Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Being Married to Sheldon: Communication Tips for Relationships with Low Emotional Intelligence

Me: “What is this about?” I have been married almost a year and I have just walked into a room with some of my closest girl friends in it. They look like they are about to give me bad news and they seemed nervous.

Friend: “We feel like we need to talk about your husband.”

Me: “What about him?”

Friend: “We think he is trying to isolate you and you just can’t see it because you love him. We want you to know we are here to help.”

The day that my friends hosted their intervention was also the day I figured out my husband really was different. Now my husband has never tried to isolate me, just himself. He has high IQ and low EQ, or emotional quotient, and isolation is one of the ways he deals with the world around him. This means that while he is hyper intelligent, he often doesn’t understand the emotions of others or why it causes them to behave a certain way. Most people with low EQ don’t understand social cues and often breech personal space or engage in other socially awkward behaviors. It many ways, it is like being married to Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory. He is brilliant, able to solve almost any problem that is put before him, but he can't understand why someone is crying.

My husband was very blessed to be raised by the perfect parents for him. His father, like him, is high IQ and low EQ. My father in law challenged my husband and helped him reach his potential more than just about anybody could have. My mother in law, on the hand, is very emotionally in tune to those around her. Watching his mom and her reactions to his father’s behavior is what allowed my husband to learn social cues, and has allowed him to function on a higher emotional level than I think he would have with a different mom. Often times I find he is actually hypersensitive to social cues because he had to teach himself to follow them instead of coming with the knowledge built in.

Given the description of my husband thus far, I am sure most people would picture a emotionless shell, someone only focused on numbers, who understands little about people. Nothing could be further from the truth. He actually works in public relations for a healthcare system and seems to be generally well liked at work. He works in a field that involves close interactions which he handles with relative ease because work comes a set of expectations to follow, rules that allow him to know how he is supposed to act and react.

Even though my husband functions well in his relationships with coworkers because he has been able to teach himself social cues, his relationship with our friends, especially my friends, have always been kind of choppy, and at times we have functioned more as individuals in our marriage than as a team. It has taken lots of trial and error, but we are getting better at understand what the other person needs, even though it is isn’t what we need ourselves. Here is what I have learned being married to someone with low EQ.

  • Go to bed angry. Don’t go to bed angry is the worst advice we were ever given before we got married. My husband needs to be alone to recharge and so dragging out a disagreement, trying to find a solution rarely works. He needs time to recharge, gather his thoughts and come back to the table with solutions that will work for him. Forcing him to hash everything out when he is burnt out on the conversation solves nothing and prolongs the disagreement. These conversations often end up getting overly emotional, which is extremely difficult for a person with low EQ to handle. By taking a break, much of the emotion is allowed to dissipate, leaving a better opportunity to come to an understanding.
  • Lay out the expectations. When we were first married, my husband would see me struggling with something and not seem to notice that I could use help. Now I lay out specifically what I need him to do. If I need him to do the dishes, I tell him. If I need help folding the laundry I let him know. He is always happy to help, he just doesn’t usually realize I need it. The good news is the more clear I have been, the better he has become at picking up the cues on his own that I need help. The plus side of needing to lay out all of the expectations for him, is that he does the same for me.
  • Give him full attention when possible. My husband would rather not talk to me at all than be interrupted. As a mom of two small children, it can be frustrating. I try to remember that. To me, responding to an interruption is just a part of my daily life. To him, it means I don’t care about what he is saying. We try to set time aside every day where we talk, just the two of us. On the flip side, because he wants full attention, he is very good at giving me his full attention whenever I need it.
  • Don’t surprise. There are few things in the world my husband handles worse than surprises. I am not talking about birthday presents. Those are fine. I am talking about when we have places to be or people to see. If I tell him five minutes before we need to leave that we have dinner plans, he will seize up. He needs time to prepare. We keep a joint electronic calendar for this purpose. It cuts down on the surprises. He knows when I expect him to be at things, when I need him to watch the girls and when we will all be home together.
  • Understand their needs. Being around people drains him. Like the friends at the beginning of this post, I have often found that my friends don’t particularly love my spouse. He struggles to be in social situations when he doesn’t understand the expectations and his specific role, and general friend get togethers tend to fall into that category. I have broken our social engagements into three categories: 1) things he has to be at, 2) things I can go to by myself or with the girls, and 3) things we will politely decline. Keeping a good balance of these three things is essential to both of our happiness. I like to do things and he doesn’t, so sometimes we do them together, sometimes I realize that it is better to leave him at home, and sometimes it is better for us to stay home together.
  • Inform them when something is important to you. A lot of times, he honestly can’t tell when something is really important to me. I can’t tell you how often simply adding the sentence “This is really important to me,” to a conversation or event invitation has helped our marriage. He knows how he is supposed to act then and works to do it, which makes me happy.
  • Look at it from their perspective. Early in our marriage, he brought home something for me. I was thrilled that he had been so thoughtful. Later in the day I found out it had been given to him by someone else and I was absolutely crushed. It took me a long time to realize that he hadn’t seen it as regifting. Someone had given him something, he had looked at it and truly thought I would enjoy it more than him so he had brought it home for me. In reality it was very sweet, just in a different way than I had first thought. Now I am thrilled whenever he brings me something, because it meant he thought of me, even if he didn’t go out and purchase it himself.
  • Let them know when you need more emotional support. A couple of years ago, a dear friend of mine took her own life. I was absolutely devastated and I cried for weeks. My husband couldn’t figure out why I was so upset. He isn’t cold, he just doesn’t open himself up to very many people and doesn’t understand being close to more than a handful of people. He couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t getting over it and I couldn’t figure out why he couldn’t see I needed an increase of love. When I finally told him what I needed, he happily complied. It’s surprising, but sometimes he needs to be reminded something as simple as to just hold me.
  • Help them. My husband doesn’t like help. Honestly, the only person he truly thinks he can count on is himself. Trust, on the big things between us, has always been solid. It is the little trust we have been working on for years. He very rarely asks me to do anything for him, because he doesn’t want to impose and he is worried it won’t get done. Over the years he has gotten better about asking for help before he is burnt out and I have made a point of showing him I can be trusted to do what he needs when he does ask. Every time he lets me help him and I show him that I will do the things I say I will, it gets a little easier for him to open himself up to ask again.
  • Some social interactions are better than others. If there is one thing my husband loves, it is getting together with friends to watch sports. He hesitates when I suggest almost any other social interaction, but he always jumps at the chance to watch a game with friends. I have found it is because he knows what is expected of him at a game night. He knows they will watch the game, talks stats and eat junk. There are few surprises.

If you can’t tell from the list, almost everything comes down to communication. I think this is true for every marriage, but especially a marriage to some with low EQ. People with low EQ can be extremely loving, they just show love differently that what we are used to. Words make things concrete, into ideas he can understand. At first I was frustrated to have to spell everything out, but it has made our relationship into a very loving, emotionally healthy relationship, when before, my emotions were something that he could see, but couldn’t understand.

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