EQI Home Page | Personal Growth


Romantic Relationships

Introduction to this Page

Feelings, Relationships, Information and Voluntary Change

Empathy, Caring, Importance, Defensiveness and Responsibility

Finding Someone vs. Attracting Someone

At the Beginning of a Relationship

Throughout the Relationship

Recognizing Patterns

General Guidelines on Managing Negative Relationships

Some Suggestions for Resolving Arguments

Chapter on Relationships from EQ For Everybody Book

Notes on Respect, Helping Each Other

Notes on Letting Go

Notes on Loneliness

Appreciation, Resentment

Notes from an Article on "Constructive Arguing"

Notes from books by Ken Keyes

Notes from Nathaniel Branden's book The Psychology of Romantic Love

Notes from Steve's Life

Concerned about Their Relationship

Letter to a Young Couple about Love


http://www.relationships911.org- (This link is about all kinds of relationships, not just romantic)

Recent Items

My relationship problens -

I am having a lot of trouble with my romantic life these days... If I would follow my own advice I probably would still have a girlfriend.... S. Hein Dec 2014

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Introduction to this page

The best test of how a person uses their emotional intelligence may be in their romantic relationships. In romance, feelings are strong and personal,and it is easy to feel hurt, rejected, disappointed etc. Cognitive, intellectual intelligence alone is not enough. Also, a person could have a high level of innate emotional intelligence, but if they grew up in an emotionally unfulfilling, unhealthy or dysfunctional family, culture or society, they could still have very poor relationship skills. A reminder of this is the "dark side" of emotional intelligence. In fact, I believe the combination of high IQ, high innate emotional intelligence and a dysfunctional environment is deadly to a relationship. (Explanation) I also believe that romantic relationships work best when each person has a high level of innnate emotional intelligence in conjunction with emotional knowledge, education and skills training.

Here are some thoughts, suggestions, and guidelines which come from a combination of personal experiences and extensive reading on relationships. I will add that it is not easy to unlearn destructive habits and train yourself to react in more emotionally intelligent ways. We see very few, if any, models of the kinds of behavior I am proposing on this page. On the televeision screen and in movies, for example, you will see almost none of any of this. In fact, in many cases you will see just the opposite.

Though some of my ideas may be new, people often tell me that they make sense. Once you see it written down, it may give you some new understanding of what is happening in your current relationship or what happened in past relationships. Such understanding is extremely helpful, if not essential, to making permanent changes.

I have tried almost everything on this page myself. Most of it was completely new to me at first, but I am finding that while I still revert back to my old habits at times, the new ways get easier with time and practice. And I consider myself living proof that one can make major changes in their lives.

S. Hein

Feelings, Relationships, Information and Voluntary Change

The more we value a relationship, the more we are interested in and care about our partner's feelings. When they say "I feel x" we are curious to know why they feel x. And when they feel sad or hurt or upset, we feel more empathy if we value them or the relationship more. (See note on empathy and defensiveness)

Also, the healthier we are, in other words, the fewer unmet emotional needs (UEN's) we have, the more we are able to be interested in our partner's feelings. If I am very needy, for example, I am only thinking my own unmet emotional needs. It is unlikely I will be able to feel much empathy for my partner when I am hurting myself, since taking care of one's own pain is fundamental to the survival of the species.

When one person expresses his or her feelings, they provide information to another. William Glasser, in fact, says all we can do is provide information to another person. From there it is up to them. Thus, the more we value a person or a relationship, not only the more interested we are in their feelings, but the more likely we are to make changes voluntarily, without feeling forced, pressured, manipulated or coerced.

Empathy, Caring, Importance, Defensiveness and Responsibility

We all want to feel cared about. We want someone to feel empathy for us when we are in pain. That pain may take the form of hurt, sadness, or "anger" (see discussion of why anger is a secondary feeling), but in all cases we want someone to care how we feel. This is an evolutionary survival need. It was critical to our survival that when we were injured, we were able to express ourselves, to get someone's attention who cared enough to go out of their way to help us. Before we had words, our emotions expressed themselves in moans, cries, tones, facial expressions, body language, etc. The better we were at communicating our pain, and the more empathy we were able to get, the more likely we were to survive.

