There’s nothing like family. The people we’re related to by blood and marriage are expected to be our closest allies, our greatest sources of love and support. Too often, however, our interactions with family are filled with misunderstanding and resentment, bickering and badgering. Those we should know and be known by best, end up feeling like adversaries or strangers.
Family is where our first and strongest emotional memories are made, and that’s where they keep appearing. And this is why emotional intelligence (EQ) succeeds where other efforts at family harmony fail. Active awareness and empathy—the ability to be aware, accepting, and permanently attuned to ourselves and others—tells us how to respond to one another’s needs.
EQ is incredibly powerful in the family because it puts you in control of your relationships with parents and children, siblings, in-laws and extended family. When you know how you feel, you can’t be manipulated by other’s emotions; nor can you blame family conflict on everyone else. Most of the techniques for improving family relationships are therefore centered on communicating your feelings to those you care about, as close relationships are centered around feeling.
Without this emotional intimacy, family contact becomes a burden, because no one is comfortable spending that much time with a stranger. If you want your family members to know and accept each other lovingly, you have to begin with your own emotional honesty and openness. When you do, the suggestions offered below are transformed from familiar reasonable advice, to highly effective methods for bringing your family ever closer. The following ten tips will lead you closer to your family and emotional intelligence.
10 High-EQ Tips for Improving Family Relationships
- Take care of your health if you hope to take care of anyone else. The more demanding of your time your family is, the more you need to fit in exercise. Perhaps you and your family can seek out ways to exercise together.
- Listen if you expect to be heard. Lack of communication is the loudest complaint in most families. The answer to “Why won’t they listen to me?” may be simply “You’re not listening to them.”
- Teach emotional choice. Manage your moods by letting all feelings be OK, but not all behaviors. Model behavior that respects and encourages the feelings and rights of others yet make it clear that we have a choice about what to do with what we feel.
- Teach generosity by receiving as well as giving. Giving and receiving are parts of the same loving continuum. If we don’t give, we find it hard to receive, and if we can’t receive, we don’t really have much to give. This is why selflessness carried to extremes is of little benefits to others.
- Take responsibility for what you communicate silently. The very young and old are especially sensitive to nonverbal cues. More than our words, tone of voice, posture (body language), and facial expressions convey our feelings. We have to listen to our tone of voice and look at ourselves in pictures and in the mirror to assess our emotional congruency. Loving words coming through clenched teeth don’t feel loving—they feel confusing.
- Don’t try to solve problems for your loved ones. Caring for your family doesn’t mean taking charge of their problems, giving unsolicited advice, or protecting them from their own emotions. Let them know their own strengths and allow them to ask you for what they need.
- Make a lasting impression through actions. Your values will be communicated by your actions, no matter what you say. Be an example, not a nag.
- Acknowledge your errors to everyone, including younger family members. Saying you’re sorry when you hurt someone you love, models humility and emotional integrity. You can demonstrate that no one is perfect, but everyone can learn at any age. Apologizing proves you can forgive yourself and makes it easier to forgive others.
- Discover what each person’s unique needs are. You can’t assume that your grandmother needs the same signs of love as your three-year-old or that either one will have the same needs next year. When in doubt, ask!
- Be generous in expressing love. Everyone in a family (especially young children) needs the emotional reassurance of loving words, gestures, and looks. Those who demand the least emotional attention may need it most.
The foundations of emotional intelligence in the family
Look to yourself first. A family is a system made up of interdependent individuals, but that doesn’t mean you can blame your family of origin for the way you are today, any more than you can hold your mate and children responsible for your personal happiness. Your best hope for fixing any family problem is to attend your own emotional health. When you act on the belief that you have a right and obligation to assert your own emotional needs, your family will notice that your emotional independence benefits not only you, but the whole family, and they may quickly follow your lead.
Remember that consistency builds trust. Studies have shown that lack of consistency destroys trust. Off-and-on emotional awareness will cause those who love and depend on you, especially children, to get confused and frightened. That’s why it’s so important to keep your awareness active with family.