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Relationship Help: Are You Engaged in All-or-Nothing Thinking?

From mountains to molehills, from molehills to mountains, and nowhere in between.

That's the dangerous territory of an all-or-nothing thinker who actually feels s/he is playing it safe!

If you and/or your partner are all-or-nothing thinkers, this blog post will give you insights into why you need relationship help to recognize, understand and make decisions about creating some productive gray areas in your all-or-nothing thinking.


  • "You never..."
  • "You always..."
  • "It's my way or the highway." 
  • "That's just not good enough."
  • "If this (something I want) doesn't happen, I'm out of here."
  • "Compromise? Smonkpromise!
  • "There are rules for that kind of thing and you're not following them."
  • "I can't possibly stay here if that behavior continues."
  • "If you can't get with the program, get out."

(NOTE: There are times when folks have every good reason and every right to say these things, especially if they are facing abuse or violence. That is a topic for another post.)


  • Take one small "local" (meaning in this moment)  issue and make it "global" (the whole enchilada) to the relationship. 
  • Allow or provide only one possible solution to a very complicated problem--THEIRS! 
  • Project a "victim/villain" scene. (Guess who is the victim?)
  • Think and speak in extremes, in opposites.
  • Make strong allegations of violence and abuse even when it does not exist.
  • Get irritated and defensive when confronted with facts.
  • See life in absolutes, black or white with no gray areas.
  • Keep relationship in an uproar of demands, threats and ultimatums.

Does this sound familiar?

Perfectionists rely on All-or-Nothing Thinking. Nothing can happen by half measures or it simply won't be good enough. Anything they undertake had better be wildly successful, or it simply isn't worth doing.

Any hints or hits of perfectionism in you? Many folks were the lucky recipients of the "perfectionist script" from one or both of their parents. Thanks, Mom and Dad!

One of my favorite memories of working with Marilyn Ferguson in the 1980's is discussing that dubious cliche of our culture: "If it's worth doing, it's worth doing well."  Her question was: "If it is so worth doing, then it must be worth doing half-assed."  Definitely not an AONT, that woman!  (R.I.P. Marilyn.)  Wouldn't it be a good idea to free ourselves from that old adage and just try a few things to determine if we like them. Then, we can do them well, half-assed or not at all once we make that decision.

Acute, or semi-acute perfectionism, though, is all-or-nothing thinking.  It sets us up to sabotage our lives, goals and relationships, to start to fail right from the beginning.

This is one good reason why I tell my clients that relationship help is an excellent choice as early in their relationship as possible. If there are indications of AONT, the relationship is already teetering. I also tell them how wise they are to speak with a professional rather than turning to their friends. Those friends may or may not have successful relationships. One thing I know for certain, though, is most friends are better at telling  you to get out of the relationship than helping you grow and stay with it!

All-or-nothing thinking is one of many negative thought processes, known as cognitive distortions. Those are common among people with anxiety and depression. AONTS split their views, perspectives and perceptions into extremes with no middle ground.

All-or-nothing thinking often involves using absolute terms. AONTs like to say that you always or never do something, or that you do it every time. It is so black and white that it severely limits the ability to see alternative solutions to issues. This type of faulty thinking can also include an inability to see the alternatives in a situation or multiple solutions to a problem. If the AONT has anxiety or depression, this may give way to seeing only the downside potential in every situation or relationship. AONTs  believe that they are either very successful or complete failures in life.

Sounding more familiar?

All-or-Nothing Thinking is tricky. It's very difficult to see in yourself, and even trickier to help yourself move away from.

If you suspect that you are living or working with an AONT, a professional can help you sort that out and learn what to do about it.

If you now have some insights into yourself as an AONT, it is really a good idea to work with a professional to work this through. Many of my clients had no idea about how their AONT patterns were controlling their lives, relationships and outcomes in negative ways.

Give yourself some gray areas. Get the relationship help you need now to improve your relationship with yourself and free yourself from All-or-Nothing Thinking. Don't be an AONT!

If you have a #Hijackal in your life, or think you might have, get my free ebook, How To Spot A Hijackal, at  Need help to know your next best steps?  If you would like more help, subscribe to my Tips for Relationships, and listen to my Podcasts. Start with an introductory session. Talk soon!

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  1. Pingback: Unmanaged Emotions or Mismanaged Emotions damage relationships.

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