No one likes nagging. It’s not an effective way to communicate with your spouse or partner. In fact, it’s likely to do more damage than good in any relationship.
What is nagging? I’m sure you have a pretty good idea. It’s repeating the same request or complaint to your partner, over and over and over and over again.
The Nagging Cycle
How does nagging come about? Simple – Partner A asks Partner B to change a burned-out lightbulb, or take out the trash, or water the potted plants, or mow the lawn. Partner B, who has a busy life or who doesn’t like taking out the trash or watering the plants or changing lightbulbs, doesn’t do it.
Partner A comes home to a dark room, dead plants, grass that’s gone to seed, or an overflowing garbage can. Partner A again asks Partner B to do the job, more insistently this time. Partner B promises to do it.
The third time around, when the job still hasn’t been done, Partner A asks again, but in an irritated way – Why haven’t you done this simple job yet? I could have done it ten times by now, so why haven’t you?
Partner B, hearing the irritation in Partner A’s voice, becomes defensive, perhaps angry. I’m busy doing a lot of other work, that’s why.
By now, communication has pretty much ended. Both partners are stubbornly set in their places and it’s difficult or impossible for them to hear what the other person is saying. Angry and irritated, both partners are reacting by instinct, thinking (if “thinking” is the right word) with the most primitive part of their brain stem.
The subject of the argument – whether the lawn or garbage or lightbulbs – is now a hot-button issue to both people. If it’s ever brought up again, both partners are likely to have knee-jerk reactions that don’t help communication at all. This makes it ever less likely that the garbage will get taken out without a fight, or that the lawn will get mowed before it seeds. And the fights that result may blow up as the partners bring up other “hot-button” issues they are resentful about.
Pretty soon, both partners are using hyperbolic language like “You always do …” or “You never …” or “I’ve said this a million times …” By this time, communication has failed completely.
Nagging, What Is It Good For — Control?
The root of nagging is control. Partner A is trying to control Partner B, to get them to do what they want. Ultimately, we must all accept that we have no real control over our boyfriends, girlfriends, husbands and wives, because they are separate human beings from us.
Oh, sometimes it seems like we have influence over their behavior. And sometimes we probably do – we can wheedle and berate and bribe and chastise and chivy them into acting in certain ways. But it is a limited, illusory kind of control, and if we come to accept that our methods are always going to work, we’re in for a big letdown.
Accept that you are not able to truly control your spouse and you will feel a great liberation. That doesn’t mean you give up on communication with them, not by any means. But it does mean you recognize that there are far more effective ways to communicate, and that those ways, although they are better, still have their limits.
There is a better way to communicate. Chores still have to get done, for example, and you both need to divide them up in some egalitarian way. So sit down together for ten minutes and make a list of all the household jobs that need doing.
Perhaps each of you can choose the three jobs they hate the most. Give those to the other partner. If you really, really hate mowing the lawn, ask your partner to take over that work. If cleaning toilets grosses you out, ask your spouse to do it.
Meanwhile, you agree to do something they despise in return. If there’s a job you both hate, either flip a coin or take turns doing it. Learn to work together instead of against each other.
But effective communication covers many other things than just chores. You want to develop a habit of effective communication, and that means regular conversations with your partner. One of the best ways to learn to talk to each other is turn-taking. Get a three-minute hourglass timer, or use the one in your phone. Take turns talking for two or three minutes, about anything that’s on your mind, while your partner listens and says nothing. Then it’s their turn to talk and yours to listen.
Once you get in the habit of talking like this, and listening without interrupting your partner to interject your opinion, you will become much more effective communicators. If something’s on your mind, talk about it when it’s your turn.
But don’t expect your partner to immediately act on it. Let them listen and respond in their own way and on their own schedule. That’s the way to treat someone like an adult. Give them that dignity, and they are sure to respond more positively.
When it’s your turn to listen – listen! What are the things your partner cares most about? What’s going on in their life, in their mind? You are sure to learn more about them in this way.
A Time to Talk
It’s good for a couple to build in a regular time to talk to each other. Take a walk together for half an hour once a week, or oftener. The exercise will do you good, and the better communication will deepen your intimate connection.
Your husband may never take out the garbage. Accept it. But if you focus your efforts on improving communication between you, you make it more likely that he will.
Nagging will just make things worse. Grown up communication will make things much better.
Little things like nagging can accumulate over time and this is why it’s important to resolve it.
For more tips on how to resolve little nuances like this or how to improve or even save a deteriorating marriage, read my Mend the Marriage program. Good luck!