Again and again, I find that most obstacles in relationships boil down to two things: fear of loss, and difficulty articulating needs and desires. And I consider the question: do these two phenomena have a common root cause?
I think so. Perfectionism.
Whether it’s your “Good Girl” complex, “Superman” syndrome, your “Inner Perfect Poly Person”, or whatever story you have bought into, perfectionism is a future ideal, a high-bar immaculate image inspired by the scripts presented to us about life, relating, and grown-up-ing that we aspire to. We attempt to fake-it-till-you-make-it. That “you must be perfect, you must be good, you must be nice” voice internally critiques our actions. We each create our own unique Perfection role model, based on what we are told we are supposed to be.
And in this perfectionism, we find ourselves held hostage to an impossible ransom.
We can so easily become intoxicated by our successes and wins in relationships, creative achievements, and the recognition and praise we receive from others for these. When flaws begin to show up- when we make mistakes, or fall short of our goals- rather than rock the boat, we tend to shut up and keep rowing, sometimes cramming more people onto the sinking ship. We can be quick to blame others for the mistakes in relationships and avoid taking on shared responsibility where it’s due. We become afraid to ask for what we want for fear that asking for something means we are lacking in some way- and therefore, imperfect.
News flash: no one is perfect. No one.
We can aspire to perfection, and it is a noble goal to measure our actions by. But when we believe that perfection is a finite, attainable goal, we sabotage ourselves, our happiness, and our sense of fulfilment in life.
We also begin to hold others hostage to our ideas of what perfection we believe we should be experiencing from them, sabotaging the happiness of our loved ones, and creating friction and disconnect in our relationships with them.
How often have you heard of a relationship break-down where all the blame is placed on someone else? Holding an image of perfection of someone you love creates an expectation, and can inhibit your ability to experience true, deep, intimacy with them. Feeling beholden to be the perfect person you paint them as, takes them out of authenticity, and the moment we lose that authenticity, we disconnect from the trust and profound sense of ‘being seen’ that we have shared.
How does all this relate to fear and desire?
In some ideals of perfection, the enlightened being would have no fears, no desires. To admit we fear losing something- or that we feel a lack of something- would be reflective of imperfection. Those who are familiar with their own perfectionism may also resonate with Imposter Syndrome: the notion that everyone who thinks you’re perfect and awesome has been tricked by you, and one day will find out you are anything but perfect.
So, if you are running into bumps in the road in any of your relationships, and/or any of what I’ve written here resonates for you, what then?
First invite in some compassion for yourself. Did you mess up? It’s okay to be imperfect. Our mistakes are how we learn.
Conflict in relationships can be a healthy thing, especially if we can work together to create conflict intimacy- a communication art form whereby disagreement can bring us closer, rather than pushing us apart.
Your desires are important. Whilst you may not have those desires met, and they may well be impossible or unreasonable, it is healthy to vocalise them, and to ask for what you want. Communicating about desire can be a fantastic way to develop deeper intimacy, regardless of whether those desires are reciprocated or not.
Take some time to acknowledge how you feel, balancing your wins and areas for growth. Recognising your feelings and examining them is important to do. Even more important is to let yourself really feel how you feel, in your body.
It’s okay to fall out of love, and it’s okay for the love you feel to change and morph- give yourself permission to talk about it when that happens.
When we embrace vulnerability and share that with our trusted friends and lovers, the perfectionist in us melts. The perfection here is in the imperfection; none of us have all the answers- and this sense of humility and vulnerability offers us an imperfectly perfect way to go about having relationships, because it gives us permission to show up as our genuine, imperfect selves, and maybe even be loved for who we are in the moment, rather than the impossible ideal we are desperately trying to become.