10 Ways to Protect Your Marriage from the Pitfalls of Perfectionism

Something occurred recently that caused me to reflect on how my bent towards perfectionism has affected my marriage. Perfectionists are used to being told that they’re too hard on themselves, but what happens when that critical voice broadens its scope to include their loved ones? A recent interaction with my husband helped me see the harm that can be done in a marriage when the inner critic begins to direct its unrealistic chatter towards a spouse. 

My family was gathered around the table discussing parenthood when I shared that my husband sends the kids to me every time they have a request that requires the answer, “no.” I complained that I was tired of being the “bad guy,” and that I believe it’s only fair that we share the responsibility of setting limits and delivering answers our kids don’t want to hear. Without skipping a beat, Pete responded earnestly, “I’m scared that if I give the kids an answer you don’t agree with, then I”ll be in trouble with you, so I have them ask for your permission in order to stay out of trouble.” We all laughed at his candidness, and I didn’t argue his point. It’s true that I have a specific idea of how some things should be done, especially when it comes to parenting. The perfectionist in me admits that I tend to default to: my way equals the right way. I’ve always recognized this in myself, however, it wasn’t until Pete gave me his honest feedback that I really had an “a-ha” moment. 

My husband’s admission got me to thinking that: 

  1. My tendency to have a critical nature towards his decisions can sometimes steal his ability to co-parent with me. While trying to avoid my criticism, he’s inclined to parent from behind me rather than alongside me. 
  2. If I was willing to let go of the reins, I would be gifting my husband the freedom and confidence to parent our kids without my permission, and this would remove the pressure I feel to be the family’s primary point of contact for most decisions and subsequent actions.  
  3. Maybe my husband and I are not alone in this dynamic. Maybe there are other fellow perfectionists who have yet to realize the consequences of an inner critic going rogue and shifting its gaze on external targets. 

I’ve heard men say that they feel like they can’t do anything right, and I’ve heard women complain that their husbands seem incapable of figuring anything out on their own. Ladies, is it possible that some of us are creating an unproductive cycle with our perfectionism and need for control? Is it possible that we’re unintentionally creating disconnect with the unrealistic, and quite frankly, unfair expectations that our husband’s live their lives and take care of the kids and the house and their work and themselves in the same way we do? Is it possible that we sometimes send a message that says, “I don’t trust you to make the right decision, therefore you should ALWAYS check with me first?” Is it possible that we’re inadvertently attempting to parent the adult who is supposed to be our partner in raising our children? In my case, to some degree, and at one time or another, I have to respond yes to a few of these questions. 

As hard as it is to admit, I think I’ve discovered that some of the frustrations in my marriage are by my own unconscious doing. I have established a dynamic, where the things that aggravate me the most are actually things I’ve unintentionally created with the, “my way or the highway” approach. Due to my tendency to often insist that things be done a certain way, the following patterns have shown up in our home, and maybe some of you can relate:

  1. The popular, “go ask your mom.” 

If I’m trying to avoid decision fatigue, then I have to stop implying that decisions made without my input are wrong ones. If I criticize my husband’s choices too often, then I end up sending the message, “it would be easier for all of us if you just left the judgment calls to me.” In order for decision-making to be a shared task, and in order to divide the responsibility of giving our kids answers they don’t want to hear, I have to let go of control and remove my need to critique. 

  1. The chronic forgetfulness of everyday items. 

It doesn’t matter where I set our son’s water bottle (which has gone with him to school every day for 3.5 years), my husband WILL forget to bring it with him. I’ve put it on my husband’s laptop, inside my son’s shoes, INTO MY HUSBAND’S LIVING MOVING HANDS, and he still manages to forget the cup. It’s as if he goes out of his way to NOT remember it. It’s a dark magic ladies! 

Here’s the thing I’ve realized though: As long as I insist that certain things are “my things,” the less likely it is that my husband will offer to take responsibility for them. From the very inception of our little family, I have taken on the role of packing the diaper bag, the overnight bag, the suitcase, the backpack, and so on. I’ve convinced myself that if my husband was in charge, he would forget something, so it’s better if I just take care of it. It may be true that he would fail to remember something, but with consistent practice I believe he would be less forgetful. Mommy’s with little ones pack a diaper bag every single day, and after awhile it’s second nature…it’s habit. When dads only have the opportunity to pack a bag while mom is traveling for work, it makes sense that they can’t do it on autopilot, and that they are more likely to miss something.

