Emotional Intelligence and How it Affects Your Relationship

Photo of Dr Katherine Hertlein
Reviewed by Dr Katherine Hertlein, written by Blueheart
– published on December 23, 2022

We’ve all met that person, haven’t we? The one who is cool, calm and collected in pretty much every situation. The one who seemingly never lets their feathers get ruffled by anyone else’s behavior. Whose relationship appears to be perfect, with never a cross word spoken.

Oh, and there’s the fact that they’re always able to offer you the advice and support you need, understanding exactly what you’re going through before you even say it.

Staying in control of your emotions and responding in a balanced way to others is an extremely desirable trait to have both in the boardroom and the bedroom. Which is why emotional intelligence (EI) has become such a popular topic of discussion.

We know we want to master it, but how do we go about getting it?

Read on, let’s find out.

Illustration by Marta Pucci

What is emotional intelligence (EI)?

Emotional intelligence, according to Harvard Medical School, is “the ability to identify and regulate our own emotions, to recognize the emotions of other people and feel empathy toward them, and to use these abilities to communicate effectively and build healthy, productive relationships with others.”

The term ‘emotional intelligence’ first appeared in the 1960s but only became well-known about 25 years ago thanks to a popular book by science journalist Daniel Goleman. Goleman’s research and modelling focused on leadership performance, suggesting that emotional intelligence is multifaceted. He suggests that for someone to be highly emotionally intelligent they need to be good at a number of different emotional skills.

The first, self-awareness, involves recognizing your own strengths and weaknesses without judging them. It means understanding how your emotions play out as well as what your underlying values and goals are. People with good self-awareness have a good gut instinct, they tend to be able to think through how their own actions will impact others. 

They will also have strong social skills or social awareness. Increased levels of empathy help people with high EI to manage their interpersonal relationships and consider other people’s feelings in any given situation. While self-regulation helps with emotional control and the ability to adapt readily to change.

EI versus EQ – what’s the difference?

While emotional intelligence is the ability to understand, monitor and control your emotions, and consider other people’s thoughts and feelings, emotional quotient (EQ) is the measurement of that.

Think of it as being similar to IQ: the measurement of intelligence.

EQ can be measured by self-reporting questionnaires, 360-degree feedback from peers or colleagues, or even performance tests. If using the questionnaire, you will be faced with a large array of statements about how you might feel and act in various situations. You’ll be asked how strongly you agree or disagree with each statement.

There are often debates about how accurately EQ can be assessed from self-reporting. After all, it’s easy to be biased when you’re asked about your own skills and abilities. And ironically, if you’re good at understanding your emotions and labelling them, i.e. emotional and social intelligence, you’ll be better at answering the questions more accurately. 

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Integer sem nibh, pulvinar at ex sit amet, vulputate maximus dui. Vestibulum nec tincidunt libero.

How does emotional intelligence help you in life?

It is true that the idea of emotional intelligence came about through research into leadership and organizations. These days, however, it’s recognized as a lot more beneficial than that. In more recent years, researchers in the fields of psychology and sociology have looked into whether there is any link between emotional intelligence and healthy interpersonal and social relationships too.

Does having a high EI help you better navigate the ups and downs of life in a long-lasting union?

The answer seems to be yes.

In a series of studies(1) published in The Journal of Social Psychology, a group of researchers from Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale investigated the link between emotional intelligence and various facets of interpersonal relationships. In fact, they conducted seven studies to try to understand what the data was showing them.

Their findings?

“In Studies 1 and 2, the participants with higher scores for emotional intelligence had higher scores for empathic perspective-taking and self-monitoring in social situations. In Study 3, the participants with higher scores for emotional intelligence had higher scores for social skills. In Study 4, the participants with higher scores for emotional intelligence displayed more cooperative responses toward partners. In Study 5, the participants with higher scores for emotional intelligence had higher scores for close and affectionate relationships. In Study 6, the participants' scores for marital satisfaction were higher when they rated their marital partners higher for emotional intelligence. And in Study 7, the participants anticipated greater satisfaction in relationships with partners described as having emotional intelligence.

So higher EI leads to better perspective-taking, improved social skills, higher levels of cooperation with a partner, closer, more affectionate relationships and even greater marital satisfaction. That’s a pretty resounding result.

So yes, we can confidently say that this is not just about leadership skills, high levels of emotional intelligence can be found to improve many aspects of intimate or marital relationships too.

How can high EQ help in romantic relationships?

