Three Ways Perfectionism Poisons Relationships

Perfectionism doesn’t just impact your mood, self-esteem, and productivity. It can also cause real harm to romantic partnerships. Here are a few direct and indirect way perfectionism gets in the way of you having the relationship you want:

  1. Your partner feels helpless as they watch you suffer. You are likely very aware of the pains of perfectionism. You beat yourself up for tiny mistakes, you get paralyzed with anxiety, you procrastinate and avoid your way into misery. What you’re not always aware of is how painful it can be for someone who cares about you to watch you struggle, especially if you (like many perfectionists) have a hard time accepting any comfort or help.
  2. You expect perfection from your partner too, not just from yourself. Perfectionism can bring up feelings of frustration with your partner, for the same kind of tiny mistakes that make you angry at yourself. Maybe this results in you criticizing your partner, or shutting them out, or bottling up irritation until you explode for no good reason.
  3. Avoiding social situations takes a toll. Perfectionist anxiety can lead to avoiding social events….a fear that you might not look perfect or have the exact right thing to say can be so distressing that you just stay home. Your partner might feel hurt or angry if you are avoiding spending time with their family or important friends. They could also feel resentful, worried, or bored as more and more fun activities get abandoned. There’s nothing wrong with staying home and nesting if it’s coming from a place of desire for quiet time, rather than fear of being out in the world.

Being hard on yourself hurts you, and hurts the people who care about you. It’s important not to turn this insight into another layer of self-criticism and self-loathing though! The point is not to beat yourself up for being a “bad” (less than perfect) partner. Try to bring some self-compassion to this process — relationships are hard work, and reforming unhealthy perfectionism is also hard work. As you practice mindfulness about when and how perfectionism is showing up in your relationship, be gentle with yourself. You are not alone in this struggle! Once you are aware that perfectionism is guiding your thoughts or actions, see if you can make a different choice, one that brings connection, compassion, and joy to your relationship, instead of perfectionist distress.