Emotional Capacity – The Secret To Strong Relationships

Capacity is defined as “the maximum amount that something can contain.”

Our cell phones only charge to 100%.

Our bath tubs only hold so much water.

Our cars only hold so much gas.

Once our phones, tubs and/or car’s reach their “capacity,” they’re incapable of holding another ounce of electrical charge, water and/or gas.

At our emotional capacity

I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know.

At least I hope I’m not.

I believe this same concept of capacity applies to our emotional needs.

Let me explain how.

Each and every one of us have varying levels of “emotional depth” that allow us to experience different degrees of “feeling” in our relationships.

Placing two people in the same exact scenario with the same exact circumstances would result in two totally different emotional responses.

This is a good thing and it’s what makes humans so fascinating.

It’s part of our evolutionary advantage.

But it can also create a breakdown in our relationships if we’re not aware of our partner’s level of “Emotional Capacity (EC).”

Relationships ending in pain because of lack of emotional capacity

Misinterpreting and/or neglecting to discover this level in those we love can result in unfulfilling and abruptly ended relationships that inflict extreme internal pain.

While one person may feel content because their levels are being satisfied, the other person may feel as though they’re being totally disregarded.

Aside from straight out asking someone if their emotional needs are being met, this can be really tricky to discover and normally takes a substantial amount of self-awareness to pick up on both verbal and non-verbal cues from the other person.  

The unfortunate conclusion normally ends with one person feeling as though they’re doing all of the “giving,” and “getting” little to nothing in return.

To make it even worse, when someone voices their need for more “emotional depth,” it’s normally met with comments accusing them of being “too needy” or “high maintenance” or “too sensitive.”

The end result is the same unfortunately – one person feels as though they’re the only one that truly cares.

This is infrequently the case.

To get a better understanding of our individual “EC” levels, I’ve developed a formula.

Yes, we Marines rely on formulas for everything. How else do expect us to accomplish anything without having a step by step process written in crayon?


It’s Detect, Inspect and Reflect.

Detect – This is the part where you pay close attention to the other person to pick up on their emotional responses to everyday situations. The goal is to gain an understanding for what’s important to them and to pick up on cues that will help to better understand their reactions to various scenarios.

Do they cry in sad movies? Do they constantly refer to how things remind them of a loved one that was lost? What do they tell you about prior relationships? How do they handle conflict? Do they get happy when they see you’re happy? Do they get sad when you get sad?

Becoming an emotional detective

This is where you need to become a very proficient “emotional detective.”

Inspect – Once you pick on patterns of how they respond to situations, the next thing to do is analyze WHY they’re responding the way they are. Just because they cry during a love story on TV doesn’t specifically mean they want to get married tomorrow. It might mean that movie triggered an emotion of sadness because of a parent they lost. The objective with this part of the equation is to try and gain an understanding as to why they respond the way they do. What you discover here will help with how you handle future scenarios.

Reflect – This is the most important part of my formula. You’ve worked hard to detect WHAT gets them emotional and you’ve analyzed WHY it gets them emotional.

Now for the difficult part….

What to do with what you’ve learned.

The reflective piece of discovering emotional capacity is where the rubber hits the road. It’s where you need to look internally and ask yourself – “can this person provide the amount of emotional support I’ll need to be happy?”

Self reflection to decide if change is possible

If you’re the one that requires less emotional connection, are you ok with trying to increase your level?

If you’re the one that requires more emotional connection, are you ok with trying to decrease your level?

Best case scenario is obviously to meet each other half way, but it all starts with accepting the fact that each of us are operating on different degrees of feelings.

And that’s absolutely ok.

I’ll leave you with a quote:

“Some say I’m too sensitive, but the truth is I just feel too much. Every word, every action and every energy goes straight to my heart.”

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