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  KD MAGAZINE! 
Posted: March 21, 2006 - יום שלישי, כ"א באדר, תשס"ו
 
 

Challenge! Don’t Criticize!
Rabbi Shea Hecht
About the Author

 
While counseling couples, I have found that many don’t understand that each spouse must be  supportive and challenge their partner to bring out their best. Philosophers and bible commentators explain that G-d gave us a spouse as a challenger - not a critic.
 
When a man comes home every night to a wife that is overwhelmed by household and family responsibilities he faces a test. If he wants a happy home, he should be supportive of his wife, by recognizing and legitimizing the pressure and difficulties. If he tells his wife, “You should have done it this way or that way and then you wouldn’t be so stressed out” that is not supportive or helpful. He has to tell his wife, “I know it’s difficult. I am here for you. Is there any way I can help?”
 
On the other hand, women can face the “support” test, too. Their husband’s may have grand ideas - some are feasible and some are completely out of their reach - yet they must be supportive of their spouse. Though it is obviously incorrect, many well-meaning women criticize their husband’s “wisdom,” by saying “You can’t do it,” “You don’t have the resources,” “No one will ever back you up,” until they have shattered their husband’s dream and affected his self-esteem. I have heard a woman with four children say, “I have five children, my husband is like a big baby.” Then one day she will sit in my office and wonder why her husband doesn’t accomplish much in life.
 
I know men who made it in life simply because their wives believed in them. Even if they weren’t the best and most talented people around for the job, their wives support and belief brought them success that they may not have otherwise realized.
 
In the past presidential election one man’s political dreams went up in smoke over his spouse’s lack of visible support. She was not seen campaigning with him, which gave way to talk that she wasn’t supportive of his dreams; who wants to vote for a leader whose family has so little confidence in him? Many times over that failed campaign I thought to myself, “Who knows how far up the political ladder he could have climbed, if he had a visibly and enthusiastically supportive wife?”
 
Over the years I have had both men and women come to me to complain that their spouse goes to others for advice and ideas about their job or business and they can’t understand why. My first question always is, “When he/she spoke about opening the business/taking the job, were you supportive?” and the never-fail  answer is, “Well, no. I thought it was a dumb idea that would never work.” So they criticized and knocked their spouse for their stupidity and then they wonder why they don’t turn to them for support?
 
A pitfall in the “criticize or support” choice is lip service. Lip service, is saying, “Of course I’m behind you” or “Do whatever you want, I’m sure it’ll be great” but when reality hits in the difficulties of the job there’s constant complaint and criticism. Lip service is a husband who tells his wife to start a business or a wife tells her husband to take a particular job and though they seemed to be encouraging the end result is put down and disparagement about the financial, emotional or time investment. 
 
Practically, the proper thing to do when your spouse comes up with  a wild idea is to develop the idea - not shoot it dead. If a man comes up with a wild and wacky idea of opening a dress store, a non-supportive spouse will say, “What? You never ran a business before and anyway women won’t come to shop by you.” Though it’s quite possible that she’s correct, a smart and supportive spouse would say, “That sounds smart. I have an idea. Why don’t you run it past one or two experts and see what they say?” If the idea is truly ludicrous, the experts will say it’s not good, but at the end of the day, the spouse was supportive.
 
If a woman wants to go back to school to further her education or start a new job in addition to her family obligations a non-supportive spouse will say, “You’ll never be able to do it. You’ll be exhausted and fall apart.” A supportive spouse will tell his wife, “Sounds like a great idea! Why don’t you speak to someone who has done it and see what it entails.” If the wife finds it will be too much she will not get into it, but at least she’ll know her husband supports her.
 
There are times that a spouse feels the need to criticize. What should they do then? The hard and fast rule is that if the spouse gives many compliments then criticism will be accepted. Constant deposits in the bank will cover withdrawals. Criticism should only be constructive - by first showing support and love, and then breaking down the details into doable parts.
 
If you look around you at happily married, successful couples you will notice that they respect their differences and work within those parameters.  These couples support and challenge their spouse to bring out the best in each other using the strengths they have.

Read more articles by Rabbi Hecht  

 

 
     
 
 
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