Is your partner a perfectionist?

It may seem ideal to have a partner who is a perfectionist- one who aims for the highest standards in anything he or she does. However, partners of perfectionists do not always think so.

Not everyone who likes things done correctly and well is a perfectionist. Those who are non-relenting about achieving perfection in what they do and are unsatisfied with anything less than the best may be perfectionists.

Perfectionists tend to be orderly people, who are propelled by an inner drive to achieve the best possible results under any circumstance. They are highly disciplined, idealistic, precise and logical. They have personal standards from which they do not deviate, are ethical, reliable, fair, and wise. They often ascribe to high social, religious and civic principles, and take on leadership for causes.

Many perfectionists enrich our lives by their attentiveness to the highest standards and inspire us to help them improve the world. These noble preoccupations are most endearing. Yet, partners of perfectionists, as well as the driven improvers of the world themselves, encounter certain hardships.

Partners of perfectionists often talk of feeling imperfect, inadequate and criticized. Though perfectionists may not voice criticism, just by performing to such high standards, they intimidate their mates.

As can be imagined, the driven perfectionists are extremely hard on themselves. They expect themselves to be flawless, and are harsh in their self-criticism. Their internal dialogue in their heads is akin to an abusive slave driver. Their partners watch with frustrations as their highly

demanding partners get annoyed with themselves. The level of anxiety and frustration is very high for individuals whose attitude is that “nothing is ever good enough”.

Observing frustration, anger and self-rebuke in their mates, partners of perfectionists become discouraged as well. They do not know how to reassure their mates that “the enemy of good is better” and that aiming higher and higher sometimes leads to catastrophic results. It is also not
easy to persuade a person, who is driven for the highest level of performance, that there may be an acceptable level of “good enough”. Perfectionists angrily rebuff these notions.

For some perfectionists the burden of being the only driven people becomes unbearable. They may resort to lashing out in anger against those whose standards are more relaxed. Mates who become the target of this anger feel defeated in their hopes for approval, validation and a less stressed relationship.

The rigidity of adhering to their ideals, make perfectionists unable to change their opinions. They are persuaded that they know what is right and what is wrong and deal with these as unaltered absolutes. They may feel a personal affront if someone disobeys laws or violates any standard of conduct. Since being wrong means being imperfect, it is intolerable for perfectionists. They may respond by being argumentative, critical and uncompromising. Obviously, these ways may be difficult for their partners to handle.

What partners of perfectionists need to understand is that their mates are very good, moral, and highly driven people who seek to be the best they can be. Their irritability, criticism, rigidity and stubbornness are all ways to maintain their sanity, not to frustrate their loved ones.

Perfectionists believe that their value lies in improving the world. They also falsely believe that unless they do so, they will not be respected and loved. With these basic erroneous assumptions, the thrust to do things exceptionally well, be right and “good”, become so compelling that they overshadow many other endearing traits they have.

What is helpful to perfectionists is to be affirmed for what they do, be reassured that they are loved for who they are, not for how well they do things, be valued for their advice and be responded to with acceptance – so that they can begin to accept themselves. Perfectionists also need to be listened to and gently coaxed to be lighter with themselves and others. Some perfectionists may benefit from anxiety reducing medications.

If you are a partner of a perfectionist:

  • Be empathic about your mate’s inner critical voice, which propels him or her toward perfection.
  • Model greater lightness about your own errors.
  • If you encounter criticism from your mate, realize that most often it is a reflection of his or her own self-blame.
  • The anxiety the perfectionist feels is in reaction to intolerable, non-remitting demands your spouse has of himself. It may be alleviated with anti-anxiety medication.
  • Delight in your partner’s wholesome attributes, they are many.

If you are the perfectionist:

  • Understand that your driven ways contribute to ongoing frustrations with yourself and others.
  • Avoid using the words “I should” “I have to” “I must”. Replace them with; “I want” “I am choosing to” “I look forward to”.
  • Make sure to spend some time every day doing pleasurable activities.
  • Practice relaxation techniques: yoga, meditation, and stress reduction methods.

® Add more humor to your life: jokes, comedy, or amusing observations about life.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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