The Courage to Grow Together

Words to live By Abrahamj. Twerski,M.D.
By Rabbi Abrahamj. Twerski,M.D.

Let’s face it: no one likes to be criticized. we thrive on praise, not criticism. We all have our likes and dislikes, and what is pleasant for one person may be unpleasant for another. Inevitably, there are going to be things that a husband may like and that a wife may dislike, and vice versa. Inasmuch as every spouse wishes to please his or her partner, one must reveal to the other what one dislikes, and this can often be taken as criticism.

Criticism can be constructive. Remember, G-d created woman to be ezer keneg do, which is usually translated as “a helper corresponding to him.” Amore precise translation is “a helper opposite him.” It would probably make for a rather boring relationship if husband and wife were  in every way.

It is the adjustment to differences that promotes personality growth. Growthmay sometimes be uncomfortable and it is natural to avoid discomfort, but discomfortmay serve a function.

I once came across an article “How Do Lobsters Grow?” Lobsters are soft animals that live inside a rigid shell. Since the shell does not expand, how can a lobster increase its size? The answer is that as the lobster grows, its shell becomes confining and oppressive. The lobster then retreats to an underwater rock formation where it is protected from predatory fish, sheds its shell, and produces a larger an more spacious one. Eventually, this larger shell becomes uncomfortably confining, and the lobster repeats this process several times until it reaches its maximum size. The point to note is that the stimulus that enables the lobster to grow is discomfort. If not for the discomfort, the lobster would never expand its shell.

Science and technology have eliminated so many sources of discomfort that our predecessors experienced that many people think there should be no discomfort in life, and if someone is uncomfortable, there must be a pill to relieve it. We seem to have lost a tolerance for discomfort, not realizing that discomfort may be a signal to us that we should grow.

If criticism makes one feel uncomfortable (as it generally does), rather than feeling resentful one should seize the opportunity to utilize it as a stimulus for growth.

First and foremost, do not criticize when you are angry. Criticism delivered when angry is likely to be interpreted as an attack, and one is apt to become defensive.

People’s reaction to what they see as criticism varies. A determining factor in the reaction is the quality of one’s self-esteem. A person with low self esteem is apt to view all criticism as insulting and an affront to his dignity, and may react defensively or with self-denigration.

Ifwewere only aware of howhelpful criticismcan be, most likely we would not take it so hard. King Salomon goes to great lengths to point out that wise people value criticism and only fools are turned off by it: “Do not admonish a scoffer, lest he hate you; admonish a wise man, and he will love you” (Proverbs 9:8). “Listen to advice and accept reprimand, that you may grow wise in the end” (ibid. 19:20). “The ear that hearkens to admonition may abide among the wise” (ibid. 15:31).

Although a human being cannot achieve perfection, one can strive to be the best person possible. The colloquialism that “Experience is a hard teacher, but fools will learn no other way” is utterly wrong. Fools are those who do not learn from experience. It is the wise that learn from experience, and such learning often involves learning fromone’smistakes. Try to think of three things that you learn from pleasant experiences. On the other hand, think of how many things you have learned from unpleasant mistakes. We should be grateful when we are apprised of having made a mistake, because that is howwe grow. The Talmud says, “Had I not fallen, I could not have risen.”

Unfortunately, we often feel offended by criticism, and we may have a knee-jerk reaction, whether it is defending ourselves, retaliating, or just sulking. Any of these reactions fails to take advantage of the good thatmay be contained in criticism. People who pan streams for gold may sift through tons of worthless earth just for the minuscule amount of gold they may find. Even if 99 percent of the criticism is unjustified, we would be wise to search out the one percent that may lead to our betterment. It would be of great benefit to us if we could respond to any and all on-target criticism with gratitude.

Two people living in an intimate relationship can be most helpful to each other if they provide constructive criticism. However, there are several rules to followwhen providing constructive criticism. First and foremost, do not criticize when you are angry. Criticismdeliveredwhen angry is likely to be interpreted as an attack, and one is apt to become defensive.

Wait until the anger subsides.

Even when criticisJewish Inspiration, Jewish Traditions, Traditions, Words to live by, Ezer keneg, Rabbi Abrahamj. Twerski,M.D., Husband, Wife, criticism, happy marriage, mis warranted, find something positive to say to your spouse before criticizing. If you must criticize, be specific and point out the behavior, which you disapprove, but do not attack the person. Derogatory terms should never be used.

A simple way to differentiate constructive from non-constructive criticismis by asking yourself, “Are youwilling to help the person correct the behavior which you are criticizing?” Someone who points out a defect because he sincerely desires the other person’s betterment will be willing to be helpful. Criticizing and walking away betrays that the intent of the criticism was not benevolent. When you must criticize, do so with your intellect rather than with your emotion.

The Talmud recognizes the emotional sensitivity ofwomen, and Maharal states that particularly because the husband is generally the dominant person in the home, he must be extremely wary of his wife’s sensitivities (Nesivos Olam, Ahavas Rei’a 2). Rav states that a husband should be most cautious not to irritate his wife, because a woman is emotionally sensitive and is easilymoved to tears (bavaMetzia 59a).

Although a woman may be more sensitive emotionally,men certainly have their sensitivities. Being considerate of each other’s sensitivities contribute greatly to a happy marriage.