3. The questions I know my intelligent husband is more than capable of answering himself. 

“Where are Sonoma’s bed sheets?” Let’s see…we know they’re probably not in the fridge, the garage, the attic, the bathtub. There are a few plausible places: the linen closet, Sonoma’s closet, the drawer that pulls out from under her crib, which was made to hold bed sheets!

“Do the kids need a bath?” Honey, how do you gauge when it’s time for you to clean your own body? Do they smell? Is there sand in their hair? Has it been 4 days? Did they recently get sweaty or do anything active? If you answer yes to any of those questions, then please, for the love of God, bathe the children.

Again, I believe this goes back to deferring to me because I’ve insisted that I be in charge of certain things. I’ve unintentionally encouraged my husband to yield certain responsibilities to me because I’ve decided that I fold the linens better, I know where things “should” go, I’m a better judge of when a bath is necessary?? Really?! Who do I think I am? 

Ladies, I have no other choice but to conclude that I’m partially responsible for my own frustrations. In an effort to make sure things are done timely, and done the way I believe they should be done, I’ve taught my husband to relinquish some of his independence and question his self-sufficiency. I’ve disempowered him when it comes to certain areas of parenting, and I’ve unintentionally led him to believe that if he does anything or chooses anything without my approval, he may get it wrong, and the price to pay is my frustration, and sadly at times, my disgust. What if he says “no” to our children and I think he should’ve said, “yes?” Or worse, what if he says, “yes” when I think he should’ve said, “no?” My husband deserves better from me. The truth is that he is an amazing partner and an incredible father in so many ways, and he should feel confident in who he is.

  1. He remembers garbage days and I have NO idea what days those are.
  2. He gets things done quickly and does not procrastinate.
  3. He takes care of our kids while I travel for work without a mention that it’s difficult or that I owe him anything.
  4. He parents from a place of empathy that helps keep our home balanced and centered.
  5. He’s so much fun and there is NEVER a shortage of laughter in our home.
  6. He enjoys housework and does all the cooking. FULL STOP! How lucky am I?!?!?

He may not know where the kid’s bedsheets are, what time they nap, or when lunchtime has been for the last 6 years, BUT he knows what their hearts need…he knows how to love them unconditionally…he knows what makes them tick and how to avoid their triggers, he knows when I’m grieving my mom and just need to be held, he knows when it’s time for a breather and when it’s time to press in, he knows what his family needs from a father and a spouse.  

I realize now how unfair it is to expect him to take more initiative and make decisions more independently, when at the same time I often criticize him for how he does things, and jump on him for not “partnering” with me when he makes decisions without me. He can’t win this way…our marriage can’t win this way. I MUST encourage his efforts and be grateful vs. picking apart his choices. If I want him to feel free to do things without asking me how they should be done, I have to STOP insisting that everything be done my way. I’ve been too critical at times. I want to be more intentional about letting go of the reins and providing a growing space for healthy co-parenting.

As I reflect on this lesson I’m understanding that unchecked perfectionism can cause an unintentional wedge in a marriage, and I’m determined to try a new approach in 2020 for a healthier relationship with my husband. Below are some husband-approved ways we can all be more intentional about how we relate to our spouses. 

10 Ways to Protect A Marriage From the Pitfalls of Perfectionism:

  1. If your spouse makes a decision or takes a course of action that differs from the choice you would have made, let it be. If it doesn’t cause harm, let it go. 
  2. Start affirming. Stop criticizing. 
  3. Offer encouragement when your spouse takes care of something without asking you first, even if they do it in a way you find less than perfect.
  4. Make a list of all the things you love and appreciate about your spouse and share that list with them. Repeat as needed.
  5. Say thank you.
  6. Flip the script and ask for your spouses input, seek their opinion, try it their way. 
  7. Praise/honor your spouse in front of others.
  8. Check your tone. Speak to your spouse with the love, kindness, and respect you desire to hear from them.
  9. Encourage your spouse to make decisions, and then provide them with positive feedback.
  10. Admit your own mistakes and offer yourself forgiveness. When we’re willing to forgive ourselves, then we’re more likely to open the door for forgiveness of others.   

As I’ve taken inventory on the ways my perfectionism has negatively impacted my marriage I’ve gained insight that has helped me release much of my frustration, and I feel better prepared to move towards a healthier marriage in 2020. My hope is that by sharing this difficult lesson-learned, I can help others avoid the pitfalls I was previously unaware of. I pray that your marriage will be protected from the critical voice of perfectionism and that your partnership will be blessed with kindness, love, and grace. 

If you have other ideas that have helped protect your marriage from the pitfalls of perfectionism, please share.

