How to Have a Happy Marriage
Emotional Intelligence is Key to a Happy Marriage
When I first started to work with couples I focused on the key issues: positive interactions, healthy communication, managing conflict, forgiveness, trust, sex, etc. These are all great things to help couples to apply to their relationship. However, I noticed a common theme inside of all of these topics – emotions.
Couples struggle to react to their emotions in a healthy way. They became triggered and then their behavior becomes harmful. I realized at the core of relationships is emotion.
Dr. John Gottman, one of the top marriage researchers in the world, says that the secret to making a marriage work is surprisingly simple. The secret is to have an emotionally intelligent marriage. The more emotionally intelligent a couple is, the better they are able to understand, love, honor, respect and to live happily ever after.
The Bible teaches us to love, honor and respect. Couples struggle because they don’t react well to their own emotional triggers. Instead, they criticize, defend, stonewall and show contempt.
How can we get out of a negative pattern and move to actually loving our partners?
Emotional intelligence plays a part in our marriage connection. The more emotionally intelligent we can be, the better able we are able to manage our relationships.
According to Daniel Goleman, a psychologist that wrote a groundbreaking book on emotional intelligence, there are five main domains.
This is helpful to me when I mentor couples. Usually, one or both of the individuals are struggling with one or more these areas.
1. Self-awareness of Your Emotions
This is an area where people struggle. Do you recognize your own emotions as they happen? I’ve met a number of people that can’t explain how they feel.
People that are able to process their own emotions are better able to understand themselves. If you can’t understand yourself, how will your partner ever understand you?
2. Managing Your Own Emotions
This is certainly a key with couples. When we aren’t able to manage our emotions, we allow them to influence our behavior.
In Ephesians it says, “In your anger do not sin.” In other words, don’t let your emotions cause your behavior to become destructive.
People that are proficient in managing their emotions are better able to handle the stress and challenges of life.
3. Motivating Yourself
This is about managing your emotions in a way that moves you towards a goal. In marriage, a fantastic connection is our goal.
This means delaying self-gratification and stifling impulses.
Let’s say you set a goal to have a better marriage. This means that at times you will need to choose to serve your spouse over your own desires. That helps you accomplish your goal of a better relationship.
4. Recognizing Emotions in Others
This is empathy. This is a fundamental skill inside of marriage.
Can you recognize the emotions of your spouse? Can you validate what they are feeling?
One of the exercises that we have couples do is to validate their spouse’s emotion. Recognizing emotions in others does not always come naturally. I’ve watched a number of couples that struggle to recognize what their spouse is feeling. So, their spouses don’t feel understood.
The connection suffers.
5. Handling Relationships
This is the next step in working with others. Are you able to help manage the emotional issues that come up with others?
As we interact with people, they will have emotions. Once you recognize their emotions, how do you react? What do you do when your spouse is upset? What can you do to help them at that moment?
We want to do a better job of managing conflict inside of our marriage. Learning how to do this effectively is a combination of managing yourself and responding appropriately to your spouse.
Emotions are a complicated topic to me. For my first 35 years I didn’t deal well with them. I have grown in my own emotional intelligence.
I like these five domains. It helps me to break emotions into these different areas. First, it’s recognizing your own emotions and learning to manage them. Then, it’s understanding your spouse’s emotions and learning to respond appropriately.
There has been a great deal written about emotional intelligence. The good news is that these are skills that you can learn and improve.
As we coach couples, we teach couples the skills of recognizing and managing emotions.
Tips for Marriage Mentors:
- Make emotions part of the dialog – It’s easy for couples to get caught up in the conflict and not work on the emotions. You can argue about who is going to walk the dog, but more importantly, it’s also recognizing the emotions that fuel that argument.
- Encourage people to recognize their own emotions – We do this by asking about what they are feeling. At times, people don’t like this. It helps to explain to them the value of dealing with their emotions.
- Encourage couples to validate their partner – People will feel more connected when both their thoughts and emotions are understood.
Gottman, J. M., & Silver, N. (2018). The seven principles for making marriage work. London: Cassell Illustrated. Page 3.
Goleman, D. (2005). Emotional intelligence. New York: Bantam Books. Page 43.