Dealing With the Perfectionist You Love

boss-yellingBy definition, a perfectionist is someone who expects things–and you–to be perfect.  But what “perfect” means can change from day to day, and if you don’t keep up with their expectations for you, then you tend to bear the brunt of their frustrations.

Why is perfectionism so dangerous in a relationship?  First, it starts with the perfectionist, who doubts his/her own value if things aren’t just right.  It is a heavy burden to bare, and creates a great deal of internal stress for the perfectionist.  Because their sense of value hinges on being a certain way, if things go awry, they may become aggressive, agitated, or perhaps even give an eery silent treatment until things (or you) are back to the way that makes them feel important.

You may be reading this and thinking, “This sounds like a controlling person.”  There are definitely perfectionists who are controlling, but there are also many perfectionists who aren’t.  The terms aren’t synonymous.  A controlling person manipulates or forces you to be a certain way, whereas a perfectionist is more likely to use complaining (rather than force); each may have the same outcome,  but they can have a different pathway for that change.  A perfectionist does not want you to showcase budding talents because they feel it will represent them in a negative way, and a controlling person doesn’t want you to do anything that makes you feel good–for any reason.

The first thing to realize is how you are being affected.  Many times, we can feel like we’re living with a perfectionist (or a controlling person) and because we become so protective or defensive,or anticipate always getting hurt, we end up becoming the very kind of person we fear or resent.  After checking our own actions and taking responsibility for our own responses, the next step is to realize this is NOT all about you.  This is a problem they have, and they are being this way because there is something wrong with them, likely going back to their childhood.  It is unrealistic to be perfect, and it is unreasonable to expect you to be perfectly right all the time.  This life is a time to grow, develop, and improve, but it takes practice, previous success, and being able to make mistakes and to learn from those mistakes.

I know there are some people reading this post or column and thinking, “Wow, the author is off his rocker.  I’m a perfectionist and it’s really helped me in life.  He’s making me out to be the bad person here.”  I think part of the frustration is semantics; a lot of people call themselves a “perfectionist” because they have a Type A personality, are driven, and work hard for their accomplishments.  I personally would not call that person a perfectionist; seeking to improve life is not the same as being a perfectionist.  Rather, a perfectionist is one who expects those around them to never make a mistake, and if they do, that it’s a representation of their (the perfectionist’s) value or worth.

(If you are married to a perfectionist, my book “Grow Your Marriage by Leaps & Boundaries” talks extensively about coping and may serve as a resource for you).



  1. A perfectionist does not want you to showcase budding talents because they feel it will represent them in a negative way

    Most of the time they are worried about disapproval from family and/or peers, especially if they have family and/or peers who are perfectionists themselves, expecting them to date and marry someone who fits their expectations.

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