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Healthy Goals Vs. Perfectionism: A Guide For Couples

Dr. Lisa Lawless

Dr. Lisa Lawless, CEO of Holistic Wisdom
Clinical Psychotherapist: Relationship & Sexual Health Expert

Cactus with googly eyes holding sign that says nobody's perfect

Perfectionism Vs. Healthy Striving

When we or a partner is a perfectionist, it can cause challenges to a relationship. Let's be clear; perfectionism is not about having healthy goals that allow us to be the best we can be; rather, it is through healthy striving that does this.

Healthy striving allows us to chase our own dreams and is driven by an inward journey. On the other hand, perfectionism is shame-based, and driven by fear of what others think about us.

When we strive for perfection, we attempt to create a shield that protects us from the possibility of criticism from others. By attempting to look and act in certain ways, there is a hope that it will keep us from getting hurt.

The truth is that striving to be perfect keeps us from living authentically. It denies us the ability to know what love is for ourselves and others. When we do not allow our authentic selves to be truly seen, we cannot possibly know if we are loved for who we really are. Rather we end up constantly building up a perfectionistic wall for fear of not being worthy of genuine acceptance.

Ways Perfectionism Can Negatively Impact Relationships

When one or both partners are perfectionists, there are often conflicts surrounding expectations and understanding each other's perspective. The following are ways this can be observed:

  • Unrealistic Expectations
  • Criticism and Judgment
  • Difficulty Dealing with Failure
  • Control Issues

If Your Partner Is A Perfectionist

If your partner struggles with perfectionism and is constantly battling their self-perception, you may find it challenging to have deep intimacy with them.

Because they do not believe they are good enough until they achieve unrealistic ideals, they will always have an emotional wall up, keeping them from really allowing themselves to be vulnerable, which is the essential ingredient for intimacy.

Authentic living is about engaging with the world from a place of worthiness, embracing our imperfections, and understanding that vulnerability is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of courage.

Your perfectionist partner is fueled by pain and fear, so discussing this with them may be a delicate issue. That is why discussing these issues with empathy and understanding is essential. Remember, it's not about fixing your partner but helping them feel seen, heard, and valued in their struggle.

Encourage your partner to see that self-care is not the same as perfectionist approaches and that your hope is to catalyze change, inspire courage, and facilitate a journey towards a healthier, more authentic relationship with themselves and deeper intimacy with you. 

If You Are A Perfectionist

Perfectionism can keep us from living a life that best serves us, and while it can drive us to achieve goals and appear healthy to others, it often leads to anxiety, depression, and feelings of never feeling good enough.

One of the best things you can do is reflect on why you may feel fearful of others' opinions of you and find a safe person to discuss these matters with, such as a partner, friend, or therapist. By admitting these feelings, you can get to the heart of the courageous vulnerability that is needed for healing.

Perfectionism Vs. OCD

A common mistake people make is referring to being a perfectionist as having OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder). This comparison is incorrect, and they are not the same thing.

OCD is characterized by intrusive obsessions and repetitive compulsions that individuals feel compelled to perform regardless of what others think. On the other hand, perfectionism involves setting exceptionally high standards and being overly concerned with mistakes with a focus on what others think.

While both can involve a focus on precision, OCD is a diagnosable disorder that often causes significant distress and impairment beyond what typical perfectionism creates.

Perfectionism isn't necessarily pathological, and while it might drive one to achieve success in the things they do when taken to extremes, it can lead to mental health issues like anxiety or depression.

An interesting side note, some people with autism (ASD) may display a strong preference for routines, order, and symmetry, similar to OCD. However, these behaviors are typically less about perfection or compulsive and obsessive motivations, as seen in OCD, and more about predictability and maintaining a familiar, comforting environment.

How To Overcome Being A Perfectionist

Redefine Success & Failure

Perfectionists often have an all-or-nothing attitude, viewing anything less than perfect as a failure. The reality is that everything is an opportunity for growth, so whether one succeeds or finds themselves struggling, any experience is beneficial for personal maturing. 

Set Personalized & Realistic Goals

Ask yourself what you want, not based on what others think, but what you really desire. Once you determine this, make your goals achievable based on your abilities and resources to ensure they are grounded in reality.

Significant goals can be broken down into smaller steps to ensure that you are on the right path and to ensure that you do not overwhelm yourself.

Accept Mistakes

Everyone makes mistakes, and the most healthy and successful people take them in stride because they know they are simply opportunities for learning and growth. When perfectionists fail, they often blame, make excuses or get angry with themselves or others.

Yet, if we redirect our focus to see mistakes and loss as a normal part of life, we can better understand that failing is not proof of our inadequacy or worth.

Practice Self-Compassion

Be kind to yourself and remind yourself that being vulnerable and embracing mistakes or failure is about having the courage to accept reality.

Create Balance

Don't let one area of your life take over everything else. Make sure you're spending time on things you enjoy, and that help you relax.


Stay mindful of your patterns and notice when you feel stress, anxiety, or insecurity. Check-in with yourself about what is driving you and if you are aiming for healthy goals or striving for perfection.

Consider Professional Help

If your perfectionism is causing significant distress or impairing your functioning or relationships, consider seeking help from a mental health therapist who can help you address the source of your pain and fears and explore ways to better care for yourself through healthy goals that give you progress, not perfection.

In Closing

Perfectionism can often be the heavy baggage we carry around, and when we spend so much effort protecting ourselves. When we do this we miss out on living an authentic life. It prevents us from fully experiencing the profound effects of joy and love.

As we venture forward, we must remind ourselves and our partner that we are inherently enough. A life lived authentically, in alignment with our true selves, is courageous vulnerability and, ultimately, our greatest strength.

Remember, you are enough, and are worthy just as you are.

For helpful tips on improving relationships, please see our helpful guide: Improving Relationships

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