Perfectionism and the Price of Admission

Most of the time when we think of perfectionists, we think of people having impossibly high standards for themselves. But perfectionism can also show up in relationships, if the form of impossibly high standards for friends, family, or romantic partners. Do any of these sound familiar?

  • You expect your partner to never forget a date or  promise, no matter how small (like picking something up on the way home from work)
  • You have trouble letting your partner’s occasional bad moods or bad days roll off you (you hold a grudge)
  • Offer a lot of unsolicited advice and criticism for how your partner could do things “better”
  • Find yourself making “jokes” that have a sharp edge to them, that end up hurting others more than you intended

Expecting perfection from others is a set-up for anger and disappointment. No one can be perfect. No matter how much your partner loves you or how hard they work at the relationship, there will always be ways they don’t measure up to your “ideal,” there will inevitably be moments of hurt feelings or conflict and disagreement. These imperfections are the price of admission (to quote Dan Savage) to be in relationship. You have to put up with some annoying habits and small disappointments if you are going to make any relationship work. You have to truly accept others’ imperfections (as well as your own).

Of course you don’t want to swing too far in the other direction and expect too little from your partner. Expecting your partner to treat you with kindness and respect shows you have healthy self-esteem and value yourself. You don’t want to be a doormat that lets other people get away with anything, and never apologize. The price of admission for a relationship can’t be your values or sense of self-worth.

The key of course is finding a balance. A place where you can let little things go, where you can have empathy for your partner’s needs, feelings, moods. From a balanced place, you can also voice hurt or anger when appropriate, genuinely accept an apology and move on.