We have all heard the complaint – “my wife is such a nag,” or the proclamation “stop nagging me!” as the poor, frustrated husband rolls his eyes and tries to get away. But what is a nagging wife, really?
The dictionary defines nagging as “continually faultfinding, complaining, or petulant” and referring to a woman as a nag, or a spouse as a nagging wife, is a common stereotype that goes back decades. Although it is seen as an insult or derogatory characterization, most men when asked are likely to say “yes, my wife has nagged me.” But does that make her a “nagging wife?”
What Does It Mean When You Say Your Wife “Nags?”
Picture this: Wife says to husband, “Can you pick up your clothes in the bathroom?” Husband says, “Sure.” An hour later wife says, “I asked you to pick up your clothes.” Husband says, “I said I will. I will get to it.” Now, two hours after the original request wife angrily grabs the clothes and says, “You said you would pick up your clothes! Was that too much to ask? I guess I have to do everything for you!” Husband, looking irritated says, “Can you just stop nagging me?!” Sound familiar?
So is the wife nagging? Well, that depends upon your perspective and whether you have good communication skills or poor ones.
It is possible that the husband fully intended to pick up his clothes but hadn’t gotten to it yet. Perhaps he intended to do it next time he was in the bathroom. It is also likely that the wife intended for the clothes to be picked up within minutes of her request and only got frustrated and angry when it took so long.
The problem here is the level of communication. The wife did not clarify her expectation and the husband never clarified his intention. The result is that both ended up frustrated and the wife, who asked for the same thing to be done more than once, is seen by the husband as a nagging wife.
Do Men Nag?
Absolutely. Although the term nagging is typically applied to women, it is something that men do as well. A man who nags is often referred to as demanding or domineering, and masculine nagging may literally sound a bit different as well. A nagging wife might whine or plead, whereas a husband may yell and demand. So, while women are considered irritating when they nag, men are often looked upon as tyrannical, controlling or having anger issues. Part of this is owed to the nuances when it comes to the way each gender speaks and communicates, but overall the effect of repetitive fault-finding and complaining is the same, and both men and women can be guilty.
Can Nagging Harm A Relationship?
Yes and no. It isn’t the nagging per se’ that causes the problems, but rather the underlying communication issues that make the nagging occur.
Consider the scenario above. By the time the offending clothes had been picked up by the wife she was feeling disrespected by her husband and put in a subservient role. While the husband on the other hand was feeling picked at and as though his wife was being unnecessarily controlling. The result is a couple frustrated with one another in a way that could have been completely avoided.
Breakdown in communication is one of the most common causes of marital problems. “He just doesn’t understand” and “she doesn’t get me” are frequent complaints. Dr. Kurt hears things like this in his practice quite often. According to him,
It's important to understand all of the reasons why your wife nags, which could be about much more than just what she says to justify it. While nagging is a poor communication method, it can be driven by a partner having a pattern of making promises and not delivering. Commonly partners will complain that their significant other won't do what they say they will do, doesn't get tasks completed, and that they can't rely on them. This results in feeling disrespected, ignored, unimportant, overburdened and unloved. These are just some of the feelings that fuel nagging and make it about more than just wanting to be in control. Similarly, the husband can have feelings that contribute to his lack of cooperation as the vicious cycle of nagging by her and ignoring by him spins the relationship out of control.”
Communication can breakdown at any point in a relationship. It doesn’t, however, have to signal the end of what was a happy marriage.
Lives get busy and people, especially couples, are prone to making a lot of assumptions about what others understand from their communication. At the beginning of a relationship couples are more likely to take the time to ensure they understand one another. As the relationship matures, and especially after years together with life, kids and work, the need to make that effort can be completely overlooked.
How Do You Get Her (or you) To Stop Nagging?
There is no formula or magic words for breaking this habit or the communication cycle that created it. Changing a person’s propensity to nag as a means to get results will need both people to consider the way they are handling the things that trigger it. It will require patience and willingness for both parties to listen and modify behavior, and that can be one of the biggest challenges.
At its best this communication breakdown will need a reset. Couples will have to take some time to step back and reevaluate how they communicate and start making the effort at working together again. If it goes on too long, this breakdown can lead to hurtful statements and resentment. These things can be harder and take much longer to get over. In this case it may even take the help of a counselor to get back on track.
People often become defensive when told they need to change, especially with a behavior like nagging. Because it comes down to communication skills it seems personal, and can be easy for each person, nagger and naggie, to feel like they are justified in the way they are handling things. Being told they’re part of the problem can be hard to accept. Once they realize that they each need to make changes, having the patience to do so will require effort and take time.
So do you really have a nagging wife? Perhaps. But it is very possible that you contribute to her behavior. It is equally as likely that you are doing the same thing yourself - it is just called something different. Regardless, nagging in any of its forms is not a useful communication method in a marriage or any other relationship. It is however, a clear sign that you need to take a closer look at the way you and your spouse are communicating overall. Just try not to nag each other as you do so.
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