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.

Packing Light

I had recently escaped a job that felt like a 1-year marathon. I crossed the finish line thirsty for a healthy environment, hungry for a boss with no relation to Satan, and pissing myself from relief that I was finally done! I was fortunate to be moving on to my first Supervisory position, and I was determined to make a good impression and lock in a positive reputation from the very beginning. With that being said, I was thrilled when the department’s VP gave me the chance to travel out-of-town (with my husband) to attend a formal dinner alongside senior leadership. This was a rare opportunity for exposure to a group of people I wouldn’t otherwise interact with, and I certainly wanted to make it count!

The day of the dinner, my husband and I did some sight-seeing, and then realizing he didn’t pack his tie, we swung by Target and bought him a new one. After a relaxing day, we returned to the hotel, and I started to primp and prep for the important night ahead. An hour before we had to leave I began encouraging (otherwise known as nagging) my husband to get ready. He was adamant that as a man he could be ready in a measly 15 minutes. Once the show he was watching (about surround-sound systems, or 4-wheeling, or Italian cars, or Grateful Dead, or sex, or all of the above) had ended, he finally made his way into the shower. As he shaved, I filled him in on the people who would be at the event and what positions they held. We were hard-core “first impression” prepping. Then, 5 minutes before we had to leave, my dear, intelligent, capable husband turned to me and said,

Where are my pants?”

I remember thinking…”please be referring to your underwear. We can do commando and have a great story to tell later. You’ll shake hands with important people while experiencing total floppy freedom…it will be liberating.” But, no…he meant the pants that you wear over your underwear. Pants are such a given requirement that even the signs about “No service” only mention shoes and shirts.

I will whole heartedly admit that I went into full crazy-wife freak out mode with thoughts of homicide and divorce in no particular order. I was halfway through painting my toenails, but didn’t have time to finish as we sprinted to the car and map-quested the nearest Target. (Side note: I am a social worker and my husband is a therapist, so we did not map-quest Nordstrom). We had 15 minutes to buy my husband a pair of pants and get to the resort for dinner. At Target, my husband bought a sturdy pair of black, stain-resistant, 100% cotton, Cherokee pants that paired with his silk Calvin Klein jacket and shiny Calvin Klein shoes in that classic beatnik (I don’t care what you think of me) way we were both hoping for. While he drove like a bat out of hell, I tried to keep my shaking hands from strangling him and attempted to finish embellishing my toes. While parked in the car, my husband threw his seat back and put on his brand new Cherokees that were a charming inch and a half too short. We half-walked, half ran into the resort’s lobby while I imagined how we might sneak in 20 minutes late without being noticed, and how we could sell our disheveled look as the new modern Zoolander “Derelict” fashion trend. As we hurried towards the conference room I heard someone yell out my name. We turned around to find my Vice President leisurely sipping a drink at the bar. When we joined him, he explained that the time on the invitation was incorrect and that the dinner didn’t actually start for another 40 minutes.

We were 40 minutes early!

We were 40 minutes early, yet my toes looked like a 2-year-old had caught me sock-less in my sleep and my husband was dressed like he stole pants from a 16-year-old Boston Market employee. Thank God I already HAD this job!

The next day, my husband (who spends $300-$500 on new speakers every 3 days) returned the tie and pants for a whopping $22 refund. He is now convinced that there is no need to pack for trips because he can buy what he needs once he gets there and return it when he’s done.

I can honestly say (and maybe you know someone like this too), that my husband is the luckiest person I know. He can make the biggest bonehead mistakes and it literally always works out for him. If the tables were turned and I had forgotten my dress, I can guarantee you that Target would’ve been out of all sizes except XS, my boss would’ve caught me changing in the car, one of my heels would’ve snapped off as we hurried through the parking lot, and when we arrived at the resort we would’ve been informed that the dinner was actually the night before. My husband’s good fortune in these circumstances is the reason I haven’t throttled him yet. However, everyone’s luck runs out eventually, so in the interim I’m working on increasing my hand strength…preparation is key.

