Perfectionism in an Intimate Relationship

An individual’s inability to accept anything less than what he or she perceives as perfect in a partner can lead to huge difficulties in an intimate relationship. While most of us learn to live with and ultimately love those annoying, sometimes endearing little habits we discover in our partners (as well as ourselves), it’s a perfectionist’s inability to do just that causes problems. Their unrealistic and unreasonable expectations of a partner can make it almost impossible for them to cohabit happily with anyone who doesn’t live up to their ideal. Furthermore, it’s not just an individual who has to meet the unrealistic expectations of a perfectionist; the relationship itself will be under the perfectionist’s constant scrutiny to see where it’s failing to meet the impossibly high standards of his or her relationship prototype.

While perfectionism in an individual may produce outstanding results in his or her professional life, in an intimate relationship it rarely has the same effect. In order for a relationship to succeed, both parties have to feel accepted and loved for the person they are. They need to know that their relationship is a safe haven to which they can retreat when they feel the world doesn’t understand them. A relationship with a perfectionist fails to provide this sanctuary and instead becomes a battlefield, as a perfectionist’s partner has to continually defend him- or herself against constant criticism and over-bearing behavior.

It’s not only perfectionism in others that a perfectionist strives to achieve; he or she very often demands it of him- or herself. It’s this constant striving that motivates the perfectionist, and is, ultimately, his or her undoing, often leading to the destruction of an otherwise good relationship. The ironic aspect of perfectionism in a relationship, however, is that it usually leaves both parties extremely dissatisfied: not only is the perfectionist’s partner left feeling hurt and angry when criticized, but the perfectionist’s criticism of his or her partner seems only to magnify the problems he or she sees in the relationship.

Researchers have identified three types of perfectionist: self-oriented perfectionists expect perfection of themselves; other-oriented perfectionists demand perfection from others; and socially prescribed perfectionists believe others expect perfection from them. There is sometimes an overlap of these types in an individual.

Other-oriented perfectionism can involve high expectations from parents of their children, or extreme criticism of a spouse or significant other. It’s this type of perfectionism that’s responsible for low marital satisfaction and other relationship difficulties.

Research has shown that one of the main contributing factors to happiness in a relationship is realistic expectations. Anyone who is having problems accepting their partner should try to concentrate on the positive areas of their relationship, such as chemistry, companionship, compatibility, and affection, rather than what they see as their partner’s negative traits. It’s also important for a perfectionist to learn to respect their partner’s rights in a relationship. While a perfectionist may exclaim that their controlling behavior and constant criticism is solely for their partner’s benefit, they should try to understand how this behavior is being interpreted by their significant other.

In order to overcome perfectionism, an individual needs to accept him- or herself as a human being and learn to forgive the mistakes they make, or have made, in life. While it’s important that a perfectionist enjoys success and achievement with a healthy self-pride and eliminates the need for any self-deprecation, it’s an irrational belief held by a perfectionist that it is unacceptable to make a mistake or that they have no value in life unless they’re successful. The perfectionist needs to learn to believe that they deserve good things, and to free themselves of moralistic judgments of their performance and other’s behavior. What’s most important is that the perfectionist — and his or her intimate relationship — is going in a positive direction.

Having some difficulties with an important relationship to you? Give Love Coach Line a call at 1-800-639-3396, toll free Canada and the USA. Live, professional love coaches, relationship counselors and marriage advisors available 24/7.

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