Did you see the January 25, 2012 article, Meet the Marriage Killer, in the Wall Street Journal? It points to nagging as a major problem in relationships. While men may nag, it is more common for women to be the naggers they say. But this doesn’t necessarily let men off the hook. We must look beyond the nagging to determine why the nagging is occurring. Sometimes it is because a man doesn’t give a clear response either because he doesn’t yet know the answer, or because he doesn’t want to disappoint her. So what do we do about it? Here are some of my ideas. What do you think?
First, admit that there is a problem. Then look at how each of you interprets the situation. The woman generally believes she is helping her man by reminding him, while he feels pressured to follow her plan on her time schedule. He resents it. This can be reduced if the woman gives reasons why it is important to finish the task by a certain time. Now it is no longer an arbitrary demand. It is also helped if he gets real about how long it will take to accomplish the task. I’m not talking about how long it will take if everything goes according to plan, I’m talking about the real world where interruptions occur and unforeseen complications arise. Early in my marriage I would promise to get things done by a certain time, but it always seemed to take longer than expected. I soon learned to double my estimate, and she never seemed to get upset if I finished it early.
Another strategy to reduce the nagging is to allow the person doing the work to set the time when the work will be completed (within limits). Instead of demanding that the room needs to be painted by next Sunday, ask when he can get the work done. If there are reasons why it needs to be done within a certain deadline, include those reasons.“John, I really need to have the room painted before your parents visit next month, and I’d like to have it done in time so they aren’t sleeping in a room with fresh paint smell. When do you think you can get it done?”
Then hold your tongue and agree not to nag until the selected date has passed. Don’t be surprised if he pushes the limit. As long as it is complete one second before the deadline, no nagging is permitted on that topic. You may be biting your tongue so much you need to wrap it in gauze. No nagging.
Finally, address the underlying interpretations you are placing on the behavior.“When you promise to do something and you don’t do it when you promise, I feel disrespected. It makes me feel like I am not important in your life. Is that what you intend?”
I welcome your feedback on how these suggestions work for you.
Roger Frame, Ph.D.
The Conflict Whisperer
For more ideas on resolving family conflict disputes, check out my book, Don’ t Carve the Turkey with a Chainsaw: Resolving Family Conflict.