Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Dismaying Story #33: The Perfectionist




Dear Andrew,

What have you got to say about bossy, perfectionistic, high achieving spouses who think they are always right...and are, indeed, always right. How do the rest of us stay sane when the person we're crazy about is a merciless perfectionist?

Signed, Trying to Measure Up


Dear Trying,

We need food, preferably something fresh out of the oven so the aroma will waft throughout your home. Hot biscuits? Yes, they will do nicely. Set them right there next to your computer.

You're also going to need some way to lock the door to that room you're in ... from the outside. When your husband follows that biscuit smell in here, you clear out, lock the door and leave him with me. And don't worry about any noises coming from this room. If you hear him scrambling frantically against the inside of the door or screaming words like, "Nooooooooo!" ... well that's just the two of us having some fun. It's nothing to concern yourself about.

Oh ... I think I hear him coming now. Time for me to get to work.

Dear Mr. Perfectionist,

Being competent is generally a good thing. You feel that way, don't you? Yes, I thought so, and I'm glad because I have a challenge for you.

You see, your wife tells me you pride yourself in being smart, always right. Well there are several different ways to measure IQ. I suspect you would achieve a high score in many of them. There is one measure, however, in which I can already tell you have a failing grade. I refer to this IQ scale as: "How do I keep my wife happy and make her feel good so she doesn't seek help from a relationship advice guy, claiming that I am a problem?" You might also call this your social IQ.

Is it smart to act in ways that make your family members:
  • feel badly about themselves?
  • resent you?
  • question their own competence?
I assume you love your family and want the best for them. That means you want them to have high self-esteem. They need to know you value their opinion and think of them as competent. They need to feel secure in your love for them, to know they are more important to you than anything else.

You also want people to have a good opinion of you. Now people value competence, there is no question about that. This must be balanced, however, with our collective admiration for people with humility and modesty, for those who care about others, not just about themselves.

So let's play "what if" for a moment. What if your wife receives a framed painting for her birthday and asks you to help her hang it in the living room? She mentions it would look good over the piano. You believe it would look better on the opposite wall, though, and you have several good reasons for your opinion. The colors in the painting would go better with the couch on that side, it would balance the number of pictures hung on each side of the room, it would cover the largest expanse of empty wall ... on and on. You're certain of it -- over the couch is the way to go.

The old you wouldn't hesitate. You would state your opinion in a millisecond and argue its merits until you got your way.

Sorry pal, but you just blew it. You flunked another edition of the social IQ test. Think about what you have gained and what you have lost. You have the small satisfaction of feeling you were right. You got your way: another small, momentary satisfaction. The picture is where you wanted it, which is going to affect your life how? Zip, partner. Not a bit. See, what you don't get is that the position of that picture won't make one iota of difference in your life.

Now let's look at the other side of the balance sheet. You have just proven to your wife that this trivial, unimportant positioning issue is more important to you than her autonomy. Everyone wants to feel they have some say in their own life. We all want to feel valued, that our opinions count. Well you have just shown your wife that hers counts for almost nothing in your books. How do you think that impacts the bond of closeness between the two of you? Yeah, that's what I think too, and this one is important, big time.

So you just chose a trivial gain at the cost of a gigantic loss. Not a good trade in my books. Not a very smart thing to do.

If you want to be a perfectionist, to do it the right way, try this sometime instead. When someone else has a different opinion and the issue isn't really all that important -- and trust me, most of them are galactically unimportant -- let it go. Choose the person over the issue. Make a conscious effort to make the people around you feel good about themselves.

Try these sayings once in a while: "What do I know about X? I'm no expert." How does that feel rolling off your tongue? Strange, I bet, but it shows the people around you that you’re a giving person. How about this one: "Whatever you want dear." Man, I could write a book on the uses for that one. You'll almost never get into trouble with it.

Put a little work into improving your social IQ and you'll be amazed at the return on investment. I'm not talking about money, of course; I mean smiles, hugs, satisfaction, currency like that. And I'm talking about loads of satisfaction, not that momentary prickle you got from being right about where the painting should go.

Try it, you'll like it.

All the best,
Andrew

If you haven't already done so, now is your chance to check out this week's Ask the Faithful Readers question. I will post my personal favorite response on Saturday with a link to the winner's blog.

19 comments:

  1. Maybe, if she wasn't so touchy our living room would have a painting in the right place! Gah! I hate having to deceive the incompetent into thinking they are near my level! Speaking of level, the slope of the piano makes the painting seem like it's crooked! Her happiness is important, but I am riiiiiiiiight!!

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  2. What if your spouse just has really bad taste and no sense of home decor? I suppose putting the painting where she wanted would be fine...and after she goes to sleep you could move it.

    I've discovered that most times it's not about being right, it's about not being wrong.

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  3. Hey, Andrew, thanks for stopping by my blog!

    I love the rational and compassionate answers you're providing on this site (two traits that are not always combined in the same person, as I'm sure you know!).

    I did notice that you didn't exactly answer the writer's question, though - in the event that the biscuits fail to lure the perfectionist spouse into the room OR (inconceivably) that he fails to be transformed by your advice, what coping strategies can you recommend to the beleaguered writer?

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  4. Hi Andrew and thanks for popping by my blog too!

    I'll be sure to come back and read your blog in more detail but it looks as if it's just up my street so to speak.

    Hugs

    Whisky

    xxxxx

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  5. Awesome blog. I really like the advice you give, too.

