A healthy relationship is not defined by always maintaining peace and harmony. In fact, when two people in a relationship never disagree, they often have unspoken gripes festering between them. I believe that a healthy relationship is one in which the people are able to repair their connection after a disagreement. I recently read a some of the work of Dr. Fonagy, the head of the Clinical, Educational, and Health Psychology Department at the University College London. He and his team describe emotional intelligence as the capacity to be aware of the complex mental states of the people around us in addition to our own feelings and thoughts. This awareness requires two areas of our brain to work together: the limbic system which processes emotions, and the cortex which processes rational thoughts. One of the most powerful ways that we get practice in balancing our emotions with our thoughts is by talking through them! Most of us only practice this in our closest relationships. Even with practice our emotions might sometimes erupt, or we might shut down our emotions and get stuck in our intellect. Sometimes we are so out of practice in communicating our thoughts and emotions that we just stop talking, which can damage our long-term relationships.
I love helping people resolve the stuck places in their relationships. As an example, I don’t encourage parents to fight with their children, but I do encourage them to explore the conflicts that arise in the home. Too often parents say to me that “siblings just fight” or “teenagers are just rude.” When we accept our children’s disrespectful behavior as normal, we miss an opportunity to repair the relationships in our household. Siblings sometimes need help resolving conflict so they can have a loving relationship with one another. And teenagers’ brains develop analytical reasoning, and the rules that they didn’t question before no longer make sense to them. There’s usually a valid reason for the upset in a relationship, and I love helping in the repair process so that people can reconnect and love each other even more deeply. I help parents learn how to run family meetings so they can resolve conflicts in their homes. And for issues that are more entrenched, the family meeting can happen in my office. Sometimes each individual needs to process his or her own emotions individually with me in order to be ready to share their emotions and thoughts with others. The goal is to repair and heal our relationships by coming together, sharing honestly and constructively, and gaining mutual understanding in the process. I love seeing families start to work with more harmony.
Psychologists say that kids who learn how to express their thoughts and feelings in their household have more emotional intelligence than kids who don’t learn this skill or don’t see it modeled to them. This emotional intelligence translates into healthier relationships for those individuals throughout their lives. Since most of us didn’t have parents who modeled amazing communication skills, we find the need to learn those skills once we are adults and our relationships are in need of repair. If you have thought of a relationship in your life that could use some help, please consider coming to the class I’ll be teaching with my husband, Eliot Nemzer, on Sunday, March 11th (watch the video below for more information). Or come in for a counseling session to explore how you can strengthen your emotional intelligence and your relationships with some new skills.