Unless you have low self-esteem or suffer from depression, you probably think you’re pretty great to be around. Many imagine that their partners are lucky to know them and have the opportunity to interact with their winning personalities. But there are specific skill sets, capacities, and behaviors that predict relationship success, and certain tendencies and interactions that have been found to be relationship killers over time. For example, the degree to which we are aware of our feelings, can identify our emotions and communicate them to others, and manage how we feel and express ourselves under less than ideal circumstances speaks to our emotional intelligence in our intimate relationships. Take this 20-item quiz to get a sense of how emotionally intelligent you are as a partner:
1. I am a very persistent person; I finish whatever I set out to do. Yes No
2. I have trouble handling emotional upsets and conflicts in relationships. Yes No
3. When people express a feeling or point of view really different from my own, I can easily understand where they are coming from. Yes No
4. When I make a mistake, I say to myself things like “Stupid!” and “What is wrong with me?” Yes No
5. I quickly reflect on what and how I am feeling and use that information to shape how I solve problems. Yes No
6. When someone is hostile or angry towards me, I raise my voice, lash back at them, or leave the situation without responding. Yes No
7. When I experience an emotion, I can identify it. Yes No
8. My moods change like the weather—it’s like riding an emotional rollercoaster. Yes No
9. When something or someone is really bothering me, I show “grace under pressure.” Yes No
10. It’s hard to make sense of the way that I feel about things. Yes No
11. I don’t bear grudges; when something is over, it’s done, and I don’t think about it. Yes No
12. I get tense of stressed out just thinking about things that have upset me in the past. Yes No
13. I know how my feelings affect my actions. Yes No
14. I have a tough time figuring out why my partner and friends react the ways they do. Yes No
15. When I am having a disagreement with my partner, I am good at finding ways to “repair” the situation through a kind or peace-making gesture. Yes No
16. It’s hard to figure out what people are feeling inside just by looking at them. Yes No
17. My partner says I’m good at de-escalating fights or conflicts by being funny or affectionate. Yes No
18. When my partner says something that sounds misinformed or ridiculous, I do one or more of the following: Roll my eyes, say something critical or sarcastic, or refuse to listen to him or her. Yes No
19. Even when things get hectic or stressful, I am calm and self-controlled. Yes No
20. When I am in a bad mood, it’s a little hard to recognize it or find ways out of it. Yes No
Scoring your quiz: For each odd-numbered quiz item (1, 3, 5, 7…), give yourself a point for each “Yes” response. For each even-numbered item (2, 4, 6, 8…), give yourself a point for each “No.” Now add up your points.
16 and above: You are a sensitive, emotionally intelligent partner. (Unless you were merely responding in a socially desirable manner, and reported an overinflated sense of your own self-awareness and emotional intelligence. Ask your partner what s/he thinks about your ability to handle conflicts, to manage your emotions, and then listen to her or his thoughts on it).
11 to 15: You may lack patience or persistence in intimate relationships, or not be as attuned to your own and/or your partner’s feelings as you could be. Try looking before you leap, and listening carefully before responding to your partner. You’ll thank yourself later.
6 to 10: Trouble in paradise. There are some things one should avoid doing, like flying off the handle or disappearing completely. Specifically, contempt (e.g., doing the eye roll), being critical or sarcastic, becoming defensive, and stonewalling your partner are deadly to intimacy, and constitute the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, according to Dr. John Gottman. They are called the Four Horsemen because they are statistically significant predictors of divorce. So, please stop doing them immediately. Also, ruminating about the past doesn’t lead to a positive present. Process that old stuff and move forward to the now. Meditative practice might prove useful in centering yourself and becoming more grounded.
5 and below: Relationships require work. Are you sure you’re in a relationship? There’s room for improvement. I’d recommend seeking individual therapy to learn new skills and to get to know your own emotional terrain better, and then consider couple therapy, if your partner feels like continuing with someone who has historically had the emotional self-awareness of a chair or a set of box springs.
Research studies (Killian, 2012; Vennum, 2005) demonstrate that higher scores on emotional intelligence are significantly and positively correlated with higher scores on relationship satisfaction, and life satisfaction, too. In fact, our emotional self-awareness, capacity for empathy, ability to repair our relationships after disagreements, and avoiding stonewalling and withdrawing completely from our partner are much more important than good sex in sustaining relationship satisfaction and stability over time. Meditative practice can help us become more self-aware and calmer in the face of stress (e.g., deadlines, conflict, etc.), and like many things these days, there’s even an app for that (e.g., Calm). All skills require practice, and having a coach or therapist might be a good idea if the realm of emotions is new, scary territory. The first step is getting emotionally in tune with yourself and being able to name and describe your feelings. Then you can try getting in tune with your partner.