Based on Elizabeth Bernstein’s Wall Street Journal article, Nagging: Meet the Marriage Killer
Once again – there is good and bad news. Starting with the latter….
Nagging — the interaction in which one person repeatedly makes a request, the other person repeatedly ignores it, and both become increasingly annoyed — is a toxic communication issue that is one of the leading causes for discord and divorce. We nag when we feel we can’t get what we want from our partner, and we keep on asking in the hopes it will happen. A vicious cycle is set in place: The irritated recipient of the nagging, feeling scolded like a little boy, withdraws in protest, inviting the nagger to nag some more.
Professor Howard Markman, professor of psychology at the University of Denver and co-director of the Center for Marital and Family Studies who has been researching relationship conflict for 30 years, sees the long-term destructive effect of this pattern. A 2010 study he published in The Journal of Family Psychology demonstrates that couples who became unhappy five years into their marriage had a roughly 20% increase in negative communication patterns consistent with nagging, and a 12% decrease in positive communication. “Nagging is an enemy of love, if allowed to persist,” Dr. Markman says.
Psychologist Scott Wetzler at Montefiore Medical Center’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences (NY) notes that personality contributes to the dynamic. An extremely organized, obsessive or anxious person may find it difficult to refrain from giving reminders, especially if the partner is laid back and often does things at the last minute. Others are naturally resistant — some might say lazy — and could bring out the nagger in anyone.
He notes, too, that while there are most certainly husbands who nag, one does see a certain gender pattern, with women being the more likely naggers. Women are conditioned to feel more responsible for managing home and family life, and to be more attuned and sensitive to early signs of problems in a relationship which they are anxious to address. Men, on the other hand, don’t always give a clear answer; they are often hesitant to respond, expecting their response will be insufficient and disappointing.
The good news? Couples can learn to stop nagging. An attempt to understand what makes one’s partner tick and to recognize what s/he is experiencing can move a couple towards greater mutual accommodation. Bernstein offers the following tips:
- Calm down! Recognize the pattern you are in and talk about how to address it as a team. You will both need to change your behavior, and ground rules can help.
- Look at it from the other person’s perspective. “Honey, when you ignore me I feel that you don’t love me.” “I feel that you don’t appreciate what I am already doing when you nag me.”
- If you are the nagger, realize you are asking for something. Use an “I” not a “You” statement. “I would really like you to pay the Visa bill on time,” instead of “You never pay the bill on time.”
- Explain why your request is important to you. “I worry about our finances when you pay the bill late. We can’t afford to pay late fees.”
- Manage your expectations. Make sure you are asking for something that is realistic and appropriate. Does the light bulb need to be changed immediately? Can you do it yourself?
- Set a timeframe. Ask when your partner can expect to finish the task. “Can you change the car oil this weekend?” Let him tell you when it works best for him to do it.
- If you are the naggee, give a clear response to your partner’s request. Tell her honestly if you can do what she asks and when. Then follow through. Do what you say you will do.
- Consider alternative solutions. Maybe it’s worth it to hire a handyman, rather than harm your relationship with arguing.
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