Emotional IQ is to marriage what athletic talent is to sports. Emotional IQ indicates talent in the realm of relationships. Talent helps. But talent alone does not lead to great performance as a husband or wife when it comes to marriage communication.
In addition to natural talent, and even more essential, there's lots of technique that goes into high level performance in any high-skills arena, and marriage communication is a high-skills project. Technical skills, based on learning from good coaches and lots of practice, are what ultimately bring success or failure.
Here are some examples.
A great athlete will swat the ball either into the net or out of the tennis court unless he has learned skills like bringing the racket back so his stroke starts low, standing sideways to the ball, and ending his stroke high as he sweeps up the back of the ball.
Similarly, a baseball player with a great throwing arm is only going to become a great pitcher with intense coaching and hours of practice on the specific skills involved in throwing fastballs, curves, and more.
So how do athletic talent in sports and high EQ in relationships help?
Talent often determines how long it takes to learn a new skill, both at sports and at spousing. Most kids eventually can learn to skateboard even if they're not the kind of young one who just hops on the first time and takes off. Having watched my multiple grandkids each hop on and wobble, the learning times definitely have varied from almost instantaneous to many weeks.
The heights to which folks rise in their sports also can vary by inherent talent. My more talented grandkids are soon doing tricks on their boards, while the balance-impaired are happy to enjoy the success of having learned the basics of rolling forward without falling.
In marriage too, talent is a real factor. Emotional sensitivity as measured by a high EQ makes learning how to do marriage partnership come more easily. Folks who are naturally attuned to others and who are naturally easy-going temperaments do start out with a definite advantage. Those whose biological tendency is to be more narcissistic or Aspergers, that is, more "all about me," start off on the marriage project like my less athletic grandkids on their skateboards. Learning for them will take more coaching and more practice than for the high EQ folks.
The same for spouses who tend by temperament to be prone to quick anger, or slow to express loving feelings. They will need more coaching and practice to stay in the calm zone and to emanate positive vibes toward their loved ones.
What about doing what comes naturally?
Doing what comes naturally in marriage partnership also generally means following the models for marriage interaction you observed growing up in your parents' interactions.
Kids who grow up watching professional basketball on TV are going to "naturally" play better when they throw hoops themselves. The more hours they have spent watching great players, the more likely they will be to be able to replicate how to hold the ball, dart in and out, and focus on the hoop as they shoot.
If you were one of the fortunate kids who grew up in a household headed by a cooperative and loving parental team, odds are your own language of partnering will be positive.
If, by contrast, you grew up in with parents who spoke with each other the languages of argument, anger, or avoiding each other, that's the way you are likely to respond when differences arise in your own marriage.
If you grew up in a single parent family, you're especially at risk for having had insufficient modeling for how to perform the complex skills of sustaining loving marriage partnership. Observing couples who do have strong partnering skills, seeking skill-training, and devoting yourself to practice will have especially high payoff.
Marriages don't fail. People do.
Why set yourself up for marriage struggles and failure when by applying yourself to learning the skills for marriage communication you can set yourself up for marriage success?
A good starting point is to diagnose just what marriage basics you already know and which you still need to acquire. Click this link for a free and fun diagnostic assessment.
If your assessment says there's additional marriage skills that you could benefit from learning, go for it. If as a kid you succeeded in learning to ride a skateboard, hit a tennis ball, or throw a baseball, why not learn one of life's most high-payoff set of skills, the skills for enjoying a strong and loving marriage!
Denver clinical psychologist Susan Heitler, PhD is author of multiple publications including, for therapists, From Conflict to Resolution and for self-help, The Power of Two. A graduate of Harvard and NYU, Dr. Heitler, with the help of her adult children, has created an interactive website, PowerOfTwoMarriage.com, which teaches the skills for marriage success.
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