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Online Dating Magazine > Columns > Office Hours with Dr. Jim > Relationship IQ

Office Hours With Dr. Jim
by James Houran, Ph.D

In this column, "Dr. Jim" honestly and candidly answers your questions about dating, love and sexuality. He doesn’t tell you what you want to hear – he tells you what you need to hear. Dr. Jim is committed to offering you guidance based on responsible clinical practice and hard data from the latest scientific studies. Send Dr. Jim your questions today for consideration in an upcoming issue.


Relationship IQ - Part 1

Several people lately have asked me about the issue of “navigating relationships.”  School provided us sex education, but almost never does anyone (except perhaps parents or older siblings) teach us about relationships in general.

For this reason, I thought it would be useful to address a key component necessary for men and women in a committed relationship – the component of Relationship IQ. Yes, the term is a somewhat contrived piece of jargon, but I hope it catches your attention. It is a touchy-feely synonym for relating to someone else, with that “someone else” being important others. There are some nuances I want to review, so our exploration into this topic will span two parts. Part I talks mostly about the relationship skill itself. Part II will talk about ways to hone this skill.


What’s Relationship IQ?
In the social sciences, Relationship IQ is commonly referred to as Interpersonal Intelligence, Social Intelligence and sometimes Social Skills. In general, these labels essentially describe the same thing:

Relationship IQ is a form of emotional intelligence – the ability to understand other people.

People with a high Relationship IQ are adept at establishing a good rapport with people, making others feel comfortable and at ease. They are also good at perceiving and inferring other people’s emotions and behaviors. In other words, they recognize subtle changes in a person’s mood, motivations, and behaviors (through facial expressions, voice fluctuations, etc.) and display a general concern for their well-being. They also tend to “know” how to respond appropriately to others’ needs. This social sensitivity also makes them very persuasive and influential.

Examples of types of people who have a high Relationship IQ are successful clinicians, clergy, salespeople, leaders, managers and politicians. Anyone who works in an area where social interaction is an integral part of their job must develop strong Relationship IQ. Low Relationship IQ would impair one’s ability to achieve success in these types of occupations.

What does Relationship IQ mean for romantic relationships?
Having a high Relationship IQ can obviously have its advantages in intimate relationships. When both partners are able to recognize subtle fluctuations in their partner’s mood, they are able to react appropriately. Doing so facilitates effective communication and relationship satisfaction. Failing to recognize and act appropriately when one’s partner’s mood shifts could create more tension in the relationship and lead both partners to resent each other for not understanding one another.  Men especially need to know that numerous studies reveal that women consider talk to be the most important part of foreplay. Indeed, couples with the best communication also have the best, most contented sex lives. Talking more is the easiest thing a guy can do to improve his relationship and sex life. Moreover, talk is cheap! It costs nothing, yet it pays big dividends for all the reasons just noted.

Does everyone have a high RIQ?
The short answer is no. Now let me clarify. According to some research, most everyone has the capacity to heighten their Relationship IQ, but certain personality characteristics and parenting styles can have a strong effect on a person’s Relationship IQ.

It would seem as though women might be higher in Relationship IQ than men due to differences in socialization. Specifically, girls are raised to be much more emotionally expressive and attentive to others’ needs than boys. However, research also shows that men tend to display high levels of Relationship IQ in the work setting – such as strategic planning or management.

Tell me more about low Relationship IQ
At our core, all people are capable of developing a high relationship IQ. However, differences in Relationship IQ exist because we’re not all confident in our ability to effectively communicate with others. We all make inferences about why our friends or romantic partner may feel the way that they do, but not everyone has confidence in those inferences. This lack of confidence could stem from early childhood experiences with our caregivers or simply a lack of experience applying these skills. If a person was raised by a parent who gave inconsistent feedback (for example, punishment for one thing, but no punishment for doing the same thing on another day) that person’s confidence in predicting his/her parents’ behavior (and other people’s behavior) could be stunted. Moreover, if a person has not had much experience interacting with others, perhaps he or she did not have many friends growing up, then that person may not have had enough experience making inferences about others’ thoughts, feelings and behaviors. This lack of experience could dampen people’s confidence in their Relationship IQ.

Relationship IQ - Part 2


Dr. James Houran's "Office Hours with Dr. Jim" column is published every Monday.

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