Q: One of us is a control freak and perfectionist. We know this is harming our marriage. What suggestions can you give us?
A: A controlling person usually makes life miserable for others when he or she isn’t in the driver’s seat. Control can take many different forms in a family relationship. It may be exerted through persuasion, manipulation, projection of guilt, expression of shame, or through the silent treatment of withdrawal. Some people grew up in homes where control was how things got done. You may have had a dad who controlled you by his disapproval, a mom who controlled you through guilt, a big brother who controlled you by sitting on you until you yielded, or a sister who controlled you with a sharp tongue. A grandfather may have gotten what he wanted from you through criticism. An aunt may have controlled by shaming or an uncle by belittling.
Control in a family relationship squashes the human spirit and stifles loving relationships. You probably know the pain firsthand. But are you also a controller to some degree? Are your spouse and children hurting because you tend to ride roughshod over them? If so, it’s time to find out where it’s coming from and deal with it.
If you’re a controlling person, what can you do? Strive for excellence, but not perfection. Excellence means doing the best you can in God’s strength with the time and resources available. Perfection leaves no room for error; perfection says, “Do it right every time, or you fail.” The downside of perfectionism isn’t pretty. You lose your tolerance for the mistakes and imperfections of others. You make unrealistic demands of your spouse, children, pastor, neighbors, coworkers, and fellow church members.
You need the perspective of the apostle Paul who, before meeting Christ, was a successful perfectionist. After reciting his lofty religious pedigree to the Philippian Christians, Paul concluded:
“I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him. I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith.” (Philippians 3:7-9)
*For more practical marriage advice, check out The Great Marriage Q&A Book. It's available in our online bookstore!