Is Perfectionism Damaging to Intimate Relationships?

We have all met perfectionists. They are those people who have an inability to accept anything less than what he/she perceives as perfect. If you have ever been in an intimate relationship with such a person, then you likely know that perfectionists can be difficult to live with, especially if the perfectionism starts to be applied to the relationship.

It is not uncommon for psychics to deal with clients who are having difficulty with ‘perfectionism’ in a relationship. From a psychic perspective, perfectionism is a state of mind. It is a highly focused state of mind. An experienced psychic once said that dealing with perfectionism in relationships is difficult because ‘perfectionism’ is the problem, the people in the relationship most often are fine. People in a loving relationship likely will get along wonderfully except for when the desire to ‘make it perfect’ appears. Love is perfect, no perfectionism required. If one or the other partner doesn’t love themselves (because they aren’t perfect, yet) then they often miss the point of love. Love involves embracing both your partners goodness and their flaws and imperfections.

The origin of the terms ‘perfectionist’ and ‘perfectionism’ is murky at best. The word seems to have come into use in the 17th century and was related to seeking to be perfect in the eyes of God while on earth. That’s a pretty tall order. There’s nothing wrong with seeking perfection. Unfortunately, there is an underlying notion that perfection can be defined by written details that apply to all. Both online and offline you can find an abundance of psychological studies of perfectionism; psychoanalysts who likely make piles of money helping people deal perfectionism in one way or another; and innumerable books on the topic. However you choose to explore perfectionism (or choose to deal with it) it always comes back to wanting to be perfect, find perfection and/or create perfection.

At issue here is the question: ‘Is perfectionism damaging to intimate relationships?’. Our answer here is ‘yes’, especially if one is talking about contemporary perfectionism where endless details and preconceptions about what is ‘perfect’ is involved. If perfectionism is something you are dealing with in yourself, or in a partner, below are a few humble thoughts on the subject based on years of personal experience. The observations may or may not be of help, but if you have read this far, you do deserve some concrete suggestions about dealing with it.

Perfectionism is an equal opportunity state of mind: It cuts across are ethic, class, gender and cultural boundaries. You can find perfectionists nearly everywhere. You can find it throughout history. In and of itself, seeking perfection is neither good nor bad. Likewise, there is nothing good nor bad about being a perfectionist. Seeking to paint the perfect picture or write the perfect novel or be the best in a sport or in a profession, these are all wonderful pursuits. A touch of perfectionism may be required, but only if the perfection you’re striving for is excellence.

Perfection and excellence are sometimes used interchangeably. One way to think about the difference between ‘perfection’ and ‘excellence’ is that perfection is often definable before it is achieved, excellence is often indefinable until it occurs. The drive to do it right, to get it right, to be ‘right’. That is perfectly understandable. What the perfectionist state of mind does not recognize is that there are place where it should not tread. You can excel in your relationships, you will never achieve absolute perfection. If you are lucky you will have perfect moments that usually come when you have been doing the best you can making the relationship work (which is most excellent).

Love wants what love wants. We connect with someone, a relationship develops, if all the right elements are present, then a long term relationship will flower. If you are fortunate, and do the best you can, you will have perfect moments. Perfectionism is different. Allowing the perfectionist state of mind to direct you in a relationship is likely to lead to such statements as, "he’s not as tall as I’d like", or, "she not as pretty as I thought", or, "if only he came from a better background", or, "it’s too bad she is not as educated as she should be". These sentiments can only be hurtful, and unnecessary. Who wants to be compared to some ideal? Superman is only in comics for a reason. The woman of your dreams was is only in your dreams (or a movie) for a reason – in real life all women have flaws, just like all men. People who are unworthy of a beautiful, loving partner won’t ever have one. It’s a fact. If you have a caring, loving, supportive partner, then you deserve it, whether you think so or not. Accept it. You’ll be a better person if you do. Love wants what love wants, the rules are spiritual, not scientific and not within the ideals of others.

There is a difference between having high standards, values, and being a perfectionist. You should have standards. You should not accept abuse, tolerate lying, allow someone to steal from you and so forth. You should value kindness, respect, honesty. An intimate relationship with a partner who does not legitimately share those values with likely never work out over time. High standards and values are good. Perfectionism arises in the petty details of what would be ‘ideal’. It would be ideal if someone was ALWAYS kind (people sometimes have bad days). It would be ideal if your partner matched every physical detail of the perfect man/woman in your head (and had perfect manners/haircut/clothes/attitude/pets/mother/father/job/education/… the list can go on forever with idealism). Which means the perfectionist can go on forever finding flaws. Fight to keep your standards, be very careful about the details. The perfectionist state of mind will always try and burden you with details of what is or is not ideal. Besides, many of those details may change with experience and age.

If you are a perfectionist, allow me to share something with you. An angel thought once came to me: "Never be a perfectionist to the point of failure". This thought has served me well. There is also a quote in the ancient Chinese scripture Tao Te Ching, "better to stop short and avoid disaster". Don’t overfill a cup of tea or bucket of water; don’t see how far you can go to the edge of a cliff; don’t try and lift all the weight of the world all at once. Test the boundaries, yes. But, do it with humility (so tomorrow you can test them again). When working towards that perfect song, piece of programming, painting, novel, project at work, do all you can do the best you can, then let it go. Call it done. Succeed. Finish. Get something done. When you do that then the real insights into perfection can come to you. Those insights can only come when you finish something, stop, let it go, wait and watch. Sure as sunrise, your next opportunity to try your hand at perfection will come.

Perfectionism can have it’s place. Especially if it paired with the drive to excel at something. Perfectionism, of itself, is totally out of place in a love relationship. Seeking to do the right thing for your partner. Striving to be the best partner you can be. These are worthy goals. It is just that there is no set of rules about how to do this. Each relationship is unique.

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Each couple is unique. What may have seemed perfect in one relationship may be misplaced in another. Because love is about learning about your partner (and about yourself) there cannot be a predetermined ‘perfect’ that you strive towards. Yes, you can wish to emulate the best qualities which you see in other relationships, but HOW you achieve that may require learning and adaptation. The desire to excel in a relationship is wonderful, but let love show the way, not preconceived ideas of perfection.

Hopefully, these reflections and observations on perfectionism will be of value to you. It is not a perfect article, but it is finished. Here’s to keeping that pesky perfectionism in it’s place. As I heard it once said, "that in it’s place in good, that out of place is the trouble".

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