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Women and Criticism
Mom with a View

Women and Criticism

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.

February 2, 2008

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The opinions expressed in the comment section are the personal views of the commenters. Comments are moderated, so please keep it civil.

Visitor Comments: 23

(23) Hans, August 30, 2016 12:24 PM

Very helpful.....

Found this after a bitter fight this morning with the insightful and very helpful.....thanks...

(22) ruth housman, February 7, 2012 5:17 PM

support and love and respect always is a two way street

There are mavericks among us: Jews who think outside of a box that is circumscribed, telling us what to do, how to be, how to act. I see that women are not in any way, needing to be subservient to their husbands, and yes, it's a two way street, and yes, often we think differently but also in same ways. It's too easy to draw a total boundary between the female and the male in terms of response, in terms of need, and in terms of how we expect, respect. I need to express myself, my very own, unique soul, and I honor everyone in this endeavor, and I feel we need to learn how to stop stepping on each others' toes in this, a mutual dance that does, extend out, to embrace the world. Call it a line dance, a hora, and ahora means NOW. Maybe it's time, as NOW is also the acronym for the National Organization for Women, to begin to realize, God wrote us all into a story that does deeply involve this dance, deeply involve getting it "right" and the rites of passage have to be about an equality of being, an equality of soul, of spirit, of learning, of compassion.

(21) bootha19, May 11, 2011 6:03 AM

my opinion

I completely understand the fact that women take when a man gives constructive critism emotionally and negatively. But with that being said, why can't a woman understand and take into consideration why men use constructive critism??? Your answer was to "blame it on the creator". Sounds like your article reflects on how men should quote on quote "stretch a man's truths" just to alleviate an argument. If i have to keep to myself what i think and feel about my partner, then i would feel like I'm not being completely honest with my partner. And if that's the case, why be with someone if you can't be yourself and be completely honest with the person you would want to be with.

(20) coumadin, February 27, 2011 2:55 AM

What kind of nonsense is this?!

Listen! Women have wanted equality for centuries, and now that they've got it, they all of a sudden are more sensitive to criticism than men, and should be treated like they're delicate flowers?! Grow up! No one is saying that a husband should yell at his wife and berate her. But it won't kill her to receive some constructive criticism from time to time, particularly if she needs to change her behavior. And let me tell you something else. I think women are far, far more likely to criticize men in a relationship. And its not the constructive kind either. Its the kind that is meant to emasculate and castrate. And men are expected to just take it. You don't think men want to be loved by their wives too?! Your article shows that what women want is for the relationship to be all about them, with no thought for the man's feelings.

(19) Lois Cohen, February 26, 2008 3:08 PM

I really appreciated everything you said and also know it's true. I've recently broken off with a man after three years together. He was very controlling and critical of me. I'm not sorry I stayed with him for three years, just relieved we are no longer together.

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