Vicki, I'm not sure if I'm really a qualified perfectionist. Maybe I used to.
Vicki: Probably a lot more.
Paul: I think there were times when I was really kind of uptight about things, like they need to be a certain way, and I've since abandoned that for something that's much more joyful for me.
Paul: Acceptance of what it is and maybe just embracing our humanity.
Vicki: You know, this is an interesting title the perfectionist husband. What do we mean by that? A lot of the times people are perfectionistic. I feel like it can kind of go two ways about themselves and how they just never feel like they've quite done enough and are not being quite good enough. I know, I've gotten caught in that trap many, many times and I still have to really watch that. The other is maybe being perfectionistic about your expectation of other people. Paul: This did come from our YouTube viewers, and I think in this particular instance, just put yourself in this position: You are home with the kids. Things are going absolutely perfectly all day long. Nobody's out of line, nobody makes a mess. Said nobody ever.
Paul: I mean things are chaotic and things are falling off the walls and you're stepping on Legos and stuff. I mean, it's kind of a battlefield there. And then hubby comes home. He's been off slaying dragons all day long, right? And he walks through the door, “Why is this house such a mess? Where's dinner?” Okay. First of all, I want to talk to you hubby because we got some problems with the way you are approaching things, but this is for the wife who is now experiencing that criticism from her husband. Vicki, you mentioned these two different forms of perfectionism that interfere with the relationship. Either way, I think the big risk that we run into his criticism.
Paul: When we are judging ourselves with a perfectionistic standard, we can never measure up. And so, we are always going to feel inadequate. If it's someone judging us, then the risk is that we are going to feel criticized by them. If you find yourself being defensive, it's probably because you're feeling attacked.
Vicki: That always leads to the 4 horsemen, we have talked about that before.
Paul: This is quoting Dr. John Gottman who called it the 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse. It starts with criticism. That leads to defensiveness which makes sense, if you're being attacked. What you want to do?
Vicki: Put up your shield.
Paul: Then that leads to what he called contempt. Contempt is… You know, the universal sign for contempt, Vicki? You let out a puff of air and you roll your eyes up and to the side.
Vicki: If you have a teenager, you've seen this before.
Paul: So, translate that.
Vicki: It's criticism. “You are so dumb.”
Paul” So, it turns into a character attack. That's a little lower level than criticism. Let's go the right direction with that. That leads to what Gottman called stonewalling which is turning away from each other instead of turning toward each other. So, if you see that pattern happening, we're probably in that 4 horsemen negative cascade that doesn't lead anywhere productive.
Vicki: We are talking about how to deal with a perfectionist husband. I think one of the most important things to realize is what you control and what you don't control. You don't control his expectations either of himself or of you. So, one of the things we really need to talk about is self-care, and trying to learn how not to take this personally.
Paul: This is a challenge.
Vicki: It's really a challenge.
Paul: You can do it. You can do it. It's a challenge because it is you, it is your relationship. This is your husband walking through the door and asking why the house isn't clean. That's the personal part. But the impersonal part is… it's not about you. Honestly, it could be anyone in your position experiencing exactly the same thing. So, keep that in mind. And Vicki, you mentioned self-care. What did you mean?
Vicki: I think there's a couple of different things that we need to do with self-care. One of it is being able to step back just enough to see the situation as the neutral part and what your thoughts are doing with that situation. If he comes in and he said, “Oh, why is the house such a mess?” If your thought was, “Oh, he hasn't been able to see everything. If he saw everything, I know he would understand better.” That changes the way you are going to dynamically interact with him. If you say, “Boy, he just is always harping on me.” That's your thought and that's going to change the way that you are going to respond to him as well. So, self-care is learning how to look at the situation in a sort of a neutral way and choose your thought about it.
Paul: This is powerful and I don't want to gloss over this, Vicki, because you just nailed something.
Vicki: But that's part of the part that it's not really personal.
Paul: It's neutral. Did you hear Vicki's word? She said it's neutral. You might have a reaction to that. It’s not neutral, he's totally criticizing me. It's neutral in the sense that this thing just happened. Now, the thing that's not neutral is the story that you tell yourself about that. So, what I'm getting from this Vicki is this self-care has to do with being aware now of the story we're telling ourselves about what's happening because that puts us in a higher level of control. We're dealing with our spouse. This person loves you, and chose you from all of the options. Let that story kind of drive the energy of where we're going next because communication is key. For you to have a rational reasonable conversation with another adult about something that is very important. Because this pattern is not helpful, okay? So, you are going to want to say something Now, to do that, we are going to use what we call in the industry a softened start up. Now, you can see where I'm going with this, Vicki. You can attack it head-on, just kind of clobber it or you can take some finesse and approach it in a way that is much softer. Which one do you think it's going to get a more defensive response?
Vicki: Give us some examples. What do you mean by a soft start up?
Paul: Let me start with some words that I want you to put on your taboo list. You don't get to say these words. “Always” and “never”. Especially when it's preceded by “you”. “You always”, “you never”. That is a harsh start up, because it's never true for one. Always and never, you should always avoid, always and never say never. Because they are hardly ever true. If you were to say to your husband for example, “You always criticize me.” Is that true?
Vicki: I hope not.
Paul: No. He doesn't always criticize you. What you are concerned about are the times when he does. Stay away from the words always and never. We are going to soften it up. A softer approach might be something like, “Oh, sweetie. I'm so glad that you're home. I've got a little something that I want to talk to you about. Is now a good time?” Okay, now he's going to be nervous. Well, but he's not going to be defensive. That's the point. And here's another way to soften the start up. Take the word “you” out of it. Especially “you always” or “you never”. And instead focus on “I feel”. And you can put it in this format: “When X happens I feel Y.” So, when I hear the words “Why isn't this house clean I feel criticized.” Wait, can we say it that directly?
Vicki: Yes, you can. And you need to practice sometimes saying that. You are just kind of identifying the neutral situation and how you are responding to it. And then, after you have done that, you want to verify.
Paul: This goes into a pattern that I learned from Pamela Jett who's just a brilliant communications expert who said identify, verify and accept. So, the first step the soften start up where you get to say, “When this happens, I feel this.” Verify is when you give them a chance to either owned it or disown it, okay? “Is that what you intended?” Now, what's your husband going to say?
Vicki: Most likely he's going to say, “No, I never intended for you to feel bad. I never intended to be criticizing.” Most of the time that is what he will say. And even if it doesn't, we move into the next step which is accept. Just accept it for face value. Don't tell him, “That's not what you really meant.” You know, sometimes we get into that habit of telling them what they mean. “Now, you think this or that”. So, accept it.
Paul: You accept it by saying, “Okay,” “Okay”. Just calmly accept whatever his answer is, even if he turns it back on you. Now, this is going to be harder. What if he says, “Oh, you're so sensitive. Why are you always making such a big deal about everything that happens?” Yada, yada, yada… And you are just listening. And then when he's done, you still go to step three, accept. You see how powerful that is? That is awesome you. Just put him on notice that his behavior is having an impact on you. He chose you, he loves you. He doesn't want you to feel that way. He might backpedal a little bit when you are confronting him about it, but you're doing it in a soft way that gives him a chance to actually own it.
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