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Women and Criticism

May 9, 2009 | by Emuna Braverman

Women thrive on unqualified support and love. Criticism is counterproductive.

The Torah is very explicit that a wife should be an "ezer k'negdo" for her husband -- "a help against him." The simplest explanation for this expression (it sounds less convoluted in Hebrew!) is that when he is correct in his beliefs and actions, she should be supportive, and when he errs, she should do her best to nudge (not to be confused with nag) him back in the right direction.

Nowhere does the Torah suggest that the opposite should also be true. Neither the Almighty nor the sages of the Talmud nor the rabbis of more recent times advise a husband to adopt similar behavior towards his wife. And, in fact, I would strongly caution against it.

Sometimes I have shared with my husband struggles I've had with my girlfriends. "Why don't you just confront her?" he always says (not having learned from prior experience). "Clear the air and move on."

"Women don't work that way," I explain. "There will be hard feelings and resentment. I will have done greater damage and accomplished little."

Women just want support. We need to feel that those we love are "on our side," that their support is "unqualified" and whether it is in our best interests or not, "uncritical."

Women are more motivated to grow when we can build on a basis of love and support.

Of course women have faults, of course we need to grow and change. But having these negative qualities pointed out to us by our spouse or anyone whom we love and trust is counterproductive. It is hurtful and undermines our will and desire for change. We are more motivated to grow when we can build on a basis of love and support. (In fairness, I'm sure this applies to men as well!)

This destructive dynamic is played out frequently between husbands and wives, especially when the man tries to look at situations objectively. Unless something very serious is at stake, the rational analysis is a side point. We want to hear "I love you and I'm with you." "No matter what." This draws us closer and creates openness to new ideas and receptivity to change.

Criticism and attacks have the opposite effect. We retreat into ourselves (Yes, John Gray, women can have caves too!), lick our wounds, and harden our negative patterns.

But this is not just an issue in marriages. It can be an issue between friends and between parents and children as well.

As parents we can (sometimes) see our children objectively, and have perspective on behaviors that need to be changed. This is our job but when our children are involved in a struggle with someone else, we must temper our rebuke with an overwhelming show of support. Most of all our children, no matter the age, need to know that we believe in them and are on their side. Parents who consistently take the part of other family members or friends or acquaintances or the grocery store clerk against their own children not only damage their kids' self-esteem but they alienate their affections.

Women are more sensitive. Even I, who pride myself on being rational (should I admit this so publicly?), shy away from any helpful hints and blatantly beg for completely subjective support. I think it's in the hardwiring. Women want -- and need -- love. Only love.

Every year at Rosh Hashana time, my husband asks me where he needs to grow. And I helpfully go through my long list (!). But I never ask him what I should work on. And he knows better than to volunteer.

I like to believe that I am learning and growing, that I am strongly motivated to do so. But from him, I need unqualified love and backing (or at least the illusion of it!). I know that he must see my faults. But, unlike me, he keeps it to himself.

Maybe women should be tougher, more open to constructive criticism, less in need of emotional support from those we love. But that just isn't the reality. Take it up with the Creator.

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