Also, the more important we are to someone the more likely they will care about how we feel. Thus we all want and need to feel important. If we meant nothing to the tribe that we were in, they might just decide to leave us behind at some point. But if we were important to the tribe for some reason or another, they would make an extra effort to help us.

When we are in pain though, it is a bad time to start trying to become important to someone and to get them to care about us. This is better done before we are in pain. Once we are in pain, we may quickly become bitter if we need their help or empathy and for some reason they are not giving it or showing it. If we then start to attack them, they will become defensive. Again, this is strictly an evolutionary survival response. The more we attack them, verbally, psychologically or otherwise, the more defensive they become. And, importantly, the less empathic they become. This was something I discovered by chance one day when I was being attacked for not caring, for not showing empathy. A girl I was dating started crying and said "..and you don't even care how I feel! Do you!?" I paused a moment and said "Well, actually right now I really don't because I am just thinking about how to defend myself." I realized later that day that feeling empathy and feeling defensive seem to be mutually exclusive. You simply cannot feel empathy when under attack. This apparently is due to the hierarchy of survival responses: we have evolved to protect and take care of ourselves first.

When you most need someone's empathy and caring then, it is probably counterproductive to attack them for not caring about you. It is probably not helpful to say things like "If I were important to you, you would....." or "You don't care about me!" You might be able to get the immediate behavior you want from the person, but you are unlikely to be generating sincere feelings of empathy. More likely you are generating feelings of guilt, which is not a healthy motivation for behavior. It is a common one, but not a healthy one. Those who learned to get their short term needs met this way are in effect using guilt to manipulate the other person. That person will feel resentful over time. And their self-esteem will suffer because they are not acting out of their own free will. They experience a loss of power, so there will be future power struggles in an attempt to reclaim it. Feelings of competition, superiority, inferiority, victory, defeat, punishment, judgement and general mutual resentment may be the result, all of which are toxic to a romantic relationship.

Part of being emotionally skilled, then, is expressing your feelings in a non-attacking way. And part of having a high level of innate emotional intelligence is being aware of the emotions you may be generating in the other person. If you use your emotional intelligence in a healthy way, you will produce positive, loving emotions in the other person. But if you use it in a negative way you will produce feelings of resentment, guilt etc. How you use your emotional intellience is up to you, once you become aware that you have choices in how to apply it.

Now let's look at the four branches of emotional intelligence as defined by Mayer and Salovey. (source) These four branches are:

1. the ability to perceive accurately, appraise, and express emotions; identifying emotions in oneself and others
2. the ability to access and/or generate feelings when they facilitate thought; using emotion in reasoning and problem solving.
3. the ability to understand emotion and emotional knowledge, and
4. the ability to manage emotions in yourself and in others; the ability to regulate emotions to promote emotional and personal growth

First, let me say that I agree with Mayer and Salovey for the most part on branches 1 through 3 when they say these are the components of emotional intelligence. But I disagree that the ability to manage your emotions is a sign of high emotional intelligence. I believe this is more a product of your environment than of your innate level of EI. But that said, let's look at each branch

In a romantic relationship it definitely helps to be able to accurately identify and express your own feelings. To do this you must be able to "access" them or in more common terms, you must be in touch with your feelings. When you are feeling hurt, upset, etc. your feelings definitely will generate thoughts on your part. But the key word is "facilitate." I take this to mean that your feelings help you think more clearly about what is happening. With high emotional intelligence, a healthy upbringing and helpful skills training, the thoughts you are generating are helping you solve the problem. But if your innate emotional intelligence has been corrupted by a dysfunctional past, your thoughts may do just the opposite. In other words, they may make things worse. (see cognitive distortions)

Also, if you are able to understand emotions and know what is likely to happen in your partner, you are less likely to attack when you need empathy and caring. Thus by using some self-regulation and choosing your words carefully and thoughtfully, you may indeed be growing emotionally and intellectually, while helping to get your needs met and strengthening the relationship bonds at the same time.

A simple example of this is to say "I feel hurt," rather than "You hurt me." Here is where we take a step beyond the academic definition of emotional intelligence and move to the more practical applications. You are now expressing your emotions with feeling words. You are not blaming or attacking your partner. You are simply providing information.

