How Do I Live With A Perfectionist?

Morning friends,

This is a busy week. We have our virtual CONQUER CONFERENCE this coming weekend and have over 750 women from all over the world attending. Pray for my health, stamina, and all the other speakers and workshop presenters and attendees that they would be encouraged, loved on, and connected more to God and to one another.

Today’s Question: My husband is a perfectionist. We have 14 years of marriage and I always thought it normal to be treated the way I have been by my husband. I grew up in a physically and emotionally abusive home so I knew nothing different.

He is now realizing he's a perfectionist and his tendencies are hurting me and our five children (ages 7 to 13).

Though he is trying to change, I am still fearful of him ‘Blowing up' and yelling at me for some small thing I did wrong or didn't do at all.

I resent him. I work full time and a part-time job and attend college 1/2 time.

He homeschooled our kids and works 26 hours a week outside of the home and does nothing with our new church.

I've thought of leaving him. I'm hurt but don't want to throw in the towel. I love him and believe God brought us together, but I hate me. I hate who I've become. I hate that I make no decision in our marriage or the decisions that I do make are scrutinized under a microscope by him and are never good enough.

How can I heal? What steps do I need to take? How can I help my husband? How can I talk to him without hurting him, cause that is not my intent, but something needs to change or I'll have to leave to keep me alive.

Answer: Your letter is very familiar. So many women will recognize themselves in your pain. You’ve been beaten down and beaten down and beaten down until you don’t recognize yourself anymore. You said, “I resent him and I love him, but you added, “I hate me.”

I want to focus there because the only person you can change is you. You not only have an external persecutor (husband), but also an internal one (you).

Psychological negativity via constant criticism, whether it is done by someone outside or whether it comes from our own internal voice has very real consequences on your mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical health.

The Bible warns us that life and death are in the power of the tongue (Proverbs 18:21). Words have the power to heal, and words have the power to destroy. Click To Tweet

A while back I was talking with my sister and she told me how she “tricked” her mind to help her over some mental rough spots. At the time, she was trying to get a better job. She needed to make more money because her kids were nearing college. She got a great opportunity to advance her career, but to do so would require her to take a fairly lengthy, rigorous test called a Series 7.

My sister had not been in school for a very long time and her major was communication not math. This test involved a lot of math, formulas, and technical financial information that put her way outside her comfort zone.

When she started studying, she felt overwhelmed. She told herself she was stupid, she couldn’t possibly pass this test and it was too hard. She felt terrified and defeated.

She quickly realized if she didn’t change her mindset, she would surely fail this important test. She made a small but significant change. She began to tell herself out loud that she loved math. She told herself that studying was enjoyable and that she could master the things that were on the test by putting her mind to it. Every day, over and over she told herself these positive messages. Guess what? She passed her test – and – went on to take a few more additional tests that dramatically changed her earning potential.

You ask how can you heal? For starters, you must change your own internal self-talk and replace it with God’s truth. This is easier said than done. Studies show that human beings tend to believe the negative more than the positive and once your mindset is negative, it takes a concerted effort to change it. Your husband’s criticism is something you have little control over. But your own internal self-talk and self-hatred is something you can work on.

If you want to heal, make me a promise. From today forward the words you choose to use with yourself and the words you choose to listen to and believe are going to be life-giving words of God’s truth.

Please understand an important biological/neurological reality. When we are under constant criticism, our brain registers “attack” (whether the attack is real or imagined our body and mind don’t distinguish).

Our body immediately sends the “stress” hormones adrenalin and cortisol to aid in our survival. These hormones make our heart beat faster, our breathing more rapid, our muscles tense and our vision more acute so that we can “survive” the attack. The rest of our bodily needs become less important because we are trying to survive, we’re not thinking about living for the next 10 years.

But what’s important to note is that during this stress response, less “important” bodily functions such as digestion, repair of muscles, our immune system, and cognitive reasoning, get compromised. When we regularly live under this “attack posture” what happens is our body, our mind, and our personality begins to deteriorate. Soon we don’t like the person we are, we don’t even recognize her anymore.

As a child, you lived with physical and emotional abuse. Now for 14 years of marriage, you have endured constant criticism from a man who regularly tells you that you are not enough, that you don’t do enough, that you don’t do it right.

What if I told you that I know for sure that although you are not perfect, you are beautiful, precious, valuable, worthwhile, important, and special? How do I know that? Because God says it. He’s the final authority on who you are and who you were meant to be, not your husband, not your mother, not your father, not even you. Therefore what God calls good we must value and take good care of.

