A major factor in understanding a crucial aspect of relationships is the difference between intelligence quotient (I.Q.) and emotional quotient (E.Q.). We often hear about the I.Q. as being the determining factor in one's ability to manage formal school education; the ability to learn, process and repeat information. From the ages of 6-18 we spend most of our waking hours in such endeavors.

What neuroscientists have recently discovered, however, is that much of what we see and hear goes directly to the amygdala (emotional center) without passing through the neocortex where logic and rational decision-making occurs. This simply means that we often feel and act before we think. In the heat of an argument or a hurt, what may be triggered, initially, are intense feelings of rage, fear, sadness or rejection.

This initial emotional response is, indeed, uncontrollable at first (that's why it's called an "initial" response). It is automatic and is based on so many variables in one's life—including genetic predisposition, birth order, nature/nurture, environment, etc. What we can do about our initial response, how or even if we act upon it, often becomes a matter of learning—emotional, not intellectual learning. No book knowledge in the world can help one integrate the "head" and "heart" unless he/she is as aware of and willing to accept the importance of emotional intelligence.

Indeed, basic emotional intelligence – such as self-managing of intense feelings, empathy, listening to others without defensiveness and criticizing, without contempt or character assassination – determines our life destiny every bit as much as does our IQ. One can be a brilliant teacher, but if his student is put down, shamed or disgraced, what remains in that student's mind is the negative aspect of the experience—not all the book-learning that may have been acquired. A knowledgeable doctor who lacks true caring and a gentle "bedside manner" can often do more harm than good to his patient. An exacting and rigid parent who is emotionally aloof or unavailable, may find the household atmosphere to be one of tension and resistance.

In marriage, as well, the EQ can make the difference between an enduring, loving relationship and one that gets mired down in "gravity" of everyday life. Decades of marital research shows that it is how a couple handles emotional flashpoints – the hurts and irritations inevitable in an intimate relationship – that determines whether the marriage will be a healthy one. The most stable unions are among couples who have found ways to air differences without escalating into personal attacks or retreating into stony silence. They have mastered the elements of emotional intelligence—briefly outlined as:

1) The ability to identify and define feelings; willingness to take the time to notice feelings, and to value their place in determining how we respond to ourselves and others.

2) The courage to express feelings to others when appropriate. One who has EQ can express feelings honestly – both positive and painful – when it is safe and helpful to do so.

3) The ability to manage moods without hurting others. Bad as well as good moods spice life and build character. The key is balance. Learning techniques such as "reframing" (seeing the event/person in a different light), distraction, and relaxation can put distance between you and others until the mood subsides.

4) THE ABILITY TO LISTEN EMPATHICALLY. The show of empathy –sharing the pain with another – expresses one of the highest levels of EQ.

5) The ability to control harmful impulses. Torah teaches that each of us is responsible for our own thought, speech, and deed. When one feels responsible and accountable in these areas, he exhibits traits of strength and trustworthiness.

6) The ability to adopt a Torah attitude toward painful events. No one lives a life free of pain. Our initial response to loss and pain is just that; an initial response. What we do with that response is the measure of our character.

7) Self-motivation. Here the recognition is that we create our own realities. Instead of blaming, shaming or procrastinating, we learn to meet life's challenges by tapping into our inner resources of wisdom, patience and love. Even when a predisposition to optimism or pessimism seems inborn, it has been documented that people can change the negative, self-defeating thoughts and behaviors with disciplined training routines.

8) An independent sense of self-worth. Our value comes from being created in "the image of G‑d" (not man). Therefore, we don't need to compete or compare with others, or be swayed by fads, opinions and/or judgments that go against what we know to be right for ourselves and our development.

In addition to what this awareness can do for a couple, this material might prove to be the source of some interesting discussions at your Shabbat table. Perhaps your family might want to see where they stand on the EQ "smart test." Your children will certainly have interesting insights and additions. They might even challenge everyone to a higher standard of middot, character traits, but whose literal translation means "measure." What exactly is the "measure" of a human being? How do we know when that "measure" exists—and to what extent? How do we integrate middot development in our understanding and practice of Torah? How do we take seriously the daily commitment to improving middot?

Share the learning with your children. We are, after all, their primary models.