Good looks and a sense of humor are often brandished about during discussions about the perfect partner, but according to psychotherapist and couples counselor Dr. Deborah Sandella, there's one quality that should be at the top of your list—but isn't: emotional intelligence.
EQ, as it's commonly known, is the ability to be in sync with your emotions and the feelings of those around you, and respond accordingly. "We are starting to discover that EQ is more important than IQ," says Dr. Sandella, a topic which she explores in her new book, Goodbye Hurt & Pain. "It’s a different kind of intelligence; IQ is factually oriented while EQ is sensing oriented."
Calling on over 40 years of experience, Sandella says she found that couples who have a high shared EQ tend to thrive and last. Those with a low EQ struggle to communicate and encounter more issues. "It's important in every facet of life," she says. "It determines how to feel and communicate with the people around you, whether that's a romantic relationship or with family or colleagues."
Curious to find out how you and your S.O. fare? Sandella has developed a simple online test that she believes every committed couple should take. Follow these three steps to discover your emotional intelligence (EQ) score and what that means for your relationship.
Step One: The Test
It might look like a trivial online quiz, but Sandella's Emotional Operating System Quiz reveals far more than you might expect. Consisting of 16 simple statements, it requires participants to rate their response out of 10, according to how frequently they demonstrate that behavior. Questions are self-reflective, and range from simple statements like "I sincerely ask for what I need" to more probing sentiments like "I trust that my emotional resilience is greater than traumatic experience."
"We developed the quiz to give you a read of how much of your emotional system is turned on so you can use it effectively," Sandella explains. She recommends couples take it early on in their relationship to better understand each other and revisit it periodically. "If you're just starting out and don't have history, this score can reveal a lot about your partner," she says. If you're in a long-term relationship, "revisit the test when you’re in a rut, and take time to talk about where you are now. It can help create a path forward."
Step Two: The Results
So, how did you and your partner score? Each response is tallied to create a final number out of 160. Results ranging from 122–160 suggest you have a high EQ, while a total below 80 implies there could be a disconnect.
"Someone with a high EQ is going to be more in touch with their feelings and be able to talk and communicate in a way that can be heard," says Sandella. "They're more compassionate or empathetic, so they can understand feelings."
If only one of you scored above 122, don't worry. Research suggests only one person needs to have a high EQ for a successful relationship. "Couples who both have high EQ did not do better than when one person had a high EQ," she explains. But, "if both have low EQ, they have poorer chance of a long-term relationship. They have to be willing to grow."
Step Three: The Game Plan
Emotional intelligence isn't fixed, so if you or your S.O. received a less-than-favorable score it doesn't mean you should end the relationship now. The key, Sandella stresses, is to use the information to create a game plan.
"First, identify the areas that you each scored low on and really start paying attention. This gives you so much information about where you’re probably going to get in trouble with each other and the direction to work on," she says. "Use it as a roadmap."
Once you pinpoint the potential weak points, try to practice self-awareness and take action. She recommends taking classes together and paying closer attention the next time you feel that emotion. "If both people have a very low EQ, I would seriously consider getting assistance or take experiential classes," she says.
If you're not happy with your score, don't stress—it's just a sign that you need to be aware of possible tension points and create a plan. "There are some people who are born with greater EQ, but it doesn’t matter where we start," says Sandella. "It’s a lifetime adventure. The more conscious you can stay, the more you can create ways to make the relationship work."