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January 27, 2012

Nagging In Marriage Is....

[fill in the blank]

I'm pretty sure your take will differ depending on whether you're a man or a woman. Men almost always talk about it as though it were something women do for no reason. And most women view it as a response to being repeatedly ignored/blown off - in other words, as a two-way dynamic in which neither party is without fault:

Nagging—the interaction in which one person repeatedly makes a request, the other person repeatedly ignores it and both become increasingly annoyed—is an issue every couple will grapple with at some point. While the word itself can provoke chuckles and eye-rolling, the dynamic can potentially be as dangerous to a marriage as adultery or bad finances. Experts say it is exactly the type of toxic communication that can eventually sink a relationship.

Why do we nag? "We have a perception that we won't get what we want from the other person, so we feel we need to keep asking in order to get it," says Scott Wetzler, a psychologist and vice chairman of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Montefiore Medical Center in New York. It is a vicious circle: The naggee tires of the badgering and starts to withhold, which makes the nagger nag more.

Google's assessment of my gender notwithstanding, I take the latter view. If, when asked to do something, the other party responds by:

a) Doing it within a reasonable amount of time, which is NOT the same as "immediately",
b) Saying, "I can't/won't do that now but I will do it by [insert self-imposed deadline here]", and then following through, or
c) Says, "No, I won't do it",

.... there is no reason ever to bring the matter up again.

I don't like nagging. It does sometimes work (that's why women - and some men - do it). But the whole dynamic is dysfunctional: the nagging itself is disrespectful but so are the passive aggressive avoidance techniques that provoke the response in the first place.

My husband is the more consciencious of the two of us and I am the more laid back one. So he has more reason to nag me than I, him. But there are times when I have asked him to do something and for whatever reason, he doesn't get to it. When that happens, I usually try to choose a good moment to sit down with him and explain why whatever I've asked him to do is really important to me and that I just need to know when he might be able to do it, or if not, whether I should just hire someone.

The thing is, I don't ask him to do things very often and he doesn't ask me to do things for him. For the most part, when either of us wants something done we just do it ourselves.

So. Much. Easier. than getting all bent out of shape.

Posted by Cassandra at January 27, 2012 12:49 PM

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"For the most part, when either of us wants something done we just do it ourselves."

And therein lies one of the secrets of a successful relationship.

Posted by: Pogue at January 27, 2012 01:59 PM

What M'lady and Poque said.

*wanders off whistling a tune this topic brings to mind...*

Posted by: bthun at January 27, 2012 02:10 PM

There's a difference between nagging and nudging. Spice frequently nudges me about things, and I appreciate it, because I know I've forgotten them.

I hear nagging as a form of whining, and it's like chalkboard squeaking. There seems to be an implied "If you really loved me you'd have done this to make me happy" vibe about it that bodes ill for the relationship. With some couples it seems to be a kind of teasing that isn't harmful, but I'm not sure everyone can carry that off.

Posted by: htom at January 27, 2012 02:18 PM

Over the years the few times I've had to repeat a request for MH to do or get for me are for those things that I am simply unable to get on my own, ie military-related information. For all other things, I am quite capable of taking care of them myself. MH has learned, much to his dismay at times, that if he hasn't taken care of something I've asked him to do within a reasonable amount of time, (and I am very reasonable wrt to time allowed) I will do it myself -- even if it's not the best thing for me to be doing at the time.

Posted by: DL Sly at January 27, 2012 02:21 PM

Nagging is contextual. After 89 years, my wife and I have reached the point in our relationship that if I haven't done something she's asked for, I'm unlikely to do it. Thus, if she asks me a second time, that's nagging.

On the other hand, I don't nag--I remind.

...I usually try to choose a good moment to sit down with him and explain why whatever I've asked him to do is really important....

Aw, geez. The Long Nag.

[diving behind the couch]

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at January 27, 2012 02:27 PM

The BF and I saw this last night and he said, "You don't nag at all!" I smiled and told him I hoped not to be a nagger, but it was easy when we have separate households, etc.

Cassandra's approach does make sense to me and seems to resonate with my perspective/values. If I absolutely NEED my partner to do something and they haven't done it, my first instinct would be to tell them why it's important to me and then ask if there's any way I can make it easier or more tolerable for him to do it. The BF jokes about leaving his socks on the floor if we live together. I told him that there's a very simple answer to that--I only wash clothes that are in hampers. Cracks him up!

