Question: My husband is a perfectionist. We have 14 years of marriage and I always thought it was normal to be treated the way. (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 a full time and part time job and attend college part time.
He homeschooles our kids and works 26 hours a week outside of the home and does nothing with our new church plant.
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 decisions 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 is in the power of the tongue (Proverbs 18:21).
Words have the power to heal, and words have the power to destroy.
This past weekend while I was in Chicago, 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 lengthly, rigorous test called a Series 7 test. My sister had not been in school for a very long time and her major was communications 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 realized if she didn’t change her approach, 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 income 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 positive and once your mindset is negative, like my sister did, 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 another.
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 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 an immoral woman, she was 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 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 something more, he saw her beauty, her value and her worth. He saw the woman he created her to be and spoke life into her battered heart.
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 it 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 ; Hebrews 2:7; Psalm 8:5;Psalm 139:14
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; 1John 3:1
My life has meaning and purpose. I am not an accident. Romans 5:10,11;Romans 8:1-39;1 Corinthians 1:8; Ephesians 2:4-10
As you 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.
If your marriage is to heal, your husband has to own his 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 hold him accountable, with grace and truth, for the changes he wants to make.