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Emotional maturity and emotional intelligence are key factors in maintaining healthy relationships—romantic or otherwise. Many people are lacking in these areas, which leads to a breakdown in communication and, ultimately, complications in or even the breakup of relationships. There is no way to navigate relationship politics without these skill sets, yet most people don’t even know what they are or understand how they work—both separately and in tandem.

Emotional maturity is the ability to handle situations without unnecessarily escalating them. Instead of seeking to blame someone else for their problems or behavior, emotionally mature people seek to fix the problem or behavior. They accept accountability for their actions.

Emotionally mature people don’t lie in uncomfortable situations. Rather, they face the reality of them head-on. In a disagreement, they don’t resort to personal attacks; they address the issue being discussed. They are not impulsive and they don’t speak recklessly. They make sure they are calm and think before they speak.

They aren’t bullies or narcissists. They respect boundaries. They don’t rely on the immature defense mechanism of deflection.

In short, they aren’t childish.

Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify and manage your own emotions as well as the emotions of others. You can identify an emotion and respond to it rather than react, which is another critical skill.

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Emotionally intelligent people are in touch with their emotions and able to articulate them. They don’t deny them, and they don’t try to mask them as something else. They harness them and apply them as necessary when it comes to thinking or problem solving—especially in relationships.

Not too long ago, I spoke about a pattern of behavior I recognized in someone I was dealing with. I spoke about it honestly and did not attack him. I pointed out the behavior, and I explained how he could have handled the situation better.

He, in turn, launched into a personal attack against me. He considered what I said an attack, even though I had done nothing but point out a behavior pattern. He acknowledged that what I had said was true, but because he felt convicted by it and his feelings were hurt, his first response was to “attack” me back.

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When I asked him why he thought this was a productive behavior, he told me that it didn’t matter to him that what I had said was true—it mattered more to him that his feelings were hurt, and in his opinion, no one gets to “talk spicy” for free.

I pointed out that this way of thinking was dangerous, unproductive and unhealthy. This seemed to bother him even more. He disagreed with me and told me that this was just how he was and there were some things about himself that he was unwilling to change.

In this example, he lacked both emotional maturity and emotional intelligence.

He did not have the emotional maturity to handle what I said without attacking me or calling me names. He did not have the emotional intelligence to take his emotions into account and articulate them properly. He could only react to what I said, not respond.

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When you find yourself in a disagreement with another person, it is natural to feel some sort of emotional response—particularly a negative one. There is nothing wrong with having that emotional response, but what you do with it afterward makes all the difference in the world.

Think about the response you are having. Is it sadness? Is it anger? Then focus on what could be causing that response. Was what the other person said true? Was it an attack? Was it incorrect?

From there, work on articulating what you are feeling in a calm and rational way. Instead of “attacking” back, think about telling the other person how you are feeling. “Your saying that makes me angry because … ” or “I don’t agree with what you are saying because … ” are good places to start. Don’t just express the emotion; acknowledge why the emotion is there.

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You aren’t always going to get it right, but beginning to approach these situations in a mature and intelligent manner is where the learning starts, and everything else is growth from there.

Emotional maturity and emotional intelligence work hand in hand. You need emotional intelligence to recognize what you are feeling, and you need emotional maturity not to act out because you are feeling some type of way. They work in tandem in relationships.

In order to find a partner who has both emotional intelligence and emotional maturity, you need to make sure you have those skills first. You won’t be able to recognize and acknowledge in others what you lack yourself. Work to make sure that you are emotionally mature and emotionally intelligent. That is the first step.

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Emotionally intelligent and emotionally mature people are able to create healthy and lasting relationships. They are also able to easily separate themselves from relationships with people who lack those qualities. Once you have emotional intelligence and maturity, it becomes harder to tolerate those who don’t. It is as if having those qualities becomes a sort of defense shield against those who lack them. You won’t be able to and won’t want to let them into your space. Their energy is draining.

Keep in mind that emotional intelligence and emotional maturity are a constant, conscious practice. We won’t all get it right 100 percent of the time. Developing the intelligence to see where we are falling short and the maturity to handle it accordingly is the true sign of growth.

And in the end, that is what it is all about.