The Toll Perfectionism Takes in Relationships
Being in a relationship with a perfectionist can feel challenging. Someone who is a perfectionist constantly strives to be seen as flawless. They may be very critical of themselves and overly concerned with how others see them. Getting stuck in this way of thinking and ultra-high expectations can negatively impact both the person and their relationships on a day to day basis.
Partners of a perfectionist may feel pressure to perform in similar ways. They may also feel disconnected from their partner when he or she is consumed with rigid thinking. Here are just a few other ways perfectionism can impact relationships:
Perfectionists create a narrative for themselves that they are worthy of love only when they perform well. Love is experienced as something that is earned or won and not a basic human right. This can make it difficult for someone to experience intimacy with their perfectionist partner.
Perfectionists may avoid talking about their insecurities and disappointments with others, even to those with whom they are closest. Feedback or a challenging opinion can result in a perfectionist feeling rejected, unworthy or disconnected. This makes it difficult for partners of perfectionists to share hurt feelings, suggestions, or even uncomfortable opinions. In addition, a perfectionist may react strongly (i.e., yelling, stonewalling, blaming, etc…), which can be intimidating and unpleasant for their partner.
To avoid those kinds of painful moments in the relationship, the partner of a perfectionist might find themselves sharing less and less of their emotional experiences, holding back on sharing opinions, and harboring resentments. Naturally, this greatly limits emotional intimacy in a partnership and limits the potential for growth in both partners.
Casting blame and making comparisons
While perfectionists desire success, they are most focused on avoiding failure. This orientation towards something negative happens both with problems they face and extends into how they approach relationship issues. Feeling threatened about real or perceived failures results in perfectionists having a hard time taking personal accountability for problems or mis-steps. To feel worthy and successful, they may project unpleasant emotions and/or qualities within themselves onto their partners. In addition, it is not uncommon for perfectionists to rely on comparison and micromanaging to pressure their partners into performing higher and achieving more to protect their own self-image.
Highly critical interactions between partners
When a perfectionist has lived with a critical inner voice for much of their lives, constantly evaluating themselves, it is understandable that they can also become critical of their partner. People can only relate as well to others as they relate to themselves. It is as if the perfectionist genuinely lacks the tools needed to sustain intimate connection that is not rooted in trying to change or improve self and others.
So what can you do if you find yourself in a relationship with a perfectionist? Some helpful things partners can do when in a relationship with a perfectionist include:
● Recognize that a perfectionist may be blaming or critical in an attempt to avoid pain and low feelings of self-worth.
● Approach your partner with curiosity to better understand their expereinces and fears.
● Encourage your partner to seek out support to challenge and replace their negative self-talk with more adaptive ways of seeing situations.
● Establish healthy boundaries for yourself and let the perfectionist know that you will not tolerate being blamed, criticized, or belittled.
● Help your partner to heal and grow by supporting them to take risks (emotional or otherwise) so that they can embrace vulnerability rather than avoiding it.