Effect of intellectual compatibility on marital relationships

Effect of intellectual compatibility on marital relationships

My interest to investigate this topic has been shoveled by my reflections on the role of parenting in my socio-psychological development. Good parenting is very important for child development . But what are important determinants for good parenting? Marital stability is a significant contributor towards the ability of parents to provide good parenting . This led me to brood deeper into the topic of marital stability.


The institution of marriage is a great symbol of human culture. According to many researchers, it is one of the most important determinants for peace and well-being in society . In fact, it should be recognized that despite there being no major push or reform towards ‘normative monogamy’, it has managed to develop deep roots because of its beneficial effects on society. It has helped, inter alia, improve social cohesion, reduce crime rate, and improve societal productivity.

There exists a significant amount of literature and research regarding the impact of marital relationships on society. Marriage is not only a determinant of happiness of the couple, it plays a huge part in the quality of child raising in society. This translates into children becoming more successful, becoming healthy citizens, and contributing productively to the economy. Moreover, according to a study , unmarried people have twice the risk of dying early compared with married people. A report suggests that single mothers and cohabiting families had 37 and 61 percent of the salaries of married-people households clearly showing that married people have more stable and high-paying jobs thus contributing to economic growth. Married households are wealthier and hence enjoy relatively better quality of life which helps them have less reliance on the social welfare system. Love, trust, and responsibility, key ingredients in stable marital relationships bring about stability and cohesion in society. In short, marriage is the bedrock of society.

In recent times, the institution of marriage is going through a phase of immense change as societal values shift rapidly. Research on the direction of change is ambiguous. While there exists a body of research which concludes that the institution is under threat , other studies point to increased marital stability in some societies.


Interestingly, there is growing literature on the effects of social media , individualism ascribable to postmodernist thought driven by an explosion of data, shared economy, digital mediums of communication, the internet and globalization on the quality of marital relationships. A large body of research concludes that marital outcomes are greatly affected by behavioral and intellectual issues which are being continuously shaped by these new age phenomena sweeping the world. . Young couples, for instance, face marital issues due to their lower (psychological and socioeconomic) maturity and potentially unreasonable expectations.

It thus becomes obvious that the institution of marriage is being affected by the new wave of internet, social media and globalization which have swept the world. With exponential multiplication in human interaction, our concepts and way of thinking about things is undergoing a deep transformation. In turn, this is molding our intellect and affecting our relationships.

In this background, the effects of personality traits and intellectual compatibility on marital stability makes for an interesting study. However, so far, no empirical research study has been conducted to find links between intellectual compatibility and marital stability. The exploration of this question has important implications for partner selection. It is also of importance to psychologists, since it can not only help them predict the stability of a marriage, but also help couples cope up with conflicts in their marital life. Besides psychologists, it is also of interest to behavior geneticists interested in the study of assortative mating in human beings. It is in this background that this paper attempts to study- To what extent does intellectual compatibility affect marital relationships?

Analysis of Literature

The ‘Harvard Study on Adult Development’, one of the longest studies ever conducted on adult life, concludes that good relationships are the key to happiness and health. The closeness one shares with friends, family or community, the quality of such relationships and the stability and support in one’s marital relationship were found to be important determinants of happiness. Another study on risk factors for late-life cognitive decline and variation with age and sex conducted on 889 community-dwelling 70 to 90-year-olds found that marriage, among other factors, was linked to a lower risk of mild cognitive impairment and dementia. These studies point to the importance of relationships, in general, and marriage, in particular on happiness and health.

That be the case, the proportion of married adult men has dropped from 71 per cent to 53 per cent, the proportion of married adult women has declined from 65 per cent to 52 per cent in the span from 1971 to 2000. Individuals’ attitudes have changed from viewing marriage as a sacrament to being a social contract which is entered into primarily for the good of the individuals and for the personal happiness and satisfaction . A new stereotype of the modern single woman has emerged. Divorce rates have increased throughout the world during the last decades.

Some research points to the change in gender roles—in particular, to the dramatic increases in married women’s labour market activity as a major reason. Other theories emphasize cultural changes linking the changes in family behavior to the increase in individualism, material values and a growing attitude towards more gender equality and acceptance of non-traditional family behaviours, such as divorce. Other research points towards religiosity, liberalization of divorce laws. Dating apps and social media platforms provide further evidence of this phenomenon. There are many factors at play. Stress, especially financial stress , childbirth , familial history of divorce are some of the most commonly cited factors. On the contrary, marital stability seems to have increased in some societies. Increase in the age of marriage has been cited as an important factor. Increase in education levels has been found to be another contributing factor. Amidst the shifting cultural milieu, to what extent does intellectual compatibility affect marital relationship?

