How to Find Hope with a Perfectionist Spouse

Have you ever felt like your spouse is a perfectionist? Maybe a little too critical and “problem-solving” in moments where you’d like to simply be heard, cheered on or comforted?

[Tweet “Well, I’ve been there (with my mate) and I’ve done that (to my mate). #perfectionisticmate”]

Perfectionist Spouse

One of the double-edge gifts that God has given me is an attention to detail, an analytical mind and an ability to find solutions to problems in my life and marriage. My husband shares this same strength which, when I’m on the receiving end of it, doesn’t always feel so warm, fuzzy and positive. 😉

Can you relate?

Since both Gary (my hubby) and I are perfectionists, we’ve found this “problem-solving” mindset to ironically be a point of conflict. Though you would think that this problem could easily be solved by two problem-solving spousesyou would be wrong!

We’re much better now, but our tendency to “solve” issues has been more of a liability than an asset, mostly because we were trying to fix the other person’s problems and faults, since they naturally seemed so much more glaring to us personally.

Maybe you feel like your mate’s the one who’s the perfectionist in your marriage. And try as you might, s/he is never satisfied with your efforts. Maybe you feel like the problem could be solved if your mate simply became more “realistic”—choosing to be content instead.

Though that would be a great strategy for your mate to decide to employ, you won’t get anywhere if you try to convince him/her to take that route.

What I’ve discovered (through the many lessons God has taught me in my marriage) is that the best way to deal with a critical and/or perfectionist spouse is to silence the inner-critic in my own head.

How do I do that? By continually . . .

1. Becoming aware of my negative internal dialogue

It’s so easy to remain on auto-pilot in our thinking, never stopping whenever we feel anxiety to identify the negative thoughts that are intensifying that anxiety. So learning to pay attention to your inner feelings, as well as your thoughts can yield invaluable insight into how you perceive your mate—probably with a negative “filter” in place. Since, sadly, negativity often begets negativity.

2. Taking captive negative thoughts and uncovering any lies

Once you’ve identified the negative thought (i.e. “He wouldn’t act that way if he loved me” etc.), then “take it captive”meaning replace or challenge—the thought with the truth or some other positive aspect in your relationship. But this is not about ignoring problems! Talking through them honestly and graciously should also be part of your plan moving forward.

3. Challenging the negative with the positive

Although this is part of what I stated above, it’s so monumental that it requires a separate category! We all need to retrain our brains to focus on the good in our mates. If you can’t think of any “good” in your mate, then begin by focusing on the good in your life.

[Tweet “Gratitude is a powerful “change agent” that God uses to open our eyes to the truth.”]

4. Reading God’s word

Sometimes we don’t know the truth. So the best place to begin is with God’s truth. If you’re discouraged in marriage, but not reading the Bible regularly, you will lose hope.

[Tweet “When you allow God’s word to bring insight and healing to your heart, Hope returns.”]

A great place to start is my 1 Samuel Facebook Bible study. You can find out more about that here.

5. Praying and processing my hurts in marriage

I’ve shared before how often I use prayer processing after a conflict or hurt in my life. This is so powerful, my friends! If you’re not doing this in an ongoing effort to bring healing to your heart, then don’t delay another minute! Click here for my guide.

6. Assuming the best about my mate’s intentions, then acknowledging them back to him

This is another habit that must be intentionally developed or it will remain weak in your life and marriage. If you don’t trust your mate, then begin to have respectful and honest conversations with your spouse. I’ll be sharing more in my next post, “Discussing sticky issues with your mate without getting stuck,” as we continue in this new series on the “Lessons Learned in Marriage.”

 

Which of these do you know you need to start doing in your marriage?

 

What would you add as a way to deal with a perfectionist mate?

 

[Tweet “Christian bloggers, come join us at “From Messes to Messages” linkup. #MessyMarriage”]

I’m still preparing for my once-a-month series on sexual hang-ups in marriage, hopefully with your help! If you’d like to learn more about how to anonymously share a part of your story, click here for guidelines.

 


Joining with my friends at Giving Up on Perfect, Christian Blogger Community, Mondays @ Soul Survival, Coffee and Conversation, Coffee for Your Heart, Sitting Among Friends, Nanahood, Moments of Hope, Family, Friendship and Faith, DanceWithJesusFriday and LifeGivingLinkup.

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  • Andrew Budek-Schmeisser

    Great post, Beth, and I love your concrete suggestions.

