How to handle a perfectionist Wife

Angry woman shouting at man

How are you as a Christian husband to handle your perfectionist wife? Do you dread coming home from work because you know the moment you walk in the door your wife will complain about five things you have done or not done?

Why God makes perfectionists

Your wife’s perfectionist nature is not some mistake in God’s creation. It is by the design of God.  But what perfectionist wives don’t realize is, they need to channel their perfectionism into positive outlets and not be critical and inflexible with their husbands and children.

For instance a perfectionist wife may channel her perfectionism into how she keeps folds the clothing and puts it way. Often times the perfectionist wife is a great house keeper, planner and organizer. She can use these qualities in positive ways to help her family.

My wife is a perfectionist. Not everything about her perfectionism is a bad thing. When we go on vacations, she is extremely organized at getting our entire family packed up days ahead of time, and going to the store to get all the things she thinks we will need for the trip. I have seen very few women that can throw as good a baby shower or bridal shower as my wife, she is extremely organized and anticipates everything she will need ahead of time.

The negative hallmarks of a perfectionist

Being organized or wanting things done a certain way is not always the mark of perfectionist or a negative thing. But it is the inflexibility, the impatience, and the lack of mercy and grace toward those around them that mark the perfectionist. Perfectionists are often plagued by anxiety and insomnia because no one around them seems to live up to their expectations (including themselves) and they don’t know how to handle the imperfections in the world around them.

Perfectionist tendencies need to be left outside the home and personal relationships

This is one of those posts I can write, only because my blog is anonymous (and this is one of many reasons my blog is anonymous, so I can speak freely).

I wish I could say that my perfectionist wife, like my perfectionist Dad, had not only recognized her perfectionism, but recognized where it is appropriate to apply her perfectionism and where it is not appropriate to apply it – but this simply is not the case with her.

This is my second marriage and I met my wife after having been previously married and having children from that marriage. When we were dating she contained her complaints about me and my children for the most part, but after we were married her complaints came rushing out like water that breaks through a dam.

My wife recognizes her perfectionism, she will admit it before me, her family and my family. Her mother and sister have known this is how she always was.

But while my wife will admit her perfectionism before me and others, she will not always admit that it is wrong. Often she will state the typical perfectionist statement – “I am not wrong for wanting those around me to do things the right way”. I will get more into how I respond to that later.

I say all this, not to say my wife is some terrible person, but simply to say to those husbands reading this who may recognize these issues with their wives, you are not alone. In this post I am writing from my very personal experience.

Our heavenly father is NOT a perfectionist toward us

I want to make something very clear. God is perfect, but God does not act as a perfectionist toward us in the relationship he desires with us. Some Christian teachers over the centuries have incorrectly tried to say that God is a perfectionist toward us with passages like this (and others in the Bible):

“And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect.”

Genesis 17:1(KJV)

But the idea God is trying to communicate in these passages, is for us to be “complete” in him. He wants us to walk with him, and to be complete in him. God does not want us to sin, but God knows we are sinners. Listen to God’s compassion here:

“The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.

He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.

For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.”

Psalm 103:9-14(NIV)

Being a compassionate wife and mother, is the opposite of being a perfectionist wife and mother. Your wife cannot be both. In the same way God recognizes our frailties and weaknesses, so too a wife ought to recognize these things with her husband and her children and be gracious about these things.

Are there times when my wife can be compassionate and loving? Absolutely! She has her moments. Your perfectionist wife may have some very soft and tender times. But then the perfectionism creeps back in and rears its ugly head. My wife’s soft and tender side is what drew me to her while we were dating. It was only after we were married that she removed the barrier and allowed her perfectionist critical side to come out in full fashion.

So how do you handle your perfectionist wife?

First of all as a Christian husband remember that two wrongs never make a right. It may be very tempting for you lash out at your wife’s perfectionist tendencies.   But if you are unkind and harsh with her, God may not bless your attempts to bring these issues to her attention.

In another article on How to handle a perfectionist husband, I wrote about a wife being criticized for how she cooks. What I was describing there was based on what has happened to me in real life with my perfectionist wife.

Unlike my Dad and many other men, I truly enjoy cooking, it can be a therapeutic experience for me. I enjoy looking up new recipes, and I have been known to watch a cooking show or two. In our home, my wife is more of the baker and crock pot person. If it gets baked or put in the crock pot, most of the time it is her making it.