Remember the woman at the well? (John 4). She did not feel very good about herself. She was looking for love in all the wrong places, married five times, living with a man who was not her husband.

Jesus initiated a conversation with her while she was there fetching water, all alone because even the other women of the town didn’t like her. It startled her. Not only was she considered an immoral woman, but she was also a Samaritan woman and Jews despised Samaritans. Yet Jesus had a lengthy stimulating conversation with her about God, theology, and even disclosed to her something he rarely told anyone, that he was the Jewish Messiah. Although she was far from perfect, Jesus treated her with dignity and respect and offered her a special gift, living water.

Jesus saw something of value in this woman. He saw beyond her gender, her race, her mistakes, and failures. He understood her past history, her personal flaws, and sins but he saw beyond that. He saw her beauty, her value, and her worth. He saw the woman he created her to be and spoke life into her battered worn-down soul.

Healing starts with you, not with your spouse. You must start to value you because God values you. When you value you, then you will stop your own negative self-talk in its tracks. When you value yourself, your husband’s words will lose their power over you because you will stop believing them. When you value you, you will start to build up your strengths, instead of dwelling on your weaknesses. When you value you, you begin to realize that you were put here on this planet for a purpose and your purpose is not to be shaped into your husband’s image of who you should be, but God’s.

Friend, You change the way you see yourself and feel about yourself when you believe and abide in the truth of what God says about you. The hard work is not in changing yourself, striving to be enough to earn some human creature’s love, but in believing what God says and abiding in His love (1 John 4:16). Once you believe, the rest of your healing comes naturally.

I want you to start today to speak God’s truth to yourself instead of the lies you’ve internalized that you are not enough. Despite what your husband or anyone else (including your own internal voice says), every day remind yourself:

I have value and worth to God. Matthew 10:31; Matthew 12:12

I am deeply and fully loved by God. Romans 5:8; John 17:23; Romans 8:31-39

God desires to give me a clean slate by forgiving me and bringing me into a close relationship with him. Psalms 103:8-12; John 5:24; Acts 3:19; Acts 13:38,39; Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 1:13,14

I belong to him, he adopts me into His family. John 14:18; Romans 8:15-17; Galatians 4:6,7; Ephesians 1:4,5; 1 John 3:1

My life has meaning and purpose. I am not accident. John 15:9; Romans 5:10,11; Romans 8:1-39; 1 Corinthians 1:8; Ephesians 2:4-10

As you learn to live from a position of CORE Strength, you will be empowered to speak the truth in love to your spouse, not to hurt him, but to help him and your marriage. Click here to learn more.

If your marriage is to heal, your husband has his own internal changes and work to do. You can’t do his work for him and he can’t do yours. The biggest thing you can do for your marriage right now is to do your own work and get strong enough to recognize that his words are from his own internal wounds, not a statement of truth about who you are. As you do that you will be empowered to hold him accountable with grace and truth, not resentment as he makes the changes he wants to make.

Friends: What helped you to start to value and take better care of yourself, especially when your childhood and marriage have not provided those foundational elements?


  1. Tina Stelzl on October 21, 2020 at 12:39 pm

    In response to your perfectionist article, I have endured much of what this woman is describing. Once the dynamic between us was “diagnosed” by our couple’s counselor, my husband wouldn’t go back. But that sent me researching online and reading your books and others’ books. I also started attending Codependent’s anonymous and reading about covert narcissism. Suddenly it dawned on me, “This isn’t ALL my fault… and even if I could become perfect, (which I can’t), we still wouldn’t have a relationship, b/c a relationship is 2 people working at it, not only one.” Next, I died to the relationship, giving it to God b/c He is the only one who can motivate the other person to change, and He knows what the outcome will be. I learned that me getting healthier is the only thing that would bring about any change in our relationship, (even if I couldn’t control how things would change”).This freed me up to work on my wholeness as an individual who is precious in God’s eyes. My counselor also gave me an assignment to ask God what He loves about me and then write down whatever came to mind. Surprisingly, The Lord showed me that some of the things He loves most about me are the very things my husband picked on the most. And even more than that… God showed me that He had designed me that way for a purpose. The result was that I found the real me, the me that God made me to be. After that, my husband’s remarks felt more like pebbles pinging off of a shield God had placed around me. My husband wasn’t an idol in my life anymore for which I was trying to win his approval. He was a mortal man who no longer had the power to send me spiraling down into despair. And I was able to not fret about his actions toward me, change and calm my responses, set boundaries, and “leave the ball in his court.” When he sensed he was losing control, things heated up, but God had already given me strength and my husband no longer dictated my worth, so I knew I’d be ok in the end, whatever happened. Your material, the materials of others, and everything I proactively did to take care of myself (CoDA, counseling, books, etc.), set me free to accept myself… and even love myself, b/c now I knew that I was the me He created me to be.

