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Perfectly Discontent

Is perfectionism destroying your relationships?

Jack watched his wife move around the room. She was gorgeous -- beautifully dressed, slim, and tan. He watched the other men watching her. A few gave her lecherous glances, but most were frankly appreciative of what they saw. Part of him felt a sense of pride that he had such a beautiful wife. He knew there were many in the room who wondered, ever so briefly, what it would be like to be in his shoes.

If they only knew, he thought to himself.

It wasn't that he didn't love Pat. He did. And it wasn't that he didn't appreciate her physical beauty, because he did. But none of the others in the room knew what it was like to live with her.

Pat never dropped her guard. Always in control over every situation, she lived her life firmly in command. Her daily schedule was totally regimented. She knew what she was going to do nearly every second of every day.

Pat's appearance was also strictly regulated. She spent hours maintaining her sleek, healthy, immaculate appearance. Every aspect of her wardrobe was chosen with the greatest care -- and at no small cost. She would fly into a rage about a hair out of place or a pound gained overnight. If she was happy with her appearance, she could smile. If she wasn't, the most she could muster was a polite, bland expression in public and a tight, closed demeanor in private.

Pat's food intake was maintained with near obsessive diligence. Jack might indulge in a late-night snack or occasional hot fudge sundae, but Pat never did. Meals weren't a relaxing time to mull over the day together. To Pat they were brief skirmishes to be won as quickly as possible. He usually ended up finishing his meal alone while Pat flew around the kitchen removing all traces of the dinner.

There wasn't anything relaxing about being around Pat. She was always in control, always accomplishing something, and she expected him to live his life the same way. There was no end to the disappointment he caused Pat when he didn't. He heard about it constantly.

Others saw the Pat she so meticulously presented. He lived with the parts that were left. So he sat back and watched her move around the room, engaging in as much wishful thinking as any man there.

Wanting to do things well is hardly a character flaw, but perfectionism is the obsessive need to operate at a perfect level at all times. If this level is not achieved, the perfectionist can react with either extreme anger or apathetic indifference. He or she may say either, "I don't care what you do; I'm not leaving until I get this right," or "What difference does it make anyway? I'll never get it right, so why bother trying at all?"

Do you relate to Jack or Pat?

Perfectionists put themselves under tremendous pressure at all times. Things must be done to their rigid standards, or their whole world comes crashing down. Anyone who happens to be near them gets caught in the crash.

You may see similarities in your own marriage, but perfectionism affects all types of relationships. You may feel its impact with parents, children, siblings, friends or co-workers. If so:

  • What have you done in the past to try to mitigate the effects of perfectionism in your relationships?
  • Were these efforts successful in the short term? Were they successful in the long term? Why or why not?
  • If you could remove the effect of perfectionism from your life today, how would your life be different?

There comes a critical time in each person's life when the the truth is accessible. Whether you're the perfectionist, or on the receiving end of its effects, every relationship in your life will benefit from facing the truth head on. Faced with it, you can either run and hide, denying it, or you can face your truth, accept it, and grow stronger.

Copyright 2009 Gregory L. Jantz, Healing the Scars of Emotional Abuse [Revised and Updated], Revell.