no more nagging

Reader W. M. writes:

I’ve decided to be less of a nag to my husband. However, I’m afraid I’ve been nagging him so long, he sort of expects it, so even if I start talking to him in a non-nagging fashion, he’s going to respond to me like I’m nagging him. And then I actually will nag him. I’m afraid of falling into old habits. How can I avoid this?

Dear W. M.:

Patterns of communication are really tough to break, especially because most of the time we’re not aware of them in the first place. The fact that you recognize you’re “being a nag” is laudable in its own right. However, it’s harder to realize that you’re talking a certain way in the midst of a conversation than it is before or after said conversation.


To nag, or not to nag. Image: Simon Howden / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

First and foremost, I think you should define what you mean by “nagging”. What elements go into nagging? Is it repeatedly asking him to do something? (That’s usually the definition, I think.) But furthermore, I think it’s important to define what specifically makes it nagging in the case between you and your husband. You can’t change behavior if you’re not sure what the behavior is, or why it starts. You should define what “nagging” means for you specifically, including what behavior on your part denotes nagging, and what causes the nagging in the first place. Also, you should decide why it bothers you and why you want to change it. If you feel it’s because you’re just being annoying and nagging uselessly out of habit, by all means, change. But if it’s because he’s not meeting a need you have, you should probably look into something a bit more serious, like counseling. If there’s something he does to set you off on your path to nagging (like playing video games), you need to be aware of it and its effect on you, too.

Next up, I think you should include him in your attempt to change. He’s the recipient of the “nagging”, so he should be helpful in getting you to stop. Tell him you’ve decided to quit nagging him so much and you’d like his help. He’ll probably be glad to oblige. (If he’s really awesome, he’ll wonder what this “nagging” is you’re speaking of.) Ask him to let you know when he feels nagged because you may not even be aware you’re doing it. He can help you come up with the list of “signs” that you’re nagging, too, and he should know what you think it is that sets off the nagging. If he can change those behaviors on his own part, it’ll be much easier not to nag. (Of course, you’re the one who wants to change here. We can’t change his behavior; only he can.)

And now, the hardest part: changing the behavior. You’re going to have to be pretty aware of your own speech, and that can be really, really hard. However, if you’ve already defined what nagging behavior is, and what leads to it, you can make a conscious effort to avoid those scenarios, or change the outcome when they arise.

Let’s take an example and see what could happen.

Carrie: Hey George, can you take out the trash please?

George: Sure. Gimme a minute.

(Ten minutes later, trash still hasn’t been taken out.)

Carrie can ask George once again to take out the trash, or she can just take it out herself. (Shitty outcome for Carrie, honestly, and I would dump George in a heartbeat, but if asking George over and over again to do something is part of what makes Carrie a nag, this is how she’s going to have to overcome it.)

I want to point out that a lot of nagging is simply one partner hoping the other will live up to your expectations, and reminding your partner of your expectations when they aren’t met. For instance, being a good husband, he should be able to know what you need and provide it. Maybe what you need is for him to take out the garbage. When he doesn’t do that for you, you want to remind him that you need him to do it.

On the other hand, as I pointed out in another post about lying, he may see your asking him to do something as an attack on his place in the hierarchy, and he won’t do it out of protest.

The simplest solution to this, in my book, is to remove your need or expectation. That’s the element in the situation over which you have the most control. If you don’t need him to take out the trash (because you did it already), you won’t ask him continually to do it.

Sure, it’s crappy that you’re going to have to do all the housework. But if you want to quit nagging, it’s the quickest path to a solution. And it’s probably cheaper than getting a divorce and starting over.


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