Can Too Much Intellect Be Ruining Your Love Life?

Is intellect, which is often a strength, actually destroying your relationship?

Posted May 09, 2019

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Usually, intellect is a strength. However, intellectualization, or over-thinking to avoid deep feeling, may be detrimental in a relationship. Intellectualization is a psychoanalytic term defining a defense mechanism unconsciously employed to avoid uncomfortable emotions, and it may be destructive in the context of a romantic relationship. If a person unconsciously blocks deeper and distressing emotions when discussing an issue with a partner, they may be preventing themselves from actually feeling the exact emotions necessary for closeness in a relationship.

Two critical components help sustain emotional closeness in a relationship. The first is a person’s sincere attempt to comprehend a partner’s perspective, especially if it differs from one’s own. This includes trying to understand how a partner feels, which is often referred to as empathy. The second, accountability, is possessing enough insight to sincerely own a mistake and make amends.

If a person is defending against painful emotions, they may not be able to feel empathy for a partner in the heat of the moment. In addition, accepting responsibility is a difficult task which requires the complicated and sometimes uncomfortable process of self-awareness. If a person’s defense mechanisms are highly activated, they are defending against feeling vulnerable. Both empathy and accountability require a person to be vulnerable.    

Vulnerability taxes a person’s ego because it causes discomfort. If a person has a durable ego, setting aside their own perspective for a moment to authentically understand a partner’s perspective or feelings is possible. Admitting fault, experiencing sincere remorse, and actively attempting to repair a misstep also indicate a fairly sturdy ego. If the person is able to tolerate the level of duress that vulnerability causes, he or she is probably capable of maintaining a close relationship.

Alternatively, a fragile ego requires staunch defense mechanisms to be enacted to defend against a threat. Deflection, projection, denial, idealization, sublimation, and intellectualization are several common defense mechanisms that, when unconsciously incorporated to an extreme, become maladaptive.  

Intellectualization is often a difficult defense to detect, because it is bestowed in a logical and analytical manner and is portrayed as fact-based. Thus, the first sign that intellectualization may be at play is when a person’s feelings are ignored because the partner (who is intellectualizing) is too busy restating facts.  

Solely arguing from one’s own perspective is a second sign that intellectualization is in overdrive. A person who is unable to stop and ponder the validity of a partner’s viewpoint because of a continuous proclamation of their irrefutable perspective cancels out any chance of conveying an understanding of a partner’s position.  

Talking in circles, but saying the same thing, is the third symptom. Usually, when two people discuss a topic that pertains to their relationship, the discussion deepens, and increased awareness of each other’s ideas and thoughts occurs. But if a person is engaged in extreme intellectualization, the argument stagnates, because he or she is defensive. Stuck on the safe surface, he or she may cycle through a monologue of personal opinions without being open to a partner’s vantage point.

Not allowing a partner to get a word in edgewise unless they agree may signify the fourth feature of hyper-intellectualization. A person’s distorted belief that they have a superior argument/opinion and therefore can immediately reject a partner’s contrasting perspective signifies an issue with defensiveness.

Often, inflated intellectualization allows a person to detach from emotion regarding the topic. By remaining unemotional and dismissive of a partner’s feelings, a lack of empathy exists. Naturally, the partner becomes frustrated and upset. Unfortunately, the partner’s display of emotion may fuel the person’s use of intellectualization during the exchange, because they feel control over the situation.

A person who loves to hear the sound of their own voice but rarely hears another, and who feels a need to maintain a position of power and authority during a discussion with a loved one, may leave a partner feeling misunderstood and devalued. In this scenario, conflict is rarely resolved quickly and productively, which may drive a wedge into the relationship. Closeness may be eroded over time. Gaining insight into the overuse of this defense mechanism in a close relationship may help a person keep it in check and preserve the vitality of the union.