4 Ways Perfectionism Manifests in a Relationship—and How to Overcome Them

26 Aug

How can something like 'perfectionism' damage your romantic prospects—and what you can do about them.

Photo of a young couple in love omitting perfectionism.

When we’re in those first heady days of a relationship, it’s totally normal to view every moment you’re together through rose-tinted glasses and perfectionism. They’re warm, they’re funny, and they get on with your friends like a house on fire. It’s overwhelming, intense, all-consuming. It’s bliss.

But then tiny, almost innocuous annoyances creep in. They leave the bed unmade every day even though they don’t leave for work until 12—ah, no big deal. They act completely differently with you when their friends are there—ah, they’re just nervous. The two of you have a weird blazing row over who’s footing the bill at dinner—hmm. Okay, so maybe everything isn’t perfect. But that’s normal—right?

Well, yes. Imperfection is the norm. But if you’re the kind of person actively seeking perfectionism, that’s another matter. Because if you’ve assimilated unrealistic and even crippling expectations of your partner and the relationship, you’re damning it to failure from day one. And in our hypermodern culture of romantic stick-or-twist and Tinder swipes, materialism is promoted above the more traditional romantic approach of getting to know someone organically. According to a 2017 study, this is leading to an exacerbation of competition, anxiety, and expectations.

But breaking the cycle isn’t easy in such a landscape. Where do you draw the line between accepting someone’s flaws and realising this romance just doesn’t have legs? To what extent is it okay to think, Well, there could be someone even better just a single swipe away? And how many times can you end a relationship before reflecting on the fact that maybe there’s more to this trend than meets the eye? Today, we explore four ways perfectionism can damage your romantic prospects—and what you can do about them.

1) Misjudging the honeymoon period

In his 1978 book A Road Less Traveled, psychiatrist M. Scott Peck describes falling in love as a temporary collapse of ego boundaries. He asserted that the early stages of the process can lead to the formation of co-dependency rather than individual growth. Because the honeymoon period is fun; it’s breathtaking, and exhilarating. And it’s addictive—so when it inevitably wanes, the temptation to find it again can be palpable—even if that means finding it with someone else. And this time, thinks the perfectionist, maybe—just maybe—that intoxicating romance will last forever.

But the sensation of falling in love isn’t the same as being in love. So when you have a good grasp on how the honeymoon period actually works, you can better prepare to foster behaviours that express seemingly unconditional love for your partner. Then once the dizzying highs start to plateau you can begin building the relationship proper—and not on expectations of perfectionism, but on those of authenticity and understanding.

2. Misconstruing conflict as failure

Perfectionists tend to see any and all disagreements as inherently wrong, worrying, or symbolic of more profound problems within their relationship. Oftentimes they must reframe this conception to see conflict merely as the intersection of two viewpoints. As much as the two of you are remarkably similar, you’ll still have dramatically divergent opinions, outlooks, and worldviews—and they certainly won’t always agree, or even meld. And that’s fine. Conflict is unhealthy only when one or both of you dig your heels in and refuse to see any other perspective, or even attempt to understand it. And when you factor in sex, passion, and the intense stream of emotions coursing between you, the conflict’s explosiveness is understandable.

But as long as both of you work to better your communication and be more amenable and malleable in your points of view, the tension should hopefully dissipate over time, and you’ll be able to tackle conflict healthily and (mainly) free of judgement. Only when this dynamic doesn’t improve does it suggest there really is some incompatibility here.

3. Projection

Simply put, the perfectionist’s conception of the ideal relationship contains three elements: the perfect ‘you’, the perfect ‘them’, and the perfect ‘us’. The interconnections between the three are complex, and mean that when the perfectionist places high expectations on the ‘you’, they’re also projecting their ideals onto the ‘them’. If these ideals aren’t met, their entire conception of the ‘us’ falls apart.

One way of addressing this is considering your frustration and disappointment with your partner or the relationship, and asking yourself: was their behaviour really that bad? Is this really not worth fighting for? Reflect on the extent to which it’s your expectations that are actually the root of the unrest, and make adjustments accordingly as best you can.

4. Buying the fallacy of ‘shared interests’

Another trait of romantic perfectionism is the belief you must share a huge number of your interests with our partner. This isn’t the same as having things in common, because it starts to broach territory such as worrying about your lack of mutual hobbies, interests, and pursuits. Independence is a key element of any healthy and functioning relationship, and a certain divergence in your respective pastimes is actually good for the relationship. By supporting your partner in their projects and cheering them on from the sidelines—and reasonably expecting them to do the same for you—you signal your emotional dedication while respecting their space and showing that you’re not overly co-dependent because you also have your own life to lead.

The ‘perfect relationship’ doesn’t exist—and that’s fine

Once you accept and understand your relationship will have its trials and tribulations, be punctuated by periods of turbulence, and cause you a modicum of emotional strife over its course, you’re far better positioned to see your partner’s and the relationship’s perceived imperfections as part of life—or even to be cherished—because they contribute to the uniqueness of your romance. Invest less in the concept of your relationship, and your actual relationship will blossom unendingly. And if you’re looking for love but need advice to overcome your own perfectionism tendencies, we can help.

The Vida Consultancy is an elite, multi-award-winning international dating agency, whose global network boasts some of the world’s most impressive singletons, every one of them ready to settle down with that special someone. Get in touch today, and get ready to meet that one person who complements, appreciates, and loves you more than you ever thought possible.

by Rachel Vida MacLynn

Founder & CEO

Rachel Vida MacLynn is reputed as being a world-leading matchmaking and dating expert. Registered as a Chartered Psychologist with the British Psychological Society, Rachel advocates a professional matchmaking approach based on psychological principles and professional consultation.More by this author

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