Posted by: FbL at January 27, 2012 02:27 PM

Hey, bthun!
I'll see your tune and raise ya a little head bobber.

Posted by: DL Sly at January 27, 2012 02:27 PM


I think it's all in the tone of voice and the attitude. 2-3 sentences about why it means so much , followed by a hug/snuggle and a kiss with a clear and cheerful attitude that the problem is now solved goes a long way--Doesn't sound like a nag to me... ;)

Posted by: FbL at January 27, 2012 02:30 PM

DL, b,

Whistle this .

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at January 27, 2012 02:32 PM

...2-3 sentences about....

Criminy--the Really Long Nag....


Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at January 27, 2012 02:33 PM

Hey, Eric: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fj4vLZJhNEk *grin*

Posted by: FbL at January 27, 2012 02:41 PM

I tried, Eric. I think I hurt something.
Perhaps something a little more current.

Posted by: DL Sly at January 27, 2012 03:08 PM

Nagging In Marriage Is...

[fill in the blank]

Like wrestling with a pig. You get dirty, and we like it. Oh boy do we like it.


Posted by: Typical Male Oinkster at January 27, 2012 03:16 PM

Eric's cruisin'... for a bruisin'! :p

Like wrestling with a pig. You get dirty, and we like it. Oh boy do we like it. Oink!

It's always about the make up sex. Heh :)

Posted by: Cassandra at January 27, 2012 03:49 PM

DL! Top of the day to ya!

Speaking of SRV, Walkin' Boss picked up a Martin Scorsese Presents The BLUES


CD for me just the other day... Outstanding and only reminds me of the shame that SR managed to hitch that fateful ride on the fling wing. RIP.

Mr. Hines, That took me back to 10¢ Saturday Cowboy Matinées at The Ritz Theater. It also reminded me that Vulcans evolved from Apaches. =;^}

Posted by: bthun at January 27, 2012 03:55 PM

Eric's cruisin'... for a bruisin'!

'N' achin' for a breakin'. That's what they all say....

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at January 27, 2012 04:48 PM

Who let that foul creature in here? What with his rooting through the trash and that incessant oink. I suspect someone might have been hacked.

My wife and I handle things simply, she asks me to do something, and I respond with, when do you need it? There are clear signals in there for both of us. When she hears me say "when" she knows I am taking her seriously, but she must have clear needs, not wants. This obviously is a two way street.

I suspect most of nagging and ignoring it comes when we are not acting our most adultlike.

Posted by: Allen at January 27, 2012 05:09 PM

I usually just ask her to have her people talk to my people and they will work out the details of when things get done.

"Honey, I'll have one of my people look after that leaking faucet tomorrow. Okay?"

And that's the way it works!


Posted by: Don Brouhaha at January 27, 2012 07:14 PM

The Long Nag

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at January 27, 2012 09:31 PM

My wife calls it nagging - and won't indulge.

I call it 'reminding me to do something that I said I would do but it gets lost in the background.'

Her: Hey the whoozit is broken.

Me: I'll fix it Saturday.

But in between now and Saturday are three workdays full of fun, 2 minor family problems, 1 family crisis, a friend how needs help, I made two dinners, got kids to school ... fixing the whoozit gets lost in the pack.

Me: Hey the whoozit is broken!

Her: You said you'd do fix it last weekend.

Me: Hmm.

I just need a nudge, now and again. Like having her say on Saturday 'Before you mow the yard you said you'd fix the whoozit ...'

Posted by: Brian Dunbar at January 28, 2012 02:00 PM

My taller half has to remind me frequently of things I've agreed to do, because I was always forgetful and with age I'm only getting worse. If I'm procrastinating rather than simply forgetting, I'm apt to react badly to a reminder, so it's good to remember that my reaction has more to do with my screwing up than my husband's unreasonableness.

I agree with Cassandra that one of the best ways to avoid being on the receiving end of a nag is to say "no" when you mean "no." Don't say "OK" or "later."

Allen's "When do you need it" makes me laugh because it reminds me of Miss Manners' suggestion for a response to an impertinent question: "How soon do you need to know?"

Posted by: Texan99 at January 28, 2012 05:01 PM

One of the most interesting books I read on male/female dynamics was the "Men are from Mars Women from Venus" book.

The author when into a fictional sentence and then said how a woman interprets it vs a man.

A lot of the time the sexes get 2 completely interpretations out of a sentence.