Marriage has taught me that many of the moments we feel disappointed or frustrated with our significant other can instead be perceived as adventures….pant-less adventures. When I look back on that night I realize that it was always going to be a funny story…even if we had ended up being late. Maybe the hiccups in life are meant for us to hold our breath till they pass, and enjoy a good laugh afterwards!

Love from Different Planets

Remember the book, Men are from Mars Women are from Venus? My husband and I could fill that book with real life examples that illustrate our ability to live on different planets and yet love each other deeply and with no regrets. Our differences were never noted in a larger public forum than during the unforgettable toasts at our wedding. One of our favorite examples came from my father-in-law who summed us up well when he said, “In thinking about this marriage I was at first struck by the apparent differences between Renee’ and Peter. While both were born in Arizona, Renee stayed and Peter left. She grew up in Arizona in a large family with three siblings; he grew up in New York in a small family as an only child. They grew up in different places and under different circumstances of religion and world views. She is from a mid-west conservative background; he is from an east coast liberal perspective. And yet, once past these obvious differences, there are many similarities….they share a love for…food (he loves to cook, she loves to eat), sports (she loves to play, he loves to watch)…with all of these shared values and characteristics, these two are certain to have a loving and happy marriage.” Truth be told, we do have a loving and happy marriage and I believe one of the many reasons is because we celebrate our differences (by pointing and laughing at one another).

One of our many “how in the world did we end up together” moments was wonderfully highlighted 2 years ago while I was pregnant with our first child. A dear friend had taken me to the hospital due to contractions and Pete met us there shortly after we arrived. To set the scene, I must say that with the exception of being pregnant with a beautiful and healthy little boy, the 9 month incubation period was less than ideal. To put it gently, Pregnancy made me its Bitch. I had ALL of the normal icky pregnancy symptoms such as morning sickness, teenage acne, back pain, stomach cramps, constipation, insomnia-inducing heartburn, exhaustion, and tooth pain that certainly would have lead to an unnecessary root canal if I hadn’t stumbled out of the Endodontist’s chair, pushed past the doctor, ran frantically out of the office, and called my dad from the parking lot swearing that I would NOT go through one more unpleasant thing during this pregnancy. In addition to these lovely symptoms that most women are prepared for, I also became completely debilitated with migraines during my third trimester. I admit that when I have severe pain in any part of my body that lasts longer than 30 seconds you can be sure to find me on WebMD, Ask.com, Answers.yahoo.com, CDC, livestrong, everydayhealth.com, and any other website (credible or completely bogus) that caters to neurotic women who can’t help but diagnose themselves based on information they receive from everyone BUT a doctor. With that being said, by the time I made it to the hospital, I was full of worry and fear about my health and the health of our baby. The 3 of us began talking about my worries and fears, and in an effort to lighten the mood and lower my blood pressure, Pete suggested that we review each other’s search history on our phones. He thought it would be interesting to compare and contrast the variety of topics that occupy our minds on any given day. I bravely (yet another dissimilarity) went first. My search history looked something like this:

Can a migraine cause a stroke?

How long before a migraine leads to a stroke?

What symptoms appear before a stroke?

Can Tylenol tension headache hurt a baby at 32 weeks?

How long can I take Tylenol before it damages my organs?

What are the symptoms of a brain tumor and do I have one?

Obviously, Pete’s point had been made and we laughed at my lengthy anxiety-provoking “keyword” searches. Then it was my husband’s turn. He resisted at first, but eventually I was able to wrestle his phone away with my super pregnant lady strength and here is what I read:

Off-road vehicles

best sound system

speakers for sale

fastest luxury vehicle

and the most telling of all….

Does sex help with migraines?

We laughed so hard I had my baby. Kidding, but for a small and relieving moment I forgot all about the pain that had stolen every one of my waking moments for 3 months straight. Laughing at ourselves and at each other has been exactly the gravitational pull that has brought our 2 crazy planets together, and no matter where we are in life I’m proud that my husband and I continue to celebrate each other’s diversity in ways that would get us into trouble with any HR department.