How is your need for things to be “perfect” or “just so” impacting your marriage, or otherwise important relationships? Those of us who suffer with the need to be perfect, or have obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), or obsessive compulsive tendencies, often need things in our lives to be “perfect” or “just so” or “completely organized”. We need things to be a certain way to feel comfortable and anxiety-free or else we suffer. When I say we suffer, I really mean suffer. The suffering is from the anxiety that ensues if this isn’t just so, or if things are in disarray, or not the way we need them to be. Unfortunately, our need for perfection often inadvertently spreads to those closest to us and can negatively affect our relationships.
More often, our partner, spouse, children, friends, or boss, are not going to necessarily see things exactly how we do, or do things the way we want them to do. Thus, we walk through our lives feeling as if we are in a perpetual state of anxiety, agitation, anger, resentment, and perhaps even depression.
It’s Not You, It’s Me
Often people who strive for perfectionism suffer with severe anxiety. It often appears that we are controlling, and we really are, however it is not because we necessarily believe we are better than others, it is more about having trouble emotionally tolerating any type of chaos or disorder. We are not trying to be overbearing, mean, or authoritarian, even though it may seem that way at times.
For some of us, our perfectionism may be a result of a parent being perfectionistic when we were growing up and it is a learned behavior for us. For others, it may be due to having a parent who was the opposite: out of control, an alcoholic or drug addict, someone who overreacted, or from growing up with a hoarder or an abusive parent. Perfectionism has become our way of feeling in control of our response to emotional or physical chaos.
We might strive for perfectionism:
- To avoid feeling anxiety, inadequacy, shame, or fear
- Because we believe if we control the outcome we will be loved and accepted
- From associating perfectionism with approval and success
- Because our parents shamed us for not meeting high standards
- To deal with abuse and neglect, by associating love with perfection
- As children, believing if we are perfect, then the drinking, drugging, or abusive behavior will stop
When We Can’t Compromise
When we are not able to make space for beliefs, opinions, feelings, and actions that are different from ours, conflict often ensues. I recently asked one of my psychotherapy clients who was struggling with wanting things a certain way while his wife did not. He had repeatedly said, “I need for this to happen this way,” and he asked for what he needed. He addressed it on multiple occasions. The issue became a constant conflict in their marriage. Even though he expressed what he wanted, it was clear that it wasn’t going to happen. At that point, he was angry, full of resentment and still believed his way was the right way. I then asked him this question, “Would you rather be right, or happy?” His response was, “I’d rather be right.”
Although many of us would not be so courageous and honest about admitting this, people who struggle with perfectionism, or OCD, often feel this way. It is difficult to realize that perfection is not something everyone values and that others might be happy with adequate, or agreeable to compromise.
The desire to be perfect traps and burdens many people and imprisons them with unrelenting stress, often creating havoc in their relationships.Mel Schwartz, L.C.S.W., Psychotherapist, marriage counselor, and author.
Perfectionism and Our Relationships
Regardless of the origins of needing to be in control of our environment, and needing things to be perfect, or a certain way, there is a significant impact on our relationships. Our control and criticism does not give our partner, spouse, friend, or adult children an opportunity to be who and how they are. Often we start to wear away our loved one’s self-esteem. They start to feel less-than, or not good enough, because we are not respecting or allowing them to do things in the way that feels comfortable for them. We insist that our way is the right way, the only way, the perfect way.
- It can create arguments, hurt feelings, anger, and resentment of the “perfect seeking” person.
- Our partner may begin to resent that we insist that we do things in a very specific way without considering other methods or opinions.
- It can result in our partners not sharing their opinions with us, and not sharing their wins and accomplishments for fear of being judged or criticized.
A marriage, or other relationship, can be strained when a perfectionist focuses more on completion of tasks rather than the relationship, making it difficult to connect emotionally. The partner may hide mistakes from the perfectionistic half, from the fear of being criticized or judged, and may begin to withdraw and withhold, which starts to then wear away at the relationship itself. They may believe that standards are set impossibly high and that they will never be good enough to meet them.
Perfection is Elusive
Perfection does not exist on earth and even though most of us intellectually know this, we experience this differently from an emotional perspective. If you ask someone who is perfectionistic either they will believe, “Oh yes. It is possible. If I put the towel just this way, or do this task just that way, everything will be perfect.” They might truly believe that perfection does exist. But a larger percentage of perfectionistic and controlling people realize from a logical or intellectual perspective that it is not possible. But because of their anxiety, and what happens to them emotionally, they continue to strive for something that is not possible. This creates both internal and relationship conflict. Perfection is elusive and striving for it can steal our happiness and enjoyment of life. If perfection were a possibility there would be no further opportunities for growth and improvement.
Let Us Help
If your struggle with control and perfectionism is affecting your happiness, or your relationships, speaking with a trusted psychotherapist at Nassau Guidance and Counseling, located on Long Island, can help. Our licensed therapists have helped many people identify and work through the emotional obstacles in which the urge towards perfectionism may be rooted, so that they can work to improve their life and their relationships.