From your RAFT Counseling Team
Existing outside of a perfectionist’s spiral can feel lonely, like you’re talking to yourself. On bad days, they may even lash out and criticize you for little things like where you put your jacket or how you take your coffee. How do you combat perfectionism in relationships?
Perfectionism is not a mental health disorder, but rather a disordered trait many people can have. Those with obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCD), eating disorders, anxiety, and depression are all at higher risk of perfectionism. It is characterized by having unrealistically high standards for the self and others and it often comes with low self-esteem.
Maladaptive perfectionism is motivated by the need for others’ approval, and includes negative self-talk and overwhelming guilt. It can cause tension in relationships with friends, family, coworkers, and romantic partners.
Striving for greatness is not a crime, though. That is where adaptive perfectionism comes in, a healthier kind that correlates with improved self, life, and career satisfaction. Unlike maladaptive perfectionism though, it includes compassion and conscientiousness over competitiveness and it prioritizes striving for excellence over perfection.
Perfectionists often struggle with the self-belief that they are unlovable. Those who never learned to accept the mistakes of their past often feel this way. For those who stay in relationships, it can be hard to open up emotionally. Believing tainted love is the only love they can get, others may struggle setting boundaries that protect themselves from manipulation or abuse.
Whether they realize it or not, perfectionists self-sabotage by pushing partners away. In relationships this can look like emotional reactivity, nit-picky accusations, holding partners to unrealistic standards, or being stubborn to change.
Analysis paralysis can also frustrate partners. It happens when a perfectionist overthinks something so long, they neglect to make any decision on it. Desperation for reassurance can also cause perfectionists to look outside the relationship instead of turning to their partner to work through problems.
Perfectionists can also be especially sensitive to criticism and may respond defensively. Even when feedback from their partner is constructive, perfectionists may still interpret it as rejection.
Choose curiosity over judgment. Your partner is someone you love, so when you run into roadblocks, ask questions with the goal of understanding, not fixing your partner. If you are dating a perfectionist, get curious about the anxiety behind their rules and habits. Encourage them to be honest about anxiety and support them through moments of vulnerability. It can help ease perfectionist behavior.
Show each other compassion. Perfectionists often lack enough compassion for themself and others. Prove to each other that achievement isn’t necessary to earn love, it’s a given when you enter a relationship. Be explicit about being a safe space for each other, embracing emotions, baggage, and all.
Celebrate whatever and whenever you can. Instead of feeling triumph, perfectionists tend to feel a break in negative self-talk when they accomplish something. Encourage celebrating the little things in each others’ lives. It will help perfectionists learn to enjoy the present moment and share joy with you rather than compete with you.
Interested in learning more about how perfectionism may be affecting your life and relationships? Schedule an appointment with one of our licensed mental health counselors today.