If you identify as a perfectionist, you are likely aware of the many negative effects that perfectionist tendencies have on your life, like the incessant inner critic, difficulty celebrating successes, overworking, avoidance of trying new things, and ultimately the lack of joy or fun it can inflict on your life. Perfectionism is the idea that if we look perfect, act perfect, and live perfectly that we will protect ourselves from shame, blame, and/or judgment from others. The problem is that perfectionism acts as a shield, blocking one from living an authentic and satisfying life, especially in one’s romantic relationships.
It’s normal to have a list of desirable qualities you are hoping to find in a romantic partner, although perfectionists will extend unrealistic expectations and standards they have for themselves onto their partners. Perfectionists are highly concerned and disappointed over mistakes, critical towards themselves and others, and are more reactive than others. As you can imagine, trying to manage your partner in this way sets the relationships up for failure, disappointment, and conflict.
Let’s talk about how to recognize the ways perfectionism can show up in your relationships and how to keep it from sabotaging them.
Signs of Perfectionism in Relationships
- You fall in love with the fantasy of who they could be versus who they actually are
- You don’t allow them to take the lead or make decisions
- You don’t forgive easily if they fail to meet your expectations or rules
- You hyper focus on what they need to improve on
- You are easily disappointed when things don’t go as you imagined
- You frequently wonder if there is someone better for you out there
- You expect your partner to know how to meet your needs without telling them
Let’s go over some examples of how this can sabotage your relationships.
Perfectionists have a hard time adjusting and coping with their emotions when things don’t go according to plan or according to a certain idea they have in their minds. Perfectionists tend to not account for unexpected changes, obstacles, or human error. As you can imagine, this takes a person out of the present moment and it becomes very difficult for them to enjoy what’s going on due to them ruminating on the fact that their plans did not go as expected. This may cause their partner to feel frustrated or distance themselves.
Black and White Thinking
Perfectionists tend to ruminate about the little things going wrong and this changes the way they think about a situation and life experiences. Minor mishaps are magnified, turned into beliefs of failure, and warp the individual’s perception of the event/experience. One tiny thing not going according to plan, or one mistake your partner makes can turn a perfectionists’ entire mood and outlook upside down. The inability to bounce back and gain perspective on a situation creates tension and resentment in relationships.
Falling for the Fantasy
Perfectionists often don’t consider if their self imposed standards are ones their partner shares. It’s likely that they are not. Encouraging or supporting your partner in their growth is one thing, but expecting or demanding your partner to change to fit your ideal is another. Everyone wants to feel accepted and good enough by the person they are with. Perfectionists constantly feel let down by their partners and this creates distance, resentment, and negativity in the relationship.
As you can see, perfectionists take on a controlling role in their relationships. Perfectionists think they need to behave in these ways to reach their idea of what a “perfect” relationship looks like, but these are the very behaviors that sabotage them reaching any semblance of that vision. If you are relating to this article it may be helpful to consider how you have received feedback from partners on your behavior. Did you become resistant or defensive to it? Perfectionists often have blind spots that prevent them from seeing how their behaviors are harming themselves and others. Consider what would happen if you allowed your partner to feel heard when they’re expressing how these behaviors are negatively impacting them and the relationship, rather than becoming defensive.
Erica Basso is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist practicing statewide in California. She helps guide women in overcoming anxiety, perfectionism, and imposter syndrome. To learn more about working with her, visit www.ericabassotherapy.com.