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