You have probably heard about perfectionism and its most common traits: attention to detail, strive for perfection, unrelenting standards, wanting to be prepared for all cases, struggling to make decisions, fear of failure, intolerance for mistakes, confused priorities, and generally the feeling that one can never rest because what one has done so far is not enough.
You probably think that this applies only to work or work-related tasks: where you are trying to be a better employee, a better manager, or a better student. However, if you have a perfectionist mindset, it’s hard to leave your personal life out of it. Hence, you see mothers and fathers struggling with parental burnout, because they feel they have to be the perfect parents, and the crippling feeling of guilt is haunting them and pushing them to perfectionism. Consequently, your relationships may be affected by this mentality and, unfortunately, they will stop being as fun as they used to be, if perfectionism prevails in them.
In order to understand perfectionism in relationships better, let’s focus on romantic relationships and the common beliefs or behaviours of someone who is a perfectionist in their relationship. Note: you don’t need to have all of the below-mentioned characteristics; these are some indicative traits, so that you can understand how perfectionism is expressed in your relationship with your partner.
You are expecting yourself to be a perfect partner
When you are expecting yourself to be a perfect partner:
- You want the "honeymoon" to last forever
- You try to please your partner and have their needs met all the time
- After a fight, you are worried that they will change their mind about you or that the relationship is falling apart
- You view conflict as a failure
- You work really hard to make the relationship work
- You place a lot of expectations and roles on yourself and you exhaust yourself trying to meet them
- You are hyper-vigilant, always looking for mistakes
- You maximise and overanalyse the significance of small setbacks in your relationship
- You have a lot of "shoulds" and "musts", rules and theories on "how to be a perfect partner"
- You are hiding your relationship issues, even from your close friends, trying to preserve the perfect facade
You are expecting your partner to be perfect
When you are expecting your partner to be perfect:
- You fall in love with an illusion, not the real person
- You expect them to know what you need without you having to tell them
- You believe that "If my partner were the right one, we wouldn't disagree so much"
- You get easily disappointed with your partner
- You always have one foot out of the door
- You want to do everything together
- You focus on how you will "fix" them, their habits and behaviours
- You cannot focus on the present moment and enjoy it
- You are strict and judgmental towards your partner's mistakes
- You don't allow them to take the lead or make decisions
- You don't like "negative" emotions in the relationship, and you try to keep a positive vibe at all costs
- You need a plan for the relationship
- You don't cope well with change and uncertainty
- You can't forgive them if they fail your expectations
As you can understand, a perfectionist is more easily disappointed in a relationship than others. If you are one, you probably don’t allow mistakes in the relationship, and if they happen, they mean more to you than what they actually mean to others. As a consequence, you usually feel that your partner is not good enough for you, and there is someone better out there. Or you decide to go your own way, compromising with the idea that it’s better to be by yourself. You view relationships as “too much work” and “there’s no point trying since no one will understand me”.
What to do instead
We know it’s hard to drop perfectionism and to not get disappointed at your partner when they don’t meet your expectations, but is this the kind of relationship you want to have with them? A relationship where you measure each other and you walk around with a (mental) checklist for you or your partner can be extremely exhausting and there is no room for love, fun and connection in there.
Find the roots
First, it’s useful to ask yourself where you have learned this. Perhaps it’s a mindset you “inherited” from your family, where your mother always wanted to have a clean house and be endorsed as the best cook in the neighbourhood, or you have watched your father pretend to his friends that everything in his life was perfect, even though you knew that wasn’t true. Therefore, try to separate their mindset and their values from yours. Now, it’s your turn and you want to be honest and transparent with your relationships and focus on the important, instead of what people will think.
Remind yourself of the cost of perfectionism
Since there is no such thing as perfection, it is highly possible that if you are looking for the perfect partner, you will keep looking for a long time. It’s painful to look behind and see all the disappointment you felt from your partners and all the goodbyes you had to say when you realised they were not perfect.
Even if you are still in a relationship with a partner, and you see them through the prism of perfectionism, it’s exhausting to change your mind about them all the time, to strictly judge them, to focus on their faults instead of their talents. It’s even sadder to realise only later that there were many beautiful moments, many opportunities for growth and many healthy and positive characteristics in your partner, but you missed them.
In this tiny moment where you feel disappointed with yourself as a partner or with your partner lies the chance to practice empathy, compassion, humility and understanding, instead of perfectionism. See them as another human being who is imperfect like all of us. Instead of disconnecting from them and starting to think that this is not a relationship that suits you, approach them with vulnerability and curiosity. Ask each other questions, explore possibilities, go deeper. It’s easy to label one person, but it’s more useful to try to understand the deeper truth of their behaviour.
Connect with your real needs
Perfection is not a real need. Perfectionism is how we cope for the need for safety. Is there any other way you can bring safety into the relationship? Are there any other needs that are more important here? To name a few: connection, trust, understanding, validation. These are the needs that you can never meet if you see others or yourself as imperfect because they make you take distance from others. But these things we need most.
Remind yourself of healthy relationship qualities
Healthy relationships practice acceptance, not perfectionism. There is a lot of trust, awareness, forgiveness, compassion, honesty, communication and, most importantly, a vulnerability in them. How liberating and wonderful relationships can be when accepting and imperfect!
Are you the perfectionist in your relationship? Share your experiences below!