The Search for Perfection: From Marrying to Buying a House

“Perfection is for the Gods; completeness and wholeness is the most humans can hope for.” – Marion Woodman

One of the most common and pernicious beliefs among my engaged and newlywed clients is that they’re supposed to marry their perfect match. While they may be rationally aware that perfection doesn’t exist, it’s not the rational mind that is activated during the wedding transition, but the fantasy mind. This certainly isn’t true for everyone who marries. There seems to be a segment of the population who sail through transitions with ease; those just aren’t the people who find me. And I would venture to hypothesize that those people aren’t perfectionists in other realms of their life. I think it would be safe to say that at least 99.9% of my clientele over the past twelve years are perfectionists. And that includes me.

Let me use a different situation to elucidate the perfectionists’ mind: buying and owning a house. Since I was a little girl, I’ve longed to live in nature. I used to sit in the backyard of my childhood house in Los Angeles next to the one small tree in the corner and imagine myself into an orchard. When my parents installed a small water fountain and pond at the base of the tree, I imagined that it was really a meandering creek. I wasn’t a city girl and I knew that one day I would live closer to nature.

When our first son was born, the longing catapulted into overdrive; Los Angeles became unbearable to me and we began our search for the city where we would raise our kids. We spent the next two years traveling the country and visited many lovely small cities. Although certainly not perfect, when we landed in Boulder we knew it was the place for us. We moved to Denver just after Everest’s second birthday and spent the next two years searching for our dream home.

We had probably seen two hundred houses before we found this one. I knew from the online photos that it was our house and the moment we stepped out of the car I turned to my husband and said, “This is it.” Hundreds of birds greeted our arrival. Trees abounded. And at the back of the property, separating our home from thousands of acres of open space, was a beautiful creek. We beelined straight for the creek and sat down; I closed my eyes and knew I was home. My heart soared to see Everest playing near the water, searching for sticks and throwing rocks into the creek. In that moment, I saw for him the connection to nature that I longed for as a child.

The house and land have, indeed, fulfilled most of my expectations. I’m truly in love with this place and there are still many, many moments when I have to pinch myself that we’re so blessed to live here. But there was one teensy tinsy detail I wasn’t fully aware of when we bought the house: mosquitoes. It’s a real problem. There aren’t just a few out at dusk and dawn; there are swarms of them and they’re out all day long, from the end of June to the end of August. The first summer I worried about West Nile virus for Everest. The second summer I barely stepped outside because Asher was a newborn. This summer, I’ve accepted that my kids will get bit and have let go of my anxiety about it, but still… those buggers are really, really irritating and prevent us from wanting to spend much time outdoors later in the day. So here we are, in the season of playing outside and enjoying the warm weather, and I feel trapped.

Here’s what my perfectionist’s mind says: “We made a mistake. We should move. We need to live somewhere we can take walks under the evening stars. I don’t want to feel trapped inside for two months of the year. Summer is the time of enjoying the outdoors any time of day or night. I had a small backyard as a child but at least I could step outside whenever I wanted.” Etcetera.

My non-perfectionst mind responds: “This is the deal with living in nature close to water. Sure, you might find places that don’t have mosquitoes, but you would be sacrificing something else important to you. We’re not moving. You searched for this house your entire life and, while not perfect, it’s pretty wonderful. Can you deal with the fact that 85% of the time this house is exactly what you want? It would be the same anywhere else, just a different set of qualities that work and don’t work for you. Here’s the bottom line: There’s no such thing as a perfect city. There’s no such thing as a perfect house. There are compromises and sacrifices everywhere. Focus your mind on gratitude and the over-focus on the mosquitoes will shrink down to a manageable size.”

Sound familiar? If you’re engaged and struggling with your perfectionist mind, the mind that says that some other guy would be better for you, the one that tells you to run from your loving, responsible, honest, cute guy who shares similar values and life goals because he’s too short or isn’t masculine enough or doesn’t have enough interests and hobbies, remind yourself that perfection doesn’t exist. There will always be mosquitoes in one form or another; it’s just part of the deal with life on earth. But a lovely life with a lovely man in a lovely home… that’s entirely possible. And the more your shift your attention to the places of appreciation, the smaller those mosquitos will become.

Here’s what I noticed about my mosquito mind today: The thoughts about the mosquitoes are much bigger than the reality. (This s often what my clients tell me about their fear-based thoughts regarding their partner: that the fear is much bigger when they’re away from their partner and shrinks to almost nothing in his presence.) In other words, we spent most of the afternoon outside and, while we did have to contend with some mosquitoes, the beauty of our yard far outweighed the annoyance of those little buggers. Sometimes, in the middle of winter, I’ll be stunned by the gorgeous scene that surrounds me, and the thought will arrive: “Oh, yes, it would be heaven except for those mosquitoes in the summer.” If I allow the negative thought to take hold, the infusion of beauty instantly transforms into anxiety. But if I brush it away like I brush away the actual mosquitoes, the gratitude builds and I’m flooded with a positive state of mind.