    One thing I would add is, if your spouse is sensitive to criticism, to take a vow never to criticize, and to live with things you might prefer were different.

    This sounds like a suggestion to be a doormat…but it’s really a recasting of ‘is this hill worth dying on?’

    It might be said that it allows a gradual escalation of intolerable behaviour, but again, I think maybe not…I see it as more as taking the choice to be the one who compromises, and that is NOT a blow to my ego, a sign of weakness.

    There is so much in a spouse that is a mystery, and will remain one. An original family that seemed idyllic may have been a straitjacket of hypercriticism, and the only way we can know this is to listen very carefully, and with an open heart, to what our husband or wife says (and their use of body language) when we say something that might be taken as criticism.

    I don’t see it as enabling; I see it as something that I can’t change (though perhaps a therapist could), and as ‘for better or for worse’ in action.

    http://blessed-are-the-pure-of-heart.blogspot.com/2016/09/your-dying-spouse-203-caregiver-fail.html

  • bluecottonmemory

    LOL – two problems solvers in our marriage – and when I have a problem sometimes I just want, as you so aptly describe “simply be heard, cheered on or comforted?” As a problem solver, I know what I probably need to do. I just need the HCC from the safest person I know – my husband. No lectures. Just the HCC! Once I realized this, I was able to express what I really needed. We’re both still working on it – me on giving the HCC, too! Good ideas, Beth – and I was so glad to read that I wasn’t the only one who had to learn this!

  • This is so good Beth (as always!). Reminds me of something I heard when i was single, it was in the lines of “you will clash the most in the areas you are most alike” As a single girl, I thought that was ridiculous! Cos I thought the more alike a husband and wife are, the smoother the ride. Then I got married! Ha! And I think I was more upset because I felt I like I knew WHY he did certain things, (or thought I understood). Its more aggravating when you assign motives and reasons and imagine you know everything 🙁
    Thanks for this great post today. It’s something I am still learning.

  • pioneerpat1

    My question is when they are perfectionist with you but give everybody else in the world passes on things and makes excuses for everybody including themselves except for you and don’t care about your intentions because they are projecting their perfectionists issues on you while quoting scripture verses that make their point or to justify their way???

    Your points are great and thanks for sharing.

    • That’s a very difficult place to be, Patrick. And it’s also very sad if that person is using Scripture to condemn you or justify their own way. There’s almost nothing I hate to hear about more than about that. I’m not exactly sure what your question is, though, other than how do you deal with that kind of inconsistent “perfectionist” in your life. Is that what you’re asking? I would say that the same steps apply, with the added thought that we are all “broken”–even the best perfectionist is broken and sinful. In fact, most perfectionists are probably more broken than those who are content to accept reality as it comes–with flaws and failures. You probably need to keep that in mind whenever you’re on the butt end of their criticisms and rules. I also think learning how and when you should set boundaries might be a great direction for you. Boundaries in Marriage is an incredible read regarding how to set boundaries in the context of a “close relationship”–whether you’re married to this person or not. I hope this helps, but know that I will pray for you in this matter. And when I say that, it isn’t just a blanket statement. I will pray for you, just like I do so many who engage with me here.

    • JosephPote

      Pat –

      I find myself hesitant to comment here, because I am very aware of the potential skewing of my own perspective. I spent 17 years in an abusive marriage…not physical violence, but lots of emotional abuse…lots of controlling manipulation…lots of lies…lots of hidden agendas.

      I won’t go into more detail here…this isn’t about me. It’s about you. I bring that up, because your comment reminded me of myself while in that marriage. I’m trying to be careful of what I say, because I don’t want to be guilty of reading a two-sentence comment and jumping to conclusions. At the same time, in reading your comment I sense a lot of pain and sorrow…and don’t want to leave that unacknowledged.

      Some things I’ve learned along the way that might be a help to you…

      First, walk in love. Beth’s above post provides some good concrete action items of what that might look like in daily living.

      Second, as per Beth’s comment, learn about healthy boundaries.

      Third, lean into Jesus. Find your strength and identity in Him. Let His love for you soak in, and understand He is all you need. Your relationship with God in Christ is the only truly essential relationship…and your only eternal covenant.