I am the griller and stir fry person. If it is getting fried up on the stove, that is probably me. I cut and slice up meats and veggies, come up with different marinades and make many different Asian dishes. I also like to make pasta dishes and I have quite a few that my family enjoys. I am also the master pancake maker in my house – by my wife’s own admission.

But not long after we were married (and it may have even started softly and subtly when we were engaged and I cooked for her) – she started criticizing the way I cooked. She did not like how messy I was when I cooked, or that I did not mind if some splatter got on the stove or on the counter when I was mixing and making things.

Once we were married she became more aggressive with her criticism. She did not like how I did not clean while I was cooking, getting things out and putting them away as I cooked, the way she did. She keeps a clean kitchen while she is cooking, and directly afterwards has everything cleaned up and in the dishwasher. Why could I not just do things the way she did? This is something I often heard.

I wish I could say I never lashed out her, but that would not be true. In the first few years of our marriage I lashed out several times telling her to get out of the kitchen. I said she was ungrateful for me cooking and that many men would not make the effort to cook the way I did, and she should be grateful for that.

What I learned more recently in our marriage, is to contain my anger, recognizing this comes from her perfectionist mindset. I now calmly reminder her that we have had this conversation about 500 times since we have been married, and that I am not going to cook the way she does. Occasionally if her tone is off, and I will also address the issue as a matter of disrespect coming from her.

Some more examples of a perfectionist wife’s behavior

Again these come from real life experiences I have with my wife (whom I love dearly) but has a problem with bringing perfectionism into our home:

My wife is one the many perfectionists I have known, that is thrown off by a cereal box being left on the counter, or on the kitchen table. This drives her nuts. I do truly try to remember to put it away, and often I do. But with me and my kids (who are at my house 3 days a week), there is a very strong chance of a cereal box being left on the table or counter.

The cereal box being left out showcases a broader problem with the perfectionist mindset. Should the person of have put the cereal box away after they ate? Yes. But because a perfectionist cannot tolerate even the smallest failings of others this type of things drives them insane. Each person must do everything right, if they fail in the slightest degree, the perfectionist has the hairs on the back of their neck standing up.

Another thing my wife gets thrown off by is if any amount of water is on the bathroom floor or bathroom sink after someone takes a shower and brushes their teeth. This is another huge pet peeve for her. She will routinely hunt down the last person who was in the bathroom after a shower and ask them why they did not use a towel to wipe up the floor and wipe the counter.

Often perfectionists are thrown off by children rough housing, or yelling at one another. While I agree children need discipline, there should always be a time and place for them to just be who they are – children.

I basically have the rule that as long as there is no cursing, or bleeding (or broken bones) or hitting of girls – almost anything goes.

I have teenage boys and sometimes they fight. My daughter(who is younger than them) may get involved sometimes, but all the boys know they are not allowed to hit her because she is a girl. If she hits them, then they can bring it to me and I will discipline her for it if I think that is appropriate. So as long as there is no hitting of girls, no cursing, and no bleeding happening, I usually don’t get involved. I let my children play, rough house, and work out their differences.

For my wife, this often drives her nuts. She wants me to get involved in each and every scuffle and I have informed her that I do not believe this is the correct approach to fathering them. I will only get involved if I think it has risen to a level that needs some parental refereeing.

Being angry or worrying about small and trivial things is what causes many perfectionists to have horrible anxiety problems (my wife suffers from anxiety and sleeplessness and my father does as well – even though he has gotten better with age).

Don’t fall for the perfectionist wife’s justifications

When you try to address your wife’s perfectionist tendencies be prepared for these three justifications in defense of her perfectionist ways:

Justification #1: Her way is “the better way” or “the right way”

She might just try and tell you she was just trying to show you a better way, or the right way to cook. You need to let her know that her way might be what she thinks is the best way to cook, but you do not think her way is better and she needs to accept that.

Justification #2: Her way is not so hard

She might try and say her way is easier, or what she is asking you to do is not so hard, so why can’t you just do it the way she does? Again you need to respectfully let her know that you are not purposefully trying to upset her, you just have your way of cooking and she has hers.

Justification #3: Why do just want to keep doing things you know upset her?

This is the final weapon many perfectionist wives will pull out if all other attempts fail. “Why do you cook this way, or leave your tooth brush this way, or leave your clothes on the floor if you know it upsets me so much?” This is the perfectionist wife’s attempt to put you on a guilt trip, to make you feel that each and everything you do that is not done her way, is a personal attack on her.

