The Gift of Imperfection
I was talking to a friend the other day who described himself as a perfectionist when it came to his yard, while at the same time acknowledging he was doing his best to get over the trait that had earned him his self-given title. He explained that the problem with being a yard perfectionist is that even when your lawn is ninety-eight percent weed free, the only thing about the yard that you notice is the few places where crabgrass is interrupting the beautiful stretches of grass. While no one would ever confuse me with a lawn perfectionist, I certainly can be one in other areas of my life, and so I know of what my friend speaks. In fact, I shared with my friend that I describe myself as a "recovering perfectionist." I commit one day at a time to not wearing myself and others out by not wanting or expecting everything to be flawless.
Summer is not only the season when we spend time thinking about, working on, and enjoying gardens, lawns, and parks, it is also the season of the year that we think about, plan, and enjoy weddings. As I was thinking about weddings this week and all of the relationships that will be celebrated, I realized that my lawn perfectionist friend provided me with an ideal metaphor for helping those couples, and all others in relationships, think about how they can best build healthy, long-lasting relationships, marriages, and families.
Every relationship contains some weeds of imperfection. Why? It’s because every relationship is made up of two imperfect people, two people who at times naturally become self-centered, irritable, and crabby. If we struggle with perfectionism in our relationships then eventually the only thing we will see in our partner, child, or friend is his or her "weeds." If we make a habit of noticing their flaws, pretty soon we may, without even realizing it, begin to overlook all of their good traits.
We have a saying in Living Compass that reminds us that, ”Whatever we pay attention to is what will grow." If we only pay attention to the crabgrass in someone we care about, pretty soon that's all we will see. On the other hand, if we pay attention to what we love, enjoy, and appreciate about that person, we will see weeds less and less. If there is a weed growing in a relationship that is serious and potentially destructive to a relationship, then it must definitely be addressed before it creates real damage.
I recently had the chance to spend time with a couple who has been married for over fifty years. When I asked them what advice they would share with any couple just starting out, they both agreed on two pieces of wisdom.
“Don’t focus on the petty things that can annoy you in the relationship.”
“Make time every day to truly love and appreciate one another.”
This advice certainly seems to be helpful for many people I speak with, both personally and professionally, and I can see how it relates to managing perfectionist tendencies. Anyone can quickly wear out a partner, child, spouse, friend, or coworker with unrealistic expectations.
Weeds will always appear from time to time, both in lawns and in relationships. Knowing the difference between the weeds that are a normal part of every relationship and the weeds that are potentially destructive, and doing something about them is key to creating and maintaining healthy relationships. In addition, choosing to regularly focus our attention on what we love about a partner, spouse, child, or friend will grow both our love for them, as well as create a surplus of goodwill in our relationship. Just as grass needs water to stay green and growing, relationships, too, remain green and growing when they are watered regularly with love and positive attention.
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