By: Jennifer J. Hume, Licensed Mental Health Counselor
If you’ve followed along with this series of articles, you’ve already read about “getting to the core” of your relationship problems and identified hot-button sensitivities you may not have recognized otherwise. You’ve also learned about vicious cycles and how to stop the type of fights you get stuck in again and again. This article is about what to do next now that you understand your partner better, are targeted with your love and compassion toward them, and, hopefully, are feeling pretty good about your relationship again.
In the past two articles (How do You Heal Your Wounded Relationship? and Stepping Out of Vicious Cycles: How to Stop the Never-Ending Fight) I’ve used the fictitious couple, Trixie and Bob, to help illustrate the ideas I’ve been teaching. Today, we’ll revisit Trixie and Bob and see how they’re keeping the love alive. Bob has learned that Trixie is sensitive to feeling alone, overwhelmed and taken for granted. He’s also come to understand why these are such a hot-button experiences for her. Bob has become more attuned to Trixie and understands that when she is unhappy, it’s not always about him, and when it is about him, he can approach her to solve issues between them, versus disappearing on her and stepping into a vicious cycle. Bob has practiced and learned some aspects of what we call emotional intelligence.
If you Google emotional intelligence you will get a lot of different definitions. Being emotionally intelligent doesn’t only mean you are aware of your own emotions and can manage them effectively, it is also about how well you key in to your partner’s life and feelings. You up your emotional quotient, or EQ, every time you engage your partner in a way that shows them they are important, that you are prioritizing them and their well-being, or when you put aside or rework your agenda for a win-win so as not to insensitively stomp all over their hot-button-issue button pad. Bob gets Trixie’s attention every time he prioritizes her in an emotionally intelligent way. For example, if Bob agrees one of his chores is to do the dishes after dinner, and he also knows a sink full of dishes and dirty pans all over the countertops upsets Trixie, he is exercising a high EQ when he does those dishes before anything on his personal to-do list. It may not be a big deal to him to leave them sitting until close to bedtime, but it’s important to her to have everything done so she can relax earlier. So he prioritizes this, not for him, but for her.
Emotional intelligence is about keeping your partner on your radar every single day. Couples tend to get in ruts. They do the same old, same old, and gradually forget that being together can be an interesting endeavor. When your partner is on your radar every day, you’re checking in with them. You listen throughout the day and week for opportunities to do this. Trixie is particularly good at keeping Bob on her radar. She knows Bob had a dentist appointment this morning. So when he comes home she asks him about it. Not because she has been dying to know the details all day, but because she wants to let him know she was thinking of him, she remembered something different he was doing that day that no one else would know. Remembering Bob’s travel schedule, what stressful meetings he has coming up at work or the things he’s privately worried about, excited about or looking forward to are all ways Trixie checks in with Bob and knows him more deeply. Bob flexes his EQ muscle when he “lets her in” and shares these experiences of his with her. And vice versa.
When people date, they’re usually using their emotional intelligence to the maximum. They zero in on their beloved all the time; they can’t get enough of them. Until they do. Then things settle down and each goes back to a somewhat normal daily routine and far less “checking in” on the minutia of their loved one’s day. Dialing down the frequency is totally understandable. But allowing your partner to fall off your radar more and more every passing year, isn’t very intelligent, emotionally or otherwise.
What I’m beginning to address here is the importance of connection. Just because couples share children, share resources, live under the same roof, or sleep in the same bed, it doesn’t mean they are at all intimately connected and happy in the relationship. Couples can live exclusively in one another’s orbit but fail to remain known and loved by each other. Trixie and Bob stay connected by knowing about and practicing eight forms of intimacy. And you thought there was only one! Intimacy, in all its forms, is how we connect with one another. Emotionally intelligent couples are also well-connected, regularly intimate couples – and I’m not just talking about sex. In no particular order of importance, here are the eight forms of intimacy that Trixie and Bob have learned to practice regularly:
1. Emotional intimacy
2. Intellectual intimacy
3. Social intimacy
4. Recreational intimacy
5. Spiritual intimacy
6. Financial intimacy
7. Physical intimacy
8. Sexual intimacy
You can imagine that if couples are engaging each other in all of these areas pretty regularly, they could not possibly be disconnected from each other, and odds are they have developed pretty high EQs when it comes to interacting with their partner in each area, as well. Once we have begun work on core issues and vicious cycles, I begin teaching my couples therapy clients about these forms of intimacy. They are often surprised at how little connection they have with their partners in some areas, and how dominant another area may be in their relationship.
In conclusion, we all pretty much want the same things in life: to be happy, to love and be loved, to belong. I believe the degree to which we accomplish these goals in life depends on how well we learn to sustain connection with each other, with our families, with our communities. The more emotionally intelligent we become about ourselves and the people we value, the better we are at connection in all of its forms.
I hope you have enjoyed this series of articles. I invite you to visit my website at JenniferHume.com for more information about couples counseling, as well as other areas of focus including counseling for addiction, grief, trauma, anxiety and depression.
This is the third article in Jennifer's three-part series about improving relationships. The first article, "How to You Heal Your Wounded Relationship? Get to the Core" is available here and was the subject of this podcast. The second article in Jennifer's series, " Stepping Out of Vicious Cycles: How to Stop The Never Ending Fight" is available here. If you are in a relationship that you would like to improve, you would be well-served by reading all three articles and listening to Jennifer's podcast.
Jennifer Hume is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC) and Masters Certified Addiction Professional (MCAP) practicing in North Palm Beach, FL. Her private counseling office is B.E.A.C.H. Counseling, LLC where she teaches her clients to Breathe. Engage. Accept. Create. and Heal. Jennifer can be reached via her website at www.JenniferHume.com or by calling 561-951-0879. Additionally, Jennifer's StayMarriedFlorida.com profile can be viewed by clicking: North Palm Beach Marriage Counselor .