The sentence I am used to is "I'm not going to say anything more.....but.....

Posted by: Bill Brandt at January 29, 2012 01:25 AM

I agree, Bill. The Mars/Venus books get made fun of a lot, but I credit one of his books with opening my eyes to a whole lot of things I didn't understand about my husband.

Most guys don't talk a lot about their feelings or about sex in general, and though women are pretty good at detecting emotions in others, we don't always interpret them correctly, mainly because we have only our own frame of reference to work with (IOW, "I can't imagine ever doing that, but if I did that, it would mean...").

I think the author (John Grey? can't remember) did a fantastic job of explaining how men and women interpret various relationship issues. His explanations allowed me to understand my husband without making him go through the whole icky "talking about feelings" thing. And once I understood him better, things that used to hurt or upset me either no longer bothered me or actually made me love and respect him more.

That's huge. Many years later, I still occasionally misinterpret something he says or does, but now I know how to approach him the right way.

Posted by: Cassandra at January 29, 2012 09:58 AM

Cassandra - we are, as a rule - pretty upfront about things ("players" exempted of course). If we ask you how you are doing and you say "fine" - we assume "fine" ;-)

We "assume" by the things we do for them that women know that we love them.

But the thing that drives most of us nuts is .....nagging. We interpret all kinds of negative connotations when repeatedly asked to do something.

A funny movie I saw years ago was a Mel Gibson movie - What Women Want

Gibson's character, a middle aged single playboy, assumed he was "tuned in" to women and when he had an accident of some kind, discovered that he could read their minds, discovered that what they were thinking was quite different!

You are wise to limit the "requests" to your husband.

Posted by: Bill Brandt at January 29, 2012 08:56 PM

Nagging In Marriage Is....

...a finely honed skill developed to perfection by Jewish Grandmothers and taught with various levels of success to women worldwide.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano who's running away very quickly at January 30, 2012 08:54 AM

My wife and I worked out the "nagging thing" pretty early on. I pointed out to her that my failure to do something in the indeterminate future was not based on my love (or lack thereof) for her, but instead on my forgetfulness. And that her most effective strategies to get something she wanted accomplished actually done was to secure a time frame from me. If I failed to act in the agreed upon time frame, she was permitted to remind me (at which point, my well developed sense of guilt would prompt me to do said task right then). It also helps that if she wants something done in the near term, she explains WHY (ex. "I want you to take the trash out now, because I put the leftover fish in it, and I don't want it stinking up the house.") My mother saw this in action once and her jaw hit the floor. She had always assumed that I was just obstinate when I didn't just knuckle my forehead and perform on demand. The bride simply said, "He just needs to know why, and then he does." It's a failing of mine, I suppose, that I need logical reasons why I must stop what I am doing to do something else.

On the flip side, something related to nagging, we've only worked out recently (it only took 15 years to do so). She had this habit of trying to convince me of something (which is eminently fair), and if I were swayed by her logic, I would agree. So far so good. But then, after securing my agreement, would continue to lobby for her point/way of doing something/idea. And continue. And continue. And I would get upset (angry is far too strong, I need a good word for the state in-between angry and upset). To me, this was the worst kind of nagging. I've already agreed and in some cases begun to do what she wanted... and she's STILL telling me why I need to do it. I saw it as unnecessary, and even a bit insulting. So I sat down with her and discussed WHY it made me feel this way, and she agreed that perhaps she did sometimes get too zealous in her defense of her point and that she would work on not doing it, and I would work on my patience if she slipped.

I realize it sounds like she's giving up more, and perhaps she is. I think the key was she wasn't certain that, "ok, I think you're right, let's do it your way" was an actual capitulation. I've explained to her that if I have remaining doubts, I will (and do) clearly express those doubts, and that I will NEVER agree with her to shut her up (which, for the record, I have never done). Has anyone else had problems with this "over-selling"?

Posted by: MikeD at January 30, 2012 10:08 AM


My husband has complained about me doing that exact thing, though it usually occurs during a discussion of some topic unrelated to him or me (like politics, or current events).

I think the key was she wasn't certain that, "ok, I think you're right, let's do it your way" was an actual capitulation.

In my case, I'm not sure "capitulation" is the right word, because the goal wasn't to get him to 'give in' (or even agree with me, most of the time). But he absolutely did perceive it that way.

