“My Partner Isn’t Smart Enough”

by | Oct 21, 2018 | Anxiety, Relationships, Trust Yourself | 17 comments

Photo by Victoria Russell

“One of the big traps we have in the West is our intelligence, because we want to know what we know. Freedom allows you to be wise, but you cannot know wisdom. You must be wisdom… The intellect is a beautiful servant, but a terrible master. Intellect is the power tool of our separateness. The intuitive, compassionate heart is the doorway to our unity.” – Ram Dass

For those of you who struggle with the intelligence spike – “Is my partner smart enough” – I urge you to study this quote word-by-word. I’ve written about this spike on my blog and in my Break Free course in depth, but as it has resurfaced this week through the collective unconscious that reveals itself in my counseling room, it’s time to address it again from a different angle so we can shed new light on this important and pervasive spike.

As with all projections – whether intelligence, wit, attraction, or any other place where relationship anxiety can hang its hat – the invitation is to turn the microscope into the mirror and courageously work to unpack and decode the messages about your own growth embedded in the projection. With this particular spike, there are many.

For one, you’re being asked to redefine intelligence and reprioritize your value system that places a certain kind of intelligence at the top of the hierarchy of worthiness. In other words, you’ve been conditioned through the sub-culture of your family and the culture at large to believe that a certain type of intelligence – namely, school smart – is equated with worthiness. So when a client says, “I always thought I would marry someone who attended the same type of schools I did (Ivy League) and has a similar job that I have (high income)”, what they’re really saying is, “I thought I would marry someone who my parents and the culture would think is ‘a catch.’ It’s the priorities that are out-of-whack here, not the person you’re marrying, for we live in a culture that says a person’s education is more important than their heart. “Intellect is the power tool of our separateness,” Ram Dass writes. When this spike arises, it speaks to a belief that school-intellect is at the top of the worthiness totem-pole when, in fact, when we drop underneath this habitual and conditioned metric for measuring worthiness and tap into our well of wisdom we disagree with the hierarchy entirely.

Secondly and similarly, when this spike arises you’re being asked to expand and widen your definition of intelligence. As I discuss in detail in my Trust Yourself program, we now know that there are at least nine types of intelligences, including kinesthetic awareness, creative intelligence, emotional intelligence, and many others. To limit our definition of intelligence to those who do well in school and follow a traditional career path is, in a word, absurd, and contributes to our damaging mindset of separateness. When I ask my clients who struggle with the intelligence spike what draws them to their partner, they respond with some version of, “her heart,” or “his kindness,” which corroborates with Ram Dass’ wisdom above: “The intuitive, compassionate heart is the doorway to our unity.”

Thirdly, this particular spike is often largely embedded in the mindset of caring what others think. When I ask clients if they would be obsessing about their partner’s intelligence if they lived on a desert island, the answer is almost always no. This spike points to a need to work on the ingrained habit of orienting yourself and making decisions based on others’ opinions and values instead of your own. In order to reverse this habit requires filling yourself well of Self so that the needle of your inner compass starts to naturally orient toward your own wisdom. “You cannot know wisdom. You must be wisdom,” Ram Dass shares. This means that when you learn to know yourself from the inside-out as opposed to the outside-in, you tap into the wellsprings of wisdom that currently live inside of you. When you live your life from this place of wisdom, everything changes.

Doing this work and tackling this spike is not only a personal task; we are being asked, collectively, to expand our definition of intelligence and reprioritize our value system. All projections essentially ask the same thing: to do your inner work so that unhealthy intergenerational and cultural patterns and mindsets  can fall away and be replaced with something healthy and new. If the intelligence spike or attraction spike or any other spike in causing you to see your partner though a misguided value system which occludes his/her essence, consider yourself lucky: you’re being swept along a worldwide wave that is inviting us to evolve our consciousness around what it means to love and be loved. The work is painful and challenging, but every time you turn inward and peel away a layer of distortion, every time you sit with a throb of pain, every time you learn to fill your inner well, you are healing not only yourself but also the planet. The healing wave is underfoot and you are a part of it.

It begins with you: learning the tools that will help you turn inward so that you can know yourself fully, perhaps for the first time in your life, which leads to examining the true nature of self-love and results in self-trust. For what happens when you commit to the next level of your inner work, is you realize your own nascent and true intelligence and your innate worthiness. You start to see yourself as you really are instead of what the culture or your parents have told you should be. You come closer to your intrinsic and inviolable awareness of your goodness and wholeness, and as you do so, the metrics by which you value yourself – which are based on externals – begin to shift. When this shifts, you naturally see your partner through clear eyes, eyes that understand the true nature of love.

If you’re ready to take this journey alongside a group of passionate learners, if you’re ready to learn about what it means to love yourself from the inside-out so that you can truly learn to trust yourself, please join me for my eleventh round of Trust Yourself: A 30-Day Program to Help You Overcome Your Fear of Failure, Caring What Others Think, Perfectionism, Difficulty Making Decisions, and Self-Doubt.



