Is there a ‘perfect' relationship? No, so stop looking for one – it causes stress, depression and prevents you making real connections

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procrastination, what needs to be fixed

Most of us accept that no relationship is perfect and that, as human beings, we are all flawed. However, there are still some people out there who believe in finding “the perfect partner”.

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While there is nothing wrong with being a stickler for perfection, it’s important to temper expectations.

When it comes to relationships, your pursuit of perfection may leave you unsatisfied. Instead of appreciating what is right in front of you or putting in the work to improve something, your perfectionist tendencies may be hindering opportunities to develop genuine, loving relationships.

Global Tech News Daily

Perfectionists often don’t recognise they have a problem, says Dr Quratulain Zaidi, a Hong Kong-based clinical psychologist.

procrastination, what needs to be fixed

Global Tech News Daily

Perfectionists often don’t recognise they have a problem. Photo: Shutterstock

“In over a decade of clinical work, I don’t recall a single client arriving at their first session asking for help to overcome perfectionism. This is because most perfectionists don’t recognise that their pathological need for excellence can be damaging. It may also be the source of sleepless nights, chronic stress, anxiety, depression, or all of the above,” she says.

That is because perfectionism is seen as a critical part of their identity and perceived as a core strength, she explains. They are often so consumed by it that they fail to see how it may be impairing them.

Zaidi offers some advice on how to tell if you or your partner is a perfectionist.

First, she emphasises that perfectionism is a double-edged sword because it can motivate you, but it can also keep you trapped in a cycle of procrastination.

She says being a perfectionist creates chronic stress; perfectionist tendencies are rooted in fear and insecurity, which patients struggle to acknowledge.

procrastination, what needs to be fixed

Dr Quratulain Zaidi is a Hong Kong-based clinical psychologist. Photo: courtesy of Quratulain Zaidi

“Being a perfectionist is very different from doing one’s best or setting the bar high enough to create an attainable challenge. Those who can tolerate mistakes or failures without defaulting to harsh self-criticism may be referred to as an adaptive perfectionist.

“On the other hand, some perfectionists find it difficult to accept failure and fallibility. This thinking is maladaptive, especially when the focus is on the need to be seen as flawless and to live up to unattainable and unrealistic standards.”

She says they are driven towards these behaviours without intent and often without awareness of the effects upon themselves or others. This single-mindedness is often rooted in a history of trauma in early childhood.

procrastination, what needs to be fixed

The thing that is really hard is giving up on being “perfect”. Photo: Shutterstock

Even if people are not perfectionists in everyday life, they can be a perfectionist in romantic relationships, says Zaidi. “There are two different types of relationship perfectionism, which are self-explanatory: other-oriented perfectionism and self-oriented perfectionism.”

More often than not, perfectionism in relationships can create unhealthy and unrealistic expectations that get in the way of authentic connection and personal well-being. Once you realise that you might be a relationship perfectionist, it becomes much easier to challenge your own expectations and beliefs, Zaidi says.

For those who practise other-oriented perfectionism, it is usually a protective mechanism to shield them from potential hurt or disappointment. “By avoiding opening up to people who are less than perfect, we run the risk of avoiding authentic connections.”

procrastination, what needs to be fixed

Perfectionists tend to focus on what needs to be fixed. Photo: Shutterstock

The self-oriented perfectionist is even more complex, Zaidi points out. “Your own standards and expectations of others are unlikely to change drastically, but how you measure your own ‘perfection’ can vary greatly based on who you’re dating.

“It can be easy to lose yourself and your identity when acting as the perfect partner for someone else. If you have an innate fear of rejection, you hold yourself to others’ standards and desires to a fault. But if you are looking for validation from others by trying to fit their standards, then you will never truly feel good enough in the relationship.”

So is it difficult for a perfectionist to find love?

procrastination, what needs to be fixed

Perfectionism in relationships can create unhealthy and unrealistic expectations. Illustration: Marcelo Duhalde

Zaidi says perfectionists tend to focus on what needs to be fixed and negate everything that’s good.

The good news is there are solutions when it interferes with your happiness, relationship satisfaction or personal goals.

The thing that is really hard – and really amazing – is giving up on being “perfect” and beginning the work of becoming your “imperfect” self, she says.

Zaidi says the first step is to let go of this obsession. “You can motivate yourself to change by learning the benefits of accepting fault and recognising the motivations for your pedantic behaviour.”

procrastination, what needs to be fixed

Allow yourself to make a mistake and learn from it. Photo: Shutterstock

She says another step is to start to imagine “good enough” outcomes for those times when a high standard cannot be met and accept that a “good enough” result gets the task done.

And remember, there are no quick results in this journey of letting go of perfectionism. Allow yourself to make a mistake and learn from it, rather than indulging in destructive behaviours such as self-criticism.

And if necessary, tell yourself that it’s OK to ask for professional help in your journey of recovery from weaning yourself off perfectionism, Zaidi says.

Luisa Tam is a Post correspondent who also hosts video tutorials on Cantonese language that are now part of Cathay Pacific’s in-flight entertainment programme

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