Want A Better Relationship? Work On Your Emotional Intelligence

Contributing Sex & Relationships Editor By Kelly Gonsalves
Contributing Sex & Relationships Editor

Kelly Gonsalves is a sex educator, relationship coach, and journalist. She received her journalism degree from Northwestern University, and her writings on sex, relationships, identity, and wellness have appeared at The Cut, Vice, Teen Vogue, Cosmopolitan, and elsewhere.

Want A Better Relationship? Focus On Improving This One Skill

Emotional intelligence refers to a person's ability to identify, express, and respond effectively to their own emotions, as well as the ability to understand and validate other people's emotions. Emotional skills are huge when it comes to relationships, and new research has found that couples in which even one person has high EI tend to be a lot stronger and happier. 

In the new study published in the Journal of Psychology, researchers collected data on 136 heterosexual couples who'd been together at least six months. They surveyed both members of each couple on their personality traits, relationship satisfaction, and how they handled stress in their relationship. The results found individuals were happier with their relationship when either they themselves or their partner had high EI. Stated otherwise, a person with more EI tended to be happier with their relationship—and so did their partner.

Why emotionally intelligent people have better relationships. 

There are some obvious reasons why having a lot of EI might make you a more pleasant person to date: EI usually corresponds with good communication skills because having this kind of heightened emotional awareness can make it easier to explain to someone exactly how you're feeling or what's bothering you. EI also often comes with empathy; the heightened sensitivity to others' emotions can make it easier to recognize the underlying feelings driving another person's actions, relate to them, and treat them with kindness and compassion rather than contempt, confusion, or carelessness.

"Emotionally intelligent couples are able to maintain a deep respect for one another, communicate their emotions effectively, read their partner's emotions accurately, and hold healthy boundaries," relationship psychologists Simone Humphrey, Psy.D., and Signe Simon, Ph.D., write at mbg. "Rather than shared interests or attractiveness levels, research consistently points to [these] relationship qualities as predictors of relationship satisfaction."

According to the current study, EI was specifically associated with couples handling stress a lot better. People with EI tended to be really good at supporting their partner through problems, doing things like attending to their partner's negative emotions, taking on extra responsibilities to relieve their partner's stress, and finding ways to jointly problem-solve to tackle issues together. This ability to be supportive and collaborative in these stressful situations (known as dyadic coping in psychology speak) was understandably associated with more satisfying relationships for both partners.

People with EI were also less likely to do things like dismiss their partner's negative emotions or leave them to deal with their stress on their own. This was also associated with more satisfying relationships for both partners, for similarly obvious reasons.


Making emotional intelligence your focus.

If you're single, Humphrey and Simon recommend dating with EI top of mind. "People have long checklists of what they're looking for in regard to appearance, job, style, taste, interests," they write. "But here's the bottom line: All these checks are perks. The most important factor for a successful long-term relationship is emotional intelligence."

Forget compatibility, they say. Select partners based on EI. (Here are a few ways to tell if your date is not so good with emotions, by the way.)

But an important finding in this study was that a person's own EI tended to have a much larger impact on their happiness in a relationship that their partner's EI. That means that having a successful relationship isn't just about selecting partners with a lot of emotional skills. You need to work on building those skills as well.

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