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New insights from Carolyn Kelley North, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist




How to Manage a Nagging Spouse?

How do you handle a nagging spouse?

Does your husband inform you about better ways to load the dishwasher?  Does your wife keep bugging you to go to the gym with her?  Does your partner tell you over and over about the same complaint?  Why is this happening and how can you get it to stop?

Case in point: James and Lydia came to my office - they both agreed that they got along well, except for one thing – she nagged him and/or he didn’t listen.  His point of view was that she was beginning to  sound like his mother.  Lydia felt that she wasn’t being heard and that James was behaving like a rebellious teen.  Why do people nag?  Well, there are a number of reasons for the nagger/nagged relationship. 

Some of the common reasons people nag:The person who nags doesn’t feel heard.  When someone feels heard, they feel a resolution has been achieved and the issue is behind them.  Ideally they won’t feel the need to bring up the issue again.

How do you help the other person feel heard?  First use good listening skills.

  •  Sit down, set aside the phone or other distractions and really look at your partner. 
  • Repeat what you’ve heard – “I know you want me to put away my dirty clothes and that you feel frustrated.” 
  • Ask if you understand what the problem by checking it out.  “Do I have it right or is there more to it than that?”  If there is more to it, keep repeating what you’ve heard until he or she says, “Yep, that’s about it” or “You’ve got it.”
  • Empathize!  Point out anything that you agree with, no matter how small.  “You’re right, we both work the same hours and it isn’t your job to pick up after me.” Or “You have a point, it is irritating to have a messy house.”
  •  Add in that you will try to change the behavior… and really try.
  1. Look inward.  Are you really hearing him or her?  Why aren’t you changing a behavior that’s bothering your partner?  Has anyone else ever felt this way about you?
  2. It’s about control and anxiety - If you changed this behavior would there be a new topic to nag about?  If so, then it’s a different topic.   It could be about them trying to manage you, belittle you, and feel like they have impact on their environment.   Perhaps consult a therapist to get to the bottom of it.  Control, power, anger, resentment, anxiety…it is important to diagnose the underlying cause.
  3. There’s a bigger issue involved - Is there an underlying resentment that isn’t being voiced?  Is this a symbol for something else going on in your relationship?  Maybe it isn’t the fact that you left your socks on the ground, it’s that you haven’t worked in a year.  Maybe the nagging is really underlying anger because you had an affair or that you haven’t had sex in a month.  Ask your partner if there is anything else bothering him or her.  Be open to the discussion and don’t defend, take the opportunity to learn what’s happening from their point of view.  Don’t make a counter attack – be a detective and stay on point – their point.

Discuss your perspective about the situation:

  • “I always thought I took care of the outside and your took care of the inside.”
  • “I do a lot around the house and we have different specialties.  We compensate for each other’s deficits and that’s what makes us a team.”
  • “I know you want me to do X, I hear you loud and clear, but sometimes I forget because I’m not perfect.”
  • “I feel like I do a lot around the house and you never focus on what I do well.” 
  • Have them use the listening skills.

Once you feel you understand the problem’s cause, try to think of a solution. 

  • Is there a better process?  eg. What about putting the dirty clothes bin next to the shower?  Can you put extra one by the dresser? 
  • Discuss the “real” issue vs. sniping about picky issues.  Address the extended family problem.  Stick to the budget or change it if it is unrealistic.  Work on an improved sex life.
  • You can’t change them, you can only change yourself.  Focus on being the best partner you can be and let the other person do with it what they will.  If you try your best and it still isn’t good enough, then maybe it is time to re-evaluate the relationship.

How does a Couple Recover from an Affair?

You’ve just found out that your spouse has cheated.  Or maybe your partner just discovered that you had an affair.  The victim of the affair is angry, hurt, devastated and confused.  The cheater is feeling guilty, defensive and scared.  Where do you go from here?  How do you move on? 