Yesterday, as Asher napped and Everest and I had “Mommy private time”,  we went into the garden and picked peas. Then we sat on our lawn chair together, ate each delicious, homegrown pea, listened to the rush of the creek, and watched the billowy white clouds cross the enormous Colorado sky. Yes, the occasional mosquito attempted to partake of its meal as well, but we just swatted them away and continued enjoying our moment. It’s mosquito-mind more than the actual mosquitoes that interfere with serenity, I thought. When I look with the right mind, all I need is right in front of me.

If you’re an anxious bride with a good man, if your relationship works most of the time except when you find yourself overwhelmed by the negative subtext that runs through your mind, take heart: when you learn to work with your fear-based thoughts, you’ll eventually be able to swat them away as easily as we swat the mosquitoes.

22 comments to The Search for Perfection: From Marrying to Buying a House

  • Natalie

    Another great post, Sheryl. The only point I’d disagree with from my personal perspective is “This is often what my clients tell me about their fear-based thoughts regarding their partner: that the fear is much bigger when they’re away from their partner and shrinks to almost nothing in his presence.”

    For me, it was the exact opposite. I felt calmer when away from my now husband… more rational, better able to realize what I had was a good thing. When I was around him, I learned he was one of my “triggers.” I was microanalyzing every move, every breath, every perceived intention of a comment/gesture. It took a lot of work for me to focus on just being in the moment with my then fiance, whether it was sitting on the couch watching a movie or spending time at a family picnic. I felt like something was incredibly wrong with me that I felt more at peace alone (“Does this mean I should be alone?”) and more anxious with the man I was planning “forever” with. That pattern has lessened considerably over the last 3 years and it rarely happens anymore. But learning to let go of the anxiety while I was with my husband and just focus on what I know is good within our relationship took work. That fantasy man/relationship was very hard for me to let go of and sometimes (although rarely) it still tries to sneak into my mind. But I know now that I wouldn’t trade the good, solid relationship I have for the fantasy of “perfection.”

  • Natalie – I anticipated that some women might feel triggered by that line, so thanks for sharing your experience! Actually, I had the same experience as you in the beginning of my relationship with my husband: the fear was MUCH worse – almost intolerable – in his presence. It can certainly go either way, but the vast majority of my clients feel more calm when they’re with their fiance or husband and the fear kicks into overdrive in his absence. I haven’t been able to draw any conclusions about why this differs from relationship to relationship other than it has absolutely no bearing on the success of the marriage.

  • Natalie

    Sheryl…

    I hope my comment didn’t come across as argumentative. I was the same way you describe yourself and know that many women were the opposite of what I experienced. I mostly wanted to comment so if someone reads this and thinks “but I feel the other way,” they don’t feel alone or abnormal. :)

  • Not at all! I love that you responded because I’m sure there are women who will read the post and feel spiked by that line – then reassured by your comment.

  • Janelle

    Natalie & Sheryl,

    I have to say that line did scare me at first. However, there have been times during my engagement where I am more stressed with my fiance is around and other times I’m more stressed when he’s not around. At the moment, however, I have been more anxious when he’s around! So thank you both!

    Also, I’m finding that I’m swatting more mosquitoes then ever now that I’m a few weeks away from my wedding! I’m so happy that I found this site months ago because I finally starting to realize how my fear takes over. I’m finally getting comfortable listening to the fears and letting myself feel the fear.

    Before, I was scared to listen to my fear because I didn’t want to find out that it may have been the truth. However, the more I let the fear in over the past few months, the easier it has been on me emotionally. I’m finding that the more I let the fear in, I no longer believe the fear (which took months and months to get to this point). It’s weird that I feel comfortable letting the fear in now and I think that it is because I no longer believe the fear (well for the moment that is, the fear does try to trick me sometimes). I’m getting to the point where I’m “swatting the mosquitoes away”.

    I can’t even begin to tell you how helpful this site and the people on here has been during my engagement. I AGREE WITH YOU 100% THAT IS TAKES A YEAR TO GET EMOTIONALLY READY FOR A WEDDING/MARRIAGE. Well at least in my case it has taken me a full year to get emotionally ready! There were points during my engagement where I asked my fiance if we could move up the wedding so that we could get it over with, HAHA, I’m so glad that we didn’t do that! I definitely needed this time to get to know myself again and after all of the emotional breakdowns, I found that I am the person that I thought I was. The best advice I have received so far is to “hold onto how you felt before the engagement and when you get anxious remember that feeling- b/c that is your truth”

    THANK YOU!!!

