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Home > Research Articles > Perfectionists May Have Less-Than-Perfect Marriages

Reuters Health

Sunday, February 23, 2003

Fri February 21, 2003 05:27 PM ET

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - People who describe themselves as perfectionists may do well on job interviews, but new study findings suggest that they may struggle in marriage and other intimate relationships. Previous research has shown that certain personality traits can affect a couple's ability to adjust to marriage. In this study, a team of Canadian researchers report that a partner's perfectionism greatly influences their--and their mate's--adjustment to marriage.

"Thus, perfectionism may be worth considering in the context of marital and family therapy," write Dr. Paul L. Hewitt of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver and his colleagues.

Their study involved 76 couples who were married or had been living together for no more than four years. Perfectionism was determined by the extent to which the men and women agreed with statements such as, "When I am working on something, I cannot relax until it is perfect."

The findings are published in the February issue of the Journal of Marriage and the Family.

Overall, men and women who identified their partners as perfectionists--meaning they felt that their mates demanded perfection from them--tended to report greater use of sarcasm, nagging and other conflict-driven strategies to cope with their marital problems, study findings indicate.

And when men used these conflict strategies, both they and their wives rated marital adjustment--including their satisfaction with the marriage and the quality of their marital intimacy--lower than did their peers.

This suggests "individuals' personality traits may affect not only their own experience of the marriage, but the experience of their partner as well," Hewitt and his colleagues write.

What's more, women, but not men, who expected perfection from their mates also seemed unhappy with the relationship, study findings indicate. They reported poorer marital functioning than did women who did not have such high demands of their partners.

"This finding may suggest that women who expect perfection from their spouses may be especially likely to be dissatisfied, because their spouses will inevitably fail to meet these expectations," the researchers speculate.

More study is needed, the authors say, on how perfectionists respond to their partners' failure to meet their high demands as well as whether perfectionism is related to changes in a couple's coping style or marital satisfaction in the long-term.

SOURCE: Journal of Marriage and the Family 2003;65:143-158.