Q: I like to have control and tend to be a perfectionist. I know this is harming my marriage. What suggestions can you give me?
A: A controlling person usually makes life miserable for others when he or she isn’t in the driver’s seat. Control can take many different forms in a family relationship. It may be exerted through persuasion, manipulation, projection of guilt, expression of shame, or the silent treatment of withdrawal. Some people grew up in homes where control is the way things got done. You may have had a dad who controlled you by his disapproval, a mom who controlled you through guilt, a big brother who controlled you by sitting on you until you yielded, or a sister who controlled you with her sharp tongue. A grandfather may have gotten what he wanted from you through criticism. An aunt may have controlled by shaming, or an uncle by belittling.
Control in a family relationship squashes the human spirit and stifles loving relationships. You probably know the pain firsthand. But are you also a controller to some degree? Are your spouse and children hurting because you tend to ride roughshod over them? If so, it’s time to find out where this need to control is coming from and deal with it. Read what Wes told us:
“One of the differences my wife and I had when we first got married was that we would get into major arguments over simple things such as rolling the toothpaste tube. I grew up in a home where we rolled the toothpaste tube to make sure we got all the toothpaste out. She grew up in a family where they twisted it to make sure they got it all out. I got upset when I saw a twisted tube; she would get upset when she saw a rolled tube. But we learned that the end result was more important. We found out that the tube was always empty before we threw it away, so we decided it was not necessary to argue over how it got empty, just to make sure that it was empty. We learned to love each other and make sure that the toothpaste tube was empty.”
If you are a controlling person, what can you do? Strive for excellence but not perfection. Excellence means doing the best you can in God’s strength with the time and resources available. Perfection leaves no room for error; perfection says, “Do it right every time, or you fail.” The downside of perfectionism isn’t pretty. You lose your tolerance for the mistakes and imperfections of others. You make unrealistic demands of your spouse, children, pastor, neighbors, coworkers, and fellow church members.
You need the perspective of the apostle Paul who, before meeting Christ, was a successful perfectionist. After reciting his lofty religious pedigree to the Philippian Christians, Paul concluded,
I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. Yes everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with Him. I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I’ve become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith. Philippians 3:7-9