Emotional intelligence and all the social skills that come along with it can make a huge difference when it comes to building positive relationships. By learning to regulate your emotions better and recognize those of your partner, you will be able to communicate better, resolve conflicts more effectively and ultimately enjoy a healthier, more intimate relationship.

Greater emotional awareness and control

The ability to stay in control of your emotions can help to keep things on an even keel. If you want to bring something up with your partner or talk to them about an issue or problem, it helps to be able to raise the subject in a balanced way and with kindness. Making assumptions about your partner’s motives or letting anger get the better of you and throwing out accusations before you know all the facts, are surefire ways to get your partner on the defensive.

Instead, recognize the emotions you’re feeling and try to understand where they are coming from and why they feel like a big deal. Sometimes, simply naming the emotions and sitting with them for a while, however uncomfortable, can help to restore calm. It’s always better to discuss uncomfortable topics from a place of calm, when you’ve had a chance to think things through.

Better communication

Good communication is one of the most basic yet often overlooked skills in any relationship. It’s vital to be able to tell your partner how you feel about things, and for them to hear and understand you. And vice versa. Communicating with honesty, and trusting that your partner will offer you a safe space to share your innermost thoughts, is important to help build a healthy, intimate relationship as well as to work through any problems or issues that might crop up. 

Remember, communication includes visual clues not just verbal ones. Facial expressions, gentle touch and body language speak volumes too. And the more you get to know one another the more you will begin to pick up on these things.

Communication isn’t just about talking though, it’s about listening too. In fact, the listening part is arguably more important. Making an effort to really listen to your partner will show them that they are a priority and that you care deeply for them. And it will give you the opportunity to really think about things from their perspective. 

If you struggle with active listening or find it difficult to focus on what your partner is saying, try repeating important parts back to them to check your understanding.

Resolving differences

Of course we will experience differences of opinion from our partner from time to time. That’s normal. Some level of conflict is natural in a relationship. The important thing is how we go about stopping problems escalating, and reaching a compromise on which we can both feel satisfied.

Emotional control might help to stop one partner going off the deep end but ultimately we need empathy to be able to truly listen to and understand one another’s perspective, as well as self-regulation to help us move on, find a compromise and quickly accept the change of plan or agreement.

It’s a widely held belief that the success of our relationships hinges on how we turn up for one another during the toughest of moments. Emotional intelligence helps us make sure we get it right.

Making your relationship a priority

Show your partner that they are important by making time for them. As we go about our daily lives, ticking items off the to-do list and making sure the kids are fed and watered, it’s very easy to start to neglect our partner. And very soon we realize we’ve barely made eye contact in the last week, let alone spent any quality time together.

Emotional intelligence helps us to think about things from our partner’s perspective and to pick up on those cues that they might be feeling lonely or ignored. Then perhaps we schedule that long overdue date night or even a night away without the kids so you can start putting the spark back where it belongs. Or if there’s no time for grand gestures, perhaps a thoughtful little gift is enough, or running them a bath or simply telling them how you feel.|

Telling (or showing) your partner that you love and appreciate them often will let them know how much you care and how much you notice and appreciate everything they do for you. It will also give them a nice self-esteem boost. If you read up on love languages and learn a little about yours and your partner’s you’ll be able to ‘speak’ to them in a way that they really hear and understand.

How can you tell if a couple is emotionally intelligent?

Just because you possess a high EQ as an individual, it doesn’t necessarily equate to you and your partner being highly emotionally intelligent as a couple. After all, interactions within a relationship are two-way.

But if you’re both able to notice, control and express your emotions in a healthy way then you’re more than halfway towards a happy, healthy relationship.

Sometimes, we find that it’s easier to recognize a relationship characterized by low EQ. Angry outbursts that are unpredictable or out of proportion with the situation, one or both parties lashing out in a hurtful way. Big fights, withdrawal and feelings of resentment bubbling below the surface all belie a lack of emotional intelligence. And all signify a relationship that’s under strain.

Traits that show a couple as emotionally intelligent, however, might be more subtle. Less, explosive. But look closely and you will almost certainly spot them.

Firstly, look at how they respond to one another. Do they pick up on each other’s cues? 

Along a similar vein, are the couple mostly positive towards one another? When we’ve been with a partner a long time it can be easy to be driven crazy by any negative traits we’ve spotted and can’t unsee. But constantly picking at your partner and offering ‘feedback’ or ‘constructive criticism’ can feel relentless.

Instead, emotionally intelligent couples make sure their interactions are positive. Offering appreciation and gratitude, and even ignoring some of those little irritants, can create a positive cycle of looking for the good in one another. Something that sounds a lot easier than it is to remember to do.

