Therapists learn a lot from their clients. While working with a couple on marital conflicts, we landed on a few practical ground rules designed to keep disagreements from becoming all-out wars at their house. Fearing the guidelines might feel too oppressive to the couple, I asked if either of them had any issues with placing rules on their interactions. Quickly shaking his head, the husband noted that the term “rules” didn’t even seem to fit what we were doing. Instead, he remarked that it felt more as though they were simply building up their “relational intelligence” towards one another.

This husband was not only clever in his wording, but clearly demonstrated his openness to learning how to “do this marriage thing” a little better. While couples come to therapy for all kinds of reasons, openness and willingness to recognize ways to improve “relational intelligence” seems to be a very reliable indicator of their success in therapy.

Whether you are in therapy for your marriage, working through difficult marriage situations on your own, or merely feeling a little distant from your spouse, setting your mind on improving your “relational intelligence” can make all the difference. It isn’t about what you are doing wrong, it’s about what you could be doing better.

Here are four quick tips to improve your “relational intelligence:”

  1. Get to know your spouse. Maybe it sounds ridiculous, but many people stop trying to get to know their spouse once they are married. However, when you know his or her likes, dislikes, interests, goals, and dreams, it is far easier to understand behavior, even when it appears to be less-than-ideal behavior.
  2. Learn your spouse’s Love Language. If you have no idea what a Love Language is, it might be worth reading Gary Chapman’s “The Five Love Languages.” One of the most deflating issues among couples comes about when both spouses pour all their effort into the wrong areas and feel defeated when it doesn’t produce results (ie, they speak different Love Languages to each other without being understood.)
  3. Discover ways to communicate respectfully. Most couples disagree from time to time, but the truth is disagreements can be opportunities for connection. If the conversation is had using respectful words and tones, avoiding judgment, and seeking to understand the other partner’s point of view, both spouses can walk away feel more heard, understood, and connected. On the flip side, if the conversation includes harsh words and tones, judgmental attitudes, and an insistence on one’s own way, the conversation will almost always lead to hurt feelings and disconnection.
  4. Dare to dream together. There is a good chance you are already making big plans for your life, why not let your spouse in on the dream. Research shows that couples who plan their future together and support one another’s individual goals feel more connected than those who go at their dreams apart.

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