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EQ in love and relationships

Link to the Episode

Anshu Bahanda: Welcome to Wellness Curated. This is your host, Anshu Bahanda, and as you know, with this podcast, we aim to help you lead a healthier, happier, more hopeful life. And today we’re going to talk about the emotional quotient or EQ, and how it affects the success of love and relationships. We’re going to discuss this with psychologist Nishigandha Date. Welcome to the show, Nishigandha.

Nishigandha Date: Thanks, Anshu.

AB: So I’m going to jump straight in and ask you what role does the EQ play in love and relationships and how would you compare the importance of EQ to intelligence?

ND: Okay, that’s a wonderful question. So EQ is essentially five elements. It’s not just one thing. It is awareness about the self. It is how to regulate your emotions, how to be empathetic towards other people, motivation, and your social communication skills. So in any kind of a relationship, it’s basically connecting with another human being. I’m guessing you’re talking a little bit about romantic relationships right now… 

AB: And other relationships, all relationships, basically any relationship that is very close to you.

ND: It can be absolutely any relationship. But we need to connect on a very human level with that. Of course. And unless and until you are aware [of] your own emotions and know how to manage [them], it becomes very difficult to be able to understand or perceive other people’s emotions, which helps us with empathy. So when we can understand another person’s emotions, we can be empathetic towards that person, and that leads to a better understanding, better communication, and other aspects of EQ. And we are more motivated to form these connections. And without these skills per se, it becomes very difficult to have a positive relationship with them. So there’s this psychologist, Dr. Gottman, and he says that “in any relationship, there needs to be at least 20 positive outcomes for every five negative outcomes for the relationship to feel [like] a good one.” So for that to happen, you need all of these skills. Intelligence is honestly like your IELTS score when you’re applying for higher standards. Nobody really cares about it as long as it hits the cut off. So as long as you match somebody’s intelligence and you’re at par with somebody’s intelligence— you can form a connection. Sometimes, even without matching that intelligence, you can form a connection. But without EQ, it becomes very difficult to maintain that connection.

AB: Okay, so now tell me, what are the common emotional challenges that people face in a relationship? I mean, you must be seeing a lot of people coming to you with various issues.

ND: I think one of the biggest challenges when you talk about emotional challenges is being able to regulate their emotions, understand their emotions, and then communicate that. And I think every other emotional issue, as you can call it, comes from these three challenges. So be it— conflicts, it comes from communication; it comes from not being able to regulate. And another very important issue that you can say is also not being able to accept emotions. When we talk about understanding and being able to communicate [emotions], we also need to accept them first. So if I’m angry or jealous, I need to accept that, okay, this is what I’m feeling.

AB: So accepting, regulating and communicating. So tell me, we all have a certain amount of EQ. Someone has more, someone has less. But how can we use that to the best possible potential in, say, when there’s a communication barrier in a relationship or when there’s a long-distance relationship?

ND: So, very honestly, the one thing that needs to be worked out… again, I’ll come back to the point I mentioned earlier— is self-awareness. Unless and until we understand ourselves, unless and until we know what our needs are, what our boundaries are, we cannot establish them. So if, for example, I need to get reassurance from my partner who maybe I’m in a long- distance relationship with, that I matter to this person, or it could be a very close friend who had moved away and I need that reassurance. But unless and until I understand that this is something that I need, I’m required to get this assurance, to feel safe from that relationship, I will not be able to communicate. So, the first thing is self-awareness, another aspect of EQ. Again, I think the more we start looking at ourselves, the more we start feeling our feelings, sitting with our feelings, it becomes very easy over time to be able to go to the other steps.

AB: Okay, and tell me something, do you feel like therapy can help with the EQ in a relationship? And also, you’re talking a lot about recognizing our emotions and analyzing them. What advice do you have on recognizing and addressing co-dependency in relationships using EQ?