If you expect or demand your partner to make you feel better, though, you still are not taking responsibility for your emotions, something fundamental to my definition of emotional fitness. Many people try to change their partner, ofen in a manipulative ways. Perhaps they invoke feelings of guilt or responsibility when they say either "You hurt me" or "I feel hurt." This could be done just by their tone of voice.

As I see it, the more you blame your partner for your feelings and expect them to change or do something about your feelings, the worse the relationship. Instead, after you express your feelings it is healthier to leave it up to them to voluntarily decide what to do with this information. (See above section on voluntary change)

When you express a feeling, it is wise to make a mental note of it, or perhaps write it in your journal. If you find you are experiencing the same feeling over and over again, I suggest you not blame your partner. Part of the value of clearly identifying your feelings, if not the primary value, is to help you decide when it is time for you to make a change. This change may take many forms, but the point is to take primary responsibility for taking care of your own feelings.

This is something I very rarely see in the world, and something I have trouble doing myself. Nearly all of my role models blamed others for their feelings. They then spent vast emotional and intellectual resources trying to get the others to change, through any number of tactics: guilt, coercion, bribery, punishment, reward, subtle manipulation, threats, intimidation, fear, etc. Not only was this what I saw in my immediate environment, but it is what I continue to see around the world on TV, in film, in literature, in schools, business and religion.

The ability to break away from this dysfunctional model, to take responsibility for managing one's own emotions, emotional health and happiness is a real achievement. We might say it is better called emotional enlightenment than emotional intelligence. When we reach this level of emotional growth, we are close to emotional self-sufficiency. We are able to meet more of our own emotional needs. When we do find that special person for whom we have passionate romantic feelings of love and desire, we are much more likely to bring happiness into the relationship rather than try to get happiness out of it.

At the Beginning of a Relationship

Use the 0-10 scale to find out the level of the feelings listed below. Then take appropriate action to move in the necessary direction and check back with your partner. Periodically check on these feelings.

- Appreciated
- Controlled
- Free
- Judged
- Respected
- Understood
- Valued

Define your terms- for example, respect, support, listening, friendship.

Use discussions of your feelings to discover your values, beliefs, expectations and needs.

Discuss how you each believe love is shown.

Agree on a method for resolving conflicts.

Discuss the concept of punishment - for example, withholding communication, changing plans to hurt the other person. Find out if your partner uses punishment when they are hurt. Find out what your partner does when they don't get what they want. How they resolve problems. Find out whether they have bitterness from past relationships; how they felt with their parents.

Throughout the Relationship

  • Be sure you don't confuse loving someone with needing them. Need is based on insecurity and dependency. When you need someone, you believe you can't live without them. When you love someone, you can be happy alone and you can continue to love them even after you are no longer romantic partners.
  • When you feel bad for something you did, tell your partner immediately. Ask for forgiveness and/or offer restitution.
  • If your apology is not accepted, you must forgive yourself. You can only offer an apology, you can't force someone to accept it.
  • You can also feel sorry that a person is hurting without feeling guilty for the being the one who cause the pain. Sometimes, though, the other person wants you to feel guilty. If this seems to be the case, you might think about how they want you to feel and why. If they want you to feel guilty it is probably because they want to change you.
  • Take more responsibility for your own emotions.
  • Learn to explain your emotions without blaming your partner for them. Take responsibility for your own insecurities, defensiveness and unmet emotional needs.
  • Learn to manage your own negative emotions. The more you can do this, the more you will be available to help your partner.
  • Ask "How do I want to feel?" and "What would help me feel better that I can do?" rather than thinking in terms of what someone else could do.
  • Ask "How do I want my partner to feel?" and "What can I do to help them feel that way?"
  • Learn to identify the primary emotions when you feel "angry." (See section on anger.)
  • Learn how to tell your partner what you need from them.
  • Remember that sometimes, expressing your feelings triggers feelings of defensiveness from others. Sometimes they feel responsible, manipulated, blackmailed, or pressured, even if this was not your intent.
  • Thus it is necessary to assume responsibility and ask for help, rather than expect or demand your partner do anything to help you feel better.
  • Also remember there is a difference between caring about how someone feels vs. feeling responsible for how they are feeling or for making them feel better.
  • And sometimes, although full disclosure is the ideal, perhaps it will be better to keep your feelings to yourself, or share them later on.
  • Become aware of your unmet emotional needs (UEN's) from your childhood. (See human emotional needs for help with this)
  • Do not depend on your partner for your happiness. If you do you will start to need them rather than love them. Need starts to take priority over love.
  • Remember that happiness is something you bring into a relationship more than something you get out of it.
  • Learn to change your demands into preferences.1 and reduce the demands you place on your partner.
  • Learn to listen using the techniques of EQ based listening. In particular, listen for the emotions behind the words. This is very hard to do when you are feeling attacked, but that also may be when it is most important.

