Surprise, your partner doesn’t care about dirty dishes. Nagging might mean they’re worried about core issues in your partnership, but don’t know how to tell you.
Nagging, repetitious behavior is not very productive and yet I hear it all the time: “Why does she nag?” and “I’m so sick of asking him over and over and over. I feel like I’m just nagging and not getting anywhere.” And so it goes, round and round, women feeling like dogs chasing their tails, and men hiding in the storm cellar waiting for the storm to pass. Maybe you start to tune out and feel as though you can never measure up.
If you feel nagging is killing your relationship, how do you bring this up in a productive way?
1. Recognize that despite what you think, she probably does not derive any pleasure from nagging.
Underneath the surface, a core need is causing her angst. Maybe this was normal behavior for her parents. Maybe she has a long list of inattentive partners littering her past. There are a million variables and I’m not asking you to allow these as excuses, but chances are, her behavior isn’t exactly something she’s proud of.
2. Do you know what her core values are? Have you, as a couple, sat down at some point when things started to get serious and made them known?
I cannot stress this enough. Part of the problem with managing and living up to the expectations of others lies with the fact that we tend to focus on specific behaviors and every perceived infraction, instead of broad concepts that highlight and clarify what our true needs are.
Let me share my personal “true needs” as an example:
- Honesty – transparency
- Loyalty – respect
- Equality – partnership
- Coping – not using drugs as a crutch
- Mutual desire – physical expression
- Patience and forgiveness
Over-under-toilet-paper-debate be damned, these are my guiding principles. There is no situation important enough to me that cannot be boiled down to fall under one of these core values. If it can’t, it probably is not worth my time.
If you and your partner have such a template that lays out exactly what it is you need, you may find that living within those principles leaves little room for nonsense. Build your own list and encourage her to do the same.
Some real-life examples of getting to the core issues:
- Your partner is mad that when it was “your turn” to fold the laundry, it never happened. Is it really about the laundry, or does this fly in the face of her definition of partnership? It’s not truly about the fact the shirts are wrinkled up in the dryer, I would bet. Instead of fighting about it, simply ask how she can be assured that partnership does matter to you. If it’s a chore you despise, be upfront about your feelings and ask if there is another way you can show her that you are committed to meeting the needs of the partnership as a whole.
- Your partner saw you browsing on the computer in incognito-mode. Is she mad because she can’t fathom a world in which an attached man may be sexually stimulated by the sight of another person, or does she feel there may be underlying honesty issues that are going to come back to bite her? Chances are, it’s the latter.
Sure, there may be a sting of jealousy or a little spark of competition depending on her personal views. Every woman has different feelings towards this subject and I will certainly not profess that there are clear guidelines on the wrong or right way to feel, but it’s generally the sting of being lied to itself that is the real catalyst for our feelings of betrayal. Other factors may be at play that aren’t helping matters. What if such a situation were to occur at a time when you haven’t been as physically affectionate towards your partner, for instance? Would it make a difference? She may feel some mutual-desire is slipping, leaving her to wonder if your fantasies are more important. But the core issue remains, and that’s trust and transparency no matter how you dice it. If you catch her nagging about computer time late at night, try and connect those dots to current issues in your relationship and recent episodes where your relationship has lacked intimacy.
- Its Wednesday evening and you crack a beer. You’ve cracked a beer every day after work this week and she’s not impressed. “Why do you always need to do that?” she asks. You instinctively fire back “Are you really going to nag me about this, like a child?” Next thing you know, some toes are stepped on and you’re in the doghouse. What is this really about? Is it about the beer, or do you come from different backgrounds where you can “lean on” alcohol occasionally and your partner just doesn’t see it that way? Everybody has their own views on the use of alcohol, but if there is a reason for her nagging (be it an alcoholic family member or bad experience in the past), it’s probably because your partner fears you may lack coping mechanisms.
3. Talk to her About it Like a Friend
The key is not to attack. As humans, the fight or flight response is natural and the key is not to trigger it.
It is always my advice to my friends, time and time again, to worry more about defining your core values and getting to the heart of your true expectations in love, than to come up with a long laundry list you’ll both get tired of fighting about. There is a non-abrasive way of putting this to your partner from a place of friendship.
A mantra in our home is this: “I have a short list, but a firm one.” It’s simple enough for both of us to remember, but deep enough that the message is pretty clear to one another: “I’m not asking for much, and I won’t ask for much, but what I am going to ask for means the world to me.” Of course, this mantra is a two-way street. You should never fear asking the same of your partner.
4. Patience and Forgiveness
This is one of my core relationship values for good reason. Don’t forget to ask for it. Neither of you are perfect, but you need to try and take the high road as often as you can. Sometimes asking for patience and forgiveness is a gesture far more powerful than simply saying “sorry.”
5. Hear Compliments/Give Compliments
If Marry Poppins is right and a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, then damn it, a compliment can go a long way. Be sure to hear them and be sure to give them freely with your partner. You will find that getting into this habit helps serve as the antidote when the odd bit of difficulty arises. World renowned couples psychologist, Dr. John Gottman, advises couples to aim for five positive interactions for every one negative, and he has devoted his professional career to the subject of love and contentment in relationships. I’m going to trust him on that.
Remember, focusing on the core issues at play will not only give your relationship the benefit of consistent messaging, but tackling things from a grounded place of reasonable expectations will set a precedent that positions your relationship to better deal with things from a place of tact and emotional maturity. It’s not easy. It may not even be natural. But make the choice and be consistent about it, then watch the fruits of your labor ripen.
If you can gently encourage these things, it may take some work, but the tides will turn in your favor.
Persistent nagging and feeling as though we fail to meet our partner’s expectations is not an issue in which we should fight fire with fire. The true solutions lies in understanding each other’s needs.
Unedited Photo: Flickr/epSos .de