  1. Hi Sheryl,
    Thank you for this post and all the work you do. I took the Trust Yourself course a couple of years ago and absolutely loved it. I got so much out of it and am grateful I have the tools available to me as I’m still learning and growing. I resonated with this post a lot. It is something I struggle with, but in a different way. I often question or judge my own intelligence and worthiness, especially in relationships. I can be hard on myself based on external values and it is a cause of a lot of my anxiety or shame. I am still learning and feel my self talk has improved a lot. And I often use the same tools or ideas you share in your work to help heal from this. It comes up for me a lot as I relate to your posts, so I felt like sharing and just wondered if you had any words of wisdom if our relationship anxiety is more about ourselves being a worthy partner.
    Thank you!!

    • Hi Rachael –

      I’m so glad that the Trust Yourself course was helpful, and yes, the same tools that you learned there apply to many different challenges. As far as words of wisdom about anxiety being about you being a worthy partner, this is actually what’s at the root of almost all relationship anxiety, as I wrote about here:


      You’re at the root of the work!

      • Thank you so much for sharing that post! It was full of so much insight and was very encouraging for me to read. Thank you.

  2. Hello Sheryl,

    My question is very similar to Rachael’s. I continually feel frustrated that my partner is ‘dull’, ‘limited’, ‘unambitious’, ‘boring’, ‘stupid’ even. He’s pretty poor too whereas I do have some assets and he’s unlikely to change his situation.

    Could a large part of this possibly be me projecting my own fears and frustrations about my own life? – I am bored by my menial part time job and desperate to retrain, I’m starving for new challenges and to learn again. I’m frustrated by never having enough money.

    Like with Rachael, is this about ME and not about him?

    With thanks

  3. Hi Sheryl,
    Thank you for your work, these emails have been so helpful for me and this one especially today. My boyfriend and I very recently broke up, but then with some time apart I started getting inklings of wisdom that it’s my projections and distortions (again) not him! ….. Suddenly everything made sense, but it also made sense when I had all the stories going! Like he’s too needy and insecure and immature …… i then realised, actually he’s very sensitive, i would respond like that too if I wanted to get close to him and he was being cold, and then I felt major appreciation and even awe – wow he’s so brave to show his emotions like that and speak his truth and share his feelings!! We then had a deep talk and I realised he’s been acting this way because I’ve never truly been ‘all in’ … or as I then remembered he told me once before, he felt i was always holding a part of myself back in the relationship and I realised that deep down yes I had the whole time … out of worrying he’s too young, immature and doesn’t know what he’s really doing. I then had the profound shift to realise … Wow, he’s been with me thjs whole time, loving me and wanting to be with me and talking things through (all my stories mostly) and even putting up with infrequent sex and me rejecting him on a regular basis ….. I realised how amazing he actually is and how much he must love me!
    He was just there the whole time saying I want to be here, despite everything I was doing and yet I was the one doubting him!!! So in that moment we had the most beautiful conversation, I apologised for pushing him away, I cried as I felt the truth of the whole situation …. it’s my fear. It’s my conditioning, id not been seeing the man in front of me or hearing what he was saying … I’d been translating it all to suit my stories!. Then his reactions to my holding back etc confirmed those stories!!! I created the cycle!
    In that moment I realised that I have the power here to create an amazing relationship just by shifting my perceptions and I felt the truth that if I see him for the man he is and I focus on all his amazing qualities (there are so many) then he is more than enough for me, I could sense that if I see the best in him, we have a completely different relationship and dynamic. If I let go of the story and look for all the moments that to me he’s manly, mature, confident, strong, brave …. there are so many and furthermore, that all those things I thought were insecurity and weakness were actually brave!! Brave to show vulnerability and share his truth!

    So now we are on a completely different level. The dynamic has completely shifted, we went out for a bike ride and he started telling me about his new job and I felt the vibe was so different …. like he’s relaxed and he’s the guy I thought I wanted him to be but he was there all along.

    This shift has happened once before on a smaller scale when I nearly broke up with him in the past but see I shifted in to old stories again. I even caught myself this morning subtly making a joke about why he needs so long in the shower and i realise it was me projecting a story again… because I sensed that I wouldn’t say that to a man nearer my age or older if he needed that time in the shower. It’s all so deep. I really have to catch myself and keep reframing the distortions.

    This work is so important and powerful. I truly see that if you can work on your distortions, stories etc you may very well find you have got it all so wrong! But it’s not easy I know that too. Like you say above it’s societal conditioning as well, a big one I find, is what women expect of men. My boyfriend stands up for himself, he speaks his truth and doesn’t submiss or let me get away with my shit, in one way or another he holds me accountable and he values fairness … he doesn’t want to put me on a pedastool as a woman and I don’t want that either, yet I realise how societies unspoken standards kind of allows women to get away with quite childish or selfish (high maintenance) behaviour but holds very different standards for the men. Many of my friends have thought my boyfriend’s attitude/behaviour etc is not right … yet now I see how he’s simply valuing himself and being completely true to himself and holding me accountable … which is actually so brave and for me that’s a real partnership.