How to Help Each Other Overcome Mommy Guilt

I think most of us would agree that there’s no such thing as a perfect parent, and yet so many of us struggle with mommy guilt. 

Have you ever thought, said, or heard and iteration of, “she’s got it all together. She has 5 kids, her make-up is always perfect, she’s lost all her baby weight, she’s always smiling…” I often wonder if we could defeat mommy guilt by candidly sharing what happens behind the social media curtain. If we posted pictures of the tantrums or shared stories of the times our decisions resulted in a train-wreck. What if we shared our lessons learned in an effort to encourage one another, help each other grow, confirm for one another just how hard this parenting job is and how messy it gets?

If sharing more openly could validate another mom, offer her hope, give her permission to forgive herself, or help cut the cord of guilt, then count me in. 

I make a lot of mistakes with my kids, and although I acknowledge that there’s no such thing as a perfect parent, I recently made a choice that caused shame to sit like a heavy stone deep in my heart. I hope this story will help you feel less alone. I hope this will encourage you to let go of mommy shame and hold onto grace. 

Our son, Isaac, recently had a sleepover at his friend’s house. My husband and I understand that the term “sleep” must be held loosely in these situations, so when it came time to pick him up, we expected that he may be grouchy, and we mentally prepared ourselves for a long day of less than stellar behavior. When he climbed into the car, it was clear that our expectations were spot on. Isaac, and the dark cloud traveling above him, shifted everyone’s mood immediately. Everything was a battle. His behavior ran the gamut…from whining, to picking on his sister, to yelling “no” at every request, and as the volume in our car intensified, my frustration boiled over. In a moment of exasperation, I spun around in the passenger seat to face him, and regretfully blurted out, 

“You know what!? This morning was perfectly lovely until we picked up Isaac!” 

I immediately felt hot shame and regret spread over my body. I quickly turned back around in my seat and fell silent. My husband (who had managed to remain calm) jumped in and attempted to remove the sting from my hurtful words. He explained that the morning was still lovely, but that Isaac’s attitude needed to change or there would be consequences. As my husband took the lead, I sat quietly, forcing back tears, internally berating myself. I could not believe I said something so hurtful, so mean, so thoughtless to my 5 year old, and I hated myself for it. As soon as Pete finished smoothing things over and setting new boundaries, I apologized to Isaac. I sought to use my mistake as a teaching moment, admitting to him that when I’m frustrated or angry I sometimes say things I don’t mean, and that I was sorry for my hurtful words. I asked for his forgiveness and although he offered it, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had just wounded his precious 5 year old heart permanently. I was tearful for the remainder of the day while the critic in my head repeatedly attempted to convince me that I’m not cut out to be a mom.  

Fear was telling me that my mistake (and all the others that came before and certainly would come after) would ruin our relationship and we wouldn’t recover. I began to imagine that any self-esteem issues he may deal with in the future would be because of this seed (“your presence makes things worse”), which I planted in a moment of frustration. I couldn’t let it go and I couldn’t find grace, so I texted some faithful friends and family whom I knew wouldn’t judge me. I needed to confess to those I love and trust. I shared what I had done and that I felt like there was something wrong with me…like I wasn’t meant to be a mom. I admitted to them that there are days I make so many mistakes that I begin to wonder why God trusted me with these tender-hearted kids. I shared of the fear that whispers, “you will never connect with your son the way you hope and pray for,” and the fear that attempts to convince me that every mistake creates more relational damage than I’ll be able to repair.

It was my friends and family who pulled me up and out of my shame spiral and helped me to see more clearly. I hope that there are other moms who will be as blessed as I was by these reminders from my incredible community: 

  • Every mistake is a learning opportunity and a reminder for both the parent and their children, that no one is perfect and THAT IS OK!  
  • Our mistakes are perfect teaching moments! They are a chance to demonstrate vulnerability, and that being a flawed human doesn’t mean we aren’t worthy of giving and receiving love.  
  • Every moment is a new opportunity to draw closer to our kids regardless of how many times we lapse in our parenting judgment.
  • Every parent has said something(s) to their kid(s) that they regret. 
  • You’re not the first or last mother to say something hurtful to a child from a place of anger or frustration, and as our children grow, these interactions will build resiliency along with a deep knowing of how to seek, offer, and receive forgiveness.
  • When you ask for forgiveness you’re repairing what has been broken. 
  • When our children know they are loved, then forgiveness is abundant.
  • You can be a great parent AND be a human who makes mistakes again and again.
  • Parents who are willing to apologize are modeling a behavior we hope all of our kids will learn and demonstrate in their own lives. 
  • Shaming ourselves when we make mistakes teaches our kids to do the same. 
  • We must give ourselves grace…parenting is not easy! 