ND: So I’ll answer the first question— can therapy help? Absolutely. So that is what we are here to do. What happens is, in therapy, basically we try to understand why somebody is going through the emotion or not being able to deal with the situation in as positive a manner as they want or, you know, how it’s affecting their functionality, their day to day. And emotional quotient, or emotional intelligence, is essentially a part of resilience. It’s very interconnected with resilience. So the more resilient a person is, [the easier] it is to work on their EQ. EQ is not a rigid skill. It’s something that we can work on; it’s something that we can increase. So it really helps to work on individual skills and thus increase them through therapy or through mentoring them about co-dependency. It does not come from the relationship. It’s because of something that happened throughout the person’s life. Maybe it was their childhood; maybe it was other life experiences. And it is very important to recognise where it is [coming from]. When you figure out where it is coming from, it is possible to understand how to work on it. So, for example, maybe this person X was not loved enough as a child. They did not get attention, they were ignored, or they had very little social support. Maybe it was just one parent and them, and they were responsible for meeting that parent’s emotional needs. That could lead to co-dependency in an adult relationship for various reasons. I’m just giving you one example. But it could be that this person always understood that I had to be there for my parents. There is no other person who can be there for my parents, or the other way around. There’s [no one] for me. So when I find somebody, I need to stick with them because there’s nobody else…

AB: So you really hold on to them when you find someone.

ND: So it could be absolutely any reason why this co-dependency has come out in the first place in maybe one or both the partners. Now we need to figure out what is causing it. And then once we know the cause, we can work on the cause, we can work on re-parenting, we can work on self-compassion and finally come ahead again. I come back to the same [thing]— self-awareness and emotional regulation, better communication skills.

AB: So self-awareness, identification, emotional regulation, better communication. We keep talking about these four, basically…

ND: and compassion. So coming back to self-compassion, again, we’re talking about empathy…

AB: Empathy and compassion. Okay. So don’t you think we should be teaching this to children in schools; teaching and focusing more on this?

ND: Absolutely. So funny. I used to work with an organisation, and we did this student advisory programme. And I was the one who designed an entire module for each [grade] from 6th to 12th. And like you said, it is so important because every person, no matter what stream they choose, no matter what career they’re doing, no matter where they’re living, will need to connect with other human beings, and they will need to be able to do it well. Even somebody who’s a homemaker will still need to connect with family members around them. So, like I said, it is so important to develop these skills—life skills, as we can call [them].

AB: When we were growing up, right, there was no social media. Today when I see my kids or my nieces and nephews who are older or I see younger people… These are the social media generations. So how do you think social media affects EQ and what can we do about it?

ND: So a lot of people believe that social media has only negative effects on EQ, overall development, communication, [and] all of that. But it also has a lot of positive outcomes. There’s a lot of information available. There is a possibility of skill building [and] a possibility of connecting with other human beings through a platform that is available to everyone throughout the world. Like I was saying, we are doing this podcast right now. A lot of people [will probably] be able to reach this podcast and understand what we’re talking about through social media. So it has its good parts; obviously, there are bad parts, [and] most people know about [them]. But what it does is create a sense of [an] ideal self for people. So there is this pressure to present a specific persona, and that takes you away from your real self. It causes a lot of stress when you see that there is [a] disparity between what you want to look like to the world versus what you want to be. And that kind of takes you away from your emotional intelligence, and you rely on validation. And when we talk about validation…

AB: External validation

ND: Absolutely. We are losing out on internal motivation, which is a very inherent part of higher emotional intelligence.

AB: So also tell me, how can you use EQ to differentiate between a healthy and a non- healthy or an unhealthy relationship? 

ND: First of all, the reason why we can label something as healthy or unhealthy is because it gives us or creates stress. It does not help us resolve it. It probably postpones it or creates a negative outcome. So when we talk about relationships, fights are very healthy. 

AB: I agree, I 100% agree.

ND: But for some reason they have this very bad reputation that you know a couple that fights, they’re not happy. No, we just need to learn how to fight in the right manner or with respect towards each other. If there is respect, if your emotional needs are being met, and if there is empathy when you talk to each other, it really creates a positive outcome. So then that can be labelled as a healthy relationship. But if their fight is to criticise each other, to downgrade each other; where listening is happening to retaliate or to defend oneself instead of understanding, then that is an unhealthy relationship. How we can actually use EQ is [that] when we are communicating in any relationship, we need to make sure that we’re treating the other person with respect, especially with this being a very common theme with children and parents: just because they’re children, it does not mean that they do not have their own opinions and thoughts. And even if you’re an adult with more experience, you’re looking at it through your lens. They need to learn. So even in that relationship, [where] fights are very common, especially with teenagers, it really helps to maintain respect and empathy. We were at that age at a certain point in time, and we know how it feels. They don’t know how it feels to be there. So giving them that empathy and that space for the other person to cool down— when we are talking about conflict— when that is available, we can understand that it is a healthy relationship. Where that is lacking, where you do not feel good about yourself— that is basically an unhealthy relationship.