Also Try to Remember :

  • Feeling defensive and empathetic are mutually exclusive (so try not to attack your partner)
  • Feelings are not debatable.
  • There is no point in defending your feelings. It will probably put others on the defensive.
  • It doesn't help to try to explain your feelings when someone isn't interested in them.
  • Emotions unite us, beliefs divide us.
  • Judging and invalidating quickly kills relationships.
  • Sarcasm is an indirect expression of resentment, hostility, bitterness, disappointment, hurt, anger, etc. Try to identify or express the feelings directly.
  • Accepting responsibility releases resentment. (AR3) (see more on resentment)
  • Appreciation attracts. Resentment repels.
  • When one person is shouting, angry or walks away, they are most in need.
  • People's feelings can change quickly. Expecting consistency will lead to disappointment. Instead, try to accept feelings at each moment.
  • Disappointment can be avoided by having no expectations, or by at least not having unrealistic ones. Remember you create the disappointment more than the other person. (see more on disappointment )
  • You are primarily responsible for your feelings of resentment and bitterness, not your partner. This is because most of these feelings come from your past and your unmet emotional needs.
  • You can't heal an emotional wound with logic.
  • Whoever needs the relationship most has the least power in it.
  • To help your partner feel important, place their feelings above everyone else's besides yourself.

Here are a few more suggestions:

When you feel discouraged or hopeless, list all the things which favor you.

Never assume how your partner feels, always ask.

Seek first to understand, then to be understood.

State your feelings in three word sentences starting with "I feel....". Then wait to see how the other person responds. Don't try to force your explanations on them.

To show respect to your partner: (a) respect their feelings (b) ask them how they would feel before making decisions.

Listen to your body and take a time-out when you feel intensely attacked, hostile, angry, etc.

If you are an intense, quick thinking person, slow down. Especially in arguments.

Try to avoid using someone's own words against them. This is a particularly personal and hurtful form of attack.

Avoid people who take information you have given them and use it against you. (Though I generally don't like labels we might call this behavior "information abuse.")

xxx end of jan 2007 editing

Recognizing Patterns

One of the values of identifying feelings with feeling words is to help you recognize patterns. For example, if similar situations reoccur you will have similar feelings. By identifying the feelings precisely you can see the similarities faster than if you just try to compare one situation to another. The mind naturally makes comparisons between similar situations, so you are just facilitating the process.

As an example, think about the many ways a person can be helped to feel unappreciated.

Mary does something helpful for Paul. Paul fails to thank Mary.

Mary does something else helpful. Paul criticizes the way she did it.

Mary gives Paul a compliment. Paul rejects it.

Though each case is different, the feeling Mary has is the same: she feels unappreciated.

What a person does when they clearly recognize a pattern depends on many things, for example what kind of relationship Mary and Paul have. Did they just meet or do they live together and have a child together? Part of emotional intelligence is figuring out the best way to manage negative feelings. Different situations call for managing the same unmet need in different ways.

General Guidelines for managing negative feelings in a relationship
  • Identify the feeling.
  • Express it with an "I feel.." message.
  • See how the other person responds.
  • Identify your feelings about how they respond.
  • Use your feelings to help you decide whether to invest more or less of yourself in the relationship.
  • After several relationships, if you see a pattern in experiencing the same feelings with different people, then it may be an indication that you have some work to do on managing your own unmet emotional needs
Suggestions for Resolving Arguments

The quickest way I have found to stop arguments is to ask the other person how they are feeling, then just accept it. Here are some specific suggestions.

