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Emotional intelligence and intimacy

Updated: Oct 1, 2022

I have the profound feeling and certitude that one of the many secrets of a long-lasting healthy relationship is the level of emotional intelligence (EQ) present between people. When we can continuously, on a small and large scale, have the capacity to develop and build our EQ, it allows us to have the sensitivity most are seeking in their significant other. The best way that I can define emotional intelligence is when an individual can understand, manage their own and other's feelings. More importantly, it’s having the ability to use those same emotions in a positive way to relieve stress, communicate effectively, empathize with others, overcome challenges, and effectively resolve conflict. These are all key components to a healthy relationship with whomever, but even more within a relationship in which we strive for the ultimate emotional intimacy.


Intimacy. When this comes up during couples counselling most people get super uncomfortable and for the ones that turn red, well… they turn red. What is intimacy? Society will often assume that it refers to sex or sexual experiences of some sort which is a limiting definition of the word. True intimacy is an embodiment of the feelings of closeness, bondedness, and connection we experience in close relationships. I want you to picture EQ on one side of a bridge, and intimacy on the other opposite side of that bridge. The bridge itself connecting both ends is vulnerability. It is my opinion that there is no REAL sense of intimacy without vulnerability to bridge it, and for people to be vulnerable with one another, emotional intelligence will play a big role. To be vulnerable means, I am allowing myself to put my walls down so I can let this person help me hold what I've been carrying alone until now and by doing this, I am exposing myself to potentially being hurt by this same person if those same things aren't held with care. I'm sure by now you are starting to connect the dots. When you are dealing with an emotionally intelligent individual, often, they can hold that space for you to be vulnerable, free of judgment, free of blame. By doing that, you feel closer to them, you then build intimacy. It’s very difficult to build intimacy with someone whose emotionally immature, invalidating of your experiences, takes things personally when you express your feelings, and makes everything about them.


For some people however, low EQ can be due to many things including but not limited to trauma, insecure attachment styles, growing up with emotionally absent/unavailable parents and not having the proper modelling to be able to care for their own emotions or others’. It is extremely difficult to read people’s emotions, understand them, validate them, and manage them when you cannot do those same things for yourself. I want to remind people that everything you are and know how to do currently in your life, has either been taught to you or you had to learn it. If you don’t understand something and you don’t know how to do something, stop beating yourself up about it. Instead, ask yourself, was this taught to me? Did I ever get an opportunity to learn about it? If the answer is NO, then you are not supposed to just know it! Even for something as small as tying your shoes… if no one showed you or you didn’t learn it somewhere, even at 75 years old, you wouldn’t know how to tie them. The human brain learns best through something called social learning. This means I observe and absorb more from my everyday environment and teachings that I witness socially to learn things. So, if you notice while reading this that your EQ is lower than you’d like it to be, rewind and try to figure out where you picked up some of these patterns of behaviours. Ask yourself about the why, how, when and connect who you are now to where you come from to determine where you’d like to go. We can’t go back and change the past, but we can acknowledge our present to attempt to change for the future.


Before we continue, I think it’d be important to highlight the key characteristics of an emotionally intelligent person. There are many different resources out there that break this theory down through different lenses, but in my opinion, it boils down to five key groups; 1. Self-awareness, 2. Self-regulation, 3. Resiliency/Motivation, 4. Empathy, 5. Social skills. I’ll tell you how this works, just bear with me. When you are aware/acknowledge your own emotions, you can then better regulate them, which helps build resilience which drives motivation. This than allows space to show empathy to others’ experiences because you understand your own so well which lastly, makes for more socially effective interactions. Voila. Imagine if everyone could do this in their own interpersonal relationships? Well… I do kind of know; we would go out of business as relationships’ therapists. Don’t beat yourself up if you have a hard time doing any of this, don’t feel ashamed, don’t blame yourself and more importantly, don’t use your low EQ to not grow your relationships. First step to positive change, is admitting that you have a difficulty or a weakness in an area of life. Once that’s done, you can start to be more receptive to strategies to support those changes going forward.