  • This is a wonderfully written post. I just wanted to say that Sheryl helped me tremendously when I was preparing for my wedding, especially, with regards to “perfect.” By the end of the engagement, I was able to include imperfection within my own use of the word “perfect.” I was comfortable with the fact that it may rain, or my veil may rip, but that my wedding would still be perfect because I was marrying my husband. In the same way, I do view him as my perfect match, and perfection includes some very hard interactions sometimes. The lessons one learns from their mate are similar to the challenges faced with one’s children; these beings that we are deeply wound up with on our soul’s journey can challenge and mirror us on a profound level. Thank you, Sheryl, for another insightful, clear, and generous post. –Jessica

  • Hi Sheryl,
    I love your blog and your insight and authenticity. Last time we spoke was on Heart Beat for my 8 week conscious wedding series back in Arpil/May. Since speaking I got married (early June)! It was magical and meaningful and fun and came with all different emotions that are still unravelling. I love checking in on your posts and comments for some good grounding and support as I continue on with this rite of passage. I did listen to most of my shows over again before the wedding, especially yours, to fully understand the range of emotions that I was experiencing. It was a blessing. If any future brides want to have a listen all the shows are archived here http://juliecusmariu.com/blog/gettingmarriedconsciously/
    I look forward to being in touch and oh, how I loved reading about the mosquitos. I love how I am invited to maintain perspective these days and shift my focus, thanks for this invitation once again.
    with gratitude,
    Julie Cusmariu
    xo

  • Nice to hear from you, Julie. I’ve probably done hundreds of radio shows since the release of The Conscious Bride and I have to say that speaking with you was a definite high point. You’re a wonderful host and I second your invitation for everyone interested in the wedding transition – or consciousness in general – to head over to your archives.

  • Janelle

    http://www.blogtalkradio.com/search/sheryl-paul/

    Everyone has to go to this site. Sheryl’s voice is so calming and this is my FAVORITE podcast. Make sure that you listen to the entire thing, it is under secret lives of men! LOVE IT!

  • Ginger

    Hi,
    I can relate to feeling more anxious when Im not with my boyfriend though I can definatly find things to pick on when were together. when all is right; its right, but one little thing goes wrong and Im ready to tie up my runnin shoes. I refuse to keep running though.

    Ive learned from your book that the more you focus on the anxiety, the bigger it gets…and it does. Im trying to focus on the good things not the fear and Ive been doing really good. I know I want to marry this man and have been gearing him up and in just a few days I know Ill be getting engaged which both excites me and terrifies me! How in the world am I gonna marry a man whose stable, handsome, great with my daughter, loves me, wants me and has fought for me for 10 years, will never leave me, wont think of being unfaithful, will be a great provider and is a great lover when he chews his ice and smacks his gum? hmm, how? I just have to laugh at myself when I think about it…really? am I gonna run because of something as petty as that?!…not this time…….

    Well, good news, I ordered your wedding planner last week and should get it anyday…Im excited to start working in it:) and excited to move forward into our future…

    PS. have you concidered a forum of some sort so we (all the anxious ones) can corespond online? Also, have you concidered more options for your phone group such as additional times or days? thanks for all you do Sheryl:)

  • Hi Ginger – Yes, you don’t want to over-focus on the anxiety, but you do want to give the fear a voice. The work is not about sweeping the fear under the rug with the risk of it crashing down on your after the wedding, but rather to voice it and then work with it effectively (using journaling and the specific techniques I talked about in a video blog). It sounds like you’re doing great.

    I used to have a message board on my website but have closed it down for a variety of reasons. Hopefully, this blog will serve the same purpose, at least for now.

    What time would work for you for a phone group? We’re definitely open to other days and times.

    Sheryl

  • Erin

    To Natalie:

    What relief I felt as I scrolled down to read your post! I did indeed have the very reaction to that line (“spiked” then reassured) that Sheryl describes.

    I’m glad to have found this site, as I’ve been experiencing anxiety ever since my wedding, which occurred two weeks ago. One thing I’ve realized in reading some of Sheryl’s articles is that I didn’t really think about the wedding as initiating a transition at all–strange as that seems. My husband and I had lived together for five years prior to the wedding, and so while I was anticipating the wedding as an “event,” I didn’t view it as a significant transition into a new state of life.

    I’ve been a bit blindsided by my feelings, but I’m going to fend of the mosquitoes and start journaling!

    Many thanks.

  • Janelle

    you should go and visit the inner bonding site and watch the you-tube videos…they help out tremendously!!

  • Natalie

    Erin,

    I’m glad I could give you some “Hey, I’m not alone” feelings. Validation isn’t always necessary, but in something as “taboo” as feeling anxious about your marriage/relationship, it’s nice to know you’re not alone. :)

  • [...] fantastic marriage advice from life transition expert Sheryl Paul, you can read the full post on her blog.  Conscious Weddings is a StudioWed Denver [...]

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  • ScottishBride

    Janelle – can you repost the video you refer to in this post? I could never find it and I really want to listen to it seeing as you recommend it so highly :-)

  • Janelle

    hey sb! I posted that 2 years ago before my wedding…I don’t know where the video is anymore : ( Sorry

  • Here’s the link to the IB videos: http://www.innerbonding.com/youtube.php
    Definitely worth watching!