  • Ask the other person how they are feeling. Focus on feelings, not "facts" like who did what, who said what etc.
  • Ask how strong the feeling is from 0-10.
  • Accept and validate their feelings. Try to show understanding. And try to really understand. If you don't understand, ask them to help you understand. Most people want to feel understood.
  • If they are having difficulty expressing their feelings with feeling words, try to figure out what they are feeling and help identify it.
  • Ask them how they want to feel.
  • Ask what would help them feel better
  • Think about how you want them to feel and how to help them get to that feeling.
  • Ask them how they want you to feel.

If you are feeling frustrated, you might suggest taking a break. During this break you might think about

  1. Your feelings and what you could do to feel better that doesn't depend on the other person changing.
  2. How you want to feel and how to get there.
  3. How the other person wants you to feel and why.

Also, In arguments, avoid exaggerating, bringing up the past, using someone's own words against them, trying to get them to agree with you. Instead just state feelings and wait. If they are ready to hear the explanations, they will ask why you feel that way. If they don't ask, they are in need and can't focus on your feelings. If they don't voluntarily ask why you feel the way you do, trying to force your explanation on them at that moment is probably counter-productive. Maybe flip a coin to see who goes first.

When your partner is upset, don't interrupt. Only speak to clarify and paraphrase. Or perhaps just make eye contact, and show that you are listening. Try to de-code what they are saying and identify their feelings. Try to focus on their unmet emotional needs at that moment and try to put your needs aside for the time being.

When you can't listen, it is best to admit it. Offer to listen at a later time. Take a short break until you stop feeling defensive or drained, for example.

Note that the person who is most aware of the feelings involved from each person has the most ability to help resolve the argument.


1. You can't solve an emotional problem with logic

2. Feelings are not debateable

Misc. Relationship Notes

On Respect:

1. Mutual respect is the key to healthy relationships

2. Show respect by respecting another's feelings.

3. Show respect by asking someone "How would you feel if..." before making a decision which affects them (HWYF)

On Helping Your Partner

  • Help them identify their primary feelings
  • Learn to validate, empathize w/o getting "infected"--i.e. feeling responsible for cause of problem or solution & getting drained.
  • Avoid saying "You need to, you have to, you better, why didn't you, you should, you shouldn't, you should have, you shouldn't have,

Helpful Reminders:

Anger is a secondary emotion - identify the primary ones

Accepting Responsibility Releases Resentment (AR3)

Judging and analyzing others is self-avoidance.

The thin line is between need and hate, not between love and hate. (Read more)

Notes on loneliness

Somewhere in the book "Intimate Connections," David Burns says:

Believing that you need a partner before you can be happy is one of the major causes of loneliness.[I would say this is probably the major cause]

Ken Keyes says:

Develop a relationship with yourself before getting deeply involved with anyone else.

Normally when we feel lonely we think that we have an unmet need to be with someone or to be more connected with people. But it might be helping you feel more depressed to think of it this way, so here are some other ways of looking at loneliness.

You could, for example, look at it as an indication that you have an unmet need to feel content by yourself.

Or as an indication you don't have a good relationship with yourself yet. You could have a few chats with your amygdala, as I have done on many occasions, and develop a better relationship with "her." (I call mine Amy.) This has helped me because I look at the relationship between Amy and I as the most important relationship I will have, and the only one which will stay with me till I die.

You could also look at your feelings of loneliness as a call to action to work on your self-acceptance, self-esteem, etc.

Or as a sign that you are not involved enough with pursuing your own goals. Or maybe the goals you are pursuing aren't fulfilling enough -- maybe you know on some level that they are not important enough in terms humanity.

For me, when I am busy working on my own goals, I rarely feel lonely, even though I am almost always alone.

When you are lonely before you meet someone you run a high risk of becoming too dependent on them to fill your unmet emotional needs. Scott Peck reminds us:

When you require another individual for your survival, you are a parasite on that individual.

Road Less Traveled, p 98

Here are some notes from my own life

For me, one value of identifying my feelings earlier and being more aware of them is it helps me get out of unhealthy situations faster. Once, before I was aware of my feelings, someone threatened me with pouring a glass of water on me if I didn't obey them. I did obey at the time and didn't really think about it. I didn't realize I felt threatened. It took me about another year to realize how dangerous this person was. And it cost me tens of thousands of dollars to get out of the relationship. One reason I have this web page, in fact, is in my hope that my writing helps someone listen to their feelings and avoid such costly experiences.


