Most people are aware that perfection cannot be expected, or even aspired to in relationships. Yet, for many, the desire for ongoing true happiness in their love connection is an unending quest.
“I am not really happy in my relationship” is a common complaint of people entering marital counseling. What does “really” mean? Somewhat happy – but not consistently, moderately happy – but not ecstatic, missing some essential elements for contentment, or yearning for a yet unattained nirvana? Obviously, it varies from person to person, but most commonly it boils down to a discrepancy between one’s ideal and practical state of being in an intimate relationship with his/her partner.
The “happily ever after” myth about love and marriage that was introduced to us in fairy tales, movies and stories since childhood has helped set the stage for subconscious expectations about adult committed love. These tales often underscore the importance of just finding the right mate and blissful existence is assured. Though this formula is clearly fictitious, it does become part of our set of expectations as we mature.
Once in a committed relationship, time and life awakens us into the sobering reality of the less than blissful daily existence. What remains is identifying the culprit for the unattained expectation and changing him/her so that bliss will reign.
Striving for excellence and perfection is a highly promoted attribute in western culture. Stefano Pallanti, M.D. reviewing the book “Perfectionism: Theory, Research and Treatment” states, “Perfectionism, the striving for flawlessness, can sometimes be a source of subjective strength enabling the achievement of terrific goals.” Yet, he concludes, maladaptive perfectionism is associated with a variety of affective disorders.
It is not maladaptive to make every effort to establish the best relationship every couple can have. It is harmful to expect flawless interactions and consistent euphoria between mates.
Healthy perfectionists are attracted to the flaws in life in order to remediate the world. They have assigned to themselves the highest standards to be met in their conduct and execution of each task, which is an overwhelmingly demanding undertaking. Choosing to do so in a relationship can become a cause for weakening the bond they wish to strengthen.
Gravitating to identifying the blemished areas in relationship can easily sour one and cause a less than happy atmosphere between the mates. Partners often perceive the ongoing efforts at “improving” the relationship as chronic criticism and may become disenchanted and defeated at pleasing their perfectionistic mate.
If you have a tendency to want to perfect your relationship,
• Realize that perfection in personal goals may be a motivating power for you, but is a defeating undertaking in relationships.
• Rather than perfecting your relationship, underscore what works well for you as you ask your partner for his/her cooperation in attending to your unmet needs.
• Abstain from trying to improve, change or help your mate be more whole. Your partner is a wonderful being as he/she is and may take unkindly to the idea of needing to be “repaired”.
• Train yourself to observe, record and verbalize the positive and well functioning aspects in your relationship.
• Consistently praise your mate. It will help you balance your view of your union.
If your are a partner of a perfectionist,
• Understand that your mate’s urge to improve your relationship is not a reflection of your imperfection, it is an internal mission he/she has for a more wholesome world.
• Frequently highlight to your mate what pleases you about him/her and the relationship.
• Be as happy and appreciative of what you do receive as you can and voice your satisfaction often.
• Abstain from calling your partner a “perfectionist” and modulate your tone of distress about his/ her ways.
• Value your mate for his/her high personal standards and the positive intent in getting your relationship to thrive.