While there is no doubt that striving to be your personal best and feeling good about your efforts is healthy as well as relationship enhancing – perfectionism is something else.
Perfectionism is the belief that a state of completeness and flawlessness can and should be attained. The literature on perfectionism underscores that there is an important difference between adaptive and maladaptive perfectionism. It is a difference worth considering.
This is the woman who can’t invite friends for dinner because she demands that she cook complicated gourmet recipes and fears failure.
This is the partner who avoids sexuality because she is not yet the perfect weight.
This is the man who can never enjoy a family vacation because nothing is ever perfect – the way he planned it would be.
They never buy dining room furniture – the perfect set can never be found.
She never goes back to school because she fears she will not be at the top of her class.
Partners Can Help Each Other
Given that both partners suffer in a relationship colored by maladaptive perfectionism, it is crucial to consider ways that partners may work together on recognizing the pattern, utilizing couple self-help strategies and seeking professional help if needed.
Just reading the definitions above may be an important first step in identification of a pattern.
Create a Secure Attachment
There has been considerable evidence that the way we relate to our partner, regulate are feelings, perceive ourselves in the eyes of others and maintain a secure sense of self is related to our earliest attachment bonds.
It is particularly interesting that studies have found a relationship between early attachment patterns and perfectionism.
Adaptive perfectionism is associated with secure parental attachments, promotion of self-soothing and positive self-esteem. Maladaptive perfectionism is associated with insecure attachments with high parental criticism, attachment anxiety and avoidance.
Couple relationships can replay or replace early attachment patterns. As such they can exacerbate the maladaptive need to be perfect with critique, competitive demands and unrealistic expectations or offer an attachment pattern that facilitates healthy striving and affirming choices.
If you recognize that maladaptive perfectionism is something that is interfering with the happiness between you two – and agree to work together – it may reduce blame and double chances of success.
You can build a secure attachment as you work together using some techniques for reducing perfectionism.
Lower anxiety by recognizing that addressing perfectionism does not equate to accepting mediocrity – it equates to striving without suffering.
Agree to risk trying just a few new things. Agree to risk making mistakes together.
Support each other to increase self-acceptance vs. perfectionism.
“ I want you to know that no matter what you say I know how smart my wife is.”
Be generous with compliments, be honest if you feel criticized.
Rigid beliefs drive perfectionism. Talk together about “all or none” beliefs. Work on replacing the belief with a more flexible one. Act on the new one together.
Clarify expectations – Whose Are They?
Strengthen Your Caregiving Bond
Giving or receiving care from each other in big and little ways, strengthens a secure attachment, improves the sense of feeling safe and valued and reduces the desperate need to be perfect in order to be loved. It makes the really important things possible…
“The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself.”
Slender woman photo available from Shutterstock.
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Last reviewed: 11 Apr 2012