Your expectations can quickly kill a relationship, I learned recently. My partner was from another culture. She was raised in a strongly Catholic country (Peru) where it is nearly impossible to escape from the prevailing beliefs. And, of course, she was raised in a different family.

All of these differences created conflicts in our expectations. I had few expectations when starting the relationship, or perhaps they weren't well defined. She, though, had her own set of very rigid expectations about how a man "should" treat a woman, how a couple "should" act, what it meant to respect someone, how to respond to conflicts, etc. These expectations, I believe, took priority over her amygdala's natural, instinctive attraction to me, which was very strong. Instead of seeing me for who I was, she quickly labeled me as her "Prince Charming." Then she compared me to this unrealistic standard. Of course, I failed to meet this impossible test.

Since then I have thought about my own expectations. For example, I expect someone to show me respect as I have defined it in my writing. I expect someone to validate me and not invalidate me. I expect them to be interested in my feelings, to ask me how I feel, and to want to understand why I feel the way I do. I expect them to support my goals and help me reach them. I expect them to encourage me and help me feel better about myself. I used to expect someone to make me happy. I now realize this is impossible. I realize I must be happy before I enter the relationship. I expect them to be emotionally and financially responsible. And I expect them to value honesty, personal growth, reality, education, independence and freedom.

Actually, "expectations" may not be the right word. Preferences might be better. If we expect someone to have these qualities, chances are we will be disappointed and frustrated when we realize they don't . We might then try to change them- a frustrating, if not infuriating endeavor.

Also, when we think of desirable qualities as preferences, we won't disqualify someone because they fall short in one area, or because they fail to live up to our expectations in relatively minor ways or on relatively few occasions.

It seems healthier to consider the whole person, over a certain period of time, realizing that some will come closer to meeting your preferences, and that no one will fill all of our preferences all of the time.

Your preferences though, are largely a result of a cognitive process. This may interfere with the natural selection of partners by your amygdala. Or you may become infatuated with someone and temporarily forget all your preferences, which may or may not be healthy. Thus there is the ongoing issue of balance between the cognitive and the emotional centers of the brain. I haven't mastered this balance, I will be the first to admit that!

Finding vs. Attracting Someone

Today I wrote in one of my journals:

I need to just keep being myself and seeing who I attract. It is not so much a matter of who I am attracted to, but who I attract.

We talk about finding the right partner, but I think it would be better to talk about attracting the right partner.

(note to self: moved Sue starfish story to roman2 file)

Constructive Arguing Helps Keep Love in Relationships, by Darrell Sifford, The Blade, Toledo Ohio Sept 16, 1979 --

Here are my notes from the article - one of the little scraps of paper that I have held onto for a long time! My comments are italicized in brackets.


Sifford says people don't fight about real issues but about symptoms of their inability to work things out.

In fact, in the least productive and most damaging arguments there generally is no issue. The precipitating thing is not really the issue. [I suggest this is because the "issue" is the underlying negative feelings]

Therefore he says people need a "grievance procedure," [or what I would call a conflict resolution model.]

Also, in an ineffective relationship things never get worked out because, as he says,"people are too defensive, too sensitive to criticism, too prone too see everything as a personal attack." [Or as I would say the parties feel too defensive, insecure, hostile and hurtful. I would not say they are "too sensitive to criticism." This might imply they are too sensitive in general. I believe it is healthy to be sensitive. What is unhealthy is to feel insecure and to be insecure. The secure, sensitive person can feel something and express their feelings without fear of rejection and abandonment. The more sensitive one is, the sooner one can feel it and express it. This has the potential of averting major conflicts down the road.]

He says most things are simple to resolve if you are flexible and don't see things as a somebody's attempt to control you. [In effect he is saying he wants people not to feel rigid, attacked, controlled. But changing their feelings is harder than he makes it sound. He almost sounds invalidating, as if we all "should" be able to do this easily.]

He says most relationships fail because of unrealistic expectations. He says then people feel trapped and disillusioned. "A man's castle becomes his prison." [I know this is true from personal experience-- you really know something when you have felt it. You can "know" facts, such as 2+2=4 but how can you "know" feelings, such as what "trapped" is, unless you have felt it?]

He gives some good suggestions for finding a mate. (He directs these towards women, since he knows women are most likely to be his readers):

He asks:

"Do kids like him? Kids have an incredibly good sense about people."