One friend sent a beautiful prayer that brought peace to my heart, and I want to share it with you in the hopes that it will bring the same to yours. She wrote, and I now pray this for all the mamas who share in this struggle:

 “Dear Lord, I pray you give [the mama reading this prayer] love and peace in her time of struggle. I pray that you guide her through the hard times we have as parents and that you hear her heart as she aches from choosing the wrong words. I pray that you protect [this mama’s son and/or daughter] and allow [him and/or her] to receive [their mama’s] love and know that through mistakes there is an unfaltering love that outlasts and overcomes any words that are said. In Jesus name I pray, Amen.”

I want to encourage you to find someone you trust and disclose to them any mom guilt you may be holding onto. Give yourself and other moms consistent reminders to offer forgiveness and grace for your blunders. Share with other moms your imperfections as a reminder that we’re all doing our best, and we all falter. I pray we’ll help each other walk in grace rather than fall into the temptation of comparison and judgment. I pray we’ll encourage each other with words of love and truth. Let us remind each other that as we learn to give our kids grace we must do the same for ourselves. As our little ones learn and grow, we are truly learning and growing right along with them.

Grace, grace, abundant grace beautiful mamas!

The Grief Journey is a Grace Journey

In the midst of grief, grace is paramount. 

Whether you’re walking through grief or walking alongside the grieved, grace is a gift that offers space for vulnerability and healing. Grace is a gift that makes room for the pain to push its way through and out, over and over. Grace is a gift that says, “you are loved in your darkest hour. You are cared for even when the tears won’t stop. You are accepted and valued while you’re blinded by pain and tears. You matter, even at your messiest.” Grace is a beacon of light that shines on the long path of loss traveled by the grieved.

It has been less than 3 months since my mom unexpectedly passed away, and I am reminded daily how much grace is required to live through deep, heavy, aching loss. I’m reminded moment by moment that I rely heavily on heavenly grace as I put one foot in front of the other. I’m reminded that when grace slips through my fractured heart, I’m blessed to be surrounded by people who tenderly love me back to a place of hope and restoration, love and favor. I’m learning daily lessons about the surprising movements of grief and grace, and some of these lessons have been hard to tread through.

Just hours after my mom’s memorial service, I lost sight of grace, and made a decision I regret. I allowed hurt and disappointment to get the best of my weary heart. I was confused and afflicted by the lack of outreach I had received from 2 women in my life, and I could’ve let it go. I should’ve let it go. My mom would’ve let it go, and she would’ve counseled me to do the same. I could’ve chalked it up to immaturity, trauma, ignorance, or universal brokenness. I could’ve let it roll off my back, but that’s not what I chose. I chose to engage my hurt until it boiled over hissing for release. I chose to take a route that would bear no good fruit. The very same day I stood up in front of hundreds of people honoring my mom and her beautiful spirit, and claiming that I wanted to be more like her, I still chose to send a message to these women, sharing my hurt and disappointment. It wasn’t an angry message, but it was a message that carried a dose of shame, and it was not a message of grace.

It took less than one day for me to regret my decision. I quickly came to realize that I had allowed my deep hurt, my heavy grief, my exposed and raw emotions to be expressed as anger towards them, and I was heartsick by my choice. I felt guilt and shame for lashing out and I felt a dark sadness that my mom was disappointed in me. In an effort to repair the graceless mistake I had made, I sent the following message:

“I have not acted out of grace or love, and my mom was the perfect representation of both of those things. I want to be more like my mom. I’m ashamed that I’ve allowed my broken heart and hurt to turn into hurting you. I was hurt, but did not need to share it with you…Love should always lead and we love you…Grief at this magnitude wears on the nerves and can cause emotions and behavior that are outside of the norm. That’s where I’m at right now…outside of the norm. I am broken. Please forgive me.” 

Neither woman responded and I was undone. I could not stop the self-talk that said I deserved to be ignored, that my mistakes make me unlovable, that if I mattered I would be forgiven, that the only way I can be accepted is to get “it” right all the time. The shame swimming in my head was keeping me up at night, and I could not stop ruminating. Shame is toxic, and in the midst of grief it can be almost too much to bear. I had inadvertently compounded my grief by adding emotional pain that didn’t belong…pain that had nothing to do with losing my mom…pain that actually blocked my ability to get back to processing my grief. Here I was focusing on the hurt caused by my expectations rather than putting my energy into grief work and healing. Suddenly, I found myself sitting in shame…hating myself for allowing my wounds to wound others. What had started as disappointment in someone else was now a great disappointment in myself. 