If it’s the first time this has happened, it changes the victim’s whole understanding of the relationship.  If it has happened before, then the hard won return of trust is shattered.  Whether it is a fresh wound or an injury to an old scar – learning of an affair is devastating for everyone involved.  *

So, where do you go from here?  Here are 8 points to help you craft your recovery as a couple.


  • Full disclosure!  The cheater needs to describe what happened in detail.  The details include how he met her, who she was, how did it develop, over what time period, how many times and were there others.  Was he in love with the other woman?  Is he still?  Was the sex similar or different?  This is relevant to find out if there are sexual acts that he’d like to incorporate into his relationship with his partner.  The victim should not react strongly during this discussion or she will risk losing valuable information to her recovery.  Ask questions, explore circumstances, but don’t scream – you can do that later.

 The details of the sex aren’t useful to discuss.  Too many details can create traumatic images for the victim.  The broad strokes are useful- we had sex outside or enjoyed specific positions - these details are helpful to consider incorporating them into the relationship. 

Don’t gloss over the details because it will prevent the healing from beginning – don’t minimize, tell half truths or say it was the best sex ever.  Be factual without making negative comments about your partner.  Once there is a full understanding of how this happened and who it happened with, you can move onto the next stage of healing.

Some things that will keep you stuck are speaking in generalities about the affair.  Some men will want the fewest words possible.  “It wasn’t a big deal, I’m sorry and it won’t happen again.” Or “We had sex, it was a mistake and you don’t know her.”  Or “I’ve apologized, let’s just move on.”  These are examples of statements that will keep a couple stuck in the first stage of recovery.  It will lead to detective work on the side of the victim to find out the details – which will further damage the relationship.  Provide up front details at the beginning and apologize.


  • The Victim needs to be fully heard.  Why is it hard to move on?  Because the victim often wants the cheater to know exactly how she feels.  The cheater needs to listen, without interrupting, reflect back what they’ve heard and keep listening until the victim feels fully understood.  Studies show that the number one reason people hold a grudge is because the perpetrator hasn’t taken the time to hear their grief and verbalize understanding and apologies.  There needs to be a time limit on this or it can become a weapon in which the cheater is subjected to months of rage that keeps both parties stuck.  If you seem to be at this point, try to determine a timeline for the expression of rage – it’s okay to feel anger at different times in recovery, but it’s important to try to move forward if the relationship is to heal.


  •  The cheater needs to end the cheating relationship.  This should be done in the presence of his partner – ideally on speaker phone.  Keep it short and factual.  The victim should not be active in the conversation; screaming or other degrading behavior is not useful.  Perhaps a simple comment, such as “Stay out of our marriage” is acceptable, but beyond that it can get ugly.


  • Transparency!  There needs to be transparency, in all areas, to encourage the development of trust.  Don’t have burner cell phones, extra email or social media accounts.  Provide the passwords to all of your accounts and be open to the victim’s access.  Have bank statements and credit card statements available to both parties, as these create a paper trail for an affair.  Be where you say you’re going to be and do what you say you’re going to do.  Don’t lie about anything, because it is a further violation of trust.  If someone hits on you, don’t enjoy the attention but start talking about your wife and then tell your partner about the interaction and how you handled it.  Don’t flirt and play the victim, treat the opposite sex like you would a sister or male pal.  If you wouldn’t behave around your spouse in a certain way, then don’t do it when she isn’t there.


  • Commit to preventing future affairs.   What made you vulnerable?  Where were you when you first had contact with this person?  Had you been drinking or cruising online?  Were you out of town?  Was it a workplace environment?  Once you answer these types of questions you will develop of “Relapse Prevention Plan. “


  • Relapse Prevention Plan is a plan in which you look at triggers for affair (eg. drinking, being out of town, arguments in the relationship…) and how to cope without cheating.  When these triggers occur, you know that you are vulnerable to cheating.  Develop a plan for each trigger that will prevent another affair.  Decide, as a couple, how to handle the situations – this will make you feel like a team again.  For example, if you met the other woman while out of town on business, then consider measures to help you during those times.  The measure could include inviting your partner on trips if appropriate, checking in early or avoiding late night outings or partying.  Tell the victim how she can help – give her a positive role in the plan and work together.  Celebrate your successes!