Women often view conversation as sort of a sharing of thoughts in which both parties learn more about how the other one thinks (but won't necessarily agree). It's how we bond. I have noticed that men seem more likely to view conversation as having some defined end state or goal.

I usually bring a topic up, not because I want to force my husband to agree with me, but precisely because I want to hear where he *disagrees* with me (and why?). IOW, I want a sounding board, not an approving and uncritical audience.

I enjoy exploring a topic in depth. My husband tires of most discussions LONG before I do. So we compromise - he tries to remember that I like discussing things with him because I'm interested in what he thinks (but to me it's not a competition and I won't be upset if he disagrees) and I try to remember that not wanting to talk about news story X any more is NOT the same as not wanting to talk to me :p

I think this is similar to your, "...just needs to know why" thing. Once I understood the situation from his perspective, there was no real incentive for me not to change my behavior.

Posted by: Cassandra at January 30, 2012 11:08 AM

MikeD -- Oh, my God, you never assume the guise of capitulation in order to shut her up? She can trust you to mean "yes" when you say "yes"? No wonder you get along so well.

For those of us who sometimes fall into the trap of the insincere "yes," a good fallback position is to go back to the other person and say, "I know I agreed, but I think I spoke too hastily. Here's what I really think and am really willing to do." (That's assuming that it wasn't a really important promise that shouldn't be reneged on, but more of an agreement about some kind of general procedure that ought to be revisited from time to time.)

My husband used to have a terrible time responding to unwelcome invitations. He thought he had to dream up some convincing excuse. I told him Miss Manners says all you have to say is "I'm sorry, we have other plans." What a relief! You say "no" when you mean "no" instead of feeling that you were unfairly trapped into saying "yes," and then taking revenge. Of course, you have to accept the consequences of saying "no," but they're usually less unpleasant than the consequences of the insincere "yes," both to you and to the other person.

And for people who impertinently demand an explanation for the "no" ("What other plans?!"), there's Miss Manners's all-purpose "What an extraordinary question." That one doesn't usually work too well between spouses, though.

Posted by: Texan99 at January 30, 2012 11:25 AM

She can trust you to mean "yes" when you say "yes"? No wonder you get along so well.

OK, I laughed out loud when I read that :p

Posted by: Cassandra at January 30, 2012 11:43 AM

Has anyone else had problems with this "over-selling"?

Not so much as continuing on after I've agreed.

This seems to happen mostly on the most trivial of things, like whether we should go to Costco on Saturday or Sunday? I didn't much care one way or the other and so I mentally flip a coin and say Saturday. Out comes a thousand and one reasons why Saturday is a poor choice and we need to go on Sunday, instead.

Sure, let's drop a nuclear holocaust on the guy holding a squirt gun.

Ironically, on those issues that really are tough, like whether we should buy a house right now or continue to rent she doesn't do that.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at January 30, 2012 11:51 AM

....whether we should go to Costco on Saturday or Sunday? I didn't much care one way or the other and so I mentally flip a coin and say Saturday. Out comes a thousand and one reasons why Saturday is a poor choice and we need to go on Sunday...

Hah! Now that I get a lot.

Nagging, not really. It's never been a problem for us. I put this down to the excellence of my wife.

Posted by: Grim at January 30, 2012 11:59 AM

...IOW, I want a sounding board....

I had a similar problem with a friend about whom I've written before. She would often tell me her problems, and I would try to help her solve them. Finally she had to tell me to shut up--I was too much a problem solver. Usually she just wanted to vent about her problems and wanted me just to listen as she vented. Solutions, at that point, were unwanted.

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at January 30, 2012 12:07 PM

My husband has complained about me doing that exact thing, though it usually occurs during a discussion of some topic unrelated to him or me (like politics, or current events).

Were it a discussion of philosophies, I could accept it much more. But generally it tends to be more along the lines of, "would you fix the drain today?" At first I am reticent because I had planned to do X, Y, and maybe Z that day, and had wanted to fix the drain tomorrow. But then she explains that she had wanted to get a shower in today, and it would be better for her if I would get the drain handled before then. I agree. She then tells me that the parts will be easier to obtain today rather than tomorrow because of store hours. And that today make more sense anyhow because tomorrow I was going to do the lawn, and won't I be tired after than and want to rest instead. Oh, and I should do it today because the weather isn't really cooperating for task X, and I can easily replace it in the schedule with the drain. And...