AB: Okay. And earlier you had talked about childhood experiences. What about things like age and personality types and cultural backgrounds? Can you elaborate on how these make a difference, on how you handle your emotional life?

ND: I think all of these have some other impact. I will give a lot of weight to childhood experiences because that’s where we get our sense of self from. So if I [were] a child [and] I went to my mother and I was told… If I wanted to talk to her about something and she told me that, no, right now I don’t have the time, I’m doing something important— the message I’m going to receive is, okay, I am not as important. And if this message is repeated over time, I will understand that I’m not as important. And I will carry that throughout my life. And I will find it very difficult to be able to connect with each other, with anybody, through a lens of confidence because I’m not important. So why will the person want to connect? I will not communicate because I’m not important. I will not be able to show empathy because I’ve never received it. So I don’t know how it looks or feels here. So when you talk about a cultural background, I think the entire social, financial, [and] cultural background comes together. When a person’s basic needs are not met, it’s going to be very difficult for that person to think about empathy towards others, kindness, awareness [of] the world around them, or motivation. The only motivation is to meet those basic needs. So all of the things that you mentioned have a great impact on a person’s EQ.

AB: Okay. And age, do you think age has an impact?

ND: Honestly, I don’t think so. Because you can have [a] high or low EQ at absolutely any age and because it is a skill that you can work on. Some people are born perceptive. You’ll find some little kids who are very kind and who are very attentive to other people’s needs. You will find that on the playground when all the kids are fighting about who gets the ball, who gets the bat, or some other thing, they will sit down and try to resolve the conflict. And it could be a three-year-old, [or] you could have an 80-year-old who finds it very difficult to reel in their anger. With age, what happens is you become less tolerant because your body kind of gives way, or when your health is not at the best that it can be, then it becomes very difficult to be emotionally patient or kind or empathetic to other people. But I think it has more to do with physical state than actual age.

AB: Okay. And also, we’ve talked a lot about empathy and how important that is to a successful relationship. So tell me, Nishigandha, what happens when there is a lack of empathy? Does that mean the relationship will break down?

ND: Usually, the prognosis for any relationship where there is a lack of empathy is bad. But we are funny creatures. What happens is that sometimes there is a very firm belief that I can change this person or that things will get better when we reach point A, when point B happens, or when something else comes along. So even when there is a lack of empathy, people stay put in a relationship because of hope, or sometimes because, through learned helplessness, we can say, “This is what I deserve and this is what I want, and there’s nothing I can do about it.” Or because they don’t have support to deal with the outcomes of the relationship not continuing. But yes, essentially, it will not be a good or healthy relationship.

AB: So can we give our listeners some tips? One, on how to identify emotional issues, because we’ve talked about that a lot and how important it is to identify the emotions. And secondly, on how to navigate conflicts, disagreements, because those will happen in a relationship, right? And to a certain extent it’s healthy to have disagreements. We just talked about that…

ND: A lot of times, we don’t have the emotional vocabulary to be able to identify what we’re going through. So when you’re going through a rough patch, what really helps is [that] you identify what it is that you’re feeling and maintain a thought log. A thought log is one of the most magical things I’ve ever discovered. It is very simple. At the end of each day, you just have to write it down. Whatever major overwhelming incident happened to you throughout the day, it could be a positive or negative one, honestly. So I will tell you what column one can be in a thought log. The first is the situation or incident that happened. It could be something as small as being stuck in traffic while I was getting late. Then in the second column, you identify what the emotion was. It could be multiple. I could be feeling frustrated, annoyed, demotivated, or guilty because I’m probably making somebody else wait. It could be a whole lot of emotions. And looking at the emotion wheel, I could identify what exactly it was that I was feeling. Then we try to understand what the thought behind that emotion was. A lot of times, we get confused between emotion and thought. So if it could be that this always happens to me, that is not an emotion; that is a thought. And while we can work with thoughts, we can never work with emotions. Emotions are very visceral, and you cannot really change them because they’re very real. You need to let them go.

