How to Improve Family Relationships with Emotional Intelligence

How to Improve Family Relationships with Emotional Intelligence

Family is the first social unit we are born into. As social beings, humans have an innate need to belong. Family is the primary structure which shapes us most directly and with whom we have the most intimate interactions. However, one point to note here is that, unlike most other groups that we choose to engage with at different points in our lives, it is not too easy to discontinue our group membership with our family if we have a fallout with them.

Whenever two or more persons stay together or spend a lot of time with each other, there are bound to be conflicts. Each person will have a different outlook, perspective or way of going about things which will rarely be the same as someone else’s, or even complementary to their style or personality. How do we deal with conflicts with the most integral people in our lives?

First of all, a certain amount of conflict may actually be healthy in the sense that everybody feels free to express their dissent, as long as they can be mutually sorted out. Moreover, due to generational gap, and other individual differences, every family has disagreements among them. However, sometimes they become extreme and we may feel overwhelmed, unable to deal with it alone, as it starts affecting our mental health and eventually every other aspect of our lives. During such situations, one attribute that can make all the difference is emotional intelligence.

We may conceptualize intelligence in many ways, but most of us are more likely to associate it with academic competence or talent rather than being able to deal effectively with people and contexts. Emotional intelligence is the ‘feeling’ side of intelligence. It is a concept gaining popularity at a very rapid pace, and with reason. Sometimes, when even intelligence may not seem to help, emotional intelligence can come to our rescue. Emotional Intelligence (EI) has been defined as, “the ability to monitor one’s own and other’s emotions, to discriminate among them, and to use the information to guide one’s thinking and actions.”

We do not live in isolation. Most of us spend a large amount of our lives interacting with others. Thus, being able to understand them can be a very valuable asset for us. This applies to families as well. In times of a conflict, it may sometimes be wise to identify early on that the other party is triggered or angry, and to stay quiet. It may be a good idea to take some time to blow off steam before speaking. Words can move mountains. One wrong move can cause cracks in relationships nurtured with affection and care over years. 

Being emotionally intelligent means understanding the power of our own emotions, and how important it is to be able to acknowledge, accept and regulate them. The very first thing it teaches us is that we need to take care of our own mental and emotional wellbeing in order to nurture relationships with others. As EI deals with not only being able to comprehend and monitor the emotions of others but also ourselves, it leads to better clarity. When we know exactly what we want and feel, we are less likely to blame others for our anger or other negative emotions, get triggered too easily without knowing the cause or get easily impacted by the emotions of others. Further, it helps us to introspect and be able to identify and apologize for our mistakes, looking at it as a personality strength instead of weakness, and team victory instead of individual loss.

It helps us to improve our familial relationships as it teaches us to listen. By this, we are not referring to simply hearing, but truly listening and trying to understand their perspective. We are also able to better grasp the concept of reciprocity. As every relationship is two-sided, we need to know that it can only grow if it is watered with an effort from both sides. It helps to keep not only the words that come out of our mouths in check but also our body language, and to take responsibility for it and how it affects others. 

When we attempt to develop emotional intelligence, both individually as well as as a family, it gives us much more than what we invest. It helps us recognize the unique needs of others, understand their priorities and be able to accept them as separate individuals without trying to enforce our opinions on them. EQ also teaches us to accept individual differences among ourselves. Similarly, we must ensure that just because we want to avoid conflicts and maintain peace among ourselves, we do not have to sacrifice our individuality in the process. This is also why a comparison with siblings, parents and other members is more likely to lead to negative rather than positive outcomes, as each one of us is a different person. 

Finally, it facilitates communication. We are all aware that communication is key, yet we often struggle to express ourselves clearly. Perhaps we hope that the other person will understand us without having to verbalise it or show it, or maybe we are confused about our own feelings. Emotional intelligence cultivates in us a habit that starts coming naturally after a while, i.e., to express ourselves and appreciate others. Everybody craves and deserves validation and appreciative reminders from time to time, and it is unbelievable how such a small gesture can create such a long-lasting trace. This includes not only words or grand gestures but daily actions that show we care. After all, 70% of communication is non-verbal! Communication includes clearly stating not only positive thoughts but also our opinions, expectations, needs, ideas etc. even if they are contradictory or different, but doing it in a kind and gentle manner to ensure everyone is on the same page.

Yet another lesson EQ teaches us with regard to family is patience and consistency, i.e., establishing a practical, predictable pattern of behaviour instead of an erratic one, so it leads to the building of mutual trust, and not confusion or frustration. Moreover, another point to keep in mind is to never take for granted that we completely understand our family members simply because we have known them for years. Every person evolves, and it takes a lot of conscious effort and involvement to truly get to understand someone. We may know them, their tendencies or habits, but whether or not we truly understand them, is not for us to decide.

EQ also helps us understand how important it is to not live in the past or be afraid of the future, but embrace change as it comes our way. This means that we ought to not keep bringing up someone’s past mistakes that probably already haunt them just to win arguments or intentionally hurt them by hitting their weak spots. Being trapped in past positive emotional memories is not desirable either, as moments are bound to pass. Parents grow old, children turn into adults and leave their nests to build their own lives eventually. Thus, holding on too tight is only going to increase the pain and make acceptance harder. This would also mean that we cherish every stage of life we get to spend with each other. 

However, when we talk about family, we cannot limit it to only those with whom we are biologically related, as love plays a much more crucial role. Just like Lord Krishna was born to Devaki but taken care of by Yashoda, making neither less or more important than the other, we too often do choose our families after all. Children get adopted in loving foster homes, and we make friends who stay in our lives for decades. We choose a partner to start a family with. In fact, we often spend years and most hours of our days at a workplace and even they become family for us. Each of these people and relationships thus need to be nurtured, for our wellbeing and growth, and to help us curate a sense of belonging for ourselves.

Thus, emotional intelligence has almost magical qualities and benefits. However, it is not magic by itself. We are the ones who need to put in time, energy and effort into developing it, like any other desirable trait, habit, or aspect of our personality. One thing is for sure, though - it is always worth it.