You need to let her know that when you are cooking, you are not doing it differently to make her upset. You are doing it that way because it works best for you.

If you accidentally leave some clothing on the floor, or leave a cereal box on the counter, you were not doing it to upset her. You simply forgot to put the cereal away, or you missed the clothes hamper. If you has a father allow certain behavior she may not approve of, it is not to upset her. She needs to defer to your authority as the father and head of the home.

Whenever something is out of place, or you do something different than she would have done it, you need to gently and respectfully remind her that you are not her.

She has her way of brushing her teeth, and you have yours.

She has her way of folding clothes, and you have yours.

She has her way of cooking, and you have yours.

She has her way of driving, and you have yours.

She may want stricter rules for the kids, but you have decided to be more lenient in some areas. This is your prerogative as the father and head of your home.

I could go on with a 1000 examples of small things, but you get the point.

What is not a perfectionist wife?

Sometimes a husband may falsely accuse his wife of being a perfectionist.

A mom wanting her kids to pick up their clothes and put them in the hamper is not necessarily a perfectionist.    She may just trying to teach her kids good habits about cleaning up after themselves.

A mom asking her kids to scrape their plates and put them in the sink, or to perform certain regular chores like washing the dishes or cleaning the bathroom is not being a perfectionist. Again she is just trying to get her kids to clean up after themselves.

What I am NOT saying to Christian husbands who are married to perfectionist wives

I am not saying a Christian husband should not take his wife’s concerns into account.  Should a Christian husband try to clean up after himself? Yes. Should a Christian husband listen to his wife’s concern about the discipline of their children? Absolutely.

What I AM saying to Christian husbands who are married to perfectionist wives

But let’s face it, how a person cooks is not a moral issue. The way a person brushes their teeth is not a moral issue. Clothing not making it to the hamper is not a moral issue. The perfectionist wife cannot differentiate between these types of insignificant things, and the truly important things that have moral consequences.

Many Christian teachers have rightly said “you cannot be the holy spirit for another person”, and that is a very true statement. However, you as the head of your home, are the spiritual teacher of your home. This not only includes your children, but it also includes your wife. While you may approach your wife differently because she is an adult, she still is one who is under your spiritual authority and you bare a responsibility for admonishing her with God’s truth.  A certain amount of perfectionism from one’s wife can be tolerated, but a certain point if she is being disrespectful and obstinate about it a husband may have to call out his wife’s rebellion.

You need to help your wife realize that you do not live in a museum or a military base, you live in a home. Yes a Christian home should have some discipline and order to it, but it should also be a place that showcases God’s love, compassion, mercy, acceptance and grace. It is your job as Christian husband, and the head of your wife, to help your perfectionist wife to see this truth.

Related article: How to handle a perfectionist husband

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8 thoughts on “How to handle a perfectionist Wife

  1. Pingback: How to handle a perfectionist Husband | Biblical Gender Roles

  2. Pingback: Remembrance and Forgiveness helps to get us through the hard times in marriage | Biblical Gender Roles

  3. Conviction! I’m definitely a perfectionist wife :/ but thankfully I saw the negative affects it had on my parent’s marriage and saw myself repeating the habit in our first year. It still rears it’s ugly head sometimes, I have to constantly try to be aware of if I’m being too harsh or just trying to keep a disciplined household.

    It’s funny! You and my husband cook the same way – and it did used to drive me crazy… it doesn’t anymore, I’ve had to let a ton of little things just go, and with it, went the anxiety.

    I think at the very base of it, a perfectionist is trying to get their self-worth from appearing or performing perfectly, instead of having their self-worth based on grace and on what God-alone thinks of them. That’s what’s helped me at least… realizing that having some mess doesn’t mean I’m failing, it just means that we’ve had an awesome fun weekend, and there was no time to clean because I was genuinely enjoying myself.

    Good article!

  4. Dragonfly,

    It is interesting that you say that about getting your self worth from performing. My wife has the same issue, and in some counseling with our Pastor he picked up on that and told her the same thing you said – that she needs to find her worth in Christ and Christ alone, not in her performance at various things. It is still a struggle for her, but she has done much better at just holding her tongue as she walks by and sees me cooking with a mess. She loves my cooking, just not the mess! LOL

  5. Hi,

    Me and my wife are both Catholics. The description you mentioned above all matches how my wife is. I love her so much. I changed myself from a bad temper person to totally tolerance and patient just try not the make things worst when an outburst occurs. But her critics and complaints just won’t stop but is getting worst. I’m worry this would destroy our marriage. It would be great if she could accept that she is a perfectionist and everyone is different. But this is not the case, she just won’t listen to any reason or excuse that things can be done NOT HER WAY. Always threaten if I don’t do it her way, then leave and do it your own way by yourself.

