Emotional Intelligence In Relationship Coaching


Research Paper By Milena Carruzzo
(Relationships Coach, SWITZERLAND)


Relationships fill up our lives and shape them. As a result, they have an important impact on our happiness and well-being. Naturally, we seek to have healthy and satisfying relationships. We all have experienced how toxic relationships at work or in our private life can lead to frustration and suffering. But paradoxically people, in general, have not been putting as much focus and energy on working on building healthy relationships as it is important in their life. In parallel emotional intelligence has been growing and is encouraging people to work on healthy relationships by giving them some direction on what will have an impact on their relationships with themselves and with others.

Realizing the potential of a coaching relationship to help people build healthier relationships and the potential of emotional intelligence in getting the skills to do it, I have decided to research on those topics. I have not found explicit researches on how emotional intelligence can be used in relationship coaching. Therefore, I have explored the topics individually and tried to make connections.

This paper will provide results of research on emotional intelligence, relationship coaching, the impact on emotional intelligence in relationships, and connections on how emotional intelligence can help in relationship coaching.

Emotional Intelligence

Emotion and cognition were looked at as two separate concepts for many centuries. The emotion was considered as a primitive mechanism, while cognition, was perceived as a more complex aspect of the human psyche. Today the interrelation of both concepts has been widely studied. This interrelation can be found for example in emotional intelligence.

There has been a large number of studies around emotional intelligence in the last years and it has been given always more attention. A reason for this is that companies have started realizing how emotional intelligence can help their leaders to improve skills that have the biggest impact on performance and success. It is said that the difference between a leader and top leaders lies in their emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence (EI) is defined as:

The capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically (Lexico, 2020).

EI theories have started to emerge already in 1920 with the concept of social intelligence from Edward Thorndike. Today the term has been developed to Emotional Intelligence. It has been popularized by Goleman in 1995. Since then numerous other models have emerged. The main three models of EI as explained on Positive Psychology (2020) are:

Ability model

The ability model has been developed by Salovey and Mayer. They view emotions as a useful source of information. People have different abilities to process information of an emotional nature. In their model they present four types of abilities:

  1. Perceiving emotions
  2. Using emotions
  3. Understanding emotions
  4. Managing emotions

Mixed model

In the mixed model introduced by Daniel Goleman, there is a set of different competencies and skills included. We can find five main areas:

  1. Self-awareness
  2. Self-regulation
  3. Social skill
  4. Empathy
  5. Motivation

Trait model

The trait model is a more recent one published by Petrides in 2009. In this model, emotional intelligence is not anymore ability-based but is based on the idea that people have several emotional self-perceptions and emotional traits as part of their personalities.

In general, all three models agree more or less on the positive benefits of emotional intelligence.

People with a high degree of emotional intelligence are aware and can recognize their own emotions but also one of the others. Not only do they have this awareness but they can also regulate their own emotions and use their understanding of others ‘emotions to manage better relationships (Stephen Neale Lisa Spencer-Arnell Liz Wilson, 2009).

People with a low degree of emotional intelligence are often being controlled by their emotions as they are not able to recognize them and regulate them. They have difficulties understanding other people, they lack empathy and as a result, cannot manage relationships efficiently. They also tend to let themselves get frustrated by conflicts.

Relationship coaching

Relationship coaching is the application of coaching to personal and business relationships. This coaching niche is still recent and not yet fully spread. In the area of relationship, counseling and therapy have been more popular in the past years. Those two disciplines have been more focusing on eliminating phycological problems and dysfunctions. It has been more explored by couples and families rather than employees. Couples or family members who are already failing the relationship are turning themselves to counselors and therapists to fix it (Yossi and Cox, 2015).

Although there is still an imbalance between the importance that relationships have in our lives and how much is invested in nurturing them, people start to give more focus to building healthy relationships in personal and in business life to enhance their lives and improve their performance.

Emotional Intelligence In Relationship CoachingRelationship coaching can bring a positive approach as opposed to therapy or counseling by helping people to reach their goals of having healthy relationships (Yossi and Cox, 2015). Relationship coaching is a fusion of goal-focused and developmental coaching.

Emotional intelligence impact on relationships

There is an awareness of how the nature of our relationships are defined by how we deal and communicate with our emotions. Emotions are energy in movement in our body and are at the base of everything we do. Ignoring them would be contra-productive. Our emotions can influence our behaviors and actions and have an impact on our relationships. Not being aware of our own emotions and those of others can lead to misinterpretation which can bring tension and conflicts in our relationships.

Emotional intelligence has taken this into account as its foundations lie in the awareness of our own emotions and those of others. Only by being aware of them and being able to regulate them, we can manage better our relationships. Keeping our relationships productive and fulfilling requires skills that can be learned by developing our emotional intelligence. The prediction of emotional intelligence in the success of all types of relationships in our lives is explicitly stated in the book, “the language of emotional intelligence” from Jeanne Segal (2008):

  • It allows you to navigate satisfying, meaningful relationships.
  • It helps you understand other people.
  • It enables you to understand yourself.
  • It empowers your communication process.

Can emotional intelligence be developed?

Before looking at emotional intelligence in coaching, it is necessary to explore the possibility to develop it.  Luckily researches have demonstrated that it is possible to develop emotional intelligence. All aspects of EI are aptitudes that can be developed at any point in our life and independently from our current level (Reuven Bar-On, J.G. Maree, Maurice Jesse Elias, 2007).

