Saturday, December 9, 2017

Key relationship dilemmas for gifted women

What are some of the challenges, dilemmas and downright hazards that gifted women may face in even seemingly rock-solid marriages or relationships?

With all that brainpower, gifted women might be expected to reason their way out of snafus and predict whatever dangers lie ahead. Yet emotions reign supreme, and logic has little to do with feelings. And giftedness brings specific challenges for women in the course of a long-term relationship.

In a previous post, ten sources of conflicts gifted adults often encounter in relationships were listed. Here are some specific dilemmas that are likely to impact women in relationships:

Competitive feelings

While a competitive drive is not exclusive to gifted people (and sometimes even lacking - see gifted underachievers), constant competition within a relationship can derail connection and intimacy. The drive to excel at school and work can migrate into relationships, and some gifted women believe that they must repeatedly prove their worth in order to gain acceptance. If you always need to be right and win every argument, if you must prove your point every time, if you always feel compelled to outperform your partner's abilities, then a pattern of resentment, distance and bitterness will ensue.

Alternatively, if you completely submerge your competitive feelings for the "good of the relationship," you will be denying an important aspect of yourself. Some gifted women learned to mask their competitive drive as early as middle school to remain popular. As adults, they may hold on to long-held fears that standing out will scare others away. Learning when and how to compete, when to allow yourself shine, when to let go, and when to compromise are essential skills for thriving in a relationship - and living in the real world.

Guilt, ambivalence and shame

Some gifted women choose to be stay-at-home moms, or pursue the "mommy-track" in their careers. Even child-free gifted women may choose a less demanding career path than they (or those around them) had predicted. As a result, some may feel guilt or shame because they have not utilized their abilities to the fullest or feel they have not lived up to their potential. Some gifted women feel like impostors, and harbor suspicions that they were never smart after all. Those with multiple talents may bemoan the road not taken. Working moms often agonize and obsess over time spent away from home, and whether day care will cause irreparable harm - even when their children are flourishing.

Since career decisions are often considered within the constraints of a relationship/marriage (e.g., location, schedules, travel demands), some women feel thwarted or resentful if they abandon their goals - or guilty when they pursue them at a cost to the relationship. Women who forge ahead, and place demands on their partner or spouse (such as relocation, a greater proportion of childcare) may feel guilt and worry that their partner will resent them.

Breadwinner blues

Many women are now the primary breadwinners in their relationships. Some relish this opportunity; others may feel ambivalent. In one study, female breadwinners were interviewed, and although many were ambitious and took pride in their accomplishments, some experienced guilt and resentment about their multiple roles. Gifted women who are more financially successful than their partners/spouses within heterosexual relationships may fear an imbalance that can result in resentment and anger. Rather than welcoming greater financial freedom, some men can feel "disempowered" or even emasculated by their partner's success. Although most relationships can weather this storm (sometimes with the aid of counseling), it can tap into anxiety and ambivalence many gifted women experience about achieving and showcasing their talents.


Perfectionism wreaks havoc on self-esteem, academics and work, as the pursuit of perfection can backfire. It also may interfere with finding and maintaining a healthy relationship. Harsh self-criticism ("I am too unattractive or unsuccessful or unappealing or uninteresting..."), search for the ideal mate ("I won't settle for anything other than the most minor flaws"), and ongoing critique within a relationship can result in unhappiness, conflict, and unsuccessful partnerships. Contrary to popular belief, there is no such thing as "healthy perfectionism." Identifying how overly high expectations, perfectionistic standards and unreasonable criticism interfere with finding joy in relationships is essential.

Overthinking everything

Even if you are not a perfectionist, a tendency to overthink or overanalyze can create problems. Many gifted people overanalyze situations, people, events... sometimes, just about everything. It comes naturally due to their quick, analytical minds. Problems occur when analysis interferes with spontaneous, enthusiastic engagement with life and with those you love. Sometimes overthinking can contribute to perfectionism (see above), excessive scrutiny of minor relationship struggles, or personal flaws. Many overanalyzers pick apart their perceived imperfections, resulting in self-consciousness, body negativity, and low self-esteem. A negative self-concept creates barriers to intimacy, confidence in relationships, and even the capacity to enter fully into a relationship at all.

What is the next step?

With some attention to the above pitfalls, gifted women should be able to use their inherent smarts, sensitivity, and reasoning abilities to overcome potential conflicts that may arise. Some self-exploration and support from friends and family can certainly help. If problems persist, counseling with a licensed mental health professional often can help couples rediscover the joy they once felt toward each other.

Below are more Gifted Challenges blog posts about gifted women and girls

Women, success, and harnessing inherent strength
What keeps women from STEM careers?
Why do smart girls develop eating disorders?
Why do smart women forego success?
Difficult passage: Gifted girls in middle school
Gifted women, gifted girls and mental health
Gifted or pretty: What do parents want for their daughters?
What stops girls from learning math?

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