How Perfectionism Harms Your Relationship (and What to Do Instead)

If you are like me you have a part of you that strives for things to be perfect, or at least as super-duper close to perfect as you can get, in all areas of life. But when it comes to your relationship you can’t expect perfection (really we can’t expect it anywhere). I know this may be hard to hear for that perfectionist part of you, your inner ‘Miss Perfect’, but you have to have realistic expectations that you or your partner are not going to be doing things 100 percent all the time. Instead, we want to have a different approach that gives room for you and your partner’s humanness. 

Realistic Expectations

So if you aren’t aiming for perfection, what are you aiming for? I believe it’s valuable to aim for the 80ish/20ish approach to life. This means that as you are focusing on your intentionality in your relationship with yourself and with your partner you are allowing for 80 ish-percent of the time you are sticking to the road of intention. The other 20 ish-percent of the time? You are totally going to be off track, wavering off the intentional road and “messing up”. And before your own inner ‘Miss Perfect’ freaks out, let me emphasize that the 80ish/20ish approach to life is more than OK. This, my dear, is what we call realistic expectations for the human you are rather than a perfect robot. 

Let me explain more of what the 80/20 approach embodies. Have you heard of the “good enough mother”? This is a phrase that was established by Donald Winnicott in the 1950s because he found that trying to be perfect wasn’t necessary and really is quite harmful. Why? Because it puts TONS of pressure on the mother and it also doesn’t allow the child to develop skills to manage frustrations, understand these emotions, communicate those emotions and also self-sooth. 

I want you to apply this same idea to yourself and your partner by allowing the mindset of the “good enough partner” through the 80/20 approach. Now, I want to emphasize to your inner “Miss Perfect” that “good enough” in this sense doesn’t mean you are doing the bare minimum. That would be doing more like 20/80 and is the autopilot route which is not what we do here at Intentional intimacy. The “good enough partner” doesn’t do 20/80 or 100 percent, she does 80ish/20ish. Because trying to be perfect only puts pressure on you and doesn’t allow you and your partner to manage frustrations through vulnerable conversations. And, to put it bluntly, you’ll drive yourself f%*king crazy! Believe me, I know. My inner ‘Miss Perfect’ was uber active several years ago and the anxiety that comes as a result is totally not worth it. She’s still there but allows for a lot less perfection and more of a heart-centered approach to life. 

80/20 and Self-Care

Taking care of yourself is the main source of energy that you send off to other areas of your life including your relationships. Think of yourself as a sun and beaming your rays out to your life. If you don’t fuel yourself up then you have no energy to give yourself or give out. Although taking care of yourself, including treating yourself is vital to your relationship and it helps you have better transitions to sexual intimacy with your partner, I want you to be careful that you don’t go overboard. Meaning, I don’t want you to have unrealistic expectations that you will be the queen of self-care and be absolutely perfect and not waver. 

So yes, working out is important but if you miss a day or two that’s OK. Oh, and did you miss a few days of your meditation app, totally OK. Those dishes in the sink? up you guessed it, also OK. That’s being “good enough”. Remember if 80% of the time you are sticking to it then that other 20% won’t have that big of an impact. It’s ok to eat that slice of cake once in a while, promise. I know your inner ‘Miss Perfect’ expects the 100% but let’s remind her again that it’s ok to ease up. Even if that means reminding this part of you every day that Dr. Chelsea told you 80/20 is OK.

80/20 and Emotional Connection

As we looked at in the blog post on the Triangle of Blame, you know you will step on your partner’s toes and your partner will step on yours. That’s a given. But to your inner ‘Miss Perfect’, this can feel like it’s so not OK. The mindset of the perfectionist is that you expect you and your partner to be at 100% all the time when it comes to partnership with no room for error. It’s like you are expecting you both to be Barbie and Ken.

This causes so much pressure on the relationship if you have unrealistic expectations that both you and your partner are going to be perfect all the time. Is your inner ‘Miss Perfect’ assuming that each of you is going to have the other person feel loved all the time and that each of you won’t ever step on each other's toes? And that if you do that means there’s something wrong with you, your partner, or the relationship? Sounds insanely difficult, because it is. And impossible too, because it is. Not that there is anything bad or wrong with you, your partner or the relationship, no-no. Rather it means that love only requires you to be 'good enough' for your relationship to thrive. Anything more is harmful.

This assumption of 100% also doesn’t allow you to be intentional in your relationship. Why? Because expecting perfection means you are not open for and preparing yourself for the times that there are speed bumps. Managing the speedbumps calls for vulnerable and empathetic conversations. Your inner ‘Miss Perfect’ doesn’t allow for those to happen because perfectionism inherently means the belief you’ll avoid speed bumps at all cost. But because speedbumps are going to happen, if you pretend they won’t then you are going to be uber surprised and blindsided when they do happen. When we are surprised it’s easy to go into reactive mode and slide into defenses found in the Triangle of Blame

80/20 and Sexual Connection

You better believe it that your inner ‘Miss Perfect’ will not only show up and judge you when it comes to focusing on yourself or on the emotional connection of your relationship, but she also shows up in the bedroom. She may expect you to look a certain way or behave a certain way sexually. She expects perfection based on some silly reference of what that is, like from magazines, rom-com movies or porn, and anything different is totally not Ok to her.

What is the negative impact of this? Well, expectations of perfection mean you might avoid going to the bedroom. Why show up where your inner ‘Miss Perfect’ is so judgy and demanding of her expectations of you and what you do or how you look? This means you keep the sexual bedroom at a distance and think “I wouldn’t go near the bedroom with a 10-foot pole!”. And maybe you do but it comes from a motivation of obligation, which is not where we want sexual motivation to come from.

It’s also no secret that your inner ‘Miss Perfect’ definitely gets in the way of your inner “Miss Desire” . So you may end up showing up in the bedroom but the pressure to perform to such perfection and the anxiety it creates doesn’t even allow you to fully engage or really feel the pleasure of the experience. This is why it’s so important to focus on pleasure and not performance. If you avoid sexual intimacy be avoiding the bedroom or not fully engaging when you’re there, this puts your partner and the sexual intimacy of your relationship in Intimacy Limbo Land, which I suppose I’ll need to talk about next week...

Do you have your own inner ‘Miss Perfect’? Maybe you recognized this part of you years ago or perhaps you are just recognizing your inner ‘Miss Perfect’ for the first time. Wherever you are at in your journey, I would love to help guide you into finding balance with this part of you and all other parts of you through my online coaching program. Finding balance means you are approaching life in a way that is heart-centered rather than having a certain part of you at the center running the show causing chaos and anxiety.

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