Marriage and Emotional Intelligence

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How are you doing with emotional intelligence in your marriage? If you want to find out, keep reading to see if you can identify with the following examples.

Example 1

Emotional Intelligence Fail!

Andy is upset because his life is a roller coaster of workplace politics. When he comes home at the end of the day, he likes to debrief with his wife, Melissa, who is also arriving home from work. Here is how the conversation typically goes:

Andy: You wouldn’t believe what happened today! Jeremy went behind my back and thwarted a change that I had put in place to increase our department’s efficiency. It drives me crazy the way he does this. It feels disrespectful. He reports to me.

Melissa: Well, Andy, you should know by now that he is going to do that. Can’t you just confront him? I mean, it is really that simple. I think you should send an email to him saying that you need to talk to him. Don’t put it off. I know you are tired, but you have to nip this kind of behavior in the bud. Let him know who is in charge. If you don’t do it now, it will just get worse…(blah...blah...blah).

Andy: (Dead silence…..)

Emotional Intelligence Pass with Flying Colors!

Andy: You wouldn’t believe what happened today! Jeremy went behind my back and thwarted a change that I had put in place to increase our department’s efficiency. It drives me crazy the way he does this. It feels disrespectful. He reports to me.

Melissa: Oh no, this happened again? I am so sorry you had to experience that. Jeremy is a real thorn in your side, isn’t he? You must really be upset…..

Andy: Thank you so much for understanding. Sometimes I just need to share my frustrations, and it helps me to know that you are there for me. I may want to talk with you later tonight once we get the kids to bed. I could use your insight.

Example 2

Emotional Intelligence Fail!

Sara has been home all day taking care of her 5 year old son and 2 year old daughter. When her husband, Dan, comes home, she shares some of her struggles that she has encountered throughout the day.

Sara: Dan, you wouldn’t believe what kind of day it has been. First, Johnny vomited about 3 times from a stomach virus that came out of nowhere. And Jessica has been at it again with her strong-willed nature, pushing all of my buttons. I am exhausted!

Dan: Sara, it is so hard to come in the front door everyday after I have been at work and listen to you complain about the kids. You need to have a firmer handle on caring for our kids. I have a job, too, but I don’t come home complaining about everything that is on my plate…..(blah, blah, blah).

Sara: (Silence…….crying)

Emotional Intelligence Pass with Flying Colors!

Sara: Dan you wouldn’t believe what kind of day it has been. First, Johnny vomited about 3 times from a stomach virus that came out of nowhere. And Jessica has been at it again with her strong-willed nature, pushing all of my buttons. I am exhausted!

Dan: Wow! What a day it has been for you! What a bummer about Johnny. Is he okay? And I’m sorry you had to have Jessica pushing your buttons all day while that was going on. How can I help?

Sara: I am so glad you are home. I really could use some help. Thanks!

What’s the Difference?

Three simple words: Listening, Understanding and Empathy. This is very different from trying to fix the problem or change your spouse’s emotions. The bottom line is being able to stay connected and identify with them in the moment, especially when they are expressing so called "negative emotions".

What Does the Research Say?

Emotional intelligence (self-awareness and other-awareness) is not only important for the workplace, it is highly important for marriage and family. While both husbands and wives need to grow in emotional intelligence, it seems that men are often in more need than their wives. Statistics say that about 35% of men are emotionally intelligent, and that has risen some over the past several decades. The research is not certain as to why there is a difference. Is it nature or nurture? Probably some of both. In his classic work, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, John Gottman says this about emotional intelligence and men:

I believe the emotionally intelligent husband is the next step in social evolution. This doesn’t mean that he is superior to other men in personality, upbringing or moral fiber. He has simply figured out something very important about being married that the others haven’t---yet. And that is how to honor his wife and convey his respect for her. It is really that elementary…..The other kind of husband and father is a very sad story. He responds to the loss of male entitlement with righteous indignation or a sense of victimization. He may become more authoritarian or withdraw into a lonely shell, protecting what little he has left. He does not give others very much honor and respect because he is engaged in a search for the honor and respect he thinks is his due (pages 124-125).

What Does Scripture Say?

Maybe the Apostle Peter understood something that modern research has confirmed when he says this to husbands in I Peter 3:7:

Husbands, live considerately with your wives, and treat them with respect…

While Peter didn’t have the vocabulary of emotional intelligence, he certainly captured the meaning in his encouragement to husbands. What he says is particularly amazing when you think about how patriarchal the cultural and religious milieu was in his day. Here is how one commentator puts it:

Live considerately with your wives is literally, ‘living together according to knowledge’. The ‘knowledge’ Peter intends here may include any knowledge that would be beneficial to the husband-wife relationship: knowledge of God’s purposes and principles for marriage; knowledge of the wife’s desires, goals, and frustrations; knowledge of her strengths and weaknesses in the physical, emotional and spiritual realms. A husband who lives according to such knowledge will greatly enrich his marriage relationship…(Wayne Grudem, I Peter, Tyndale, p. 142-143).

While this sounds simple and easy, it’s not. Believe me, I need a daily reminder myself. I would love to hear your thoughts.

Copyright © 2017 Timothy S. Lane
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Tim Lane

Dr. Timothy S. Lane is the President of the Institute for Pastoral Care and has a counseling practice in Fayetteville, GA. He is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), having been ordained in 1991 and a member of Metro-Atlanta Presbytery. Tim has authored Living Without Worry: How to Replace Anxiety with Peace, and co-authored How People Change and Relationships: A Mess Worth Making. He has written several mini-books including PTSD, Forgiving Others, Sex Before Marriage, Family Feuds, Conflict, and Freedom From Guilt.

He has experience in both campus ministry (University of Georgia, 1984-1987) and pastoral ministry where he served as a pastor in Clemson, SC from 1991 until 2001. Beginning in 2001 until 2013, he served as a counselor and faculty at CCEF in Philadelphia, PA (Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation). Beginning in 2007, he served as its Executive Director until 2013.

In 2014, Tim and his family re-located to his home state, Georgia, where he formed the non profit ministry the Institute for Pastoral Care. His primary desire and commitment is to help pastors and leaders create or improve their ability to care for the people who attend their churches.  For more information about this aspect of Tim's work, please visit the section of this site for the Institute for Pastoral Care. He continues to write, speak and travel both nationally and internationally. Tim is adjunct professor of practical theology at several seminaries where he teaches about pastoral care in the local church.