13 Sivan 5779 / Sunday, June 16, 2019 | Torah Reading: Shelach Lecho
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Keeping a Lid on the Stupid    

Keeping a Lid on the Stupid

A constant string of negative feedback hurts your spouse’s spirit. They can never just relax and let their guard down. It’s that simple...


Rabbi Lazer Brody has counseled hundreds of married couples over the years.  I’ll wager that just about any complaint a man or woman can come up with for his/her spouse has been aired in his office.  Can you imagine how it must feel to hear the complaining year after year?  Ugh.  I hope he’s charging a lot of money.  (And I guarantee he isn’t.)  Maybe the litany of critiques he has heard are the source of a piece of advice he offers to couples, one that never fails to make me shake my head and exclaim “As if!” 
So here it is: Go for one month without criticizing your spouse.  One whole month of biting your tongue, using your inside voice.  And see what happens.  You may need to come up with a strategy for stopping yourself.  Like singing “Oklahoma” at the top of your lungs when you feel the critique leaving your lips.  How about 100 sit-ups?  Listening to a song on an MP3 player?  A quick jog around the condo development?  You get the picture.  Rabbi Brody claims that after one month of zero criticism there will be a marked increase in shalom bayit.  Amore.  Friendly feelings.  
After hearing about this advice for years in The Trail to Tranquility, on the CDs he makes with Rabbi Arush, and on “Lazer Beams”, I had to ask Rabbi Brody why this works because to me this seems like a great way for the world to fall apart.  Maybe Rabbi Brody doesn’t know that Hashem has secretly appointed me to keep a lid on the stupid stuff in our home.  Don’t tell my husband I said that.  He thinks Hashem appointed him.  But we all know the truth.  I mean all sorts of crazy could happen if I had to withhold my much beloved and oft delivered “constructive criticisms”.  Rabbi Lazer’s explanation was pretty simple: Everyone struggles with self-esteem issues to varying degrees.  A constant string of negative feedback hurts your spouse’s spirit.  They can never just relax and let their guard down.  It’s that simple.
I pretended to get it while I was talking to him on the phone, “Oh, of course.  How silly of me.  Yes.  Yes.”  I should care if my husband is feeling relaxed?  What is this thing you call ‘relaxed’?  But after mulling it over for a few weeks, it’s starting to make a little sense.  And I think to snap out of the cycle, to see the positive results, you need to go cold turkey and not criticize even when anyone would think you were perfectly justified in doing so.  Gulp. 
So here’s my theory: It’s not about relaxation per se, like taking a break.  It’s about creating the proper environment for healthy decision making.  Who is more likely to make good decisions?  A person with high self esteem, or low?  A person with a battered ego is way more likely to do all kinds of nutty things that aren’t good for them or their marriage: over-eating, over-spending, smoking, partying, looking elsewhere for positive attention, not caring about their appearance, and hanging out elsewhere when they could be at home having nice family time (which isn’t really happening if they are being picked apart).  And of course a person who feels like an idiot is quite likely to engage in arrogant behavior.  We’ve all figured this out by the time we become adults right?  Arrogant people are often over compensating for a lack of self worth, which sets them up for more failure, which makes them feel even worse- the old vicious circle. 
The negativity created by too much ‘feedback’ is so great I could fill another page with the side effects.  Disconnection from Hashem for everyone involved.  Bad role-modeling for your kids.  Turning your negativity outward when you should be reflecting on your own weaknesses. 
A word about that last thought.  Another piece of advice that Rabbi Arush and Rabbi Brody are constantly sharing is really quite powerful and lovely.  It’s tantamount to a personal get-out-of-jail-free card.  Instead of walking around all day beating yourself up for your weaknesses (which often results in turning outward with critique or other destructive behaviors) talk to Hashem for one hour per day during which you spend a portion of the time talking about what you need help working on.  Repent for the mistakes, think of alternate ways of going about things, think about who really needs to hear an apology from you and when you are going to give it.  But also think about the things for which you are really grateful, and thank Hashem for them.  Think about the things you did well.  And think about the things your kids and your spouse did really well too. 
I want to end on this note.  Rabbi Brody, if all sorts of chaos and wacky home improvement projects ensue- and they could get really weird around here, like earthworm farms, strange decks springing up in my backyard, and heavily mismatched outfit wearing- I may need some personal counseling.  For cheap.

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