    My big question is how to deal with my wife if she won’t listen or accept any other way except her perfectionism ways? She turns all this things done by me differently or repeatedly mistake into accumulate frustrations that causes her anger outburst. And come to a stage it’s really hard to contained and control. This has also causing her having a thought that I’m never up to the capability for being a father and won’t be thinking having baby if I always cause so much frustration in her.

    I’d really need help and advise how to save my marriage.

    Thanks.

  6. Carl,

    Can you help clarify a few things before I respond?

    How long have you been married?
    Do you work?
    Does she work outside the home?
    Do you have any children yet? I know you talked about having a baby, but was just wondering if you already had kids.
    What does you by her threatening you? Is she threatening to leave the marriage if you don’t do things here way? Or just leave the house for a little bit?

    Have you asked her to go to a marriage counselor?

    Please let me know the answers to these questions, and any other detail you feel like sharing so I can get a more complete picture. Thanks

  7. How long have you been married?
    3 years. But we have been together for 13 years before married
    Do you work?
    Yes.
    Does she work outside the home?
    We both work outside. my income alone is not enough. And she kinda earn a little more than me.
    Do you have any children yet? I know you talked about having a baby, but was just wondering if you already had kids.
    No children yet.
    What does you by her threatening you? Is she threatening to leave the marriage if you don’t do things here way? Or just leave the house for a little bit? Divorce

    Have you asked her to go to a marriage counselor?
    That will makes her feel so offended as she thinks all the problems is from myself.

  8. Carl,

    Thanks for those answers – that helps to clarify your situation. What you are describing is not just a perfectionist wife, she is what I would call an “alpha wife”. She wants to be the head of the home(whether she clearly admits it or not). I am guessing by what I have read that you are easy going, passive guy. You just like to get along with people, and you don’t like being aggressive or assertive – am I right?

    20 years ago when I married my first wife I was like you – I was the Mr. Nice guy, I was the passive easy going guy. I am still an easy going guy and most people I know believe I am a very patient person. But after years of being lead around by my first wife I realized that this was not the will of God for me as a man. Whether I wanted to be assertive or not – God called me to it. Whether I wanted to lead or not, God called me to lead. I wish I could say it worked out – but my first wife had an affair and eventually left me.

    Sometimes if you are going to try and save a marriage, you have to be willing to loose it. I am betting your wife knows you are desperate to keep her and she has the upper hand. She will constantly threaten to divorce you as long as she knows that threat holds power over you. You know what my pastor told me several years ago when my first wife constantly threatened to divorce me? “Let her. Don’t let make you jump through hoops because you are afraid to loose her”. That is major manipulation on her part and you are allowing it.

    This is what I believe you should do – and you need to pray and ask God for courage. I want you to look over my series on this site “How to be a godly husband” and read those scriptures. Mediate on them. Once you fully understand that God has not only called you to lead your home, but that he has called you to confront and discipline those under your leadership(which includes your wife) then you need to call our her sin.

    First tell her that you love her. Tell her that God has shown you that you have not been leading your home as you should – and apologize to her for not being the leader you should. Explain to her that as you assume that God given responsibility there are going to be some changes in your home.

    You are going to spiritually lead your home by teaching her what God says about husbands and wives and their proper roles in the Scriptures.

    You need to tell her that you will not tolerate her disrespect or her threats of leaving. Tell her if she wishes to leave “there’s the door”. Tell her you will no longer tolerate her perfectionism, and if she is willing to go get help for her perfectionism from a counselor you would be happy to attend. But if she is unwilling to go – you will simply ignore her when she does not like how you have done something.

    Obviously I am talking perfectionist quarks and not if you have truly messed up. In that case you should apologize, but with perfectionists most things don’t really fall into this category.

    Carl – you must be willing to loose this marriage to have a chance of saving it. Either she will choose to respect you and stay or she will leave. Either way you will be better off for it. If she stays and accepts the new man you have become, then you will have a better marriage. If she leaves then you have the chance to have a better marriage with someone else. I realize the Catholic Church has it teachings on divorce, but if you read my series on divorce on this site you will see that you can divorce and remarry if your spouse permanently leaves you.

    May God grant you the bravery to do what must be done.

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