Psychologist gives 9 signs your partner lacks emotional intelligence

EXCLUSIVE: I’m a psychologist – here are 9 subtle signs your partner lacks emotional intelligence

  • Emotional intelligence enables healthy communication in relationships
  • If your partner lacks emotional intelligence, you may feel alone
  • Here’s how you can recognize the warning signs 
  • READ MORE: Why scientists say emotional intelligence is vital for academic success 

Emotional intelligence, or emotional quotient (EQ), has become a buzz phrase in recent years as part of a wider trend of ‘therapy talk’ being used in day-to-day conversations.

But relationship experts say a mismatch in EQ is often the source of breakdowns in marriages and partnerships.

One of the first problems in most relationships on the rocks is a lack of communication, according to psychologist Dr. Scott Lyons, and a key part of communication is emotional intelligence.

‘Emotional intelligence is the ability to recognize, understand, and manage one’s own emotions,’ he told

He said that while you might be able to have fun with a romantic partner who has low EQ, the connection may not go much deeper.

If your partner lacks emotional intelligence, they may have unprocessed trauma that froze them in time. But there’s hope, said holistic psychologist Dr. Scott Lyons

Unfortunately, some people never develop emotional intelligence, possibly because of family issues or other trauma from their childhood. 

And being in a relationship with someone who has low EQ can mean that we keep playing out old unhealthy patterns, which can be very painful, said Lyons, a clinical psychologist who focuses on helping patients deal with trauma, limited beliefs, and other negative cycles.  

Fortunately, emotional intelligence can be learned. 

The first step, though, is recognition.

Here are 9 signs that you may be in a relationship with someone who lacks emotional intelligence:

Conflict is not necessarily unhealthy, but if you have a partner who is unwilling to see your or others’ point of view, they may lack emotional intelligence

1. They are unable to see things from someone else’s point of view:

In a relationship, we want someone who can share our worldview, Dr. Lyons said.

What makes this hard is that there are as many ways of seeing the world as there are people in the world.

Emotional intelligence enables us to see things from another person’s point of view.

You don’t necessarily need to agree, but romantic partners at least need to acknowledge these differences so they can navigate them together. 

‘The inability of people to recognize that their experience might be different from yours is not a good sign,’ Lyons said.

2. They get defensive when you share your feelings:

Even if your partner disagrees with you, they should be able to listen to your feelings without fighting. 

For example, Lyons said, if one person tells the other, ‘I got scared because I didn’t hear from you,’ some defensive responses can include insisting they were where they said they were, or possibly even challenging you to check their phone for proof.

The emotionally intelligent response, on the other hand, could include being willing to listen, reassuring you they’re safe, or even just offering a hug.

Emotional intelligence does not mean solving everything right then and there, but rather showing that you are willing to try to understand.

A defensive posture can reflect a defensive attitude. It may not always look the same, but it sends a strong message: ‘My truth is the only truth’

3. Even their physical posture is defensive:

Their arms might be crossed. They might have a rigid posture.

‘We usually call that a defensive stance,’ Lyons said. 

This physical defensiveness often reflects an emotional defensiveness, too, he said, which will be demonstrated in a person’s insistence that their truth is the only truth.

And their defensiveness leads to an inability to be vulnerable and connect with other people on an emotional level, especially in romantic relationships.

4. They get mad at you for not being able to read their mind: 

As much as we may sometimes wish we could be psychic, ‘that’s not actually what we’re capable of as humans,’ Lyons said.

‘If they get mad at you for not meeting their needs, but they do not communicate their needs, that’s a red flag.’ 

This could look like your partner getting upset with you for not calling when they were having a bad day. 

If something like this happens, there are emotionally intelligent ways to reply: ‘I might say, well you didn’t share with me that you were having a bad day,’ said Lyons. 

A partner who lacks emotional intelligence may not pick up on your nonverbal cues like body language

5. They don’t pick up on nonverbal cues:

When we do share our feelings with each other, sometimes we don’t have all the answers. Sometimes we can’t find the words for what we are feeling. 

In that case, nonverbal cues are how an emotionally intelligent partner can look for how to understand and help us. 

Avoiding eye contact or speaking more slowly than usual can be signs that emotions are weighing heavily on someone, but a partner who with low EQ may not be able to pick up on signs like these.

6. They don’t ask follow-up questions:

‘Part of emotional intelligence is asking really good follow-up questions,’ said Lyons. ‘I don’t think we consider enough how essential that is.’

Investigating and exploring emotions together can be powerful in a relationship because the more you know the more empowered you are to support your partner, he said. 

A lack of curiosity around someone’s feelings can be a sign of low emotional intelligence. 

Even when one partner is unable to find the words, questions may help them find those words.

Asking follow-up questions is not the same as trying to get all the facts. In the first case, a person may be trying to understand, but in the other, they may be looking for a way to place blame

7. …but they try to get all the facts:

There’s a big difference between asking follow-up questions and trying to get all the facts, Lyons said.

Another person doesn’t need to have all the information in order for them to be there for you emotionally.

‘If someone’s bleeding, you don’t need to know what caused the bleeding to go grab a bandage,’ Lyons said. ‘Someone’s hurting. You can gather the facts after they’re done bleeding – or hurting.’ 

Someone with low EQ may feel the need to get the whole story to find out whether they are in full agreement with you before being willing to sympathize, he said.

But a partner with high emotional intelligence can let go of the ‘narrative’ or the ‘story’ of what is wrong, and instead can simply be present for your emotions.

An emotionally intelligent partner should seek to build bridges by finding common ground, whereas someone with low EQ may find ways to blame others for relationship problems

8. They place blame instead of building bridges: 

Similar to defensiveness, a partner with low emotional intelligence may turn the tables when you share your feelings.

You may hear things like, ‘I don’t think that’s true,’ ‘Well let me tell you,’ or ‘You did this.’

Or maybe they say you’re being too sensitive when you share how you feel. 

These kinds of phrases place blame rather than seeking to connect with a partner. 

‘I’m here with you,’ ‘I hear you,’ or ‘Can you share more with me?’ are all phrases that someone with high EQ might use when you try to connect with them, Lyons said.

‘What do you need?’ or ‘How can I support you?’ are also great examples of emotionally intelligent responses, he added.

It’s okay for your partner to stay quiet sometimes. But when you are looking for a response, silence can be a red flag

 9. They are silent in the wrong situations:

There are times when all we need is for someone to listen. Or perhaps our feelings are so overwhelming that we can’t verbalize them.

It’s okay to sit in that silence, Lyons said.

But sometimes you want feedback or reassurance. You may even ask for it. 

Without emotional intelligence, your partner may remain in silence, unable to communicate. And you can probably feel the difference between these two types of silence.

It can also mean that a partner withholds their internal life – and not just when it comes to conflict, but also triumphs and accomplishments.

‘They might be familiar with sharing the negative stuff, but they don’t even share the good stuff.’ 

 So, what can you do about it?

Taken all together, a lack of emotional intelligence can make you feel alone in a relationship, he said, ‘whether its our lack of emotional intelligence or theirs.’

Your low-EQ partner may not know what they don’t know about feelings, Lyons said, so it’s important to be gentle and open up the conversation, rather than putting a label on it.

Lyons said that emotional unintelligence is not a fatal obstacle in a relationship, as long as there is an openness to work through it.

If you think your partner lacks emotional intelligence, its important to approach them with the understanding that they did not choose to be this way. 

Rather, they may be stuck in their emotional development, and in need of help, Lyons said. This can take the form of loving conversations, where you express curiosity about their feelings and a willingness to support them.

‘That’s the more emotionally intelligent way to do it.’ 

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