How to overcome perfectionism in your relationship: 5 ways
What is Perfectionism in Psychology
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. 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.
How Perfectionism Affects Relationships
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”.
In order to understand perfectionism in relationships better, let’s focus on 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 features; these are some indicative traits, so that you can understand how perfectionism is expressed in your relationship with your partner.
Perfectionism Test For Relationships
When you are expecting yourself to be a perfect partner:
When you are expecting your partner to be perfect:
How To Overcome Perfectionism in Relationships
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.
1. 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.
It is extremely useful also to find what is your attachement style and what is your partner's. Perfectionism is related to our attachment style and how we cope with vulnerable feelings, with fears and with rejection.
2. 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.
3. Practice acceptance
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. Practicing acceptance will bring you closer and make you happier.
Ask each other questions, explore possibilities, go deeper. It’s easy to label one person as "wrong", but it’s more useful to try to understand the deeper truth of their behaviour.
4. 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.
5. 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!
You are not alone
Perfectionism is one of the most common conversations in individuals and couples in the therapy room. The perfectionistic mindset where we think that we need to master in everything we do and in the people we choose is more prevalent than you think. But it also leads to a lot of anxiety, depression, loneliness, divorces.
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