Emotional intelligence is defined as having the “capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically,” according to the Oxford Dictionary. When it comes to successful relationships, that sure sounds like traits that everyone should possess, right?

Here’s the thing, though, far too often we all get wrapped up in our own minds worrying about acceptance, or comparisons, or if we’re good enough for someone else, make enough money and yada, yada, yada. Enough with all that BS, fellas, because what makes a strong relationship isn’t just about compromise and patience and what you have with your girlfriend, it’s understanding yourself and your surroundings. In essence, it’s having strong emotional intelligence.

It’s not easy to always “be on,” if you will, where you have everything figured out and you’re calm as a cucumber all the time. That’s not possible, no matter how content you think you might be. Life throws curveballs, and it’s just a matter of how you react to them that allow you to come out stronger.

When it comes to relationships, having emotional intelligence not only allows you to stay even-keeled and positive, but it also allows you to live in the moment, avoiding negative thoughts about what might be next with your girlfriend, thinking too far ahead or worrying that something might be going on. It’s seizing the opportunity for what it’s worth and making the best of it.

Since many of us can struggle with identifying and living a life of emotional intelligence — especially in relationships — we’re giving you ways to improve your own in order to live your happiest life. Trust us, these will alleviate stress or anxiety inside your own head.

Emotional intelligence comes from accepting negative emotions

As mentioned above, your life will never, ever be perfect. Even if you go out and win the Powerball lottery and become a millionaire overnight, guess what, you’re still going to have the same problems in your life as you did yesterday — but will just have a lot more money in the bank now.

The best way to gaining emotional intelligence is to accept those negative emotions you have and work on them. Life’s a struggle, guys, and nobody said it was going to be fair. So when you and your girlfriend are going through a rough patch, you can either get down in the dumps and stress about it, or you can accept the feelings you and her are having, learn from them, talk about them and grow together. That’s a great feeling when it happens.

Learning how to control your thoughts will help your emotional intelligence

We’re not talking about psychoanalysis or some trendy thing that will make your brain block things out, because, to our knowledge, that’s not possible. What is possible is understanding when to tell your mind to stop. Much like you know how to control your mouth before speaking, so, too, can you control your mind before thinking.

For example, when you’re sitting at work, you can either stand on your desk and shout obscenities to the entire office. You know not to do that, though. Similarly, when you feel down in the dumps about something in your relationship, rather than go down a rabbit hole and creating more anxiety for yourself, identify where the thought’s coming from and cut it off before it grows into a full-fledged problem.

Allowing yourself to express yourself will help with your emotional intelligence

There will be times where you need to just express yourself, and that’s normal (and good!), so don’t hold it back. The last thing you want to do is bottle up any pent up bitterness, jealousy or straight-up anger about something in a relationship, because that’s doing a disservice to both you and your girlfriend.

Part of being emotional intelligent is understanding how to communicate some of these issues you’re having without being abrasive or judgmental. It’s taking the time to think deeper about yourself and your partner and knowing what is and isn’t worth working out, so not to escalate things even more.

Nobody’s perfect, so part of having emotional intelligence is accepting that and choosing your battles for the good of the relationship. It’s asking yourself, “will this help or hurt us?” before ever mentioning something. If you’re not growing the relationship, you’re smart enough to know not to always speak up.

Be kind to yourself, because that’s one of the best ways to build emotional intelligence

This is one of the best lessons to learn about emotional intelligence, because you’re going to go through rough patches in relationships, and you’re going to have to overcome them if you want to work things out and stay together.

As mentioned earlier, it’s easy to fall into the trap of comparing yourself to others, wondering why you’re not doing this or that, but part of having emotional intelligence is understanding that you’re gifted and talented in other things, and that your relationship (no matter how it may appear to others), works for you and your girlfriend. So be kind to yourself and stop running in circles trying to find something perfect that doesn’t exist. Accept what you have, be grateful for it and enjoy the ride — your mind will appreciate you for it.