Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Whatever You Do, Don't Nag

You know that it’s wrong. You know that it’s hurting your marriage. You know that you are do it much too much. And yet, you can’t stop nagging.

All of your self-awareness seems to be powerless to stop the dreadful habit of nagging. You have gotten totally in touch with your feelings, and still, you keep nagging your husband.

Yes, nagging seems largely to be the province of the distaff spouse. And it most often concerns household chores.

Today Elizabeth Bernstein explains to us that nagging is a leading marriage killer. For the sake of your marriage, stop nagging. 

Nagging begins when she asks or tells him to do something. When he does not do it, she asks again, this time with more feeling.

If she keeps asking, more and more stridently, he will continue to ignore her request. She will become more desperate and angry, feeling that she is being disrespected. At that point, nothing on heaven or earth will get him to do what she is telling him to do.

As you know, it is not about the task at hand. It’s about being told what to do. It’s about being told to do something that he might consider to be woman’s work. It’s not about whether or not he can pick up the dry cleaning or vacuum the family room. It’s about male pride.

I would mention that sometimes it’s about false male pride.

Picking up the dry cleaning is not going to damage anyone’s male pride. If he thinks it is his pride is hanging by a rather weak thread.

If a request turns into a nagging jag, then his pride will really be on the line.

Nagging transforms the question. It’s no longer about whether he is going to do what she is telling him but whether he is going to allow himself to be humiliated by her.

His pride will make it impossible to do what she is nagging him to do.

All wives should know that they should never put their husbands in such a position. They should know that once they make it into a struggle they have damaged their marriages.

But, the great unanswered question in Bernstein’s article is: What makes women nag?

Frustration is part of it. Feeling disrespected is another part of it.

And yet, the issue of who does what around the house does not really explain chronic nagging.

For that we need to look beyond toxic communication to cultural toxins.

Influential figures in our culture have told women that marriages are power struggles. They have told women that the kitchen should be a battleground. They have insisted that all household chores be shared equally and that male intransigence is a form of oppression. They have convinced women to assert themselves, no matter the results, because their cause is righteous and just.

While therapists and coaches tell women not to nag feminists have been telling them that they must engage in behaviors that are tantamount to nagging.

Ideological zealotry coupled with righteous anger will make you an inflexible nag.

To change the behavior, start thinking in terms of what you want to accomplish, not how you are going to posture as an aggrieved victim.

If you keep your eye on the goal and are willing to try out different means to achieve it you will have taken a step away from nagging.

Nagging occurs when you keep repeating the same message and keep getting the same answer. It is a communication rut. If you fall in it, don’t keep digging.

It is almost too obvious to say it, but if your earnest entreaties are not producing the results you wish, then try asking in a different way.

You do not have to be too savvy in the art of communication to know that you should not repeat the same thing over and over again. Being more insistent assumes that he did not hear the first time and that he needs to be taxed with failure.

No one is ever motivated by being taken to be a failure.

Let’s say that a woman really does need help around the house. There is a multitude of ways to achieve the goal. Here’s one that you may have missed.

A colleague once explained that she received in consultation a housewife who needed her husband and sons to help around the house.  

The more she asked them to help her, the more unwilling they were to do what was needed.

So, her female therapist recommended that she go out and get her hair done and get a new manicure. The therapist recommended that she modify her appearance.

When the woman came home from the hairdresser's she did not have to ask anyone to do anything. The men in her household started volunteering to help out.

The moral of the story, the true solution that the psychologists do not seem to have understood, is that the best way to convince a man to do something around the house is to allow him to think that it’s his own idea.

As Dwight Eisenhower once said: Leadership is getting someone to do what has to be done because he wants to do it.

That takes advanced social skills. What works in one situation may not work in another.

The only thing we know for certain here is that nagging does not work.

To overcome your habit of nagging, begin with an old adage, whose origin escapes me: if you can’t ask nicely, don’t ask at all.

Know that there are many ways to ask the same thing. And there are even more ways to motivate someone to do what you want him to do. A request for assistance is not the same as a demand. Asking for help is not the same as trying to force someone to do something.

If you ask nicely and he does not respond, try doing it yourself or suggest that he hire someone to help you out.

Judge your next step by the response you have received. If he ignores what you are saying then you should try saying it differently. Or perhaps you should try to find another way to show that you need help.

Of course, if his buddies have spent the afternoon watching the game and making a mess of your den, then you might ask them all if they might want to help you to clean up.

Understand that this will be a foreign notion to them, so you might have to provide them with more detailed instructions: the pizza box goes in the garbage can on the back porch. Specifics always work better than generalities.

If they all demur, and if they leave your den a complete mess, then call in the cleaning service and send your husband the bill. Make sure you present it with a smile. 


Anonymous said...

Some nagging is intended to get the husband to do something***and, as you say, isn't usually the most effective way to get that accomplished, or the way that best protects the relationship.

But other nagging goes way beyond trying to get something particular done and seems to have the goal of humiliating the husband. Ask him to do the laundry, then when he does it complain that the towels weren't folded perfectly. Ask him to do the grocery shopping and when he does, attack him because he got the "wrong" kind of mustard.

Anonymous said...

I have a nagging husband. And, he's really horrible. His voice gets high and his neck stretches. I hate him.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Thanks for reminding us that men nag too. I followed Bernstein's remark that for the most part women nag much more than men.

Dennis said...

I think a lot of nagging denotes a sign of immaturity and insecurity. The failure to find acceptable ways to get things accomplished is only a symptom.
Many times the nagging is meant to keep the person being nagged from noticing the flaws and failures of the nagger. I suspect that that is why women, in general, are the prime users.
I went through a period where I thought I would help my wife. That ended in about two weeks of never being able to do anything right. It was then that I realized that, in most cases, my wife just wanted respect for all of the things she does. Despite what most feminists say, the vast majority of women don't want us in the way. If they ask for help provided it, but learn to get out of the way.
I have made it known that if I cannot do anything right then your opinion of me is of NO value. One would be surprised at how quickly that puts an end to most nagging.
Given that both of us are retired I help by doing a number of things. We both need to have time to follow the pursuits that we did not have time to do when we had to work. One cannot enjoy life if they are still trying to engage in "one up man ship."
Women, remember that most of us men are preventive maintenance oriented which you may not see taking place. It is the reason why many things fail when we are away. Nagging is the quickest way to keep anything from being done. Don't make a contest of wills out of it.

clarinette said...

I'm pretty sure nagging comes from having a husband who does not care about your workload, level of tiredness, feelings, your couple's health, and then will nag himself about "not getting enough sex".
Why are women expected to hold a relationship up all by themselves I wonder....

Stuart Schneiderman said...

In the best situations women should not be solely responsible for holding relationships together.

I was simply trying to point out that however bad his behavior is nagging will not solve the problem.

It's not a question of finding fault and fixing blame. I was trying to suggest that people should try different tactics to achieve their relationship goals.