Last night Eric and I took our puppy, Ramsey, to her first obedience-training class. As I sat there and listened to all the different techniques, I began to feel overwhelmed. We practiced sitting, standing, down, recall, and waiting. In my opinion, I have the cutest, sweetest, smartest pup on the planet, so I became frustrated with myself when she wouldn’t do certain tasks just right. in my mind, I had to have her complete each task perfectly before the end of class and I could certainly not have the trainer see her not perform perfectly!
As my wonderful husband always does, he reminded me of the differences between realistic and unrealistic expectations. Why was I so worked up about her doing the tasks perfectly? For starters, I wanted to continue believing that my puppy was the cutest, smartest, sweetest puppy in the world. If other dogs seemed to be learning faster than her, how could she be the smartest? My fantasy was shattered. Secondly, I wanted the trainer to notice that I’d been working with her at home (as I have been) and I didn’t want her to think that I was not a good pet owner. If she thought of me as a failure, wouldn’t that make me one? After all, she is the trainer.
Thankfully, irrational thoughts such as these often become clear after stepping away from the situation for a while. After a good night’s sleep, I was up and ready to tackle training with my cute, smart, sweet puppy. It doesn’t matter if she’s the best. She’s mine and I’m thankful for all she can do and for all she’s learning each day. Believe it or not, this also applies to your relationship!
Not everyone struggles with the fantasy of perfectionism, but many people want their relationships to be perfect from day one. The very beginning of a relationship often feels perfect. Everything the other person does is cute and when they do something that seems slightly uncalled for (maybe they mildly insult you or use language you are not comfortable hearing), you let it go because they are just so adorable, sweet, and smart. In fact, you may think you have the cutest, sweetest, smartest boyfriend or girlfriend on the planet! However, after a little while it becomes clear that he or she is not perfect and there needs to be some rules and mutual understanding in your relationship. It can be beneficial to seek pre-engagement counseling to work on these issues.
In counseling with young couples, Eric and I have encountered a number of relational perfectionists. It is a joy working with clients who care so deeply about the future of their relationship. Unfortunately, these clients often come into counseling with unrealistic expectations of their partner and themselves. If issues arise in counseling, then how can they say their relationship is perfect? “If it’s not perfect,” they think, “is it worth continuing?” No relationship is perfect and some of the best relationships are the ones that had many imperfections and the couple worked hard together to correct them.
In a way, Eric and I are the “trainers,” and some couples don’t want us to see the imperfections in their relationship, so they try to have everything working perfectly before counseling begins. “What would it mean if our counselors thought we were doing things wrong? Would they think we are not capable of having a good relationship?” I’m here to tell you, take a deep breath! It takes time to learn to do the relational dance together. All couples need to allow themselves time to start slowly and learn a little more about each other, and how they relate to each other, each day.
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