Again, at no point is she WRONG. It's just completely unnecessary to continue the litany. I've agreed to do it today already, why continue to list reasons. Mind you, I now know why she's doing it (she's got all these thoughts about it, and she's just sharing them with me), but now she understands that it feels to me like she's not accepting that I really meant "ok."

MikeD -- Oh, my God, you never assume the guise of capitulation in order to shut her up? She can trust you to mean "yes" when you say "yes"? No wonder you get along so well.

To channel my inner Grim, why wouldn't I mean yes when I say "yes." A man (and woman for that matter) should always say what they mean and mean what they say. Sure, you can make allowances for politeness sake and self preservation... no need to say "that dress makes your butt look big." Better to say, "I don't think it suits you."

Part of it is, I'm a terrible liar. I can't tell a convincing untruth to save my hide (or hide a surprise). I can keep my mouth shut pretty well, and that normally suffices, but asked a flat out question, I'm pretty much limited to the truth as a response (unless I want to look like I'm evading it).

Part of it is also because I'm muley stubborn. I am completely capable of saying "no," and sticking to it. And once I do, it takes pretty strong logic or compelling arguments to move me. I get that from my mother, and it's one of the reasons she and I clashed so much during my teenaged years.

I DO like the Miss Manner's approach to bowing out of invitations I'd rather not take. Thanks for providing that, T99. Normally, I accept invitations unless I do have a valid reason to decline, even if I'd simply rather not. If someone is kind enough to invite us to their social event, I try to honor the request barring a real obstacle.

Posted by: MikeD at January 31, 2012 01:15 PM

Huh. Not knowing your wife at all, from your description I would have likely attributed the extraneous convincing to guilt/discomfort at being perceived as being overly directive. IOW, she either felt like - or worried you would think - she was being pushy so she's trying to justify her request to you and herself). But that's probably just me projecting :p

Most women feel a little generic discomfort when being direct or assertive.

One of the reasons I don't ask my husband to do many things for me is that virtually every time I do, I get the clear impression that he is annoyed. This makes me so uncomfortable that I would rather do it myself.

I get this impression even when I can tell he is going out of his way NOT to give me that impression :p And I am pretty sure it is an accurate impression - he really is annoyed, though not necessarily at me.

Over the years, on the rare occasion when I really do need him to do something, I am trying to learn not to let it bug me. He's a big boy and if he's really that annoyed he can always say so. But we're talking a LOT of conditioning here. As a general rule, I have had to learn to be less reactive (internally, I mean. I am usually calm on the outside even when annoyed or upset on the inside). I suspect that gives him the freedom to be mildly annoyed without having to feel guilty on top of it for upsetting me.

The old feminine radar is hard to turn off, though.

Posted by: Cassandra at January 31, 2012 02:33 PM

Well, like I said, she tells me that it's just that she's got all these reasons in her head and feels that she should share them. She's going to work on cutting them short once I've agreed, and I'm going to work on not getting annoyed if she doesn't.

I will tell you, the only time I get annoyed at being asked/told to do something is if the delivery is rude, or the task is exceedingly stupid. Neither one is something she (nor you, I'd imagine) are guilty of. Remember, one of the things the Unit and I have in common is military service. Orders are part of the deal. And as stubborn and muley as I can be, it was never an issue for me.

My wife and I made a deal long ago. If something bothers us about the other, we're obligated to say something about it and explain why, rather than brood over it and let it fester. So if she does something that bothers me (and isn't a minor, unimportant thing), then I've got to tell her that it bothers me, why, and I have to help come up with a solution or mitigation for it. And she's promised to do the same. It helps keep small problems from becoming bigger ones.

Posted by: MikeD at January 31, 2012 03:24 PM

I don't want to imply that he doesn't do things for me. He does - all the time, and usually they are things that need doing that it never even occurred to me to ask him to do.

He is one of the most genuinely thoughtful and considerate people I've ever known, male or female.

But I have noticed that he really prefers it to be his idea and so I try to arrange it so that it usually is his idea... :p

Posted by: Cassandra at January 31, 2012 03:52 PM

To channel my inner Grim, why wouldn't I mean yes when I say "yes." A man (and woman for that matter) should always say what they mean and mean what they say.

Why, Mike: I'm honored. Thank you.

Posted by: Grim at January 31, 2012 10:38 PM

Grim, not only do I hold you in regard, you tend to clarify matters of honor and virtue much more succinctly than I ever could. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with me on a daily basis.

Posted by: MikeD at February 1, 2012 09:12 AM