AB: But if you change the thought, don’t you change the emotion?

ND: It’s an indirect change. So over time, when you change the thought, yes, the emotion will change, but you can’t directly work on the emotion. So identifying the thought behind it: ‘this always happens with me, or the government needs to have better infrastructure.’ It would be absolutely anything. And we then try to identify, if we are, who [is it that] we are holding responsible for the situation. Is it internalised or externalised? Does it need to be internalised? Does it need to be externalised? And so on and so forth. The third [and] fourth thing that we need to do is: what action did I take? So I could have wronged myself, knowing that it’s not going to help, just trying to vent out my frustration. I could just listen to songs and pass the time. I could call up the person I’m supposed to meet and tell them that “this is the situation. I would love to be there, but I can’t.” And whatever it is that we have done during that moment, we note it down. And later at night, when we are thinking and noting all of this down, we wonder if we could have had some alternate action that was better in that situation. If it is relevant, sometimes we did the best that we could, so there might not be any alternate action. But if there is something that we can think of, we mention that, over time, we learn to know how we react. We learn to understand. Okay, I usually react with anger in times of stress, or I usually react by blaming myself in times of stress. And we notice patterns. And when we notice those patterns, it becomes easier to stop them [before they happen].

AB: Okay, so you said first use an emotional wheel, which I’ve seen. It’s a wheel. So first identify what emotion you’re going through. Then make a thought log at the end of the day, which is the incident, the emotion, the thought behind the emotion and the action that you took. Write these four things… 

ND: …and later, when you are writing it down, what could have been the alternate action which was better.

AB: So that’s the fifth thing, the alternate action. And you can start seeing the pattern, if there is a pattern over time… That’s actually really useful. Thank you, Nishigandha. That’s a very useful tool you’ve given people. The other thing I want to talk to you about is this idea that people have that if you have a high EQ, your relationship is going to be all smooth. Do people with higher EQs also struggle in relationships? And do people with lower EQs sometimes, because of other strengths, sail through their relationships? Is that possible?

ND: That is possible. The reason [is] not that other skills help them fail. So it’s because the person in front of them has the hope, like I said, that it will change over time. Unfortunately, we are accepting that this is how this person is; he can’t change. But that’s not true. You can change. So sometimes, yes, people do manage to have at least a couple of good relationships with low EQ. But if you look at the majority of the relationships that this person has, there will be bad relationships. Not most of them; a few might be in the case of a person with high EQ; they might have one or two bad relationships that could honestly be because of the situation or because of the other people around them. So, for example, a person A has a very high EQ, but their partner is cheating on them. They’re going to struggle in the relationship irrespective of how good they have been together, how kind, how empathetic, and how self-aware they were, because it is out of their control. But if you look at most of their relationships, it would be positive, because they know how to connect with people on a level that makes the other person also feel worthy.

AB: Okay, wonderful. Now, Nishigandha, we do a rapid fire round, a brief summary of our whole podcast chat. So I’m going to ask you three very quick questions. The importance of EQ in love and relationships.

ND: EQ decides if the relationship is going to survive or not survive or be happy or unhappy. 

AB: Okay. The benefit of having a higher EQ, 

ND: You succeed in personal relationships, you succeed at your professional front. You succeed at a lot of other leadership skills also because you know how to work with it.

AB: Okay, and one tip for those struggling with lower EQ on how to improve it.

ND: I would say learn to sit with your emotion, learn to understand, identify and then accept that emotion.

AB: Thank you, Nishigandha, that was such a useful chat. Thank you for your time and for sharing the thought log [process] because I’m sure that will help a lot of people.

ND: Thank you so much Anshu for having me.

AB: It was wonderful. To my listeners, I hope you learned something new and I hope we’ve helped you get a little closer to leading a healthier, happier, and more hopeful life. If you did enjoy this, please press ‘like,’ please tell your friends and family to subscribe. And most importantly, I would love to hear from you. So do send me an email with questions and with suggestions for topics. My email address is Thank you for listening and thank you for trying to get help. See you next week.