It’s probably nothing you can’t work through, if you want to.
It seems as though if you're born gifted with an above-average intelligence that things in life should come easier, right? With all of that natural ability to reason through things, people with a high IQ should be able to get through their struggles with ease and assuredness. But it turns out that might not be the case. People with a high IQ can struggle with interpersonal dynamics and have difficulties with communication that the majority of people will never fully comprehend. In fact, the problems with relationships people with a high IQ tend to have might challenge many long-held assumptions.
However, all that said — you don’t need to stress too much about your IQ, whatever it may be. Why? Because IQ is not actually a great way to measure intelligence, explains Chad Perman, a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist who often supports people who are “highly-gifted,” which is a more modern way to talk about people who are very intelligent and process information quickly. “You could say that having a high IQ is like saying your favorite color is green,” Perman explains. “It's not completely junk science, but it's certainly on its way into that whole world, along with the Myers-Briggs test.”
Instead, modern psychologists tend to categorize people who process information quickly as “highly gifted” — though that term is disliked by many people who fit the qualifications, Perman adds. Being “highly gifted” is something that Perman reminds us is simply a fact about a person — it is not everything that they are.
“That's not all the person is, but it is a fact about them; their brains work in different ways,” Perman explains. What ways, exactly? A highly-gifted person tends to be someone who learns things very quickly and easily. “If they hear something once, they’ve got it,” Perman says. “They’re often the kids in class — or the adults in the staff meetings — that are bored.”
For any couple, therapy can help you work through a challenging time, and when one (or both) people in a relationship are highly-gifted, it may be especially valuable. Here are some relationship challenges that commonly arise for people who are highly-gifted, but Perman urges couples who are struggling to trust that there are many joys and benefits to sharing a life with someone who is highly-gifted, too.
“Very highly sensitive is almost always correlated with high intelligence,” Perman says. It’s not always overt, he adds, so it can be tricky for their partner to know when they’re feeling hurt or upset. “They might cry all night behind closed doors because there's something you didn't even realize was a criticism that they took to be a criticism,” Perman explains.
Finding ways to frame things that won’t be immediately heard as criticism can be what Perman calls a “minefield for the partner.” If you’re struggling to work this out on your own, a therapist may be able to help you find new ways to communicate that will be more successful.
Being very intelligent can be a wonderful thing, but it does often go hand-in-hand with some psychological challenges, Perman says. “In the special classification of ‘existentially anxious and depressed,’ highly-gifted people are off the charts higher than most people,” he explains. Because thinking quickly and deeply about things is their default, they can have a tendency to get bogged down in worry. “They either feel anxious about getting abandoned in a relationship, or tend to say I’d better cut it off first, depending on their attachment style,” Perman says.
If you or your partner are aware that you’re highly-gifted, there may be a bit of hubris at play. It may be hard for a highly-gifted person to truly default to a partner’s ideas, needs or wants. “There's a strong tendency to say: I know that I'm smart, so that must mean that my position here is right,” Perman notes. Obviously, a person who feels or thinks that way is challenging to be in a relationship with.
“While the highly intelligent person is doing great things in the world, they’re also complaining endlessly that the world is built wrong. They’re often a mix of idealistic and cynical about the whole human project. And so — I'm being really general here — they often wouldn’t get nearly as much done without a partner that offered a complimentary skill set,” Perman says. “If you do get in that type of partnership where the skill sets compliment each other you have the raw ingredients for a perfect union. But, the same raw ingredients can turn into a nuclear bomb.”
Ultimately, a person with a high IQ, or who has been told they are “highly-gifted” is just a person with a brain that works in a certain way — as are we all. Every person, every relationship, is a bit different and if you want to work on issues that arise, the fact that one (or both) of you is highly-gifted is just another piece of the puzzle you’re building together.
Chad Perman, Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist at New Page Therapy
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