At the outset, it is important to understand the term ‘intellectual compatibility’. The word ‘intellect’ seems to have its origins in the Latin word ‘intellegre’ which means ‘to understand’. Intellect is different from intelligence though they might have originated from the same word. Intelligence is the ability to apply knowledge and skills in doing something. It is a broader term with wider applicability, and can be split into different categories, or in other words, is more inclusive than intellect. Animals too are called intelligent because of their ability to adapt themselves to their environment for survival, but the term “intellectual” is reserved for select cases.

The concatenation of the most essential intelligences into a systematic whole constitutes the distinguishing feature of intellect. It deals with the narrower but upper levels of knowledge for which the knowledge of more common activities is considered a prerequisite. This is one of the reasons why erudition has been considered the basis of intellect. A person may be intelligent in his/her sphere of activity but may not be counted as an intellectual or vice versa. Our intellect is the window to the world.

Mediums like social media and the internet shape our intellect continuously. We are exposed to information and ideas at a scale which was unimaginable only a few years back. They are changing our memory processes, attention capacities, social cognition and mental constructs and affecting us at deeper levels of conscious thought than we imagine. Explosion of information, advertisements, online content targeted on specific people classified by age, gender, education, marital status is changing their worldview on what constitutes normal behavior. Social media and its effects, both positive and negative are far-reaching and are transforming the very essence of what it means to be human. Clearly, our intellect is being transformed every moment and we are placing a higher premium on it as we interact with the world.

‘Compatibility’ denotes the ability of two individuals to exist in a state of fit, synergy or likeness. A key factor in all relationships is the compatibility between two individuals. Compatibility denotes a state of harmony, of peaceful coexistence. Harmony, however, does not necessarily imply absence of conflicts. In fact, equating a good relationship with existence of a low degree of conflict may not be correct. Conflicts are inevitable, it’s the ability to resolve conflicts and keep growing together with reconciliation of differences over time that is vital for any relationship.

Intellectual compatibility is one of the many forms of compatibility that strengthen interpersonal relationships. According to relationship coach and expert, Jenna Ponaman, intellectual compatibility can mean two people being mentally stimulated by the conversations between them . This does not necessarily mean that both partners should have high IQ. It simply means that both partners are able to have engaging conversations. It is not exclusive to romantic relationships, which implies that two people can have intellectual compatibility without necessarily having a romantic connection. They can share insight and perspective in a mutually enlightening way and benefit from the exchange regardless of the relationship they share with each other. Nevertheless, intellectual compatibility can contribute to nurturing a romantic relationship, but its degree of impact is debatable.

A study on personality traits and mate selection comes close to exploring the link between intellectual compatibility and stability in marriage. The study conducted on 59 dating couples and 109 newlyweds found that intellect-openness was one of the most preferred qualities that people look for in a potential partner, which implies that intellectual compatibility is desired by individuals from a relationship. The study also inferred that it is one of the factors that lead to satisfaction in a marital relationship. However, the study also acknowledges that the correlation is not strong enough to make an absolute claim.

Another study relevant to the question is by K. Barton, and others that aims to understand the interrelationships among personality, motivation, and marriage variables and how they predict “real life” behavior in the context of the marriage situation. The study incorporates social-intellectual equality as one of the factors of marital role influencing marital satisfaction. It states that a higher coefficient of socio-intellectual equality with the spouses is associated with “higher frequency of doing something pleasing”. Also, the differences in socio-intellectual aspects negatively impacted their approach to child-rearing. The study found that if spouses differed in socio-intellectual aspects, it would lead to a tendency of experiencing high number of differences over child rearing. Since, child rearing is an important aspect of marriage, the results of the study lend support to the argument that intellectual compatibility affects stability in marriage.

Another interesting study by Gruber-Baldini and others was conducted on 169 couples over seven years to analyze the similarities in married couples. The study found that married couples tend to become similar in their intellectual capabilities, particularly verbal meaning and word fluency, over the years. An important point to note is that married couples studied were initially moderately positively correlated on intelligence scales. Another finding of the study was that couples who became more similar over time involved husbands in higher occupations and wives with fewer changes in profession. This suggests that while there may be correlation between longevity in marriage and growing similarity in intellectual capabilities, it would be reductive to infer that longevity is caused by intellectual similarity. In other words, there are other factors like the spouses’ occupational trajectory that seem to affect their marital stability and increase in similarities over the years. Intellectual capability could merely be one of the aspects of their personalities that become similar as a product of a stable marriage instead of it being the other way around.

Thus, it can be said that evidences suggesting intellectual compatibility to be essential for marriage are not strong enough. In fact, studies show that in times of conflict between partners, it is more important that one of the spouses are higher on intellectual capabilities. Conflict resolution is crucial to a peaceful marital life. Conflicts are an inevitable part of relationships and thus, the ability to peacefully resolve conflicts is essential. High instances of conflict between partners also tend to affect the upbringing of a child. The results of the study do not reject the importance of intellectual compatibility in resolving conflicts but it does seem to suggest that it may not be necessary for the same either. If one of the spouses has higher intellectual capabilities, it implies that resolving a conflict can be attributed to the abilities of that spouse rather than the intellectual compatibility between the two.

Thus, a stable marriage is able to hinge on the intellectual capacity of one spouse alone. Moreover, W. Barry states that conflicts in marriage are resolved amicably when the husband is higher on “personality strength”. This suggests that personalities of the spouses are also an important factor in conflict resolution and marital relationships. It also opens the doors to the idea of gender roles and how they impact the relationship. If it is supposed that the strong personality of the husband determines the amicability of conflict resolution process in marriage, it raises important questions about expectations of each partner from the other and whether those expectations align with the traditional gender roles or not.

A level of compatibility in terms of basic values is also considered an important factor . Basic values shape our belief system, and thus, differences in basic values cause differences in our core beliefs. A lack of agreement upon core values like what is wrong and what is right could indeed cause conflicts in marriage and further conflicts in the well-being of the child that is being brought up in the family. Intellectual compatibility, on the other hand, enhances the relationship by making things more interesting and instructive for both the partners as ideas are able to flow more smoothly between them. However, intellectual compatibility does not translate to similar basic values, which also determines the quality of marital life. In fact, if one spouse does not believe in intellectual compatibility as an essential factor, that itself could negate its significance in the marital relationship.

Hence, studies conducted so far and the opinion of psychologists and experts suggest that intellectual compatibility may be a determinant in choosing our partner and even nurture the marital relationship further. However, it may not be a significant factor for a fulfilling marital life. It is because conflict resolution is central to relationships, and intellectual compatibility has shown to not have a major impact on peaceful conflict resolution. Here lies the key aspect that makes marital relationships click: the ability to resolve conflicts. A good fight may not actually be very unhealthy! But it’s not only a good fight which can be the remedy, couples can find many different ways to resolve conflicts and hence create stable marriages.

However, intellectual compatibility, when seen at the meta level, does seem to matter in conflict resolution at an overall broader level. Affect is best seen as a direct, natural, automatic response to an event. It has a large influence on evaluation behavior, i.e. on the way we evaluate situations upfront. Affective states tend to lead to one-sided appraisals of situations. Moreover, these appraisals tend to be based on a high degree of subjectivity, rigidity and unwillingness to accept the other point of view. Intellect constitutes the understanding of reality and the ability to relate to abstract concepts like empathy, fairness and liberty. Although moral concepts are complex, such broad thinking helps individuals to develop capacity to judge situations based on deeper thinking leading to reasoned, rational evaluation behavior. Such behavior is objective, flexible and considerate towards the possible heterogeneity of circumstances that may lead to similar events. Thus, two individuals who may have heterogeneous worldviews or ascribe to different ideologies can still be considered intellectually compatible if we consider the commonality in their possessing the ability for reasoned, objective evaluation at the meta level. Such compatibility has tremendous repercussions on the ability for conflict resolution.

