As discussed earlier in my post titled “Fear of Mistakes,” perfectionists avoid taking action, making decisions, and making commitments in hopes of keeping all of their options open before deciding on one best “perfect” option. This behaviour often shows up in the romantic relationships of perfectionists. But unlike most of their other inanimate options that can be easily kept within their reach with a minimal amount of control, human beings require much more control because they have a mind of their own.

Relationship perfectionists sabotage and re-establish their romantic relationships (also known as “push-pull”) to keep all of their romantic options open and control their fear of making a mistake in the selection of a romantic partner.

For extreme relationship perfectionists, their search for “the one” ends when they have finally met and evaluated every single potential romantic partner on the face of this planet. But before they can complete their impossible mission, most of them come across some “good” options that do a good enough job of giving them some pleasure until they find someone better.

But these “good” options, to the frustration of relationship perfectionists, do not stay put. Sometimes they express their desire to take the relationship to a deeper level of intimacy. This terrifies relationship perfectionists because their all-or-nothing thinking causes them to feel as though they are being pressured into something as exclusive as marriage. Other times, these “good” options express their desire to remove themselves romantically. This also terrifies relationship perfectionists because it threatens their plans to keep all of their options open. In attempt to avoid making choosing or losing mistakes, relationship perfectionists control the intimacy level of their relationships through pushing and pulling.

All that a relationship perfectionist achieves through successfully exercising push-pull techniques is just the peace of mind of having someone to go to if all else fails. Unfortunately, it is at the severe expense of another person’s emotional welfare.


  • Your standards actually go higher – You probably think your standards are already high enough. If you have a fear of making mistakes in the selection of a romantic partner, then actually your standards are not so high. Beneath all your “high standards,” you are actually afraid of getting hurt. You have trained your eye to look out for someone who will hurt you the least. After overcoming your fear, you will be able to appreciate much better qualities in a romantic partner than just someone “nice” who would never even hurt a fly.
  • You have so much peace in your romantic relationships.
  • You can be so forgiving and understanding when your romantic partner does something that hurts you.


Understand that your all-or-nothing thinking is inaccurate. Challenge yourself to see the more accurate “middle-ground” meaning of your romantic partner’s affection. Openly communicate with your partner that you have a fear that holds you back from wholly enjoying a relationship. Be honest and let your partner know that your fear intensifies when you feel out of control, which usually happens when the intimacy level of a relationship fluctuates too much.

Your relationship perfectionist partner is probably unaware that his or her push-pull tendencies are driven by his or her fear of making mistakes. Address this issue immediately. After he or she recognizes the fear, ask him or her if he or she would like to (A) face the fear by taking a chance and attempting to do away with his or her control patterns or (B) continue to hold onto the fear and all the control patterns that come with it. If he or she chooses the latter, I suggest you leave the doomed relationship. If he or she chooses the former, be patient and give assurance to your partner that “everything is going to be just fine.” Even if your heart wants to express so much affection to your partner, understand that he or she may not respond to it so well because of his or her fear. While your relationship perfectionist partner makes gradual progress towards eliminating his or her fear, resist the urge to express your intense love for him or her. You can unload it all once his or her fear has been conquered.

You must understand that your relationship control techniques, though they make you feel safe, are actually terrible for you. Because of them, you are not able to face your relationship fears. As long as you hold onto your control techniques, you will never get rid of that fear. Stop exercising your control in relationships. When the intimacy level of a relationship fluctuates, hold yourself back from doing anything about it. It will feel very scary at first, but those feelings will pass. Just continue to tell yourself “everything is going to be ok.”

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5 thoughts on “Push-Pull

  1. heather says:

    I am experiencing alot of push pull from someone with OCPD. He seems to care very deeply for me but can not even bring himself to be intimate with me because in his head everything must be perfect. I feel at a loss as he constantly supports my work and education with financial assistance because he believes so strongly in what I do, but he will not commit to our “dating”. Is this a holding pattern that is never ending? What is the final result in such a senario? It has been 7 months.

    • Daniel Kim says:

      The final result of continued push-pull techniques: never making a real commitment (because he never gets a chance to face his fear of “making a mistake” with somebody) and intimacy level of relationship growing only on his terms.

  2. The Latest One says:

    My OCPD love interest just left me for the second time. I had to put my foot down about having bounderies – if he couldn’t commit after we reconnected this time, then we were going to be friends – and act like friends – until he could. Instead of stepping back so that he could stop hurting me – he asked for his keys and space back. “[N]othing personal, but right now, I need some time apart.” There is nothing personal about that 🙂

    I am so happy he is dealing with his OCPD now – and I was willing to be patient with that – for both of us. I was the one who insisted that he get help, and he has thanked me for that. His whole life may change now, with this new perspective. But he could never say that he wanted to be with me, that being with me was ultimately a goal. He “liked being around me” and being intimate with me. His fear of relationships does not give him license to just keep me around until he finds the next girl he feels comfortable with. My love for him was – I suppose still is – strong and real. I now know what I was just the “nice girl” who momentarily alleviated his fears…

    I’m not sure if this is something we can recover from. I doubt it. We had spent 2 weeks straight together – then I asked for bounderies – a female friend of his arrived in town – and he disappeared. After he promised not to do that again. He was back to being angry and snide in his texts to me. I am often left wondering what happened? What set it off this time? Surely he was frustrated that I put my foot down about no friends with benefits – but you be annoyed with it and deal with it. That’s the bed you made. I can’t keep beating myself up over the ONE thing that made him run – was it this? Was it that? If our “relationship” – whatever form it takes – can’t survive any one little frustration, then what did we have anyways. Nothing.

    I sure spend a lot of time mourning nothing though 🙂

    The lesson? If the person with OCPD won’t change, it won’t work. And even if they try to – if they ultimately don’t want to be with you, that doesn’t work either. Leave. You have to.

    • Oh yes, you seem to be in a tight spot. This guy really need boundaries and to get his shit together. You might need to suffer for quite some time until his conscience comes around, if it ever will.

  3. C.Eaton says:

    My boyfriend and I are going on a break. we had one last year too. We both cycle through this pattern over the last year. Him for like 6 months last year and then this year he pulled close while I withdrew for 3-4 months. It makes so much sense seeing this in writing. I had heard push pull relationship which I believe is also related to this and it makes so much sense. It’s possible for both of us to come to terms with this pattern (and this article was definately spot on with my motivation for pulling back) but I don’t think it was the same motivation for him. Although I wouldn’t know what that was. He has said he is afraid of settling down with the wrong partner a few times before. This was my concern. Then I realized (right before he turned the end of my break into a more serious and potentially permanent break up), that there is no perfect partner. You love them and then you accept them through their flaws. Of course, you should try to work through those flaws together. I’m going to go out with him next week. Hopefully we will talk the night before. That’s when I will explain this to him and get his take. Any positive or encouraging opinions are welcome here.

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