      Fourth, don’t try to be responsible for things beyond your control. You cannot control your spouse’s choices or behavior, so don’t feel you are somehow responsible for them. You are responsible for acting in love. You are not responsible for your spouse’s response. You are not responsible for pleasing your spouse. You are not responsible for being the glue that holds the relationship together.

      I have found The Serenity Prayer to be very helpful, as well as daily time in prayer and Bible reading.

      May God richly bless you with His comfort and wisdom as you tread this path. May He lead you, guide you, and direct your paths.

      In the hope that my story may be of some benefit to you, here is a link to a post on my blog: http://josephjpote.com/2015/12/why-i-speak-out-2/

  • Susan

    I am coming back later today and printing those printable for my daughter. Thanks, Beth for your insights and linkup. And, I’d love to hear your advice to pioneerpat1 in the comments under me.

  • Deborah Will

    Probably been in all categories at some point in my 47 marriage years, but for me probably the biggest I’ve had to work on is “taking captive my thoughts” because my stinking thoughts are probably not even what he is thinking.

  • Humbled to my very bones on this one, Beth, because I fear that I am THAT spouse. Disguising my “picking” with the more palatable label of “an eye for improvement,” I fear that I am still working on this perfectionism thing. We have had conversations about it, and I’m thankful for the grace of God and the grace and patience of my good husband.

  • Mary Flaherty

    I’m sorry–I know this wasn’t intended to be a humorous article-but I laughed when I read the first line–because I’m the one who is the (recovering) perfectionist. My spouse? Not so much. So I tried to read this from his eyes. Being the (recovering) perfectionist that I am, it was hard. But one of the things that my mate has taught me in the years we’ve been married is that my constant nit-picking (symptom of perfection) is anything but helpful. It’s not only hurtful, but can crush a person’s spirit. If the perfectionist insists on everything being done her (or his) way, the other person can eventually shut down and figure, “Why bother? I can’t do anything right…” Perfectionism can be a nasty companion–unless it is harnessed. Which is what I’ve learned to do. I have to work REALLY hard at keeping my mouth shut and let my husband do what he thinks is best and be who he is. After all, didn’t I marry him for the very traits I’m trying to change?

  • Ha. Yes. My husband and I are both perfectionists too, and we’ve had more than a couple conflicts as a direct result. I love your list, especially about assuming the best about intentions. We have also found it helpful to focus on the Lord being the one who uses us to sharpen each other. When we try to sharpen each other according to our own plans and understanding, it’s just a mess.

  • Beth, this weekend I was cleaning out my basement bookshelves and came across “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” I started skimming the first chapter and ouch! Dale Carnegie gave examples of constructive true criticism unleashing a torrent of judgment on the critic. It is too easy for me to open my mouth and point out how things should be instead of appreciating the good that is.

  • Fabulous, insightful, and spot on, as ever. Beth. Just thinking that if we did 4 and 5 faithfully and wholeheartedly, maybe the other numbers would fade into oblivion …

  • JosephPote

    What a great post, Beth!

    I like all of your action items. I have found an attitude of gratefulness and daily Bible reading to be invaluable tools.

    I remember many years ago hearing a friend say, “No matter how many times I throw a pity party, God never shows up.” It’s true. Inviting God to be a part of whatever issues we’re dealing with usually starts with adopting a heart of gratitude.

  • Beth, these are great suggestions! My husband is quite a perfectionist and I have had to learn (and still learning, of course!;-)) to not let my inner critic capitalize on his comments. He has come a long way, too, but I’m getting so much better at knowing his fix-it comments really are about him and now about something that is wrong with me. Thank you for another wonderful post! I’ve scheduled it to share on FB!
    Hugs,
    Lori

  • I love your message about rejecting the lies and replacing them with God’s Truth!

  • I have always been bad at this, against myself as well as against others. I often feel my wife is too but really, I am probably “externalising” my attitudes onto her.

    Recently I am finding more energy to do #3 (challenge negative with positive). If I am seething at her “bad attitude” or “howcome it’s always me that does the washing up, even if I’ve done the cooking, and I see I am in charge of the laundry now too …” – I am getting better at stopping myself and reminding myself of what she is doing (a lot of driving around, looking after our son & her mother, facing more or less forced retirement, etc.)

    Your idea #5 (processing hurt in prayer) is new to me & I’ll start trying it. I like praying, but it’s always at scheduled times – a quiet time in the morning or at bedtime. Turning to prayer in the heat of the moment sounds exciting.

    Very good post.

    David