Emotional IntelligenceOur success in life, teachers would have us believe, is determined largely by our academic achievements. Another critical factor, we are told, is our intelligence quotient (IQ) score, a measure of baseline intellect. Those of us who are academically ungifted are left with a rather bleak vision of our future.

But there’s a secret truth rarely communicated to children: While good grades and a high IQ never hurt, they do not guarantee prosperity or happiness. In fact, the consensus among psychologists is that IQ only accounts for about 10–25% of success. Perhaps a better predictor of achievement in life—and in intimate relationships—is emotional intelligence (EI).

What Is Emotional Intelligence?

Simply put, emotional intelligence is the capacity to recognize, manage and communicate our emotions, and respond appropriately to the emotions of other people. According to Steve Bressert, Ph.D., emotional intelligence is defined by five core traits:

  • Self-awareness – How conscious you are of your emotions in the moment
  • Self-regulation – How well you are able to manage your emotions under pressure
  • Motivation – Your drive to transform negative thoughts or situations into positive ones
  • Empathy – The capacity to recognize others’ emotions and respond to them sympathetically
  • Social skills – The ability to interact well with others (good communication, teamwork, etc.)

Athena Staik, Ph.D., notes the importance of EI in healthy couple relationships, “This emotional mastery permits them to feel safe enough to remain present to their partner and the situation without setting off their own brain’s ‘fight or flee’ defenses, which also effectively lowers chances of triggering their partner’s defenses.”

Self-Scoring: How Do You Rate?

True or False?

______  It takes me a long time to recover from setbacks or frustrations

______  I often miss subtle emotional cues in others, including my partner

______  On some level, I enjoy the “rush" that comes from anger or negativity

______  When I’m criticized by my partner, I tend to immediately lash back verbally

______  I have a difficult time communicating what I am feeling

______  I often look for fault in others, including my partner

______  It’s hard for me to admit blame

______  In difficult situations, I find it almost impossible to see any upside

______  My partner often says I’m insensitive

______  I don’t always know why I am in a bad mood

______  I frequently say things in the heat of the moment that I later regret

We all have room for improvement when it comes to EI. But if you wrote true on five or more responses above, you may be limiting your potential for a rewarding intimate relationship. But take heart … emotional intelligence is not unfixable. You can become more emotionally adept.

Boosting Your Emotional Intelligence

When you are upset, allow yourself to cool off before interacting with others. A marriage/relationship education (MRE) class can help you learn specific techniques to communicate more effectively. Being conscious of your emotions is another important step in channeling them appropriately. Consider what sets you off and identify any recurring issues. Do you seethe if your partner forgets to say thank you? Are you unable to tolerate any form of criticism? Do you fly off the handle if your partner doesn’t constantly check in with you?

Once you’ve identified your emotional triggers, consider what is behind them. Is it insecurity, a fear of abandonment, a lack of control? A therapist or counselor can help you further understand where these feelings come from and how to respond to them.

At times, we all fail to respond in a way that demonstrates emotional competency. On the bright side, we can enhance our emotional intelligence at any time. But just as we must work hard to excel in school, we have to work hard to break poor emotional response patterns. This effort, however, is usually rewarded by significantly improved relationship dynamics with your significant other, friends and co-workers.