How to Handle a Perfectionistic Spouse
The desire to be perfect or to have a perfect mate and marriage is something I see a lot in the couples I counsel, as well as in the marriages of my friends. We all want things to go smoothly and believe the lie that aiming for perfection will bring us to a blissful state. However, in my experience, the more I try to pursue perfection in life and marriage, the more I invariably miss the mark and find myself discouraged and discontent.
Ironically, it’s really easy to spot our mate’s perfectionism, but not so easy to see it in our own lives. Allow me to pose some questions that might bring this tendency into clearer focus for us all.
- Do you struggle with feeling like you can never satisfy your spouse?
- Do you tend to get into arguments with your mate over who’s right or how something should be done?
- Do you ever feel like you’re in competition with your spouse?
If you answered “yes” to any of those questions, then you might be married to or, even worse, “be the perfectionist” spouse in your marriage.
Heaven help you if you are like me—where both you and your spouse are perfectionists! In my marriage, our striving for perfection has caused more failures, especially in our efforts to communicate, than I can begin to tell you. It has left us feeling emotionally insecure—both when we’ve individually blown it, and when we’ve collectively caused a marriage meltdown.
Maybe you’re discouraged because your mate is the perfectionist who can’t accept you as you are. If you’re a perfectionist yourself, you’ve most likely felt the frustration and disappointment of a mate who has regularly failed to achieve your ideal standard. What’s even more paradoxical is that you probably were drawn to your spouse because of some very positive perfectionist traits, like the fact that your mate is …
- An achiever
- A good leader/manager
So how do you deal with your spouse’s incessant need for perfection? Or if you are the one driving your spouse crazy with all of your rules and “oughts,” how do you change your overachieving ways? I have to say that even though I’m a perfectionist, I still haven’t “perfectly” figured out how to do this yet. But there’s one thing I do know—learning to accept the imperfect in both my spouse, as well as in myself points me in the right direction.
This means learning to daily grasp for God’s ever-available grace. For example, whenever I’m dealing with my spouse’s crazy-making criticalness, I look to God to help me extend grace to my husband. I also try to see and accept that my spouse is flawed and human, and won’t always see how his high standards are coming across to me. This also means forgiving him, even if he doesn’t see or admit his fault. And perhaps most importantly, I need to learn to be kind and loving—seeking to focus on the good in him, rather than becoming bitter because of the bad I’m momentarily experiencing in our relationship.
Now, when I’m the one doling out the A+ attitude, I need to turn to God again for perspective. I need to take on a sober view of my expectations, because what feels like a “need” is more than likely a “want” instead. Surrendering my sense of entitlement to God is a good beginning point. Recognizing just how flawed and human I am is yet another important step in the right direction. When I go further to apologize for being demanding or critical, I do even better. And as a perfectionist, I love doing better!
Finally, Paul’s words in Romans 12:3, offers all of us a template for finding the right balance and approach when perfectionism rears up in marriage…
“For by the grace given me I say to everyone one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.”
When we humbly place our imperfect hearts in the hands of the Lord, we can love our mates with Jesus’ perfect and powerful love that far outshines any perfectionistic effort we might ever hope to achieve in marriage.