One evening when I returned home from shopping, my husband, Larry, met me at the door, grinning. What's he up to? I wondered.
He led me into the kitchen and announced, "I did the dishes for you!"
As I hugged him and exclaimed, "Thank you!" I looked over his shoulder and noticed crumbs and drops of liquid on the counter.
But you haven't wiped the counter, I thought. You haven't finished the dishes! Before I could chastise him, I remembered how my struggles with perfectionism and impatience robbed me of enjoying and appreciating my wonderful husband. I thanked him again, determined not to allow his "mistakes" to bother me.
The next evening Larry did the dishes again. I realized he wouldn't have washed them a second time if I'd criticized him the day before. I witnessed again the power of affirming his attempts—even if they didn't meet my expectations.
Someone once said that a perfectionist is a person who takes great pains and passes them on to others. I would have given my husband a great pain that evening if I'd discounted his effort. Yet that's exactly what perfectionism does: It brings pain and destruction to our lives and marriages.
Throughout the first seven years of our marriage I struggled with perfectionist tendencies. Nothing Larry did was good enough. He wasn't a good enough provider—even though he worked two jobs to support our family while I stayed home with the kids. He didn't talk enough to me; he didn't help properly with the housework; he wasn't as concerned about my desires and expectations as I was. The list went on and on. My standards were set so high that Larry couldn't win—ever. Since Larry didn't meet all my needs, I believed I couldn't give him credit when he showed me love. Instead I focused on his inadequacies. No matter how Larry tried to please me, I found fault and pointed out his shortcomings to "motivate" him. I "punished" him with my displeasure by withholding sex, affection, joy.1