Does he express himself? Or does he bottle his feelings?

He says those who can't express feelings often let irritations build silently and then one day there is a violent explosion like an atomic bomb which so damages the relationship it can't be repaired. (or a series of explosions)

Here is my adaptation of his advice on healthy arguments:

  • Stick to the issue. Don't fight old battles or draw in other people.
  • Don't react passively. Everybody needs feedback. [But I would say try to limit your feedback to your feelings and a brief explanation of them, and I would add: Don't label the other person or their behavior. Remember to be aware of and interested in the other person's changing, moment by moment, feelings during the process; ask how they are feeling from and help them express their feelings]
  • Once begun, don't leave the room, except to calm down or take a needed break until you have reached some agreements and you both feel better.[I would say: Try to listen to the other person for as long as it takes till they feel fully expressed, but be aware of your own feelings and take a break if you need it, while giving assurance you will return. Also, don't pressure the other person into continuing the discussion when they have made it clear they need a break. Respect each other's feelings and boundaries during the process. Try to reach compromises, without feeling sacrificial.]
  • Try to keep a sense of humor, for comic relief, but don't joke around if the other person isn't smiling. [Remember though it is easy to invalidate with humor, even when completely unintentional- especially if other person is feeling hurt, insecure, inadequate, defensive, needy, etc.]
  • Don't tease, mock, or ridicule the other person (ie don't invalidate!!)

I would add: identify the feelings. Find things to agree on, even if you can only agree that you disagree. Don't hold the other person responsible for your feelings. Be aware of your own feelings.

Concerned about their relationship (August, 2002)

This is some of the conversation I had with a woman who was concerned about her relationship. It covers a lot of topics critical to healthy relationships such as respect, acceptance, defensiveness, and direct talk about feelings.

A woman who I will call "Concerned" is going to see her new partner this weekend. She has been feeling concerned about their relationship. In this dialogue we are discussing how best to present her concerns. There are several things Concerned would like to change in the relationship. Her partner is already feeling a bit defensive. A key issue for Concerned is that she doesn't feel very important to him and she would like to feel more important. Concerned has started to feel afraid that he is not putting as much into the relationship as she is. She wants him to change his behavior. One of the things she wants him to change is she wants him to stop smoking. She said he smokes because he has stress and problems and because he doesn't feel good about himself.

I asked her to think for a moment not about how he wants him to behave and act, but how she wants him to feel. She said she wants him to feel safe, loved, respected and understood. These all are good feeling goals. We both agreed that if he felt better about himself he was more likely to stop smoking and more likely to give her what she wanted from the relationship. My task, then, was to help her discover ways to help him feel such feelings.

Here is some of our discussion on respect.

Steve How much do you feel respected by him right now, from 0-10?
Concerned About 6.
Steve And how do you think he would feel if you told him that?
Concerned He could possibly feel defensive, or curious as to why or sad.
Steve What could you say to make him feel more defensive?
Concerned Hmm. Well, I could say, "I only feel respected 6 out of 10." or I could say,
"You know, the way you treat me, I only feel respected 6 out of 10."
Steve Okay. Then what could you say to make him feel more curious?
Concerned Well, I could say it like this, "You know my friend and I were talking and
he asked me how much I felt respected by you from 0-10."
Steve Yep. That would be a way.
Ok. What about sad?
Concerned Well, I might say something like, "How much do you feel respected by me,
from 0-10?" Then we could talk about his feelings first, like what I could do
so he would feel more respected. Then he would probably ask me later
how much I felt respected by him, and when I told him the truth he would
probably feel sad.

We both agreed this last idea was a very good one.

Here is some of our dialogue.

Steve What do you think he would say if you said, "I don't feel very important."
Concerned He would probably say, "But you are important!"
Steve How do you think he would be feeling if he said that?
Concerned Attacked. Defensive.
Steve And how would you feel?
Concerned I would feel a bit sad because there is no reason for him to feel attacked,
since it wasn't an attack. I would tell him there is no reason for him to
take it so personally and that he doesn't have to feel attacked.

