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How to be an Emotionally Intelligent Partner:
Focus on Self Awareness

By Lisa Schainker, Extension Assistant Professorgirl and boy hugging

Have you ever had times when you’re having a discussion with your partner and you start to feel the frustration or anger build because you can’t seem to agree and neither of you is willing to compromise? In these moments, we may feel our heart rate and breathing increase, our muscles tense, and our voices grow louder. These physical experiences are connected to our emotional reactions and they can often lead us to say and do things in the moment that we may later regret. That’s where Emotional Intelligence comes in. Emotional Intelligence (EI) is defined as our “…ability to recognize and understand emotions in [ourselves] and others, and [our] ability to use this awareness to manage [our] behavior and relationships (Bradberry & Greaves, 2009, p.17).”

EI researchers suggest that we move away from thinking about emotions such as anger and guilt as “bad” and joy and excitement as “good.” Instead, they encourage us to think about them as signals that we need to interpret. Dr. Daniel Goleman, one of the leading EI researchers, explains that self-awareness is a core component of Emotional Intelligence. We exhibit self-awareness when we can quickly identify our emotions and understand why they occur. It is also important to understand how our words and actions influence the interactions we have with our partners. 

If this isn’t something that comes naturally to you, you aren’t alone. Research has shown that while 95% of people think they are self-aware, only around 12%-15% actually are (Eurich, 2018). The good news is there are things you can do if you want to get better at recognizing and understanding why you’re experiencing certain emotions at particular times.

First, consider the immediate and long-term ripple effects that are created by your emotional reactions to your partner. By taking note of patterns in your exchanges, you can start to see how your reactions might be affecting your partner, and in turn, the way they react to you. For example, if you raise your voice during a disagreement, they are probably going to do the same. Also, consider how your emotional reactions may be contributing to the creation of long-term negative interactional patterns. If you are uncertain how your words and actions are being received by your partner, don’t be afraid to open a dialogue to hear their perspective.

Second, one of the best things we can do when trying to remain calm during disagreements is to learn what pushes our buttons. Having this self-awareness allows us to better prepare for those times when our emotions are most likely to get the better of us. When you are ready to dig deeper, try to figure out why these things are triggers for you. For example, if you are quick to get upset when your partner jumps in before you finish your thought, it could be because your boss does the same thing to you at work. Asking yourself the “why” when you notice a surprising reaction will help you get to the root of your emotions. It can also keep you from getting upset with your partner when they aren’t the actual cause of your hurt feelings.

If you and your partner both work on your self-awareness skills, chances are your relationship will be overflowing with positive ripple effects for years to come.