Extreme cleanliness, zero tolerance for deviation from standards, acute image consciousness, the know-it-all attitude.meeting a perfectionist partner's standards can make life really difficult. It is said that two imperfect individuals make a perfect bond.
But having a perfectionist for a partner often means an imperfect relationship, over laden with endless criticisms and scorns. However, if you are at peace with yourself and love your partner despite his 'imperfection', you could work towards making yours a wonderful relationship too.
Who are perfectionists?
A perfectionist is someone who has extremely high standards and sees anything that is even 'almost perfect' as a failure. According to psychiatrist Samir Parikh, Chief, Mental Health & Behavioural Sciences, Max Healthcare, perfectionism is a personality trait like any other that one may possess such as shyness or extroversion.
He emphasis that as a single trait, it cannot be termed as a mental disease. It's not a mental illness unless several other behavioural disturbances are present. Those living with perfectionists often feel hurt or offended, but the perfectionist is equally critical of his own actions as well. It starts becoming a significant matter of concern when all that exists for the person is what he does. At such times, the perspectives of others start taking a back seat.
Also, for a perfectionist it is all about the final destination, not the journey. "A perfectionist's definition of happiness lies in the end-result, achieving of the target. The process of chasing a goal or the efforts put in value less for him. And hence, he finds it difficult to appreciate the virtues and efforts of his dear ones," says Jitendra Nagpal, a psychiatrist at VIMHANS, New Delhi.
It's not easy to please a perfectionist. Psychologist Alan Entin from Richmond, Virginia says, "Perfectionism is very difficult to live with because you are always striving for some kind of magical fantasy ideal that no one can ever live up to." To be living with such a person could be a challenge. It could be draining not just physically but emotionally too.
There is always a high risk of one's effort being dismissed as not good enough. This could not only damage self-esteem but also impact the relationship between the couple like in Amita's case who went into severe depression within just a year of marriage. Detailed discussions revealed to her psychologist that Amita's husband, Rajesh, was a thorough perfectionist at work and home.
He set such high standards for himself and her that no matter how well she tried, she failed to measure up. One year into the marriage, Amita's self-esteem had taken a huge hit. Her psychologist realised that her husband needed counselling more than she.
A perfect life is possible
Rashi got married to Ashish, her childhood sweetheart. Though much in love, they used to fight frequently. Soon after marriage, the two decided to call it quits but only after giving it a last chance.
So they consulted a marriage counsellor. In just two sessions, Rashi realised that it was her perfectionist ways and unrealistic expectations from Ashish that often led to arguments. Ashish understood that he needed to be more patient, firm and loving towards Rashi. All it needed was some change in their attitude towards each other.
It's hard to think of living a beautiful life with a purist, if you're not one yourself. "It involves adapting to each other and, in some cases, helping the perfectionist bring about the desired changes. Once an individual learns to channel his perfectionist tendencies, things can be easily handled," says Parikh.
How difficult it is to live with a perfectionist largely depends on your own perception and attitude.
Here are some ways to make living with a perfectionist easier:
Don't react every time
"Reacting every time a perfectionist spouse pinpoints at something makes matters worse," observes Parikh. So, don't defend every time you are criticised. But communicate how your spouse's behaviour made you feel, later—timing helps validate your point. Also, because you don't defend yourself every time, he would be obliged to listen to you.
Don't get beat
"For your partner to accept you as you are, it is important that you accept yourself first. Be proud of who you are," says Nagpal. Overcome your complexes. If you suffer from a low self-esteem, it won't be difficult for your partner to overpower you with his demands. Also, if you feel so diffident within no matter how logical your point, you will never be able to stand for it. It's difficult when someone is always trying to point out your faults, but you have to make all efforts you can.
Resist the temptation to counter or disagree with everything your spouse says just because he's a perfectionist. At times he might be right. In a way, your partner is helping you grow. Thank him when he marks your weak areas. Most perfectionists themselves have low self-esteem and tall egos. Your attitude of being grateful for sharing his opinions will soothe his ego. In time, he will be more open to your remarks.
Explain your viewpoint
Gradually make your partner understand that, for you, your frailties and your faults are just as important as your virtues. If you value genuine efforts more than the end-result, tell him that. "Don't be too straight or rude while expressing these thoughts. These ideologies would as it is be quite hard for the perfectionist to understand. You have to sound convincing but not crass," says psychiatrist Sanjay Chugh.
Set mutual standards
Be willing to compromise and put in extra efforts in some areas. Likewise, talk to your partner about easing down on some counts too. For instance, if your perfectionist husband wants you to cook a proper three-course meal for him every day ask him to help you with cleaning the house every morning. Or, if your perfectionist wife wants you to get up at 6 am while you prefer getting up at 8, it's ideal to compromise for 7 am.
Know where to draw the line. Explain to him that you're a separate entity and would like to be treated as one and that you need a partner not an instructor. Under no circumstances entertain abusive behaviour.
Don't return the favour
Nobody's perfect, not even your partner. There's a world of difference between being a perfectionist and being perfect. If he points out your shortcoming, do not do the same and start looking only for his weaknesses. But do express your honest opinion. Help him realise areas that he needs to improve on.
With your love, patience, and strength of mind, your perfectionist partner may be able to loosen up.
This was first published in the December 2010 issue of Complete Wellbeing.
Spot an error in this article? A typo maybe? Or an incorrect source? Let us know!