Why Intuition Trumps Reason In The Search For Love
Do you listen to your heart more than your mind? Research reveals which one is more trustworthy in matters of love.
By Mark Travers, Ph.D. | January 23, 2024
Many people come to therapy with hopes of working through a barrier they are experiencing in their love life. These barriers take many forms. It could be:
- A recurring problem you're facing in your relationship
- An attempt to make sense of a breakup
- A problem with commitment
- A nagging feeling that you'll never find a partner or experience true love
Whatever the symptom might be, such issues can often be traced back to a single source: not paying enough attention to your intuition when making decisions regarding love and relationships. Sometimes, we push our intuition aside in favor of what we feel we ought to do, or are expected to do, in relationships. In some cases, we've ignored our intuition for so long that we're out of touch with our true wants and needs.
Here's a psychologist's take on why you should always give your intuition the seat at the head of the table when making important relationship decisions, and an evidence-based method to make sure that you are.
Letting Intuition Guide Your Romantic Journey
Intuition is one of our brain's true superpowers—think of it as a summation of everything you've ever learned in your life delivered as a feeling. This feeling keeps us safe when we sense danger, it guides us to pursue friendships that make us happy, it steers us toward careers that bring us fulfillment and, when we listen to it, it helps us navigate the complexities of love.
The beauty of intuition is that it's easily accessible and always ready to help. This runs in opposition to calculated thinking and reasoning, which is laborious, time-intensive and prone to mistakes. Here's a hypothetical relationship scenario and how it might be addressed by intuitive versus calculated reasoning.
Imagine Mike is in a serious relationship with Janie. They live together, both are advancing in their careers and they sense that marriage might be on the horizon. Their relationship isn't perfect and has had its share of ups and downs. But, so far, they've been able to weather the storms together. Mike is thinking about proposing to Janie but isn't yet 100% committed to the idea.
How should Mike proceed? Well, the paths are different depending on which style of thinking Mike chooses to call upon. Here's how this might play out.
- If Mike relies on intuition: Mike understands that no relationship is perfect and that all partnerships come with their pros and cons and ups and downs. But, in general, he feels like the idea of marrying Janie is worth pursuing. So, for a period of time—perhaps a few months—he monitors his gut feeling on the idea of marriage. As time passes, he realizes his feelings towards marrying Janie are more positive than negative, so he decides to propose.
- If Mike relies on reasoning: Mike attempts to quantify all of the positive and negative aspects of marrying Janie. He thinks about how old he is and whether it's time to get married. He thinks about whether his family approves of his decision. He asks his closest friends for their advice. He questions how this decision will impact him financially. He ponders if there might be someone out there that's a better match for him than Janie. He assesses Janie's strengths and weaknesses. Then, combining all of this information, he arrives at a decision.
When making big decisions on complicated and largely unquantifiable matters, like those of love, it's generally better to follow your intuition. Why? Your intuition has likely already worked through all of the "data" you might draw upon when trying to calculate your way to an answer—and it's less prone to errors (say, overvaluing one minor aspect in the overall picture of love).
How To Make Decisions That Align With Your Intuition
Here's one scientific way to know if you're relying more on intuition or calculated reasoning when making big decisions. Consider the following items from the rational and intuitive decision styles scale, authored by Pennsylvania State University's Katherine Hamilton and her colleagues. Ask yourself how much you agree/disagree with each statement.
- I prefer to gather all the necessary information before committing to a decision.
- I thoroughly evaluate decision alternatives before making a final choice.
- In decision making, I take time to contemplate the pros/cons or risks/benefits of a situation.
- Investigating the facts is an important part of my decision-making process.
- I weigh a number of different factors when making decisions.
- When making decisions, I rely mainly on my gut feelings.
- My initial hunch about decisions is generally what I follow.
- I make decisions based on intuition.
- I rely on my first impressions when making decisions.
- I weigh feelings more than analysis in making decisions.
Reflect upon which side of the rational versus intuitive coin you land on, and use that insight as you think about your romantic journey—past, present, and future.
Matters of love and relationships are always complicated, and it's your intuition that thrives on complicated problems. Leave the easy stuff, like balancing your checkbook, to your powers of calculation. For life's hardest problems, trust your gut.
Unsure how your powers of intuition stack up against others? Take the Intuitive Decision Style Scale to find out: Intuitive Decision Style Scale
A similar version of this article can also be found on Forbes.com, here.