To develop emotional intelligence, it requires a resourceful environment that allows the person to identify the areas of EI to be focused on, to gain awareness, and to develop strategies (Positive Psychology). Coaching can serve as an appropriate environment for this purpose.

Similarly, relationships can also be enhanced by developing more awareness and healthier habits.

How can emotional intelligence help in relationship coaching?

There are here two aspects to consider. The first one is the emotional intelligence of the coach and the second one is the emotional intelligence of the client. In any type of coaching, it is very useful for the coach to develop emotional intelligence. It helps the coach to manage its own emotions and not letting them get on the way of the success of the session. The emotional intelligence of the coach will also contribute to the capacity to show empathy and understand the emotions of the client and finally to build a good relationship. In relationship coaching a certain type of listening is especially useful. This is the level, which focuses on emotions, personality, and beliefs. A coach with a higher level of emotional intelligence will be more skilled to do that.

In the past years, many studies around relationships have highlighted what partners need to do to have successful relationships. Yet even when knowing, partners often failed at applying them (Brent J. Atkinson, 2005). This is due to the difficulty to change old habits and committing to do it. But this is something that can be achieved through the support of coaching.

It has also been identified what people who succeed in their relationships do differently than those who fail. One of the most important difference is how people react when they feel upset. Learning how to handle this emotion can bring more respect in the relationship and help it grow. The exchange will also be more productive. This process can also be explored in relationship coaching.

You cannot teach a man anything. You can only help him discover it within himself. Galileo Galilei

A way to help the client in relationship coaching to discover how they can reach their goals in relationships is by using the EI Coach model (Stephen Neale Lisa Spencer-Arnell Liz Wilson, 2009). It focuses on feelings, as well as actions and behaviors that are necessary to support the client in reaching their goals.

E = Emotions (How are you feeling?)

I = Intelligence (What do you want to talk about and achieve today?)

C = Current (What’s going on for you right now?)

O = Opportunities (What possibilities are available to you?)

A = Actions (What are you going to do?)

C = Change measure (What difference will this make? How will you know you’re there?)

H = How are you feeling now? (Emotional barometer)

As we have already seen above, the control we have on our emotions will affect a lot the way we think and act. Both our way of thinking and our behaviors will have an impact on our relationships (Zeidner, Matthews and Roberts, 2009). For this reason, it makes sense in relationship coaching to support clients in developing their emotional intelligence by identifying what emotions they have, by finding ways to regulate them as well as by managing other people’s emotions.

Here are some questions that could be asked in relationship coaching around the different areas of emotional intelligence:

Emotional awareness:

  • What emotion did you feel in that situation?
  • What has been triggering this emotion?
  • What attitudes, beliefs, or values are connected to it?


  • What happens when this situation in the relationship occurs?
  • How can you respond instead of reacting?
  • How do you want to respond to it?
  • What can you do to stay calm?

Social awareness:

  • What could be this person’s emotion in that situation?
  • What could be the perspective of the other person?
  • How could it feel for your partner, colleague, or boss?

Relationship management:

  • What is your attitude toward others?
  • How are you treating others?
  • How is your communication style?
  • What could you do to communicate more effectively?
  • How can you use this awareness to better manage your relationship?
  • How can you use this awareness to resolve this conflict?
  • How can you inspire your partner, team, …?


While there has been a lot of studies around emotional intelligence, its use in relationship coaching has not been addressed. Relationship coaching is a new niche emerging which seems to bring a more positive approach for people who realize the importance of a healthy relationship in their life and who are willing to put the effort in enhancing them. As relationship management has been perceived as one of the pillars of emotional intelligence, its use in relationship coaching can bring a lot of benefits.


Brent J. Atkinson, 2005, Emotional Intelligence in Couples Therapy: Advances from Neurobiology and the Science of Intimate Relationships, New York: W.W. Norton

Jeann Segal, Ph.D., 2008, The Language of Emotional Intelligence: The Five Essential Tools for Building Powerful and Effective Relationships, Mc Graw-Hill

Moshe Zeidner, Gerald Matthews, and Richard D. Roberts, 2009, What We Know about Emotional Intelligence – How It Affects Learning, Work, Relationships, and Our Mental Health, MIT Press Books

Reuven Bar-On, J.G. Maree, Maurice Jesse Elias, 2007, Educating people to be emotionally intelligent, Praeger

Stephen Neale Lisa Spencer-Arnell Liz Wilson, 2009, Emotional intelligence – Improving performance for leaders, coaches, and the individual, Kogan Page

Yossie Ives and Elaine Cox, 2015, Relationship Coaching: The theory and practice of coaching with singles, Routledge

Positive Lexico, Emotional Intelligence, 2020. Available at:https://www.lexico.com/definition/emotional_intelligence. Viewed on April, 25th, 2020

Psychology, How to Improve Emotional Intelligence Through Training, 2020, Available at https://positivepsychology.com/emotional-intelligence-training/. Views on April 25th, 2020

Positive Psychology, The Theories of Emotional Intelligence Explained, 2020. Available at: https://positivepsychology.com/emotional-intelligence-theories/. Viewed on April 25th, 2020

Original source: https://coachcampus.com/coach-portfolios/research-papers/milena-carruzzo-emotional-intelligence-in-relationship-coaching/

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