Meanwhile, emotionally intelligent couples can argue better too. Rather than saying horrible, hurtful things designed to wound, they’ll stay rational in the face of high emotion and argue with a fairness and a determination to come to a mutual understanding. They will be more able to listen fully to their partner and even empathize with their perspective. Then afterwards they’ll demonstrate that they heard and understood by making whatever changes might be necessary to improve the situation in the future.

Can improved EQ help to manage emotions?

Emotional intelligence is a toolkit that helps us create more of the emotions we want (which we may see as positive emotions) as well as managing those we don’t want (what we might call negative emotions). And not just our own but those of our partner as well.

Remember a so-called ‘negative emotional response’ is not always a bad thing. Our brains and bodies are designed to offer us warning signs, or alerts, when we are going off course. Irritability or anger, for instance, may signify a dip in blood sugar and the need to eat soon.

But while we can agree that negative emotions are important, we often allow them to have more of a hold over us than they should.

Emotional intelligence can help us to manage emotions by finding ways of rationalizing flashes of emotion and hard feelings. They can help us to look inside ourselves and name the feelings before they threaten to overwhelm us. 

Once we’re able to view what’s happening from a place of calm, our EI can help us to work out where the feelings came from and what triggered the reaction. This might be something that happened in the past - a cheating former boyfriend making us more prone to jealousy, or a distant mother who has left us with attachment issues.

Whatever the reason, this rational approach will allow us to give ourselves the compassion and understanding we need. Understanding an intense response to a situation or person is the first step towards a more healthy response next time.

Similarly, high emotional intelligence can help us to better find strategies for dealing with mental health issues such as anxiety in both ourselves and our partner.

Can emotional intelligence be developed?

Researchers in the field of psychology and human resources have been debating for years whether it’s possible to learn emotional intelligence. It’s become clear that EQ is a factor of personality, and as such can come more naturally to some people than others. But with time and effort, it is absolutely possible to learn these desirable skills - and Blueheart can help you do it.

In one 2019 study, researchers from Colorado State University conducted a meta-analytical review of the literature in this area. They planned to evaluate the claim that EI is a teachable quality. Despite coming up against lots of difficulties in comparing studies that had gone before, the team did find evidence that EI can be trained. And they even offered some ideas about what makes training in this area particularly effective.

“Successful EI training involves being able to practice your ideas in between sessions through talking to others and getting feedback on the new approaches you are trying to use in your everyday life. For example, you might receive training in reading the emotional cues of other people. Try out how well you’re doing by asking people you already feel comfortable with about whether the way they’re feeling is the way you think they’re feeling.”

Engage with the topic, practice, ask for feedback and try again.

This makes learning with a partner the perfect solution. As you learn a new skill you’ll be able to put it into practice offering one another feedback and working together to reach a place of better emotional awareness and connection.

How to improve your EQ

Emotional intelligence is perhaps tricky to self-learn. Of course there is a huge benefit in reading and learning as much as you can. After all, simply understanding a bit more about how our emotional responses work and what we should be aiming for, will get us some of the way there.

But the problem with emotions is that when they rear their heads, often with frightening intensity, that trigger response means that for many people all rational thought goes out the window. And then we fight.

When we calm down, perhaps we’re able to think about what happened, play through some other scenarios and look at things from our partner’s perspective. And that’s great. It all adds to the EQ ‘pot’. 

But without some concrete strategies in place to help us structure our learnings and without the encouragement to practice in real life what you’ve learned in theory, you may find you’re stuck in a constant cycle of “heres-what-I-should-have-done-differently”.

If you feel you would benefit from some help in this area, take a look at our Emotional Intelligence short course in the Blueheart app. There you’ll find tonnes of immediately implementable ideas to help you improve self-regulation and communicate and relate to your partner in a healthier way.

If there’s one thing you should do to improve your relationship with your partner today, working together to build your EQ is it.

Let's Improve Emotional Intelligence
Relationship Happiness: more love, more fun, and more of what makes you special together.
Take the assessment
1. Nicola S. Schutte, John M. Malouff, Chad Bobik, Tracie D. Coston, Cyndy Greeson, Christina Jedlicka, Emily Rhodes & Greta Wendorf (2001) Emotional Intelligence and Interpersonal Relations, The Journal of Social Psychology, 141:4, 523-536
2. Mattingly, V., & Kraiger, K. (2019). Can emotional intelligence be trained? A meta-analytical investigation. Human Resource Management Review, 29(2), 140–155