Is My Partner Intellectual Enough?

IMG_3426If you’re suffering from relationship anxiety it’s essential to understand that the focus of the anxiety will shift from week to week. One week you’re obsessing on the gay spike; a few weeks later you’re obsessing about your ex; and then you’re back to your old familiar fall-back topics like, “Is an age difference a red flag?” or “Is my partner intellectual enough?” Until you start to work with the root causes of your anxious thoughts, you’ll be chasing after a moving target without any sustainable resolution.

Nevertheless, there’s also an aspect to anxious thoughts that arises from lack of information that often needs to be explored before the thought can be put to rest. Because we’re so ill-educated about our sexuality, for example, many people don’t understand that finding the same sex attractive or having sexual fantasies about the same sex doesn’t mean that you’re gay.

Likewise, our culturally dysfunctional messages about love and romance lead many people to believe that if they’re not feeling head-over-heels in love every moment of every day or missing their partner terribly when away on a trip, there’s something wrong with the relationship. Hence, sometimes the educational aspect of my work is enough to explode open an intrusive thought so that the person can feel validated and normalized to the point where she or he can find peace.

So when the question about intellectual compatibility surfaces, we must explore it from many angles. Let’s explore the multiple facets of falseness encased in this question:

1. A narrow definition of intelligence:

Our culture transmits a single definition of intelligence: school smart. When we say that someone is intelligent we mean that he or she reads a lot, did well in school, and carries multiple degrees. While in recent years, researchers like Daniel Goleman have brought awareness to the fact that human beings are capable of several types of intelligences, we still hold fast to our dominant model and have a hard time believing that emotional, social, creative, mechanical, or spiritual gifts are legitimate forms of intelligence. The more you can widen your definition of intelligence, the more you’ll be able to celebrate the unique type of intelligence that your partner possesses (and I guarantee he or she has one).

2. If he doesn’t read he’s not smart:

A typical conversation with a client struggling with this question goes like this:

“But what if we get bored because he doesn’t read enough and bring interesting topics to the table?”

“Are you bored now?”

“Sometimes but not usually.”

“Are you okay with being bored sometimes?”

“I am now but what if it gets worse and worse.”

“And why would that happen?”

“Because he doesn’t read. Although he does listen to the news, watches interesting programs on television, and listens to podcasts. Come to think of it, he probably absorbs a lot more information than I do.”

“Hmmm.”

3. It’s my partner’s responsibility to keep our conversations interesting:

The conversation continues:

“So it sounds like your partner keeps his mind active in ways other than reading.”

“Sometimes. But he also watches a lot of television and plays video games.”

“And what happens when you initiate topics of conversation? Does he participate?”

“Oh, absolutely.”

“So you can also take responsibility for keeping the conversations interesting.”

“Yes.”

“Hmmm.”

4. My partner should be all things and embody every desirable quality I’ve ever imagined my partner possessing:

One of the most dysfunctional aspects of our culture is that, as a result of our lack of living in community, we place inordinate expectations on our partner to satisfy all of our needs. In other times when people lived in villages, if your partner wasn’t the best conversationalist it wouldn’t have mattered much as you could pop over to your sister’s house who lived across the street and chat until the wee hours of morning. While your sister may not live across the street, it’s essential to remember that good friends are just a phone call away, and if you’re feeling the urge for an in-depth conversation on a topic that your parter doesn’t find interesting, pick up the phone. Your partner will not be all things, and the sooner you accept that and find other healthy ways to get your needs met, the happier you both will be.

5. What will people think?

Many people who find my work suffer from an anxious personality (also known as highly sensitive and the creative/spiritual personality gone awry due to lack of proper guidance), a facet of which is caring what other people think. So if you’re with someone who doesn’t dazzle her audience at social gatherings or slinks off to a corner to connect more deeply with one person at a party (an introvert), you may worry that others don’t think she’s smart enough for you.

First off, who cares what others think? Really. Others aren’t going to be in your marriage. Others have no idea who your partner truly is. And if they do know who she is, they will see the various ways that her intelligence shines.

