Saturday, August 26, 2017

Living with a 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,
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