A few ways to improve your emotional intelligence

PAUSE. OBSERVE. REFLECT. When you are faced with a situation that’s generating things internally for you, learn to pause. Just press the brakes, to give yourself time to observe how you react to people and reflect on what’s making you feel this way. Do not rush to a judgment, collect the facts, be conscious of the role you may be playing in the situation and allow yourself to be more open and accepting of other people’s perspectives and needs within the same situation. We spend too much time reacting and being on high alert. Just learn to pause. Whatever your usual reaction would be, pause it and give yourself processing time.


Do a self-evaluation. BE honest in it! There are some great quizzes online (ex: mindtools.com) that you can take to guide where your weaknesses may lie. Are you truly willing to accept that perhaps you are not perfect within relationships? Perhaps you have developed some mechanisms and behaviors that are contributing to your challenges with your peers and partners. Encourage yourself to build the emotional bravery to take a hard look at your inner self and challenge that inner person.


DISTRESS TOLERANCE. Take a closer look at how to manage stressful situations. Are you quick to express anger? Frustration? Do you become upset when things don’t go your way? Do you blame others for the way you feel and have a hard time taking accountability? Having the ability to stay calm and in control during highly stressful situations is a great skill, both personally and professionally. Learning to keep your emotions under control when things go south will drastically change your life. Learning to tolerate distressful emotions gives us an opportunity to not make a bad situation worst.


TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR YOUR ACTIONS. Acknowledging your wrongs doesn’t make you weak, it’s what allows you to growth into a better version of yourself. Now, don’t just say sorry to say sorry either, but more so, make sure you understand how the situation made you feel, how it made the other feel and once you come to mutual understanding of one another, than you can take accountability for what you could have attempted to do better. Most people will be receptive to your apology if you are sincere and honest about your actions and how to make things right going forward. Doing this allows people to want to be more vulnerable with you and therefore build intimacy.


A few pointers to respond to low EQ peer or partner

Everybody in your life isn’t going to grow their emotional muscle at the same rate. You may be ahead for many reasons, and they may be behind for many reasons as well. Although, remember that low EQ isn’t an excuse to treat ourselves or others poorly, but it can be a reason that explains certain behaviours and patterns so we can make sense of them. Here are a few pointers on ways to respond when dealing with a person you suspect may have a lower EQ.

  • Select a moment when this person isn’t drowning in their emotions to share something significant, as they don’t have the same ability to deal with many emotions all at once. Select a time when you can be together in a calm space, even make it a date when you can! Chances are they will be better positioned emotionally to receive what you have to say with less defensiveness.

  • Focus on “I feel” messages rather than starting sentences by “you are, you don’t, etc.”. Focus on your needs, and how a situation made you feel rather than on their shortcomings. “I feel annoyed when laundry is left unfolded throughout the weekend. Would you be able to help with getting that chore done?”

  • Try your best to make them feel validated and to acknowledge their emotions when they are getting defensive. Their alarms are going off often because they have a fear of not being good enough and insecure in the role they play in your life. Stick to what your need is, but validate their emotions so disarm as you go. Ex: “It sounds like you’re afraid of not being able to complete this job”.

  • Take pauses and breaks throughout, some people need a moment to process what you have said to them once their nervous system has settled down.

  • You will have your own moments! Even the most securely attached people and emotionally attuned individual feel big emotions that they won't always handle well. It's okay to have bad days, and allow yourself to not be the "emotionally capable" one from time to time. You don't have to be perfect, you are allowed to feel all range of things.

I’ll leave you on this reflective note: there’s a significant different between how I feel about someone and how someone makes me feel. Read that again. What will determine the level of intimacy present in your relationship will mostly rest on how a person makes you feel more than how you feel about them. Emotions are such an integral part of what makes us human and to not know how to deal with them can be a significant barrier to healthy interpersonal relationships.





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