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6 Red Flags Your Partner Has Low "Emotional Intelligence," Therapists Say

These warning signs could spell trouble for your relationship.

Being able to identify, process, and communicate your emotions—as well as recognize and understand the emotions of others— can obviously benefit your relationship in a myriad of ways. This ability is known as "emotional intelligence," or EQ, and experts say all kinds of issues can crop up when a partner is lacking in this area.

"When someone has a high level of emotional intelligence, they are able to adapt, communicate effectively, and resolve conflicts easily," explains Lisa Lawless, a clinical psychotherapist and CEO of Holistic Wisdom. "They can also give their partners vital emotional support, trust, and intimacy."

On the other hand, when someone has low emotional intelligence, that may affect their self-awareness and capacity for empathy. According to James Miller, a psychotherapist and host of LIFEOLOGY Radio, EQ also plays a significant role in someone's ability to regulate their own emotions and manage conflict.

The good news? With a little effort, it's totally possible to build EQ. But first, you'll need to identify that this is, in fact, the issue. Here are six signs that suggest your partner may be lacking in the emotional intelligence department.

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6 Signs Your Partner Has Low Emotional Intelligence

1. They don't validate your feelings.

A couple talking on the sofa at home. A young man and woman having a serious discussion on the couch

When you share with your partner that you're upset, how do they react? Do they acknowledge and accept your feelings, and make you feel heard and understood? Or do they brush you off, refuse to validate you, and minimize your experiences?

According to Marisa T. Cohen, a licensed marriage and family therapist and relationship researcher at Hily, an inability to validate your emotions is a classic sign of low emotional intelligence.

"This may indicate they lack the ability to put themselves in someone else's shoes," explains Candace Kotkin-De Carvalho, a licensed social worker at Absolute Awakenings.

Some examples of validating phrases include, "I can imagine that feels really frustrating," "That must have been really upsetting," or "I can understand why you'd feel that way." A partner with low EQ may not respond in this way because they struggle with empathy.

2. They can't self-soothe.

Couple yelling and having an argument on couch

Children tend to lash out when they're frustrated, disappointed, or upset—but a significant part of growing up involves learning to "self-soothe," or manage those negative emotions.

If it seems like the smallest things can trigger your partner to have uncontrollable emotional outbursts, that might be a sign that they have low emotional intelligence.

According to Lawless, a partner with low EQ may find it difficult to regulate their own emotions and comfort or calm themselves down. As a result, you might notice that they react like a toddler, throwing a tantrum when things don't go their way, rather than expressing their feelings healthily and maturely.

"They may often react to situations with anger and aggression," adds Kotkin-De Carvalho. "This is concerning because it shows a lack of self-control and suggests they might not understand the impact their behavior has on others.

"Helping your partner identify their own emotional triggers is an important step in improving their emotional intelligence," Kotkin-De Carvalho explains. "This can help them to become aware of their emotions and behaviors so that they can be mindful of how they are responding to certain situations."

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3. They behave in an insensitive way.

upset couple on couch

Does your partner make occasional poorly timed or off-color jokes and comments, and then seem confused when people are offended? According to Kotkin-De Carvalho, this might be because they have difficulty understanding others' emotions, and therefore struggle to respond appropriately according to the setting, occasion, and emotional tone in any given situation.

"Their inability to 'read the room' can often cause embarrassment," adds Miller. "If you bring it up to them, they may become defensive because they don't see a problem with their behavior."

4. They're not a good listener.

man angry with his girlfriend husband mistakes

If your partner constantly seems distracted while you're talking—or interrupts you—that can also be a sign of low emotional intelligence, says Lawless. "This demonstrates a deficiency of empathy and respect for other people's feelings and opinions."

It's also common for people with low EQ to dominate conversations. Again, this signals a lack of self-awareness and empathy.

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5. They always try to "fix" your problems, even when you don't want them to.

young couple fighting

Let's say you come home after a terrible day at work and vent to your partner about your coworker who won't pull their weight on a project and your client who has unrealistic demands.

Instead of saying, "That sounds awful, I'm so sorry you had to deal with that," they instantly go into "fix it" mode—telling you what you should have said to your client or how you need to handle your colleague.

That may not have been what you wanted or needed from them, but if they have low emotional intelligence, it may be all they're able to offer.

"A person with a lower EQ will not ask empathetic questions," explains Miller. "Instead, they will use facts and data to converse and often are blind to social cues."

Remember, though, that this doesn't mean they don't love or want to support you. "Instead, they usually want to problem solve right away and not focus on the emotions of the situation," Miller adds.

6. They're always blame-shifting.

Angry millennial couple arguing shouting blaming each other of problem, frustrated husband and annoyed wife quarreling about bad marriage relationships, unhappy young family fighting at home concept
iStock / fizkes

According to Miller, a partner with low emotional intelligence may have trouble taking responsibility for their actions. "It's much easier to blame someone else because there is no insight into the motivation or natural consequences of their behavior," he says.

This refusal to acknowledge their role in a situation may be due to an inability to manage and process feelings of guilt and shame in response to wrongdoings.

Rebecca Strong
Rebecca Strong is a Boston-based freelance health/wellness, lifestyle, and travel writer. Read more
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