The Danger of the Perfect Relationship, and the Health of the Good Enough Lover

Our human hearts, built for connection, family and pursuit, can often make us yearn for a perfect relationship. Whether we dream of a future perfect union that we’ve never yet approached, or pine for the perfection of an imperfect relationship we’re within, we may often find ourselves reaching for more. While reaching for a specific goal can be a healthy propellant, it can be severely dangerous if perfection is what we’re shooting for. 

Why is perfection dangerous?

One of the reasons why “perfect” is a harmful hope for a relationship is because it is a superlative. Through “perfect” being superlative, everything other than “perfect” gets dumped into a category of “imperfect,” no matter its degree of difference from perfection. There is no room left for nuance. Grey area of all shades becomes lumped into a single category of lack, failure, broken expectations and “not good enough.” If we are searching for the perfect relationship with our partner, we leave a massive amount of room for landing in what we see as an imperfect relationship. Our hope for the ultimate creates pain when we live within anything underneath that high bar.

Similarity to making decisions

How does your mind think when you have to make a big decision in your life? When you’ve had to choose a college major, a holiday gift for a family member, or whether or not to voice a grievance, how have you wrestled with your decision? Did you feel a debilitating pressure to select correctly, or give yourself the grace to try, and risk mistakes? When we need to make a choice, it can be easy to become caught up in wondering what the “right” decision is. The fact of the matter, however, is that there is no such thing as a “right” decision knowable by our fallible human minds. There only exists, accessible to us, the “best” decision for the moment, which takes into account the limited information we have at the time. 

I can look back on my choice of university major for an example of this. I pursued a B.Sc. in Psychology with minors in Biology and English, and I know now that I could have pursued a B.A. and saved myself the wrath of calculus classes. However, I only know this having already experienced the outcome of my moving toward the practice of psychotherapy, where previously I’d been interested in a career in research and academia, for which a B.Sc. would have better prepared me. Should I say now, looking back, that I made the wrong choice? No. I am fully aware that I made the best choice I could have at the time. Perhaps there are regrettable portions, like not then having the personality traits that later led me to psychotherapy over academia, but even these are good in that they offer me helpful lessons now. Back when I was choosing my major, I put effort into my choice and I made the best decision possible with the information I had. 

In a similar way to there being no possible thing as a “right” choice, there is also no such thing as a “perfect” relationship, much as we may yearn for it due to expectations given to us by our media, our family or our own general perfectionism. Much like our decisions can only, realistically, reach up until a point of “best possible at the time,” so only can our relationships. 

A good enough lover

Pediatrician and psychoanalyst, D. W. Winnicott, in his theorizing about parent-child relationships, proposed the idea of “the good enough parent” (1973). Winnicott’s idea was that the ordinary mother, devoted and fallible, loving and imperfect, can be exactly enough for a child. Through being raised by his good enough, ordinary mother, a child learns both that he is worthy of love, and that life is messy. He sees his mother fail sometimes, and this actually is a better experience than seeing his mother be perfect, as it awakes him to the reality of human fallibility, preparing him to face his own hopes and failures in his adulthood. 

The idea of a good enough lover, or good enough partner, can be similarly explored. There may be something better to gain with an imperfect partner than with an ideal, perfect one. Our devoted but fallible partner might force us to recognize the complexities of our world. Our loving but imperfect partner might allow us the safety to acknowledge (and then work on) our own imperfection.


There exist many grey shades of good relationships. A good relationship can have its ups and downs, its times of butterflies and its times of boredom. It is commendable to have a goal of “levelling up” your relationship, one grey shade at a time, so long as you recognize what makes it grey: the nuances of the good and bad, the holding space for pain, the recognition of what you appreciate and what you do not, security in the fact that your partner is both good and imperfect. Indeed, sometimes it is the very act of accepting the nuances that provides what one needs to grow even further. Here, there is not a story of “we have an imperfect relationship but we want a perfect one,” but a story of “we have a complex relationship of good and bad and we want to honour the good and work on improving the bad.” 

What can you do, today, to acknowledge your own shades of good and bad? What can you do to appreciate your partner’s good contributions, while seeing their bad contributions as healthy challenges for growth? What can you do to dismiss unhelpful pining for perfection? What can you do to thrive in your good enough relationship?



Winnicott, D. W. (1973). The Child, the Family and the Outside World.


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