Nagging: The Marriage Killer

Yesterday there was a really interesting article in the Wall Street Journal entitled, “Meet The Marriage Killer.” What’s this killer, you ask? It’s not money problems or infidelity…. surprise, it’s actually nagging!

Nagging – defined as an interaction where one person repeatedly makes a request the another person who then repeatedly ignores the request and becomes annoyed – is something that just about every couple will struggle with and is more dangerous to the health of a relationship than most people actually think.

Extremely organized, obsessive or anxious people are the most likely to nag their partners. On the flip side, extremely laid back people or those who could be deemed lazy are the most likely to inspire nagging behavior in someone else. Not suprisingly, women are more likely to nag predominantly because they are conditioned to feel more responsible for maintaining home and family.  And, men can sometimes be to blame because they often don’t give clear answers – they may not know the answer yet or they don’t want to disappoint their partner.

The truth is that nagging is a viscious cycle. “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.  The naggee then tires of the badgering and starts to withhold, which makes the nagger nag even more.

The good news, however, is that we can all learn to stop nagging. We can all soften our approach and think about speaking to our partner in ways that are less threatening. I know that I’m guilty of nagging (sorry, Honey!).  I really hate reminding my husband to do things…it actually pains me because I don’t want him to think less of me or to think that I think less of him. I acknowledge that it’s really hard for me to sit back and just hope that things get done because I’m usually the person whose in charge of the house and feel responsible. Yeah, I’m a work in progress.

So, here are some great tips to consider to help you stop nagging your partner (I know that I personally will be trying to employ these myself):

  • Everybody Calm Down – Recognize your patterns and start talking as a team to work to address it together. Make some new ground rules to use together.
  • Consider the Other Side – How do you think your partner feels to be nagged? How would you feel if someone was speaking to you that way? Put yourself in their shoes.
  • Naggers Are Just Asking For Something –  Stop what you’re doing and swap “you” statements for “I” statements. Ask for what you need.
  • Explain Why It’s Important – Share that you worry or that you’re afraid…what’s the emotion behind the nagging. Share that.
  • Manage Expecations – Check to see that you’re being reasonable and realistic. How soon does the task really need to happen?
  • Set A Timeframe – Ask your partner when they reasonably think they will get to the task in question. Let them tell you what works.
  • Give A Clear Response To Your Partner’s Request – Tell your partner honestly if you can and will do what’s being asked….then follow through.
  • Consider Alternatives – Pick your battles. Maybe it’s better to hire a handyman than to fight over small household tasks?

So, what do you think? Are you a nagger? Or are you more often the nagee? Are you willing to change your approach so that you can have a more happy relationship?

Photo credit: ankakay’s Flickr photostream


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Categories: Marriage


I'm a married publicist who holds a Master's degree in psychology, with a concentration in Marriage and Family Therapy. I'd like to make the world a better relationship at a time.

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10 Comments on “Nagging: The Marriage Killer”

  1. January 26, 2012 at 6:50 pm #

    This is the thing I’m the most conscious of in my relationship! I really don’t want to be a nag, so I just talked to my boyfriend about it and we determined it had a lot to do with the way I asked him to do things. Now, if he notices me taking on a certain tone, he just constructively reminds me of it. We are learning together 🙂

    • January 30, 2012 at 4:24 pm #

      This is great, Kate! I am often very worried about it too.
      There really are ways to come off less like you’re nagging and more like working together. I’m trying to get better at eradicating the “you never” and “you always” type of statements. I admit, it’s not easy…but it make such a great difference if you can make them go away…

  2. January 26, 2012 at 11:59 pm #

    I try to limit my nagging. I hear of a man who called his wife ‘Five Horses’. When asked why, he said because she was a ‘nag, nag, nag, nag, nag’. Of course she called him Barkalounger, or AKA, LazyAssSitsHere. look for the love, T

  3. January 27, 2012 at 3:23 am #

    “Extremely organized, obsessive or anxious people are the most likely to nag their partners. On the flip side, extremely laid back people or those who could be deemed lazy are the most likely to inspire nagging behavior in someone else.”

    Oh, my gosh, this describes my marriage to a T! Thanks for the insight–I know I need to work on my nagging 🙂

    • January 30, 2012 at 4:26 pm #

      I’m in the same boat too! It’s not as easy as it sounds. I personally feel so responsible for our home, our priorities and our goals. I often feel like I’m captaining the ship alone.

      I think it’s important to pull the other person in on why things are important and important to you. I think that insight really helps.

  4. January 27, 2012 at 4:40 pm #

    Guilty as charged….hopefully I am able to limit the nagging with this new relationship “/

    • January 30, 2012 at 4:26 pm #

      Good luck, Emmy!
      We’re all works in progress… 🙂

  5. February 2, 2012 at 7:27 pm #

    Certainly nagging is a relationship killer and I honestly can’t stnad the frequent demands sometimes so it pisses me off. Thank you writing this post!

  6. February 3, 2012 at 2:42 pm #

    Reblogged this on livelonglovelife.

  7. JS
    May 17, 2012 at 4:33 am #

    So how do you deal with a marriage partner who continues to nag the other person after the person was told by the spouse! Children, and counselor? The realizes that constant nagging affects the relationship but continues. Do you stop listening When the nagging starts? DO you ask the person why he or she nagging you? Any helpful strategies?

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