One observes stark heterogeneity in profiles of couples in stable marriages. 39 Conflict resolution seems to be the cornerstone of marital stability. But what does conflict resolution actually mean? John Gottman and Nan Silver, in The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work (TSPMMW), argue that there are more than one way of problem solving into which stable marriages can be classified. They name three specific typologies as validating, volatile and conflict avoiding. In brief, validating couples make regular compromises to resolve problems with mutual satisfaction. Validators, in the midst of disagreement, let their partners know that his or her emotions are justified, even if they themselves don’t agree with them. Volatile couples have passionate, heated disputes but tend to regain affection post their venting out. Volatile couples have big fights and equally big coming together. Conflict avoiding couples avoid confronting each other and take mutual differences in their stride demonstrating acceptance. Such conflict minimizers make light of their differences instead of resolving them. Hence, despite difference in approach, there seems to be coherence in outcomes. The typical intellectual compatibility literature is unable to describe this coherence which seems largely ascribable to compatibility at the meta level, as discussed above.

There finally seems to be a string which ties the different facets of this discussion together. Neither extremes seem to mirror reality. Like most clichés, the popular belief that opposites attract is overgeneralized. Attraction between opposites can sometimes be a sign of dysfunction. A relationship undergoes dysfunction when the ‘thermostat’ stops functioning thereby leading to stoppage of cognitive, emotional, and behavioral adjustment among partners. This does not naturally imply that relationships between opposites have to be dysfunctional. Similarly, relationships between like-minded partners are not necessarily guaranteed to be stable. Compatibility is not a fixed property and cannot be defined in binary states of all-or-nothing; rather, it is a continuum and evolves over time and can vary in a large range from incompatible to highly compatible.

Clearly, there are more fundamental personality attributes that make a couple compatible, and these seem to exist at a broader or the meta level, enabling two-way evolution of the relationship in a continuum, and acts like a thermostat in a marital relationship


There is no conclusive evidence for the extent of effect of intellectual compatibility on marital stability. As stated above, compatibility is a continuum on which the position of a couple changes as their maturity and ability to resolve conflicts changes. An important trait that matters is sharing of core values at the meta level, which informs their moral compass, and then having the ability to comprehend ideas, issues, and problems that arise in the course of ordinary life in a reasonable and thoughtful manner. While intellect is the tool that helps us develop capacity to judge situations based on deeper thinking leading to reasoned, rational evaluation behavior, such behavior is flexible towards the possible heterogeneity of circumstances. This means that two individuals subscribing to different core values can be intellectually compatible, which makes intellectual compatibility ineffective in conflict resolution unless is it accompanied by shared core values between the two parties.

Intellectual compatibility is rather the potential to share insight and perspective in a mutually enlightening way so that the exchange of ideas flows in two, not just one direction, and both parties benefit. However, for a stable marital relationship or better conflict resolution, it should be accompanied with other forms of behavioral compatibility in the relationship as well. A couple will be more compatible when the two parties are more disposed to managing disagreements rationally and talking things through rather than engaging in name-calling or other self-defeating and irrational tactics. Many relationship problems stem from such poor emotional and behavioral management skills.

Thus, functional compatibility can be improved through working on such coping skills within the context of the relationship. Somewhere in the middle lies the Aristotelian mean, which is the province of an authentic relationship. In this sort of relationship, the parties do not wear masks that hide their true thoughts or feelings. They feel comfortable disclosing to one another and are disposed to discreetly and considerately level with one another. Thus, expressing one’s dissatisfaction with the other’s words or deeds does not need to include finger-pointing, blaming, reprimanding, degrading, or punishing. Such ease of constructive communication is a core component of highly functionally compatible relationships. It is never perfect, but it avoids the extremes of dysfunctional, incompatible relationships, and intellectual compatibility is only a cherry on top.

Limitations of the study

Although research have come close to measuring the role of intellectual compatibility, the direct impact of intellectual compatibility on marital relationship cannot be gauged clearly from them. There are other socio-cultural factors and other behavioral patterns that affect relationship regardless of the intellectual compatibility. The analysis is therefore faced with many limitations. In order to find out the isolated impact of intellectual compatibility, other factors need to be kept stable or intellectual compatibility as a factor needs to be isolated from other factors. In the existing literature, intellectual compatibility finds little space suggesting that either it holds negligible significance as factor in stable marriages or its significance is yet to be explored and analyzed. However, psychologists have thrown some light on the topic of marital relationships that help us explore the question. Nevertheless, empirical data and research remains lacking on the topic, let alone one that contextualizes the argument in the age of information to incorporate factors like social media and hyper-connectivity.

Follow and connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Elets video

Eletsonline News

Follow us on

Most Popular

200000+ Subscribers read it every day.
Subscribe Newsletter
To Top