3 Ways to Deal If You’re Married to a Perfectionist
Being married to an overachiever has its upsides: Pristine kitchen? Check. Meticulously organized medicine cabinet? Check. Full tank of gas when you borrow his keys? Every time. But along with the perks comes pressure—on you and your kids—to live up to impossibly high expectations. For those moments when he’s more critical or controlling than quirky, here are three actionable pieces of advice, care of some very wise souls.
Be a little deaf
If there’s one person we’d take advice from, it’s original badass Ruth Bader Ginsburg. In a 2016 New York Times piece she wrote on the wisdom she learned from her beloved mother-in-law: “‘In every good marriage,’ she counseled, ‘it helps sometimes to be a little deaf.’ I have followed that advice assiduously, and not only at home through 56 years of a marital partnership nonpareil. I have employed it as well in every workplace, including the Supreme Court. When a thoughtless or unkind word is spoken, best tune out. Reacting in anger or annoyance will not advance one’s ability to persuade.” For your perfectionist partner, muttering endlessly about the scuffs on your cabinets or the peeling bathtub grout is not necessarily a signal that he expects you to hop to it and call a contractor. It may just be his stream-of-consciousness way of blowing off steam. Lovingly tune him out. Be a little deaf.
Remember: It's not you. It’s them.
When faced with a hypercritical spouse, it’s essential you remember your own worth, sing your own praises and acknowledge your own accomplishments. Remind him you’re in this together. Openly cheer his wins, and teach him to reciprocate by example. Above all, know deep down that his criticism has far less to do with you than with what psychologist Shauna Springer calls “chasing the elusive rabbit in his or her own head.” As social worker Sharon Martin puts it: “Don’t take it personally. Her/his criticism and rigidity isn’t about you. They reflect her/his struggle with self-worth and anxiety.”
Try a little tenderness
When your partner gets itchy because the dishwasher isn’t loaded “correctly,” you have two options: anger or empathy. “Get curious and really understand what makes your partner tick,” writes Martin. “Understanding why s/he behaves in certain ways will increase compassion and loving feelings.” Did her parents make her feel not good enough when she is so obviously the best? (Perfectionism appears to be genetic, after all.) Ahhh. Considering where she’s coming from may help you see how imperfect—and still totally lovable—she truly is.