EQ. For example, if you score high in empathy but low in emotional control, developing that facet of EQ can help you have more productive conversations that don’t shy away from conflict. (You can pinpoint which exact factors you may need to work on by taking Truity’s free EQ test.) 

People with balanced emotional intelligence are able to balance their own needs and the needs of others. They are assertive and direct, but they’re also understanding and compassionate. They’re able to read social cues and understand the emotions of others, and can also communicate their own emotions effectively, allowing them to build strong relationships.

People with exceptional EQ do not lose themselves in trying to win approval or worrying about what others think. They know that their feelings and desires matter as much as their partner’s or anyone else’s, so they’re able to set boundaries and assert themselves when necessary. 

Signs of an Emotionally Intelligent Partner 

Choosing a romantic partner is one of the most important decisions you’ll ever make. And when it comes to happy partnerships, EQ matters. So how do you know if your partner is emotionally intelligent? Here are some signs to look for. 

  1. They’re self-aware. Self-aware people understand their emotions and can recognize why they feel the way that they do. Pay attention to how your partner talks about their thoughts and feelings. Do they feel comfortable talking about their emotions? If they feel down or frustrated, can they explain why? Are they able to bounce back from negative moods quickly? If so, they likely have high EQ. 
  2. They’re socially connected. Emotionally intelligent people tend to have good interpersonal skills, which leads to long-lasting, fulfilling relationships. Being emotionally intelligent doesn’t mean that they have to be a social butterfly, but if their interpersonal relationships are characterized by drama and frequent fallouts, it could indicate that they’re lacking in the EQ department. 
  3. They’re there for you. Emotionally intelligent people aren’t mind-readers, but they do pay attention to how other people are feeling and offer empathy and support when needed. Does your partner notice when you’re feeling down and ask for details? Or do they show a lack of interest in how you’re feeling? The latter may indicate low EQ. 
  4. They’re not afraid of conflict. Disagreement is inevitable. But how your partner disagrees will tell you a lot about their emotional intelligence. If they’re frequently conflict-avoidant, give the silent treatment or are quick to turn a disagreement into a raging, spiteful argument, they may lack some factors of EQ. Emotionally intelligent people aim to keep conversations respectful and look for a middle ground.
  5. They’re resilient. It’s common to feel frustrated when things don’t go our way, but if your partner is quick to give up, fly off the handle or blame the world for their issues, it’s a sign of low EQ. Emotionally intelligent people find ways to process their emotions in healthy ways and remain hopeful about their ability to bounce back after setbacks. 

Read more: Signs You’re Dating an Emotionally Intelligent Partner

Signs of Low EQ in a Relationship 

Conflict is a natural part of any romantic relationship. However, healthy disagreements should be constructive, not destructive. This means that both partners must be able to assert their views while trying to understand their partner's perspective, reaching a compromise and taking responsibility. 

When both partners have high emotional intelligence, constructive communication and empathy comes easily. However, when one or both partners lack EQ, arguments can quickly become vicious. There are a few signs that you or your partner might have a low EQ:

  • Struggling to accept constructive criticism.
  • Inability to control emotions during tough conversations. 
  • Unwilling to compromise. 
  • Having a pattern of strained relationships with friends, family and/or colleagues. 
  • Blaming others for problems rather than taking responsibility. 
  • Frequently ignoring or changing the subject when emotional issues are brought up. 
  • Frequently making insensitive remarks. 
  • Lacking self-awareness and not having a desire to learn and grow. 
  • Struggling to identify emotions. 

If you found yourself saying "yes" to more than five of these signs in your partner or yourself, it's likely that there is a low level of EQ in your relationship. 

How to Respond to a Low EQ Partner 

If your partner has low emotional intelligence, you may wonder if there is anything you can do about it. The good news is that emotional intelligence is a skill that can be learned and developed (more on that in the next section). But first, how do you respond to a partner who lacks emotional intelligence? 

First, understand that people with low EQ are not simply trying to make things hard on other people. A variety of factors can lead to someone having lower EQ, including their upbringing, genetics, mental health challenges and environmental factors such as poor sleep or diet. 

Addressing any health or lifestyle factors can dramatically increase a person’s overall emotional well-being, but other factors of EQ will probably require some effort and practice on behalf of the individual. Whether your partner is willing to make those changes or not, here are some tips on how to respond to them. 

  1. Develop your own EQ. It’s easy to see the problem as something that your partner needs to focus on, but we can all benefit from increasing our EQ, and in doing so, you model these behaviors to your partner. 
  2. Set boundaries. Decide what behaviors you will or won’t accept from your partner and assert those boundaries in the relationship. Be direct in letting your partner know what you will or will not tolerate. 
  3. Help them communicate. Expressing emotions is inherently tricky for people who struggle with emotional intelligence. Help your partner find a communication method that feels comfortable for them. If talking is difficult, for example, you could try keeping a couple's journal to discuss more challenging emotions. 
  4. Don’t take it personally. Remember that your partner may be oblivious to how their words and actions affect you. Remain calm and direct the conversation in a productive direction. Later, when emotions are not as high, you can let them know how their words or actions made you feel. 
  5. Practice self-care. Being so attentive to your partner's moods and reactions can lead to taking excessive responsibility for their feelings, which may lead to anxiety and stress. Remember that how your partner feels and responds is ultimately outside of your control. Focus on things you can do to relax and release any built-up stress. 

How to Develop Emotional Intelligence in Relationships: Exercises for Couples 

Regardless of how you or your partner scores on an emotional intelligence test, it’s possible to develop EQ within your partnership — as long as both individuals are willing to put in the work and grow in the relationship. Here are some EQ couples activities that can help with developing greater emotional intelligence within your relationship. 

  1. Practice active listening. Active listening means paying attention to what your partner is saying and understanding their emotions. Set a timer for up to five minutes and allow one partner to talk about something important to them. The silent partner can listen attentively, looking for nonverbal cues. After the speaker is done talking, the other partner should paraphrase what they heard and reflect their partner’s emotions back to them. 
  2. Practice making eye contact. Regularly making eye contact helps with learning to read facial expressions and body language, and can strengthen an emotional connection between partners. For this exercise, sit across from each other and maintain eye contact without turning away or breaking the gaze for up to five minutes. When time’s up, each partner can share how they felt about the exercise. 
  3. Express gratitude. A daily gratitude practice helps each partner feel appreciated, which can lead to a stronger, healthier relationship. Take some time over a meal or before bed to acknowledge something the person did or said that you appreciated that day. 
  4. Take a personality test. There are several tools that can help you learn more about yourself and your partner, like Truity’s Enneagram test and the 7 Love Styles test. After you each take the test, sit down and go over your results together. Talk about how you complement each other, as well as how your differences may cause issues or misunderstandings in the relationship. 
  5. Play games together. Games that encourage both individuals to work together to solve problems and achieve a common goal may help couples develop greater emotional intelligence. One survey found that playing video games together had a positive effect on young couples' relationships in particular. 
  6. Seek professional help if you need it. If you’re struggling to improve communication and overall EQ in your relationship, there are professionals who can help. A couples therapist can teach you and your partner the skills you need to improve your emotional intelligence and build a stronger relationship. 

Take the Free Emotional Intelligence Test!

Megan Malone
Megan holds an MS in organizational psychology and manages content and brand marketing at Truity. She is passionate about helping people improve their relationships, careers, and quality of life using personality psychology. An INFJ and Enneagram 9, Megan lives quietly in Fort Worth, Texas with her husband and two pups. You can chat with her on Twitter @meganmmalone.