The sneaky way high standards can make love a challenge.

Anthea Levi
January 24, 2018

There's nothing wrong with striving for the best in life. But it is possible to set your standards too high, and that's something millennials appear to be guilty of—new research published in the journal Psychological Bulletin suggests young adults are even more perfectionistic than their predecessors.

That reality can be both a blessing and a curse, says Holly Richmond, PhD, a relationship and sex therapist in Los Angeles. “Having an internal sense of always striving and wanting better and more for yourself is a great quality,” she says. “But when it turns into competition, comparison, and judgment, it can get problematic.” 

It's one thing to limit your perfectionism to just one part of your world, like your work goals. Yet “typically a perfectionistic personality extends into every aspect of one’s life,” says Richmond—including your relationships. And that's where being so demanding of yourself can really do some damage. Read on for the four ways perfectionism can make love a challenge.

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Perfectionism can make you question your sex life

If you’re accustomed to having everything go perfectly, it’s not uncommon to question whether your sex life is as amazing as it could be. “I often hear perfectionist clients say they think other couples are having more or better sex than they are with their partner,” says Richmond. That makes a perfectionist feel like they're not measuring up in bed, and disappointment threatens to spill over into the rest of the relationship.

To avoid this, stop comparing your actual sex life to what you imagine everyone else's to be. “Everyone’s libidos are different. Everyone’s situations and health concerns are different,” says Richmond. “There’s no perfect amount of sex, kind of sex, or way to have sex. It just doesn’t exist.” 

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It hurts your body image

When perfectionism extends to your body image—you feel like you should be thinner, for example, or your skin totally flawless—your relationship can take a hit. “Feeling insecure about your body can get in the way of having good sex and being present in a relationship,” explains Richmond, who often hears clients say they are so caught up thinking about their appearance that they can’t tap into pleasure during sex.

Instead of getting bogged down by body insecurities in the bedroom, remember this: Your partner is just thrilled to be with you, naked, in bed and is almost categorically unconcerned with the so-called flaws you’re stuck on, says Richmond. 

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Perfectionism can spawn petty fights

People who strive for perfection tend to be Type As who value punctuality, planning, and details. So when a perfectionist links up with someone who’s more carefree, conflict can arise—and if they're not addressed, they can jeopardize the entire relationship.

For example, let’s say you and your SO are going to a party that starts at 5 o'clock. The perfectionist in your wants to arrive at 5 on the dot, while your partner is okay with showing up at 5:30. For some perfectionists, even this small difference of opinion can stir up trouble (sound familiar?)

If this or a similar situation happens, Richmond advises taking a step back. Picture the worst-case scenario and think about how it might play out. Ask yourself, What’s going to happen if we get there at 5:30 instead of 5? “Most likely the world isn’t going to stop turning and it’s probably not going to make any difference,” says Richmond. Picking your battles can prevent perfectionism from causing unnecessary strife.

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It might affect how well you communicate

“Often when perfectionists say or hear something, they take every word literally,” explains Richmond. “A different style of communicator, on the other hand, might not expect every word to be interpreted exactly as it’s delivered.” The result can be misunderstandings, mixed messages, and frustration.

According to Richmond, these types of mix-ups can be especially infuriating for perfectionists who prefer to stick to a strict plan. The key is to establish expectations for communication early on in your relationship, so you’re both aware of each other’s styles. And if you need clarity, ask for it. The more open and honest dialogue, the better.