    Apologies for the long message but I wanted to say how much I value your work and perhaps for those reading and doing the work, to share my experience here because there is so much potential for the relationship we’re in when we step beyond the distortions, stories and conditioning.

    • Love the encouragement from your post, Kate! I’m learning to shift the stories in my head and heart and wow, what a difference it makes in how we see and open up to someone. Your growth is inspiring.

    • Beautiful share, Kate. Thank you and many blessings to you!

  4. Thanks for this. This has been my major spike for the past four years. I have read endless books and papers in academic psychology in an attempt to understand ‘intelligence’. I was going to post a couple of questions but realise this would just be reassurance seeking, so i just want to say: thanks.

    • You’re welcome. And good job pulling in the reins on seeking reassurance ;).

  5. Hello Sheryl,

    I understand this bias of “academic intelligence” (being a teacher…!).
    I feel my partner is emotionally so limited (academically he’s doing pretty well) he cannot work on himself to help us improve our relationship. After almost 8 years of being together and a 4 year old child, this recurring frustration of our same issues surfacing again and again makes me want to leave the relationship for good. He uses silence and withdrawal sometimes for days to let me know he is angry and I should behave differently, instead of using WORDS to express himself and showing some compassion when I am not that perfect person he asks me to be. It’s the first time I’m so close to leaving the relationship, which scares me since I believed I loved the guy with his shiny and less shiny sides.
    What would be your opinion around emotional intelligence and the lack thereof ?

    • Everyone has ways of defending themselves agains conflict and difficult feelings, and silence/withdrawal is a common one. If the two of you are open to couples’ therapy I HIGHLY recommend going for a round of EFT. You can read Sue Johnson’s book “Hold Me Tight” to learn more about and you can find a local therapist who has been trained in her model here:


  6. Hi Sheryl

    I don’t know if you will see this comment as it is quite an old post, but I’m confused by something.
    I ADORE David Richo’s book ‘When Love Meets Fear’. The intelligence spike is my go-to spike and this book helped me a lot with issues of projection and ego.

    HOWEVER, in his book ‘How To Be An Adult in Relationships’ Richo goes on to give a list of things to look for in a partner, one of which is being ‘fairly equal in terms of intelligence’. I find this so spiky that an author who helped me so much can then go on to say such a spiky thing! what do you make of it?

    • What I make of it is that even those who are wise about relationships don’t always understand relationship anxiety!

      • thanks for your response. I thought ‘When Love Meets Fear’ captured the essence of relationship anxiety perfectly, which is why I was thrown and spiked when he came up with his ‘list’

        • Hi Joshua,

          Jacque Lacan spoke about something called “transference”, described here:

          ‘…transference is the attribution of knowledge to the Other, the supposition that the Other is a subject who knows:

          “As soon as the subject who is supposed to know exists somewhere . . . there is transference.”’


          I think many of us go through life convinced that somewhere, someone *knows*. Often we apply this conviction to psychotherapists other relationship experts – I have a feeling you’re convinced that this David Richo fellow *knows*. He knows something you don’t, so if he says your partner should be as intelligent as you are, it’s something to worry about.

          But actually, nobody knows. We can all just share our thoughts. David Richo doesn’t know. I don’t know. You don’t know, but you can trust your heart.

  7. Just came back to this article and love it. What is interesting is that in the years before the anxiety and ocd kicked in I questioned if we were similar enough in this department or if he was smart enough but always quickly came to the concluision while talking to my mum or so that this wasn´t really important for me as I thought. I just had very rigid believes form my childhood and teenage years ingrained in my that when met with reality were not the reasons I was drawn to him. Years down the line and after battling anxiety and depression in other areas it really attacked my relationship… it was like my brain broke… and this theme always came up and it still does, when I am met with big change and uncertrainty like right now… after nearly 13 years together I can´t believe that still is something my brain can get hung up on… which is that I sometimes start to think that there must be something true or wrong about it..and that while for everyone else what you wrote is true but I am the exception… there are many other fears and obsessions that plague me during those times and can even get me back into a depressive state… but in all those times when my head is “normal” those aren´t problems…. yes he´s not perfect, I am not our relationship is not, but in those times he is my home, my rock and the person I even enjoy just laying on the couch or shop for groceries… yes also not always but often (trying to get out of the black and white patterns in my head) but those times were new things and changes trigger my fear-brain it is so hard to really see or feel this… makes me think I might have just convinced myself, lied to myself about the good times and things or just forgot everything else… I know this is not a current article but would love to hear your opinion on this as I am in a really bad place and maybe if I am the only person with this…


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