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  6. shan: Does your tongue get sore when it's jammed hard into your cheek like that? :o)

    networkchic: Honestly, my wife can be as wrong as she wants as to where the painting would look best and that's STILL where the painting goes. That's not because I won't stand my ground - I will, when it matters - it's just that I truly believe we all need to have spaces that are our own domain. Decorating is hers and I consciously step aside. What we gain from this is WAY more important that any decorating issues.

    bubandpie: Hmmm, good point. Like I said in the post, I believe the best strategy is to point out to the perfectionist that they have "opportunities for improvement" and then call them on it whenever the control freak comes out. One coping strategy would be to develop a code between yourself and your bossy spouse. Whenever he/she tries to control something they don't need to, you can just simply say the code: "You're doing it again." Hopefully this is enough to get them to back off. If, on the other hand, you can never get the spouse to agree that they SHOULD back off in those situations, then you're into an uncaring, hurtful situation. You could try ignoring them, fighting with them -- none of the options are good. I stick by my original suggestion: educate them that they need to manage their assertiveness better and insist they do so.

    whisky: Welcome!

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  7. Hi Andrew,

    I browsed around a little bit today. I can't wait to come back and read some more. I really enjoyed your good advice and especially the humor you spun on it. Thanks,

    Catherine
    http://angelfoodcakeisntacandle.blogspot.com
    http://le-mon-ade.blogspot.com

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  8. Is that all because you are a doctor or are you like the most perfect man ever!!! My husband also suffers from a condition I think of as HE'S ANAL. I love him dearly. He think's he's just being honest. In nine years he has finally GOTTEN that honesty doesn't mean you have to say what you are thinking when you know it will hurt your wife. His analness doesn't bug me. What really gets me about him is how he will ask me a question and then question my answer. I hate that. But, for better or worse, love him. :) Love your site, I'll be back! And I may just leave it up for him, with a subtle post it on the screen in bold marker that says "read before surfing".

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  9. How could biscuits NOT lure a man?? I should try that... place biscuits out in the yard when the grass needs mowing... they'll be strategicly placed of course so that by grabbing one he pulls the starter on the mower...

    Oh, a point... nice site. You must be a great guy! My husband is what we who know him like to refer to as ANAL. I can stand the perfectionism, what I hate is when he asks me a question and then questions the answer. Lucky for him I am as stubborn and strongheaded as he is anal so although he can go on ad nauseum at why he's right and how to do it,blah, blah, blah.... he know's I'll do whatever I want to do anyway. I don't have a degree but I'd say it'd be easier to teach the wife to ignore the perfectionism than it is to drive the perfectionism out of the perfectionist. :)

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  10. Hey Andrew... I had a good laugh over this one... my mother is a perfectionist... yes, and as soon as I could leave and never come back well... you can guess what I did.

    :-) Cyn

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  11. I love your reasoning and example. Like Dr. Phil would say, "Is that the hill you want to die on?" I have to admit to being a perfectionist, but only for my own responsibilities. I mean, golly, my linen closet looks like a department store. If it gets out of order, I fix it --- I don't ask anyone else to be neater or do my thing. It's awfully hard to redo your whole personality and really easy to let your family keep their egos intact. I can trace my whole perfectionist thing back to a particular incident, but I think I'll blog that myself!

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  12. Ohh beautiful!
    I never thought of it that way before,says this bossy know it all;p
    Lael,
    from Those Weirdhomeschoolers
    Thanks for your earlier visit,it's nice to meet you:)

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  13. Interesting post. My perfectionism drives my family crazy. I even feel that our closets have to be in perfect order. I wish I could relax enough to let a coffee cup sit on the table for more than two minutes before I am compelled to put it in the dishwasher!

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  14. I really enjoyed this post. My husband dangerously skirts close to being perfectionistic, about some things. He is learning to let it go. One time, we were cooking together (he loves to cook) and I was cutting up carrots. He said" No, you should cut them this size instead"

    "Why?" I asked ...he gave me a lame explaination about how he prefers them cut because...blah blah blah...it was a nonsense answer. So, I said "You are making me feel like I cannot even cut carrots properly, and that is pretty bad." He agreed and is a little more conscious about that. Really, people DO come first, not having to be right all the time. BTW, I am hungry for biscuits now!

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  15. The big problem maybe "how do you get the guy to come to the computer?"
    Does she say to him "There's a man here who wants to tell you whats wrong with you"?!
    In my experience of counselling both parties have to "want to change".
    Having said that, I think your advice is brilliant.

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  16. Andrew...when I'm done crying... I might just find a way to send this link to my sweetie...who really is a brilliant man, and whom I believe in completely, but who doesnt seem to understand that I need to feel that he believes in me too...

    Thank you :-)

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  17. Anonymous12:02 PM

    My husband is a perfectionist. He believes most of the time he is right. If I sent this to him, it would cause another argument which he would win (of course). You are right about having family members feel wanted, appreciated, accepted and loved. If they do not, self esteem, self confidence is null and void. I love my husband but wish he would lighten up and let things go instead of constantly being right and lecturing his views all of the time. He was a long time bachelor and I know he won't change. I have to accept it or not.

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  18. Anonymous5:05 PM

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  19. My husband would not even bother to read this, he reckons being a perfectionist is a blessing, and he would not want to be like the rest of us disorginised untidy people, so why would he want to change, he is a awesome guy and we have been together 10 years but man I cant stand him never being able to relax and making me feel that I have to make everything immaculate all the time.

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