My client sat across from me, her arms crossed tight over her chest, tears spilling over and down her face.

“It doesn’t matter what I do…it’s never good enough! I try my best, do what people ask, put my own needs aside…and it’s never good enough. At work, at home, with my partner, with my kids…I’m tired of never being good enough.”

This client was telling the truth about her effort level, and struggling with the demands of work, family and a relationship with a partner with mental illness that was not going well. This is a common problem among people who seek counseling services: how to balance the expectations they have of themselves with the needs and expectations of partners who need extra effort from them. When things become unbalanced, that’s when the feelings of “I’m not good enough” come into play.

I know I don’t have to point out that the idea of “not good enough”–whether it’s coming from your own thoughts or something your partner says–is a judgement, and a hurtful one at that. Absolutely nothing positive can come from having that thought, even if some might say feeling inadequate can be motivating to make change.

I disagree–there are plenty of positive ways to motivate change. But this post isn’t about change: it’s about how to reach a place where you are “good enough,” even if you aren’t perfect.

As a therapist, the two words I would love to eliminate from the English language are “normal” and “perfect.” Nearly every single one of my clients who has depression or anxiety is holding themselves against these non-existent benchmarks of what “normal” people do, or what a “perfect” life would look like. It’s pretty hard to be “good enough” when comparing yourself to something that exists only in your or your partner’s mind. And who says it’s all that good even if you are “normal” or “perfect”? That’s hard to maintain! (And boring…you know the most interesting people are the ones who are unique and don’t care what anyone else thinks.)

A relationship with a partner with mental illness is never going to fit the mold of “normal” or “perfect,” which I just said doesn’t exist anyway. So why beat yourself up over not achieving this standard?

Let it go.

Sit with that thought for a minute: how does it feel to realize that you can let go of striving for something that doesn’t exist anyway?

I hope it offers some relief and maybe some hope.

So what is “good enough” for you and your partner?

  • It means deciding what your priorities are and doing what it takes to fulfill them
  • It means letting go of what is not absolutely necessary
  • It means saying “no” to protect your energy, even if you feel guilty about it or think you are “letting someone down”
  • It means taking time for self-care, even if the “have-tos” don’t get done
  • It means releasing yourself from unrealistic expectations and comparisons
  • It means honoring what you have achieved today, not thinking about what didn’t get done
  • It means reflecting on what you have learned each day, and applying the lessons to tomorrow
  • It means remembering that no matter what happened today, you did your best with what you had available: time, money, energy, resources. Tomorrow will be a different day.