The “Perfect Wife” Complex

She looked at me with tears streaming down her face; she couldn’t do it any longer.

After just a few short years of marriage, she needed a change.

Deep into a very heartfelt conversation, we began discussing the change she was seeking. It wasn’t clear, but what was clear is that she was looking for something.

The conversation lasted for awhile as conversations like this do. Finally, I looked at her and said, “What is it that you think I want?”

You may think this conversation was about the foundation of our marriage, but it wasn’t. My wife and I’s marriage was, and is healthy, and we love each other deeply. What wasn’t healthy was the constant sense of failing she was feeling.

perfectwifeWe dug a little deeper into the heart of the matter, and we stumbled upon what I term: “The perfect wife complex.” This is defined as the need to strive to be something that only TV and novels tell us about. Or perhaps, a comparison role that existed in the 1940′s when life was much different from what it is today.

I asked her to define what she thought the perfect wife looked like.

She couldn’t define it.

Nothing was enough: the house wasn’t clean enough, meals weren’t rated a 10 out of 10 enough, laundry was never caught up enough, she couldn’t entertain well enough; nothing was ever enough, and it was too overwhelming to keep striving for something.

I remember looking into her eyes, smiling (because I loved her enough) and saying,

“If you can’t define the perfection you aim to seek, you’ll never achieve it.”

Perfectionism always leaves you, desperately, wanting more. Just like cancer, it seeps into your life, undetected and unannounced, then one day spreads and begins to destroy. It’s a killer, and often a silent one: it kills dreams, it kills hope, it kills ideas, it kills goals, it kills romance, and yes, it can kill relationships.

From that day on, everything changed. She recognized that the perfection she was seeking was, not only, unobtainable, but it wasn’t something I wanted or expected of her.

Together, we killed the perfect wife complex because we defined what we wanted her role to be.

If you struggle to achieve in your life and you always feel as if you’re never getting “there,” this could be an indicator that your role or goals haven’t been defined, or what has been defined is so unachievable that they should be reconsidered.

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  • Anne Marie Miller

    I had to laugh when I read this because this is the convo I have been having with Tim the last six months… :)

    • Kyle Chowning

      Wait, was this the post you wrote today?

  • @kylereed

    What have you done to help her feel like she doesn’t have to be the perfect wife?

    • Kyle Chowning

      Really good question, by the way!

    • Kyle Chowning

      @kylereed:disqus That is a very complicated question, as well as subjective. However, the number one piece of advice I give is this: convince her over and over, that you have her back. Do it in love, in action, in deeds, in words, in every way you can imagine. If she’s convinced that you have her back, and nothing can change that, she will begin to accept that you’re there no matter what. That is a very freeing place for anybody to be, especially our wives.

      • @kylereed

        Yes, good stuff.
        I definitely see that appear a lot. The idea of being on a team verses your own team.
        That is good to know. Something that I definitely want to be aware of and work on.

        Thanks Kyle

  • jwolstenholm

    Love this Kyle. I love what you say about struggle to achieve or “getting there” because you haven’t defined what “there” means. That was my heart for the post I wrote at Grace for Moms this week. Instead of defining our own success, we measure our progress against and unspoken goal usually created by some one or some thing we’ve observed. It’s so dumb. I’m on a mission to stop it. Thanks for this insight.

    • Kyle Chowning

      Comparison is an easy trap set out to distract us from what we already have. It’s part of the whole steal, kill and destroy strategy our culture has to ruin the old for the new. While it is dumb, as you suggest, I think it’s also pretty sneaky.

  • Sheu

    Wow, this really hits the spot, Kyle! Gives me a great insight on how I could speak to my partner as he always feels as though he’s failing in his life, or job, or our relationship. But in actual fact, he’s a wonderful guy!