Thankfully, I have friends and family who stepped in to remind me that I’m worthy of forgiveness and grace, just as much as the 2 women I had clearly hurt. A dear friend held me tightly and said, “you are allowed to make mistakes and you are forgiven.” She acknowledged that grief turns our world upside down and that we must be kind to ourselves during these times. She encouraged me to forgive myself so that I could refocus on my walk with grief. This is when I realized that the grief journey is also a grace journey, and without grace we may find ourselves experiencing additional pain and loss. The mistakes I’ve made on this path have taught me that in order for healing to move unhindered, there are 3 directions grace must flow in times of grief:

  1. Giving grace to others while we grieve

Many people haven’t suffered significant and/or traumatic loss, and if they have, then their trauma may not allow for the kind of support we need. It is important that while we are grieving we make a decision to forgive others for their lack of understanding, their perceived insensitivity, and even their bizarre or misguided comments. Death is uncomfortable. It cannot be fixed. There are no words. It reminds us of our mortality and the fleeting nature of life on earth. To show up for someone who has just experienced a terrible loss takes courage and vulnerability. Try not to hold on too tightly to expectations of what people should do and/or say or how often. Expectations often lead to disappointment, hurt, and anger in a time we’re most in need of love, peace, and healing. Everyone is doing their best and as Toni Morrison said, “if they knew better they would do better.” Decide not to take disappointments personally. It is important to recognize that those who are showing up, are absolutely doing their best, and even those who don’t show up are living within their own emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual capacity…we are all doing the best we can.  

  1. Giving grace to ourselves while we grieve

In the pursuit of healing, we must offer ourselves daily and generous doses of forgiveness for our mistakes. When our hearts are torn open, we are much more susceptible to overwhelm and uncharacteristic behavior. Sleep is diminished, anxiety is at the forefront, we can barely see straight let alone think straight. We are exhausted and worn out. Grief takes an emotional, mental and physical toll and we must be patient with our hearts, our minds, our bodies. The ability to focus on anything other than the pain can be impossible at times, and our minds struggle to keep up with even the most mundane activities, so please be gentle. Two hours of work may feel like 12 and two minutes of patience with our children may feel like a lifetime. As we walk through this fog, we can expect to stumble. We will make mistakes, we will say things we wish we could take back, we will hurt other’s feelings, and yet we must continue to give ourselves grace. We are allowed to be messy AND loved! We are allowed to say, “ I’m sorry. I just can’t do this. I need help.”   

  1. Giving grace to those who are grieving

There is no telling how grief will impact a person or how a person will cope, but you can expect the bereaved to be forever changed. Please understand that the grief-stricken cannot see the world the way we saw it one moment before. Everything has changed…our reality has changed. We are heavy and pushing through something dark and deep…we often feel lost and disjointed. We will not be ourselves, so please offer abundant forgiveness and understanding. We are facing a long road of healing from an amputation. We must learn how to see and do things differently, think differently, live differently. Every moment carries a pulsating ache. We need love, acceptance, space to scream and pound and weep. We need space for our enormous feelings, but not distance. We need close, strong, loving arms, and undeserved forgiveness as we stumble through the haze of sorrow that surrounds us. We need tenderness even while our rough edges rub everyone the wrong way. We need to be reminded over and over that mistakes do not make us unlovable. We need forgiveness as we will do and say things that are out of character and likely uncalled for. Our world has shifted. Everything about the past, the present, and the future is now different, and we need hope to step forward. As we break before you, and disappoint you, and maybe even anger you, please forgive us. I’m begging for myself. I’m begging for others. 

As I walk the path of grief I clearly see the beauty grace has to offer. Unmerited favor and love create the conditions necessary for the grieved to move towards hope and healing. Unmerited favor and love give the grieved a chance to live with their head and heart above water, while they learn how to live without their loved one. Unmerited love and favor carry the grieved through the heaviest and darkest of days.

I have made mistake after mistake since my mom passed, and I am so grateful for those who continue to hold me close. I am so grateful for those who remind me to be tender with myself. I am so grateful for those who help me lean into grace for myself and grace for others.

I pray that you will join me in the practice of giving grace to those who may disappoint, and that includes ourselves. This journey is not meant to be walked alone, so let us surround ourselves with friends and family who allow unconditional love and favor to flow freely in ALL directions. Let us journey through grief and grace together.