Dear Dr. Respler,
I am a senior citizen who loves your column and I wish you had more letters about senior citizen issues. I recently lost my husband and I am very depressed. We were married for fifty-one years and he was a true talmid chochom and a loving husband. Every morning when he was well he went to shul early. He never missed a minyan and he learned every day. All his life he ran a business and baruch Hashem he worked hard and took excellent care of me and our children. He even was generous to our grandchildren. I look at my grandsons and my grandsons-in-law and they don’t hold a candle to my husband. Even the children who learn in kollel are not as careful as my husband about being on time to minyan.
Everyone seems too busy for me and I feel very lonely. My daughter says that I am pushing the children and grandchildren away since I am too critical. Did anyone ever hear about constructive criticism? I want to help my children and grandchildren become better people. My friend’s children and grandchildren are always calling her and visiting her. Mine come to see me, but they seem anxious to leave. My friend, who is really great to me, also tells me that I am too critical. She says I push my loved ones away with my remarks. What do you think?
I’m so sorry for your loss. Losing a loved one, especially a spouse, is very difficult. Thank you for writing your letter! Years ago, I spoke to a Lubavich community in Dix Hill. The Rav, Rabbi Sachs, said something brilliant. He said that “constructive criticism is an oxymoron.” We all love to hear positive, loving things. Unfortunately, some people tend to give more criticism than compliments. Most people gravitate towards positive people. When I do marriage counseling I begin to break the negative cycle by assigning a task to the husband and wife that they must give each other at least three sincere compliments a day. This is generally extremely difficult for them, but it begins to change the negative marital cycle. We then can evaluate more deeply the negative marital patterns that are destroying the relationship. When I counsel people who are overly critical, I ask them to try to break their negative cycle by attempting to be more positive and complimentary.
It appears through your letter that you may be overly critical of your loved ones. Perhaps you are distancing them as your daughter and friend had said. People tend to stay away from negative, critical people. I am certain that your intentions are honorable, but think about it for yourself – would you want to be around someone who was disapproving and critical of you? Or would you rather be with someone who is positive and loving? Is it possible for you to share some of your concerns with your children and grandchildren in a more affectionate manner and with a soft gentle tone? Or even better, is it possible to love them and be positive with them and swallow the concerns? If we are generally loving and occasionally critical, our words have more validity.
I do not know you, but I want to ask you some questions that may help you to examine yourself. Do you criticize others, possibly subconsciously, to gain control in the relationship? Are you more critical when you feel insecure about yourself? Were you criticized by your own parents as a child? Do you feel that you show your love to those that you care about? Complimenting people is the easiest way to build someone’s confidence. By complimenting people, it makes you closer to the person and makes the person want to be closer to you. Everyone loves a positive person, but it is not simple to become a positive person.
It is very hard work to become more positive when you feel depressed and upset yourself. You may need professional help to be happier within yourself. Exercise is also something that will help you be more positive. Trying to be with friends or joining a group with an activity [which may be more difficult now due to COVID] may be helpful to you. Even a group on Zoom may be something that will help you be happier within yourself.
If you become a more positive person, you will relish life more and everyone will enjoy spending time with you. It is not easy to change one’s behavior patterns at your age; however, sometimes a life crisis such as losing your husband can be an impetus to improve yourself. I am not certain that you are indeed too critical. I am only basing my answer on the remarks that the people who love you are sharing with you, so please do some introspection and work on being more positive if needed.
May Hashem comfort you in your time of loss and I wish you hatzlocha in dealing with this difficult situation!