Embedded in caring what others think is also the fear that others will think you’re not smart if your partner doesn’t have three letters after his name. So here we find another aspect of projection, and the work is to remove the focus from your partner or anyone else and learn to see and embrace your own types of intelligences.

Like all thoughts and questions that spin you into an anxious loop, the more you can identify each spoke of the wheel that comprises the question and leads to your anxiety, the more you can work with each element individually, bringing accurate information and real comfort to your anxious mind and suffering heart.

31 comments to Is My Partner Intellectual Enough?

  • Doris DeVelder

    As always, a message we don’t get from mainstream society that is very important to hear. Thank you!

  • ColoradoGirl

    Loved this post.. thank you and an early Happy New Year to you!

  • lennonpie

    Funny, I was just thinking about intellectual compatibility yesterday. I found this documentary that says much the same things as you have about multiple intelligences. Its a fascinating watch!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UEePiqHhS-k

  • NYCgirl

    Sheryl,

    As always, I thoroughly enjoyed your post and somehow you always know what to say to comfort me. I was just ruminating over this exact thing this past weekend but I now realize it’s really not about my partner’s intellectual level (in the traditional school smart sense) but it’s about the fear underneath that I must get to the root of. Blessings for a wonderful new year and thank you!

    NYC

  • MH

    Sheryl,
    I abosolutely love reading your posts. Its like you know whats going through my mind. This post is something i wanted to hear most. Thank you for sharing all this. I dont know where i would have been now with out you.
    Thanks you and lots of wishes for the coming year.

  • Anna

    Love the dose of reality you inject in every article! Whatever you write helps me make sense of my anxiety, unravel it AND confront it. NO ONE has been able to keep my anxiety (specifically “engagement anxiety”) under control but you! You are always teaching me that anxiety CAN be controlled by working on oneself! A huge THANKS for doing what you do, keeping people “real”, “grounded”…..Happy New Year to you and your family Sheryl!

  • Helen

    This is perfect timing for me, thank you so much!

  • Yogi

    This really hit the nail on the head for me: “Embedded in caring what others think is also the fear that others will think you’re not smart if your partner doesn’t have three letters after his name.” Bingo. I’ve been more aware of my need for approval lately, but it doesn’t make it any easier to shed. I’m hoping over time it will fade as I remind myself, when the anxious thoughts appear, that I don’t need to worry about what everyone else thinks. Thank you for this blog, as always, and wishing you peace, health and happiness in the New Year, Sheryl!

  • Another amazing post Sheryl. Your work is so important and amazing. I love how clearly you broke it down for us in this one.

  • Katie

    Thanks Sheryl!! A very insightful and helpful post. My guy is very intelligent, but he is also quite reserved (unless he is close friends with a person). I used to wonder if he was quiet because he just didn’t quite “get” things that were being said in a conversation, but he actually just enjoys observing others more than being the center of attention. He is also very emotionally intelligent, which I love!! He is so very sensitive and kind 🙂 Emotional intelligence is often overlooked, but to me it is extrememly important and makes our connection so very deep!! Happy New Year to you and everyone else who loves this blog as much as I do!! 🙂

  • Me myself and I

    I love this article. It could really be a variety of projections that we place onto our partner other than just intelligence. Ultimately it’s about accepting our own imperfections and our partner accepting ours. Things always get Better with a grateful perspective and focusing on what we our partners have. I know that has been working for me.

  • Angela

    Sheryl, Another great and important blog. I remember when I was in my twenties I dated a few guys that were intelligent and had a good education it was important to me because I was worried what my family and friends thought. Now I’m 43 and I don’t give a damn what anyone thinks. To me everyone is intelligent we are all wired differently and thank god for that. My new husband is more of a listener than a talker and I’m very happy with who is. He is shy around people but with me he opens up more. It’s also cos his English is not 100% I’m a patient woman so I don’t mind teaching him.
    Happy new year to you and ur family.xx

  • Esther

    On the flipside, my previous partner did not really like to talk deeply about things, only to a certain level. I let it go as I thought, like you said, that I could get that need met through other people. He was a lot older than me however, which I had no problem with but much of our connecting was done on a physical level, through sharing similar interests and pastimes together. It was a concern of mine yhough that in ten/fifteen years time when he was no longer as capable of doing those things, would we have enough other stuff to keep the connection alive. The relationship fell through for oyher reasons and I am now with another man, older again, who really meets me not just on a physical level but also on a spiritual, emotional and intellectual level. I know with great certainty whatsoever that when we can no longer go for hikes and runs together we will still be able to connect on other levels. And now that I can talk about deeper things with my partner it is wonderful because it is he, out of everyone, that I want to be able to discuss ideas and feelings with and it brings us together like nothing else. Without that, I would feel like the relationship was lacking something substantial.

