There's a reason why most parents want their kids to be smart above all else. Intelligence can help you succeed at work, navigate the world with more efficiency, and catch onto jokes quickly. But being the brightest bulb in the tanning bed isn't always a plus, especially when you look at the problems smart people can generally have in relationships. All that brain power comes with its own set of unique issues in romantic settings.
The strains a high IQ can bring to a relationship are wide, but it all goes back to the fact that extremely smart people are generally happier when they're not with others. A study in the British Journal of Psychology found that intelligent people prefer their own company to that of others, as they don't have as strong of a tribal instinct as their less intelligent counterparts. The smarter you are, the less need you may feel for human connection, the study found. But that's not to say it's impossible for smart people to have successful romantic relationships. Dr. Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D., ABPP tells Romper via email that intelligent people are able to "consider a wider variety of factors that affect their relationships" better than those who aren't as intelligent, as well as "be[ing] very helpful as partners from a practical standpoint, in areas important to a couple's happiness as finances, vacation planning, housing, and the like." Smart people know how to love, too; it just might get expressed in ways you don't expect.
So intelligence doesn't make a relationship impossible, but it does potentially create distinct barriers to connection and happiness. Read on for 8 of the most common problems smart people face in their love lives.
They Can Look Down On Their Partner
Intelligent people don't naturally have a superiority complex, but when their IQ combines with narcissism, they might start to make their partner feel bad. As Whitbourne explains, "if their personality is such that it interacts poorly with academic intelligence, such as being high in narcissism, they could be very difficult as partners because they think of themselves as superior to their partners." So watch out for the combo of super smart and super self-involved.
They Can Get Bored Of Their Partner
As Alice Boyes, PhD, a former psychologist and author, explained in the Harvard Business Review, "If you’re smart, curious, and have a love of learning, you might find you quickly lose interest in anything once you’ve figured it out." This impacts romantic relationships because smart people might love the chase and falling in love, but once they come to really understand their partner, they might get antsy and start to look elsewhere for stimulation.
They Might Have More Anxiety About Their Relationship
Everyone overthinks their relationship from time to time, but intelligent people are actually scientifically proven to be more likely to overanalyze, specifically when they are verbally intelligent — when "they have the ability to analyze information and solve problems using language-based reasoning," Very Well Family explained.
A study from Lakehead University's Department of Psychology found that "verbal intelligence was a unique positive predictor of worry and rumination severity," meaning that those with verbal intelligence are prone to replaying events in their heads and overthinking, which could be the kiss of death for a romantic relationship. Why? As Psychology Today explained, "When we overanalyze things, we get confused and make poor decisions" (choices you don't actually want), and create narratives that don't really exist. Being with someone who constantly questions your relationship can be challenging.
On the flip side, it could be reassuring to see them care so much. The important thing is to be open with your partner about what is causing any anxiety and address those fears as soon as possible.
They May Blame Their Partners For Everything
A study in peer-reviewed science journal Plos One found a link between intelligence and manipulative tendencies. Smart people "attempt to regulate others' emotions based on their own goals," according to the study. Basically, that means intelligent people are more likely to gaslight those around them, which is "a tactic in which a person or entity, in order to gain more power, makes a victim question their reality" as Stephanie A. Sarkis Ph.D. wrote in Psychology Today. An intelligent partner could thus use manipulation tactics to make a partner feel responsible for anything wrong in the relationship, leading to long term issues and unhappiness.
They Might Struggle To Give Up Their Independence
As previously mentioned, that 2016 study in the British Journal of Psychology found that "More intelligent individuals experience lower life satisfaction with more frequent socialization with friends." The research theorized that this unhappiness is a result of the intelligent people's ancestors living in circumstances where independence was more favorable to survival — i.e., there was less competition for resources. And while you might not think of being in a relationship as socializing, you do have to give up a lot of alone time to make sure you're staying connected with a partner. A more intelligent person might resent giving up that independence because of years of biological history, leading to a strain in the relationship.
Of course, having independence and setting clear boundaries in a relationship is crucial for it to thrive, as per Suzanne Lachmann, Doctor of Psychology in Psychology Today. But you should alwas be checking in with your partner about said boundaries if you're feeing like each others' needs and expectations are not being met.
Their Partner May Be Unable To Make Them Happy
This one is a bit complicated, because it's really about the intelligent person's individual emotions. A study in Scientific America found that "being highly intelligent is associated with psychological and physiological 'overexcitabilities,'" making people with high IQs more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety than the average person. These mental health conditions can impact a relationship, especially if the intelligent person is unaware of their condition. Bustle gives a good rundown of signs to look out for if you think your partner might be struggling with anxiety or depression.
They May Prioritize Their Own Goals Over The Relationship
Intelligent people are often singleminded as they pursue their goals, particularly because they see doing too many activities at once as an inhibition on their potential, according to Frank Partnoy, professor and author of Wait: The Art and Science of Delay. Likewise, Travis Bradberry, the co-author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0 and President at TalentSmart, told Entrepreneur that "Research also shows that, in addition to slowing you down, multitasking lowers your IQ," so the thinking follows that smart people tend to only do one thing at once. If an intelligent person is working towards a professional goal or on anything outside of their relationship, they may end up putting their relationship on the back burner, which can make their partner feel like they aren't a priority.
They Could Push Their Partners Too Hard
Many intelligent people put pressure on themselves throughout their lives to be the best at everything, and they expect the same from those around them. "Smart people set the bar too high, and when people take too long or don’t get things quite right, they assume it’s due to a lack of effort," Dr. Bradberry explained to the Huffington Post. (Sound like anyone you know? Looking at you, parents...) So if you're struggling at work or having other problems, an extremely intelligent partner might not be able to support you in the ways you want and need.
Of course you can still have a happy relationship if you or your partner is off the charts smart. But being aware of how your partner might digest some of these behaviors of distance or seemingly aloofness can help you and your partner have open conversations and be a little more sensitive to each others' needs and expectations.