Perfectionism and Eating Disorders and Relationships

Those who struggle with eating disorders are also known to struggle with perfectionism.

Driven, competitive and hypersensitive these individuals have a hard time finding realistic expectations for their partners and relationships. Today we explore how perfectionism affects a relationship and how to address perfectionism.

One of the most important things in a relationship is knowing that you and your partner are on an even playing field.  However, for a person who struggles with an eating disorder, constant comparing and the strive toward perfection can taint a good relationship formula. When a couple or individual strives to become the ”perfect” partner or couple neither is possible or desirable. In fact, strong perfectionist traits usually prevent healthy relationship formation. Rather than experiencing a full and healthy range of emotions, a perfectionist often vacillates between two primary emotions—dread and relief.
The up and down pattern of dread and relief endlessly repeats itself in the life of a perfectionist, and partners and children often bare the whip lash of jolts.

In fact, perfectionists spend most of their time dreading the next potential failure, and successes are met with a feeling of temporary relief, rather than with a feeling of satisfaction in having done a thing well. Self-esteem does not build from feelings of relief, or the temporary reprieve of having succeeded at something. Lacking a deep and consistent source of self-esteem, failures hit especially hard for perfectionists, and may lead to long bouts of depression and withdrawal in some individuals.

Further, perfectionist individuals are often hypersensitive to perceived rejection or possible evidence of failure, and there is a fundamental rigidity in the relentless stance of preparing for failure. Unfortunately, when an individual is caught up in the throws of perfectionist striving, that person is likely to be less interested in developing a healthy, mutually satisfying marriage and more interested in chasing the elusive rabbit in his or her own head.

Along these lines, partners of perfectionist individuals often comment on their partner’s emotional unavailability. It is very hard for a perfectionist to share her internal experience with a partner. Perfectionists often feel that they must always be in control of their emotions. A perfectionist may avoid talking about fears, inadequacies, insecurities, and disappointments with others, even with those with whom they are closest. Naturally, this greatly limits emotional intimacy in a marriage.

Perfectionist individuals can also be fiercely competitive, even with their partners. Feelings of inadequacy may set the stage for downward social comparison within their own homes. Celebrating the victories of a spouse may be especially hard if such success threatens a perfectionist partner’s sense of being the more intelligent partner in the relationship.

The exhaustion that comes from striving to be perfect can also lead a perfectionistic individual to give up in the face of obstacles. A marriage of equals is hard to create when one (or both) partner(s) are perfectionists. A marriage of equals is a partnership between two people who see each other as true equals. Not only must they be true equals, but both must be open to influencing each other continuously in order to become perfect for, and irreplaceable to, each other. When perfectionism has been conquered, healthy self-esteem can flower, and when it does, you are much more likely to attract someone with the potential and desire to work at becoming the perfect partner for you as opposed to the perfect specimen of human.