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

How to handle a perfectionist Husband

Couple having a quarrel

How are you as a Christian wife to handle your perfectionist husband? Do you sometimes dread the moment you hear his car pull up in the drive way, because within 30 seconds of him being in the door he will find five things to complain about?

Why God makes perfectionists

It is not a mistake that there are perfectionist people out there. It is by the design of God. There are many professions that demand a person of a perfectionist mindset. Perfectionists are detail oriented, and typically well disciplined. These types of qualities come in vary handy for military jobs as well science and engineering jobs.

Perfectionists are often great planners and organizers. If a perfectionist is good planner or organizer, these traits are not necessarily bad to bring into the home, in fact they can be beneficial, if applied in a loving and flexible way. The trick is, leaving room for differences. For instance, the perfectionist husband can often be tempted to have every detail of a vacation planned out, when maybe there needs to be some room left for spontaneity in a vacation.

My father is a perfectionist. He has worked as an aircraft parts inspector for many years and he is very good at his job finding flaws in aircraft parts he inspects. If my father were not such a perfectionist, the air planes on which his parts go might crash and people would die. God gave him the ability to be meticulous when he needs to be.

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

My father had to learn the hard way early in his marriage and when we were growing up, that some of the perfectionist tendencies that made him a great worker, would make him a terrible husband and father if he brought them home with him. Occasionally these tendencies would start creeping back in, and my mother would have to lovingly remind him that we were not parts in his plant, but that we were his family whom he loved.

A perfectionist husband needs to leave his perfectionism at the door of his home. It should never come into his marriage or into how he interacts with and parents his children.

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

When your perfectionist husband criticizes you for trivial things, he is not acting in a loving and compassionate way. God wants husbands to love their wives and in those moments of criticism he is doing the opposite of what God has asked him to do toward you.

So how do you handle your perfectionist husband?

First of all as a Christian wife remember that two wrongs never make a right. It may be very tempting for you lash out at your husband’s perfectionist tendencies.   But if you are unkind and disrespectful to him, God may not bless your attempts to bring these issues to his attention. It would be a mistake for you to try and take on the role of teacher to your husband, because he is your authority. But there is nothing wrong with those who are under authority conveying in respectful ways their grievances with their authorities.

“If I have denied justice to any of my servants, whether male or female,   when they had a grievance against me, what will I do when God confronts me?

What will I answer when called to account? Did not he who made me in the womb make them?

Did not the same one form us both within our mothers?”

Job 31:13-15(NIV)

So if God wants masters to humble themselves and hear grievances from their servants (as we see here in Job 31), how much more should a husband be willing to hear respectful grievances from his wife?

Let me give you an example. Let’s say you are cooking dinner for your husband and family. Your husband comes into the kitchen and begins complaining about how messy of a cook you are. He says something like “hey when I cook, there is no splatter on the stove, and I am careful how I stir and I clean and put away things as I am cooking, why do you have to leave everything out to clean up at some later point?”

You first instinct might be rage – you are justifiably feeling “how dare you come in here while I making our family a meal, and criticize the way I cook and tell me your way is better? How ungrateful! Why don’t you just cook the rest of this meal yourself?”

It might feel great to get that off your chest in that manner and storm off. But instead of losing it I admonish you to try this instead.

Ignore what he has said, say nothing to him in response.

If he asks why you are not saying anything, just calmly let him know you are trying to finish dinner and that you and he need to talk later.

Let him sit and think about what he has said to you, let him wonder what you will say to him later. After dinner is done and everyone has eaten, ask him to go to your bedroom or some private place away from the kids. This is where you can share your feelings and feel free to cry and let your feelings out in front of him. Being respectful, does not mean being unemotional.

Let him know how much it hurts you when he criticizes how you do cook.

Don’t fall for the perfectionist husband’s justifications

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

His way is “the better way” or “the right way”

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

His way is not so hard

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

Why do you just want to keep doing things you know upset him?

This is the final weapon many perfectionist husbands 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’s attempt to put you on a guilt trip, to make you feel that each and everything you do that is not done their way, is a personal attack on them.

You need to let him know that when you are cooking, you are not doing it differently to make him 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 him. You simply forgot to put the cereal away, or you missed the clothes hamper.

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

He has his way of brushing his teeth, and you have yours.

He has his way of folding clothes, and you have yours.

He has his way of cooking, and you have yours.

He has his way of driving, and you have yours.

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

What is not a perfectionist husband?

Sometimes a wife may falsely accuse her husband of being a perfectionist. These false accusations of perfectionism usually come from lazy or rebellious wives. I know that it’s not easy sometimes as a wife and mom to keep up your home. There are just going to be those days where you feel like you were not able to get anything done because you were a mom-taxi cab or because of other things that happen with the kids.

But while I don’t think a husband should be coming home yelling at his wife, if a wife is lazy and sits around watching soaps all day and does nothing he has a right to say something (and as the head of his home, he must say something). But it needs to be done in the right way and this is not being a perfectionist husband. I will get more into this topic of lazy housewives in another post.

If your husband has rules for your children, you need to enforce those rules even if you don’t agree. Your husband is not being a perfectionist for expecting that you will enforce the family rules when he is not around. Of course there needs to be a place for mercy and grace when children break family rules but children do need discipline.

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

I am not saying a Christian wife does not have to submit to and obey her husband. He is the authority in the home by the design of God. As I have said on other posts, a wife should listen to her husband as to how she keeps her hair, or what styles of clothing she wears and in many other areas she should seek his counsel. Especially when it comes to moral decisions of the home, she needs to follow his leadership.

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

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 husband cannot differentiate between these types of insignificant things, and truly important things that have moral consequences.

As a Christian wife, you need to in a loving and respectful way, be a helpmeet to your husband and help him not to be a perfectionist toward you or your children.

Related article: How to handle a perfectionist wife