I believe my wife would call me a perfectionist and I have a secret. I have figured out a key element toward what it takes to maintain harmony in a marriage with a perfectionist. The concept is simple, yet profound – and it could change your life.
In the Summer of 2002, I sold books (KJV Open Bible, Kindergarten through 12th grade Book of Knowledge, and a comprehensive Family Health & Medical Guide) door-to-door with the Varsity Internship Program. They were hard, grueling days. Those of us that braved such a job had 80 hours of sales training in one week and then we were unleashed to roam our assigned territories and sell our products. I learned a lot of valuable lessons that summer (most of them to do with issues other than selling); however, ultimately there was one lesson in particular that I learned that changed my view of living with a spouse forever.
Each Sunday, all of us crazy college students would drive back to our home base (for me, it was a two hour drive) for our weekly meeting. Those of us who wanted to (including myself) would first go to church and then we would have our Sunday business meeting. The meetings included going over our progress sheets and sales numbers with our team leaders. There were prizes handed out to those super-achieving salespeople while those of us (including myself who were not as natural of a salesman) were encouraged to press on and continue.
During one part of the Sunday meetings, the president of the company would give everyone who sold that week a directive: “If you sold more this week than last week, stand up.” It did not matter if you sold 50 units this week from 40 last week or whether you sold 2 units this week from 1 unit last week – if you had an increase, you stood. Alternately, if you sold 200 units and you sold 201 units the previous week, you did not stand. Each person that stood received a button on it that said, “I’m getting better and better.” So, even those rookies who were still learning the fine art of door-to-door salesmanship could earn these buttons. The goal was to increase each week and get a button for all 12 weeks we were there for the summer. A few of us out of the entire group accomplished that goal. I think I ended up with about seven or eight buttons.
To preface this next part, you need to know that I’m a type-A (high strung) personality (some days, maybe an A+); whereas, my wife is a type-B (easy-going) personality. Though I have become much better (due to what I’m going to share with you!) throughout the passing of years, when we were first married, I was pretty anal about various things. My personality type demands that things be done right – and honestly, “right” (in my mind) is not defined by me, but by the most efficient way that something could be done (whether it originates from me or not).
So, several years later, I was in the kitchen and emptying the dishwasher. I once again was frustrated with Heather because she had loaded the dishwasher in a way that was not going to get the water sprayed around very well – and that frustrated me (again, I have improved! ~smile~). So, I asked her to load the dishwasher in a certain way, gave her the rationale for doing so, she agreed, and we went along our merry ways. A week later, upon emptying the dishwasher, I found the same problem. After confronting her, she said she would try to do better.
Another week went by and I found myself helping with the dishes again. I noticed this time that she had put some of them in the way that I had requested, but others fell into her normal pattern. At that moment, I remembered the buttons. If I were to show my aggravation from her lack of perfection instead of encouraging her for her attempt and successful partial completion, it would likely increase her frustration as well as demotivate her since she really was trying – but, old habits are hard to break.
At that moment, I decided: “She is moving in the right direction. It is not about perfection, it is about progression. I need to thank her for loading the dishes she did in the manner I requested and move on.” So, a war ensued within me. Part of me said, “That’s not good enough! She needs to know that the entire job was not done to perfection!” The other part of me said, “Give her grace and celebrate her forward movement… just as they celebrated yours when you were getting buttons for selling units at a count a good deal lower than other salespeople in the company.”
Fortunately, grace won out that day and I’ve kept the lesson ever since. So, the perfectionist’s secret to a happy marriage is this: do not put on your spouse your (neurotic) standards of perfection; rather, celebrate when there is forward movement toward progression of the goal and let go of the rest. Of course, if there is continual recession away from the goal, then yes, it should be addressed. But, otherwise, give grace. Why?
Here’s a good reason: God. If God treated me the way I initially treated Heather, I would be crushed. Instead, He is a loving Father who wants me to strive toward righteousness and pick myself up off the ground when I stumble. The Bible gives me encouragement to do that and I need to give that same encouragement to my wife. I can’t picture Christ berating the Church for the methods they use in administering communion or styles of worship. And, as a husband, I am to be a picture of Christ to my wife (and to the world looking in on my marriage from the outside).
As a previous post mentioned, “a happy marriage is the union of two good forgivers.” This is an extension of that philosophy. It is a good one to hold onto and practical… even for perfectionists.
Do you need to know the perfectionist’s secret to a happy marriage?