Life in General Maintaining Healthy Relationships Managing stress Psychology in practice

Couples and Singles: How high is your Couples’ EQ?

When it comes to relationships, are you any good at intimacy and emotional connection?

Valentine’s Day again! Perhaps this is a good moment to refect on how you are doing relationship-wise! Not only in your intimate relationship(s) but also in your relationships with all the other people in your life.

According to an article in the most recent edition of “Psychotherapy Networker”, there are two essential skill sets involved in keeping our relationships on track. These are distress tolerance and the ability to self-soothe in times of conflict, and emotional accessibility.

In my couple counselling practice I have found that being caught in a negative cycle of negativity and escalating conflict is one of the main characteristic of unhappy relationships. Couples who are at this stage of their relationship usually find it impossible to get out of this cycle without some type of professional help. John Gottmann calls this the “Roach Motel” phenomenon.

So what is involved in these two essential skills sets?

Distress tolerance and the ability to self-soothe concerns how well we are able to stay calm “under fire” – not to get angry and defensive in the face of anger and criticism from one’s partner, but to stay in a receptive and empathic state. Of couse is is very difficult and requires a great deal of practise for most of us! 

Emotional Accessibility is about being able to stay emotionally engaged with one’s partner, even when one is in the middle of an arguement. It is not easy to stay emotionally present in a conflict situation as we all know! (individuals characeristically either go into anger or withdrawal mode. Both styles only serve to intensify the conflict and will cause a relationship to deteriorate if the pattern continues over time).


According to research findings in neuroscience, once new, healthy relationship styles have been developed these have to be practised consistently over time in order to make the new pattern your “default” by rewiring the brain. 


The good news, though, is that effective relationship skills can be learned!


Happy Valentine’s Day!


References: The Great Deception. Brent Atkinson in Psychotherapy Networker, January/February 2014.

John Gottmann and Nan Silver (2012). What Makes Love Last? How to build trust and avoid betrayal.





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