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.”
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.”
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