Marriage provides countless reminders that God has a sense of humor. In His wisdom, He often seems to put a man and woman together who are wired up with opposite tendencies. This is one of the countless opportunities for a husband and wife to serve each other, learn from each other and support each other.
Perhaps one of the most frustrating examples of these opposite tendencies occurs when one spouse is a perfectionist, and the other is not. Another way of looking at this might be to say that one spouse is very detail-oriented (perfectionist) and the other spouse is more of a “big picture” thinker (not as concerned with details).
I have a friend who is a detail-oriented guy who many consider a “perfectionist.” Without meaning to, he would be very critical of his wife’s cooking, cleaning, work ethic, appearance and a myriad of other factors. To him, he believes he was simply helping her pay more attention to the details and encouraging her toward self-improvement. To her, his words cut like daggers, and she felt that no matter what she did, she never measured up.
Ultimately, their marriage ended. My friend was genuinely shocked when he received the divorce papers. He believed that he had been an ideal husband by remaining faithful, working hard to provide and making time for his family. He had forgotten that the details that matter most are the details of the heart, and he had been trampling on his wife’s heart for the duration of their marriage. The tone of his words had created a negative tone in their relationship until the relationship finally unraveled.
If you are a perfectionist, you need to be very careful about not falling into the trap my friend fell into. You need to take a deep breath and stop sweating all the ways your spouse does things differently than you do. You need to be an encourager and not a critic. You need to celebrate the ways your spouse approaches life and work in ways that are different than your approach and start learning from him/her instead of trying to change him/her.
But what about the spouse of a perfectionist? What are you supposed to do when nothing seems to measure up to your spouse’s seemingly impossible standards?
If your spouse’s high standards and perfectionism are causing stress and strain in your marriage, please don’t lose hope. You can help bring positive changes to the dynamics of your home without having to always cave into your spouse’s demands. Here are a few practical ways to start:
1. Don’t take it personally.
This is probably the most difficult one on the list because it feels so intimately personal when your spouse criticizes you. While the criticism is personal and it is wounding, try to remember that your spouse probably doesn’t mean it to hurt you. In his/her thinking, they are actually trying to help you and help the family by their correcting and nitpicking. Obviously, their criticism is doing much more harm than good, but instead of responding with anger or criticisms of your own, have grace and compassion. Remember that your spouse loves you and even though he/she is not appropriately expressing love, choose to believe the best in their motives.
2. Be clear about your own standards and preferences.
It’s important to communicate clearly to a detail-oriented (perfectionist) person. Without creating an emotionally-charged showdown, calmly tell your spouse that it hurts you when they criticize and correct you. Explain that your way of doing things might be different, but when your style is always criticized, nobody wins. Your preferences matter too. Start conversations with individual preferences that matter most to each spouse and then try to develop an action plan where the whole family can honor those most important preferences. When both spouses are willing to serve each other, everybody wins.
3. Meet with a Christian marriage counselor.
When two spouses have vastly different perspectives and perceptions of reality, it often takes a trained mediator to help both spouses find common ground. Marriage counseling is NOT a sign of weakness in your marriage. It’s a sign of strength because it shows that both spouses are willing to do whatever it takes to have a healthy, thriving marriage.