    My hearts desire now, is to help other women who are going through what I went through.
    Thanks Leslie for all you do to walk through this journey with us! I hope I can help others the way you do!

    • JoAnn on October 22, 2020 at 1:00 pm

      Tina and T.L., thank you for sharing your stories. They are so encouraging….you saw what was happening and you took action. Good for you! I hope your stories will encourage others to strengthen themselves and begin go find themselves.

    • Nancy on October 31, 2020 at 3:17 pm


      Your story made me think of ‘you are special’ by Max Lucado.

      A children’s book about finding our worth in what God thinks of us, not people.

    • DM on November 18, 2020 at 11:20 pm

      Very beautifully written. I am encouraged by your words. I don’t know if you will see this – are you still married? I am slowly trying my best to change my perspective of myself – its hard when everything you do wrong is constantly under a magnifying glass – but I know that God wants me to know myself and my worth.

  2. T.L. on October 21, 2020 at 2:18 pm

    Dear Sweet, Hurting Sister,

    I was also married to a perfectionist, for 30+ years. We are now divorced, and I haven’t lived with him for 3 1/2 years. Those 3 1/2 years have been the happiest of my life, due to the joy of getting to be myself, the freedom to discover and develop myself, and the peace of not having to live with someone who is constantly critical, (whether that’s verbal or non-verbal, tacit or overt.) We also homeschooled (6 kids.) I worked nights to make ends meet, and he did a few of the homeschooling subjects with the kids. I feel concern here for you, bc deep scars were left on my kids bc of the perfectionism. Anyway, I wanted to encourage you to look up OCPD, Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder (which is quite different from OCD). I’ve been told a better name for it would be Perfectionistic Personality Disorder. This is what I and my children lived with. It was impossible to fully thrive in an environment controlled by this disorder. We were constantly made to feel defective and as though we were huge disappointments, as well as liabilities. My husband also raged about little things, like kids spilling milk or breaking something accidentally, or me losing something (because in his view, there is almost no such as an “accident.” It is always carelessness.) If your husband is OCPD, like mine, there is very little chance for real change, statistically speaking, as it is deeply entrenched and pervasive throughout their personality. Understanding that helped me make informed choices for my life. I wish I’d had this info when my kids were young. If you wish to speak with me personally, please let Leslie know, as she has my contact info. I’m praying for you.

    • Tracey Kehr on December 26, 2020 at 3:38 pm

      I have come to think my husband has the ocpd also. It drives me insane. Think he has other issues included with that. But our problem is that he drinks too. Can get quite verbally abusive. And next day he tries to act like nothing happened. This has been going on for about 2.5 yrs. have felt trapped. No one to help.

    • Amanda on January 2, 2021 at 11:00 pm

      Hello T.L.
      I would like to speak with you. I have been in a similar situation going on 16 years. I can very much relate to what you are saying about your husband and with your kids, we also homeschool. We all walk on eggshells. He does not see any of it and blames or justifies his actions.

  3. Recovering from abuse on October 26, 2020 at 9:35 am

    I grew up with constant criticism and in spiritually abusive environments. In the last couple of years I have learned that God actually likes me and doesn’t just tolerate me. That fact made a huge difference in how I saw myself. Allowing God to shower me with His love and accepting it was the biggest change in how I saw myself. God showed up for me in counseling sessions, emdr therapy, and while I was crying in the shower. I begged Him to be with me and He was.

    My inner critic was loud. Striving to be perfect myself was a defense mechanism so that I wouldn’t be criticized growing up. That voice that was part of me needed tweaking. But I learned that I needed to show kindness to that part of me because it was helpful for a time. As I learned that I didn’t need to be perfect to survive, that inner critic voice needed a new role. I decided that I liked the discernment that my critic voice had and I did want to know when I could improve in something. So I’ve worked at changing my critic’s voice to being helpful. Instead of hearing a voice of criticism in my head, I’m looking for a voice of coaching. Discerning the truth, looking for ways to improve in the future, and supporting my journey to improve who I am, all with an air of support. So when I hear the critical message, I’m working to remind myself that I’m not going to be critical of myself any longer but I’m going to coach myself instead.

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