    • It sounds like you’ve found a wonderful match for you, Esther. An important distinction needs to be made between having a partner who “gets” you and with whom you can share meaningful conversations and the anxious mind perseverating on the question of whether or not your partner is smart enough (cultured enough, intellectual enough, artsy enough, etc). For the anxious mind, latching onto the question of intellect can become another intrusive thought and is an entirely different ball of wax than a partner with whom you can’t talk deeply about things. It’s a difference that mainstream culture simply doesn’t understand. So the vast majority of people who find my work are in relationships with partners who “get” them and with whom they can share their deepest self but their hamster wheel mind spins on questions like this one as a from of self-protection against taking the risk of loving.

      • John

        Sheryl,

        I’m a guy, and I want to say your writings have really helped me.

        I just got engaged to a wonderful woman two weeks ago, but have been struggling with anxiety mixed with happiness and excitement.

        I just wanted to clarify – you are saying in this post that two people need not be on the same intellectual level to have a serious and good relationship upon which to build a marriage, right?

        I study theology and philosophy, both of which are massively intellectual disciplines. My fiance is a nurse, and she wants to hear what I’m working on and what I’m thinking about, but it’s never a long and drawn out conversation. This issue is a big spike for me, though when we’re together in person, it’s not often something I think about consciously.

        The biggest way we connect is spiritually. She challenges me to live out my faith in so many ways, and that really drives us forward. I love that about her. We are able to discuss scripture and pray together every day. We serve in church together. We love people together, and we love to do things outside and to explore new parts of the city in which we live. We are best friends, and I can share anything with her, even though she may not understand my complex ideas I’m reading in medieval theology.

        Yet for some reason I can’t get rid of the intrusive thoughts that occur. They only happen sporadically for a week at a time, and then they’ll go away. Sometimes I’ll go for months without them. I know – rationally and in my heart – that I’m making a good decision, but I’d never like to have these thoughts again. I want to be ok to talk with my colleagues about Kant, Foucault, and Karl Barth (theologian) and about those things only on the surface with my wife.

        I know deep down I love her with all my heart, and want to be with her forever. I choose her. She is the loveliest, sweetest, most selfless woman I’ve met, and I want to love her every day.

  • Jared

    Crazy that you have so many posts so quickly Sheryl. But as many other people wrote, your posts keep our anxiety at bay. You have described many parts of my personality without ever knowing me. I’ve always been EXTREMELY concerned what others think of me, which has been a double edged sword. Of course my partner does not share this trait and has been 100% spared any sort of detectable marriage anxiety.

  • Jared

    One other thing I should add is that I’ve had a deep, fulfilling love for my now-wife since we first met and that’s never faded. I’m glad to hear that you took 7-years to get over your anxiety Sheryl because for whatever reason I’m in for a longer ride as well. But my wife is more than worth it. Unfortunately it’s difficult to discuss this ride I’m on with others and with her because it’s mostly an internal battle. It’s difficult to put my finger on what exactly my issue is. I suspect it’s the uncomfortable ‘liminal space’ described elsewhere on your website. Your website has many useful tools to become comfortable in this new ‘liminal space’ that I have used. I have a ways to go yet though. I’m mostly in ‘non-anxious’ space now but every once in a while I suffer a fall (often on Mondays) & return to using tools you’ve described here.

    • The suffering a fall on Mondays is quite a common phenomena, Jared, and speaks more to your lack of satisfaction and/or anxiety at work than it does about your marriage.

  • Really enjoyed this article, Sheryl. You have a talent for breaking things down in a way that enables me to understand myself (and my “ball deficiencies”!) on a whole new level.

