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Main | How does a Couple Recover from an Affair? »

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.

References (2)

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