  • Behaviors the victim should avoid.  The victim needs to be aware that some behaviors, while understandable, aren’t good for a relationship.  They include:

Playing detective – don’t check up, follow him, track his cell phone after the first few weeks or month.  If he is having an affair again, it will come out, but these behaviors will drive the cheater away and become a self fulfilling prophecy.  Initially, yes, it is appropriate and understandable, but after a month you are beating yourself up and risk becoming obsessed.  You can’t control him and have a healthy relationship.

Being a victim or a martyr.  “Poor me” or behaving like a doormat doesn’t make you a better person.  No one likes a doormat.  Pick yourself up, shake yourself off and be the strong woman you know you are.  Be the best partner you can be - if your partner cheats again, you’ll know you did everything you could for the relationship.  

Using the affair as a weapon in an argument.  You two are arguing about a topic–say where you are going on vacation - please stay on point.  Stick to the topic of vacations and compromises that are win-win.  Don’t devolve into statements like “You should go wherever I want to go, after all you’ve put me through.” Or “We’re going to Tahiti and that’s that.  You owe me.”   Eventually the cheater will get sick of this false power you hold and begin to resent you – which is a relationship killer.
Refusing to look at their own role in the affair.  Be aware of what you might have contributed to the marital schism.  The goal is to have the best relationship possible and not to be “right” to his “wrong”.  It isn’t the victims fault, but there might be changes needed to make to improve the relationship.  Better communication, more sex, more couple time, getting the kids out of the bed – these are all examples of ways the victim can assess their needs and work on enhancing their relationship.  This should be done with the partner.


  • Marriage counseling.  The affair is a symptom of something.  It could be a symptom that the cheater is narcissistic or that he has impulse control issues or a drinking problem.   An affair might be a symptom of specific marriage problems that need to be addressed.  Marriage counseling is a good starting point to determine what caused the affair and how to prevent it from happening again.  After a full analysis, then individual therapy might be indicated to address individual issues.  Marital therapy will help you both be happy in your marriage and prevent these problems from returning.  The goal is to make the relationship so strong, that no one and nothing can come between the two of you again.




* We all know that women are equal opportunity offenders, but for easier reading we will refer to the cheater as male and the victim as female.  Furthermore, it is understood that it can take two to create an environment ripe for affairs, but, let’s keep it simple by 


Marital Counseling

As a therapist who has been treating couples since 1992, I’ve learned a thing or two about what brings couples together and what tears them apart.  I’ve applied this understanding to my practice with couples in conflict.  There are many goals that therapists seek to enhance their client’s relationship: improving communication and conflict resolution skills, trust issues, family of origin issues…to name a few.  These are all important!  But more than anything, I think that the friendship and spark need to be rekindled and the anger and resentment needs to be released.

If your partner has stopped being your friend and has become your enemy, then why would you want to work on the relationship?  With my approach, your partner becomes your friend again and we leave the past in the past…but only after it has been resolved!  I have seen an 86% success rate with my clients.  What I count as success are people who are still together after the end of therapy and have found joy in their relationships again!

Does any of this sound like something you want?  Of course!  “But it’s expensive,” people will say.  Yes, it is, but I have programs to help people afford the treatment:  8 session packages, reduced fees for those in need.  The help is here, but it does require a commitment.  After all, what is the cost of divorce?  What is the cost of a wedding?  What is the cost to your children?  The treatment you would receive is a small percentage of these costs. 

I have written a book on relationships which will be available soon at your local book retailer.  But in the meantime feel free to call with questions, comments or to schedule an appointment.