An online image search of the word ‘perfectionist’ shows pictures of children hard at work studying, perfectly organized stationary, and a girl correcting her unsatisfactory drawing. Most of us have some idea of what a perfectionist looks like, but what about relationship perfectionists?
Perfectionism in relationships is similar to perfectionism in general, focusing on striving for perfection and upholding extremely high standards. Having perfectionistic tendencies can lead to depression, anxiety, stress, and burnout, and relationship perfectionism is no different.
But even if you’re not a perfectionist in everyday life, you may be a perfectionist in relationships. There are two different forms of relationship perfectionism to look for: demanding perfection of the other person in the relationship, and demanding perfection of yourself.
Searching for the Perfect Partner
If you have a long list of requirements a romantic partner must meet, you may be a relationship perfectionist. And while it’s necessary to have some standards and boundaries in relationships, perfectionism can take this to an extreme, making it difficult for anyone to meet your expectations.
You may find that no one you meet for a first date seems good enough, or you may find yourself losing interest in a partner soon after starting a committed relationship with them. It may seem easier to find what you don’t like about other people than what you do like about them. And at this point, you may have started assuming that most people won’t be good enough, often feeling hopeless about potential dates even before meeting them.
These are all common experiences with having a perfectionist mindset in relationships. Often, when we accept only perfection or near-perfection from romantic matches, it’s rooted in more than just pickiness. Often, demanding perfection of others can be used as a strategy to protect ourselves from anyone who may potentially hurt or disappoint us. By adhering to expectations of perfection, it’s easier to avoid intimacy and having to open up to someone else. After all, if almost no one meets our standards, we can sidestep vulnerability altogether, keeping ourselves feeling safe. But by avoiding opening up to people who are less-than-perfect, we also run the risk of avoiding having any real connection or chance at forming a relationship, too.
Trying To Become the Perfect Partner
Relationship perfectionism can also reflect the expectations we have about ourselves in relationships. If you often put pressure on yourself to appear perfect on dates or in romantic relationships, you may be a relationship perfectionist.
This can be even more complicated than demanding perfection of others, because while your own standards and expectations of others are unlikely to change drastically, how you measure your own “perfection” can vary greatly based on who you’re dating. In other words, what may have made you feel like the ideal partner for an ex may be different compared to who you’re dating now.
In this way, it can be easy to lose yourself and your identity in striving to be the perfect partner. Yet if you have a fear of rejection, you may be very likely to hold yourself to others’ standards and desires. If you struggle with self-validation, it’s also easy to get caught in the perfectionism trap, looking for validation from others by trying to fit their standards.
How To Let Go of Relationship Perfectionism
Perfectionism in relationships can create unhealthy and unrealistic expectations that get in the way of authentic connection and personal wellbeing. Once you realize that you might be a relationship perfectionist, it becomes much easier to challenge your own expectations and beliefs.
Journaling about your relationship ideals can be one way to get clear on what you’re looking for – and what might not be so important. Make a list of your top relationship deal-breakers so you know who to avoid, and keep in mind that these deal-breakers shouldn’t exclude everyone. Leave room for differences and imperfections! Also, get familiar with your values [Read: Why You’re Dating the Wrong People], and prioritize these values when choosing partners.
If you tend to hold perfectionistic expectations of yourself, try a journaling exercise focusing on listing all the ways you’re innately lovable and valuable. Consider what you like about yourself, what your trusted friends and family love about you, and what you’re proud of accomplishing in your life. Remember that these qualities – not achieving someone’s idea of perfection – are what make you amazing.
And above all else, keep in mind that relationships can feel uncomfortable, scary, and vulnerable sometimes. For relationship perfectionists, it can be tempting to look at relationships in black-and-white: relationships are either perfect with two nearly-perfect people, or they’re painful and disappointing. Instead, realize that many relationships will fall somewhere in the middle, as a functioning and loving relationship that still has its challenges and tough times too.