Weeding Out Perfectionism

I was talking to a friend the other day who described himself as a lawn perfectionist, while at the same time 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 lawn perfectionist is that even when your lawn is 98 percent weed free, the only thing about the lawn 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 a perfectionist in other areas of my life, and so I know of what my friends 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 being a perfectionist. 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 think about how to build healthy, long lasting relationships and marriages.

Every relationship contains some weeds of imperfection. Why? This is because every relationship is made up of two imperfect people who at times naturally become self-centered, irritable, and crabby. If we struggle with perfectionism in our relationships then it will be the case that the only thing we can see in our partner is his or her "weeds." If we make a habit of this pretty soon we may overlook all of the good traits in our partner. We have a saying in Living Compass that points out that "Whatever we pay attention to is what will grow." If you only pay attention to the crabgrass in someone you love, pretty soon that's all you will see. On the other hand, if you pay attention to what you love and appreciate about that person, most likely the weeds will soon be less noticeable. Obviously, if there is a weed growing in a relationship that is serious and potentially destructive to a relationship, then it must be addressed. I am referring here to the normal human imperfections that occur in every person and in every relationship.

When I asked people around our office today what advice they would share with any couple getting married this summer so as to avoid letting too much crab grass grow in their relationship, the most common advice was to manage one's expectation of one's partner or spouse. This certainly rings true for lot of people I speak with, both personally and professionally, and it is related to managing perfectionist tendencies. Anyone can easily wear out a partner, 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 is key to creating and maintaining a healthy relationship. In addition, choosing to regularly focus our attention on what we love about a partner, spouse, or friend will grow both our love for him or her, as well as create a surplus of goodwill in our relationship. Just as grass needs water to stay green and growing and to crowd out the weeds, relationships, too, stay green and growing when they are watered regularly with love and positive attention.