May 26, 2010
Are the standards that your partner (or parent, sibling or friend) has for herself, and for you, too high, or do you not appreciate the need to do a better job of what needs to be done?
NOTE: This is the first in a series of articles on Living With a Perfectionist.
Two years ago, I received an e-mail that said, “I love my wife, but she is a perfectionist and it makes life difficult for me sometimes. Any advice?” I said, “Yes. As a recovering perfectionist, I have several observations that can help you both survive, and even enjoy the journey along the way!”
Then I wrote a chapter about it in The Law of Attraction in Action, Volume 2, published by Wonderful Web Women, and now I’ve decided to include that in this blog as a five-part posting, and also print it in Support4Change’s section on perfectionism. I hope it will help those of you who may be driven crazy by partners, parents, siblings, children, neighbors, co-workers, and bosses who seem to have impossibly high standards for themselves, and for you. Are they asking too much?
By the way, my comments can be valuable for both men and women who haven’t yet learned that life is a lot more fun and a whole lot easier when they can distinguish between those things that are important to do well — and those that are not. However, I find that females are more likely to strive for perfectionism than their partners for a variety of reasons, so I will use female pronouns when referring to the perfectionist spouse, although many women are married to men who make them feel inferior because they don’t live up to their husband’s standards.
Okay, with those introductions out of the way, let me share with you a few examples of what life was like before I learned how to tone down my need to always be right and to do everything as well as I possibly could. That is, before I became a recovering perfectionist.
Typical would be a decision to invite a few friends for a simple dinner party. Before I knew it, I would include twice as many guests and three times the number of dishes I had originally planned. When guests offered to bring something, I’d politely let them know I could handle it all myself.
However, I’d make certain my husband knew how much work I had put into the evening and I expected compliments for my efforts. Though I enjoyed having responsible positions within organizations and in my work, and when doing many projects around the house, from refinishing floors to refinishing the piano, I was sure to tell others of my efforts and would almost always do more than necessary.
One job that particularly sticks in my memory was the time I painted the inside of the garage and put two coats of paint on the wall behind the power saw. The saw never gets moved! Never! No one will ever see that wall unless we sell the house. But I had to make certain it was well painted!
People who don’t live with a perfectionist may think there are worse things than having a spouse who does a pretty good job with almost everything she does. And while you realize you may feel a little less talented in comparison, it is useful to have someone who always remembers the details of bringing salt and mosquito repellent on a camping trip.
As you can imagine, one of the reasons people are attracted to perfectionists is that we do what we say we’ll do and finish tasks when others quit. With us around, the other person doesn’t have to do as much work. However, ask someone who has lived with a perfectionist for several years and you will learn that it is hard to continually be the cheerleader for someone with low self-esteem.
The very traits that attracted you to her in the beginning can drive you apart, or at least cause conflict. For example, when we were newly married, I would wrap presents so elaborately that people would take pictures before they opened them. Yet I would resent it when my husband didn’t share the job. Had I thought about it more, I would have realized that he isn’t at all artistic and doesn’t feel that much effort is necessary. It just wasn’t his thing. Besides, the love he presents with a gift in a brown paper bag is no less sincere than love in a fancy box.
Today, as a recovering perfectionist, I know I have been extraordinarily blessed to be married to someone for fifty years with the strength to put up with me. Fortunately, I got into therapy a little about thirty years ago and worked very hard on my control issues. However, I wish I had started therapy sooner. It would have made our lives, and the lives of our children, much easier. And if my husband had known how to deal with my perfectionism, it would have saved many years of feeling I wouldn’t be loved unless I worked harder. And he would not have needed to wait (usually patiently) while I took twice as long to do a job as I should have.
Take the Is-My-Partner-a-Perfectionist? Quiz
If you suspect your mate is a perfectionist whose traits are damaging your relationship, take the following quiz.
- Does your mate often enhance her position at work or in social situations by pursuing jobs that are difficult to do and making certain others know how well she has done?
- Does she tend to assume that you have high standards for her even if you don’t say so?
- Does she generally hear any comments that counter her opinions as criticism of her as a person?
- Is she often impatient with her imperfections and do images of past failures plague her?
- Do others frequently complain that the standards she sets for them are too high?
- Has she often postponed a job because she hadn’t laid out all the steps needed to do it “correctly,” then become paralyzed at the prospect of not doing it well enough, and end up not doing it at all?
- Does she frequently behave as though everything she does is going to be inscribed on her tombstone?
- If you start to tell a story about something you recently learned, does she often make certain that you know that she is also aware of what happened?
- Does she frequently complain about the incompetence of others, including you?
- Does she seem to feel guilty about many things that other people wouldn’t feel guilty about doing?
- Does she usually react to a simple statement of disagreement as though she has been seriously attacked, even when the criticism is not rude, angry, or demanding?
Notice that the questions above include words like “always,” “often,” and “usually,” because there are times when doing things well works out fine for everyone. No one wants to fail. Striving for excellence is fine and it’s natural to sometimes want others to share in our pride of a job well done.
However, striving for perfection is something else entirely. It can get tiresome having to continually praise a perfectionist spouse who lets you know that admiration is required for all her efforts, who wants you to have as high of standards as she, and who wants to control every situation. So if you answered yes to half of these questions, the chances are you’re living with a perfectionist.
In the next article in the Living With a Perfectionist series, you will begin to understand the inner struggles of a perfectionist.
If you enjoyed this article, be sure to read the rest of
the Living With a Perfectionist series.
Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia