For relationships to work, they need to be equal or slightly unequal. Equal relationships are those where both parties gain equally. Slightly unequal relationships are those where one partner gains slightly more than the other.
When a relationship is unequal, it rests on shaky grounds. It is unstable.
After all, you can’t do business with someone if you’re continually losing. It’s the same with relationships. You need to be gaining but not at the expense of your partner.
I call this the ‘partner-partner’ dynamic- a healthy dynamic where both partners in the relationship genuinely feel like they’re equal partners. One is not gaining at the expense of another. Relationships with partner-partner dynamics are likely to be stable.
Intelligence is one of many traits one seeks in a potential partner. A simple definition of intelligence is the ability to solve complex problems. One who can solve complex problems is more likely to survive and thrive in the world. No wonder intelligence is a desirable trait.
When we say someone is intelligent, we imply they can solve complex problems. We don’t say what kinds of complex problems. When we factor in the types of complex problems that intelligent people can solve, we realize there are different kinds of intelligence.
For instance, someone having academic intelligence, i.e., being intelligent in an academic field may not necessarily have practical intelligence, i.e., the ability to solve everyday problems.
Intellectual compatibility and intimacy
Intellectual compatibility in a relationship means that both partners have the same levels of the same types of intelligence. If one partner is academically intelligent, the other is too. If one partner is street smart, so is the other.
When one partner is academically intelligent, and the other is emotionally intelligent, they may have the same intelligence level but are not intellectually compatible. The type of intelligence matters.
When you have intellectual compatibility in a relationship, you experience intellectual intimacy. Being able to connect with your partner intellectually can be highly fulfilling. It contributes to the stability and success of your relationship.
Intellectual incompatibility: Intelligence gap in relationships
What happens when there’s an intelligence gap in a relationship?
It makes the relationship unequal.
Communication and understanding are pillars of any great relationship. If your partner is so low in intelligence that they can’t even understand what you’re saying, you’ll have a hard time making it work. You’ll have to do a lot of explaining in the relationship, which will eventually get exhausting.
This is a ‘teacher-student’ or a ‘parent-child’ dynamic, not a partner-partner dynamic. This is an unequal dynamic. Teachers get paid to teach, and parents are over-invested in their children.
Not only is this dynamic unequal in terms of gains but also in terms of power. It creates a power gap in the relationship.
The ‘teacher’ or ‘parent’ who explains is likely to feel superior and put their partner down. The ‘student’ or ‘child’ in the relationship is likely to feel inferior, insecure, dependent, and jealous.
Are intellectually incompatible relationships doomed?
Not at all.
Intellectual intimacy is one of many types of intimacy you can experience in a relationship. If your relationship lags in one type, you can make up for it by increasing it in another type.
For instance, a relationship low on intellectual intimacy but high on emotional and physical intimacy can still work.
In fact, emotional intelligence is a stronger predictor of successful relationships than conventional or general intelligence.
It’s undeniable that emotions play a big part in relationships, much bigger than intellect. A relationship can survive a lack of intelligence but not a lack of emotional intelligence.
If you’re a highly intelligent person who craves intellectual stimulation, you can easily meet that need on your own. You probably already do. You don’t have to seek it from your partner too.
Some highly intelligent people love that they can just turn their hyper-logical brains off for a while and engage emotionally with their partners.
Survival-enabling intelligence is more desirable in men
Due to the clear survival advantages of being intelligent, it’s especially a highly valued trait in men. Evolutionarily speaking, ensuring survival wasn’t the main job of women. That was the responsibility of men. Women had to care for and raise offspring. Something that required emotional and social intelligence.
This is why men tend to be naturally academically or practically intelligent, while women tend to be emotionally and socially intelligent. The intelligences in both genders can complement each other and bring harmony to the relationship despite the intellectual incompatibility.
It’s nice if men work on improving their emotional intelligence and women on survival-enabling intelligence. That can definitely make a relationship better. But, it’s a nice-to-have, the icing on the cake. Not absolutely necessary.
A woman will find it hard to be with a man with low survival-enabling intelligence. Just as a man will find it hard to be with a woman with low emotional intelligence. Low emotional intelligence in a man and low survival-enabling intelligence in a woman can be put up with.
A slight intelligence gap is okay
A slight intelligence gap in a relationship makes it only slightly unequal, which is okay. To maintain the partner-partner dynamic, both partners need enough intelligence to communicate well and understand each other. If that is missing, the gap is too gaping.
In modern times, where most people’s survival is guaranteed, there’s a stronger focus on emotional and social intelligence.
The good news is that you can learn all types of intelligence. Intelligence is more a skill than a trait.
Hi, I’m Hanan Parvez (MBA, MA Psychology), founder and author of PsychMechanics. I’ve published one book and authored 400+ articles on this blog (started in 2014) that have garnered over 4.5 million views. PsychMechanics has been featured in Forbes, Business Insider, Reader’s Digest, and Entrepreneur. Feel free to contact me if you have a query.