    Thanks, and Happy New Year to you and your family!

  • Verajoy

    This was my main problem and reason for searching out this site ans this article hits the nail on te head re: cultural lies. My fiancé, as it tuns out is pretty highly dyslexic so his disinterest in school and reading now make sense. Truth is we can talk about anything and it matters more to me that someone understand things emotionally or intuitivey than be able to spell them. I have a new theory too: if you can argue and he/she can make you angry in a debate then you probably have nothing to worry about 😉

  • Angela

    Sheryl, you have been part of my life for over a year now and I feel blessed and so grateful I knocked on your door. I have read all of your blogs, read people’s stories and gone through the e-course several times and I do feel so much better although I do still feel a physical pain inside my chest which is probably the anxiety. I found it annoying initially but now it’s not as physical and it doesn’t worry me as much anymore.The hardest thing for me is trying to find the root cause of my anxiety..it’s not as yet very obvious to me. I know I had a very strict upbringing etc . I just want Angela back.

    • The pain in your chest is the anxiety speaking to you. If you become curious about it and approach it with compassion – much like you would approach a young child – you will learn what’s encoded inside the anxiety.

  • Annie

    Hello Sheryl,

    I’m curious about the difference between anxiety (near panic attack anxiety) and cognitive dissonance. I’ve recently split from a man I felt/knew I had been waiting to meet my whole life (all 33 years =). We both felt deeply about our connection and how valuable it has been to our lives, past, present, and future. We planned to grow old together. There are no red flags, he is a healthy, happy, conscious human being and I felt completely safe with him.
    I’ve been devastated by anxiety over the last three months, and it’s taken it’s toll. I’m not sure how much to go into here – I have been on your website, I’m doing all of my homework, I am seeing a therapist I connect well with… I seem to have anxiety in other areas of my life, but never this severe. The “chasing after a moving target” describes my last months very well. I’ve thought of everything it could be, and the anxiety/panic comes back. My current target is that I have high standards of myself and therefore others as well, and in a moment I just didn’t like something my partner was doing, didn’t like him, felt overwhelmed, and interpreted the experience in a negative way, but whatever seed that planted that day has wrecked havoc on my life, and his. I’ve wondered and has he, if it’s not anxiety at all, but cognitive dissonance, and with whatever happened that with that new information changed the way I felt about him, but it didn’t resonant with my previously held beliefs – causing dissonance. It may not be one event, but the build up of many. I just know, I felt devastated when it all came on. Anyway- thanks for reading. I’m in the midst of it now, and it’s utterly painful.

  • Scottishgirl

    Sheryl, thank you for your blog. I came to your site when googling about relationship anxiety and find it a great comfort to know I am not alone with these horrible feelings. Can I ask something that I haven’t found much about on the blog? I notice that many people posting here are anxious that they don’t feel enough “chemistry” or physical attraction with their partners, but they do know that they are wonderful, kind people. I had this problem with my previous partner, so I understand it very well, but with my current boyfriend it is different. I have always had a lot of “chemistry” with him – not only physical but also on the personality level. He is a life-loving person with a twinkle in his eyes and a real sense of fun and mischief. For a while, I never questioned that I wanted to be with him – I just enjoyed the experience. But now the relationship has become more serious and I am constantly ruminating over whether I can commit to him as my life partner. I am feeling horribly anxious about elements of him that I perceive as flaws. Some days I worry that he isn’t intellectual enough (so this blog post has been helpful), other days that he is not polite enough in certain situations, or that he isn’t kind enough (he isn’t as much of a people-pleaser as I am and sometimes I worry that he can be selfish). I constantly compare him to friends’ partners who I feel fit more with my idea of a “nice” man. However, there are no absolute “red flag” issues like alcohol, drugs or highly incompatible values, and he has always treated me well and accepted me as I am. We can talk about problems, he is loving and seems to have no doubts about his feelings for me (which of course makes me feel worse). I know that I am usually perceived by others as a “nice”, polite person (I have often felt restricted by this perception), and I would also identify as highly sensitive and a worrier. I often feel that people might be surprised by my choice of partner. I’d be so grateful for any thoughts you may have. Thank you.