What we have so far is both of them invalidating each other. He invalidates her by saying, "But you are important." Then she invalidates him by saying there is no reason for him to feel how he feels and that he shouldn't take things so personally. This escalates the conflict and could lead to a situation where they start debating about each other's feelings. Concerned might say, "Well you say that I am important, but I don't feel important!"She feels a need to repeat herself because he didn't hear her and get the emotional message the first time. This is a good time to remember the general principle that feelings are not debateable

I asked her if she had ever discussed feelings using such simple and direct words as "attacked" and "defensive." She said that up to this point, no, they had not. I asked if she thought he would be able to have this kind of a discussion. She said she didn't know. She said not many people talk like this. She said until she learned to do it she always had these kinds of feelings, but she was never able to talk about them. She said this was partly because no one else ever talks about them like this and also because people are seen to be weak if they talk about their feelings.

I then told her how important it would be if her partner were able to acknowledge his feelings. I gave her the example of a person who I could see was getting defensive. I pointed this out to her. She shot back, "Defensive?!" To me, if someone can't acknowledge their actual feelings it makes it nearly impossible to work on the relationship, or even to have one. If someone is willing to learn to be aware of and acknowledge their feelings it is a good start.

Since we had talked earlier about the importance of him feeling accepted and understood we continued our talk as follows:

Steve So when you say there is no reason for him to take it personally,
how accepting would you be of his answer, from 0-10? And how
understanding would you feel?
Concerned Accepting 5. Understanding 5.
Steve And how much would you like him to feel accepted and understood?
Concerned 10 and 10.
Steve Who has the most power to get the numbers from 5 to 10?
Concerned Well both of us, but mostly him. If he wouldn't take things personally then
he wouldn't feel attacked. He is very insecure, that is why he takes things
so personally. I would tell him that we need to work on his insecurity, and
that I would help him.
Steve So you think he has a problem and needs to change, and that you can
help him?
Concerned Yes.
Steve But you also want him to feel accepted 10?
Concerned Yes.... Okay, I see what you mean.
Appreciation, Resentment

The other day I was doing some journal writing about a girl I would like to have a romantic relationship with. I had been feeling resentful but then I realized that wasn't helping achieve my goal! So I realized that it would be more helpful if she felt appreciated rather than resented. So I came up with this summary:

Appreciation Attracts - Resentment Repels

S. Hein
January 2007

High IQ, Low EQ

When one is intelligent, one is able to skillfully defend oneself. And one is able to quickly note and make a very persuasive argument for the faults of the other. When one has low EQ, one lacks self-awareness and is not open to constructive feedback. One lacks sensitivity to the feelings of others. One is concerned only with one's own unmet emotional needs. One uses the other person in an futile attempt to fill these needs. The other typically feels judged, attacked, resentful, unappreciated, used, and bitter. Compounding the problem, the one with high IQ and low EQ often feels superior and makes assumptions and thinks they understand things when in fact they don't understand. Because they don't truly understand, they lack compassion and empathy. Because they are intelligent, it is important to them to be "right." Thus they are defensive which further reduces their ability to empathize. This is a toxic combination which typically leads to the destruction of the relationship. (My conclusions come from both direct personal and family experience.)

Part of letter to some friends about love and emotional honesty (2003)

There is one thing that I want to offer you as a "gift" here... I want to encourage you both to always be emotionally honest with each other. This is a bit different than being factually honest. It means telling each other how you really feel. If you are uncomfortable with something, or concerned or afraid, try to say it honestly. One of the best pieces of advice I can offer is to really think about what you are afraid of when something bothers you. Then instead of saying "you shouldn't do so and so" or "I don't want you to do so and so" say, "I am afraid if you do so and so... that so and so will happen."

Remember that you love each other and care about each other. Your fears are usually going to be based on the fact that you care and the fact that you need each other and are afraid of being alone again or of losing each other.

Try to remember to think about your specific fears and then be very honest. In love, real intimacy comes from emotional intimacy, and that means sharing all feelings, even the ones you are afraid to share because they might make you look weak or vulnerable or stupid.

We all feel insecure and afraid of losing our partners sometimes. It is okay to talk about these insecurities and fears. It just makes your partner realize how much you care and how much they mean to you. You are both great people. Neither one of you would want to use something against the other one to hurt them, so try to overcome your fears of being totally emotionally honest and just share everything you feel when you feel it or as soon as you can put it into words.

Best wishes,



1. From Ken Keyes, The Power of Unconditional Love