Nobody likes to be nagged.
Why don't you ever take out the trash? When are we going to spend real time together? You said you were going to mow the lawn. Why can't you just put the dishes in the dishwasher? You spent HOW much on that? Are you listening to me?
Sound familiar? This is called nagging, a verb Webster's Dictionary defines as "to irritate by constant scolding or urging." One of the main problems with nagging is that pleading/complaining/urging isn't effective and rarely gets "the nagger" what he/she really wants.
"Generally, if you're on the receiving end when someone is nagging, you feel like you're being controlled and asked to submit to someone else's plan for you," life coach Nicole Burley says. "You don't necessarily feel inspired to do that thing on your own."
Even worse is that nagging has serious repercussions for your relationship, leading to less frequent and less satisfying sex. But how do you know if you're a nag or simply asking your partner to help you do something in a reasonable manner? For the person who identifies as "the nagger" in the relationship, it can feel like there's no other option but to nag.
Here are nine signs you're nagging and some helpful tips on how to stop nagging.
1. You ask for something more than twice.
According to relationship expert Margaret Paul, "Requesting what you want from your partner a couple of times is important, but after that, it is NOT helpful." She says the third time you ask your partner to do something, it becomes nagging, not a request.
Try this instead: Instead of voicing your request a third time, the communication gap needs to be addressed head-on.
"Instead of nagging, you need to say, 'I'd like to understand what is happening with this issue. Why is there a problem? Is there a way we can work this out?' And then be open to whatever his response may be."
Dr. Amy Johnson advises that the second request should be in exactly the same tone and manner of the first. Letting judgment slip into your tone will quickly shift the request into nagging territory. She suggests using positive reinforcement as the alternative to nagging. Rather than focusing on what your partner is not doing, put your efforts towards praising what he/she is doing right.
2. Your request isn't really about the dishes.
Nagging can be a form of controlling behavior. "Nagging is a form of control where you keep at someone, trying to get them to do what you want them to do," says Dr. Paul. "Nagging becomes more than a request, but a way to control," Burley adds.
Try this instead: The next time you get upset about an unmet request, ask yourself: What is this really about? It's a common desire to want to control our lives and our partners, but it's ultimately a futile effort based on fear of the unknown. Rather than waste your energy trying to control your partner, practice exploring that fear. Simply acknowledging that you feel fearful is a great first step.
3. Your statements begin with "You..."
Relationship expert Denise Wade says recognizing a "nagging" statement is simple: It starts with the word "you" (e.g. You never mow the lawn. You're supposed to mow the lawn! You always do this). "You" statements are associated with blame and are triggers for putting your partner on the defensive.
Try this instead: Requests start with the word "I" (e.g. "I'd like you to mow the lawn. I'm wondering why you didn't mow the lawn.). "I" statements show you're an active participant in the conversation, not a critic.
4. You feel helpless.
If you're nagging your partner to quit smoking, stop drinking or to put down the cheeseburger and fries, you may feel that your nagging is justified because you're concerned about his or her health.
"We hate feeling helpless," says Dr. Paul. "We'll see someone smoking or eating poorly and it scares us that they're harming themselves, so we want to do something about it. The first time you offer advice, maybe that person will take it. If they don't, you have to accept your helplessness or leave the relationship."
Try this instead: First of all, accept what you do and do not have control over. Say, for example, your partner smokes. "You're scared for the person and love them but you're not going to stop them," says Dr. Paul. Instead, focus on what you can control: your own intentions and behavior within the relationship. Want your partner to take better care of his health? Make sure you are exuding that in your own life first.
5. Your partner acts out.
"People hate to be controlled," Dr. Paul says. "If they feel that they have to give in to a particular situation, then they may put up resistance in another area of your relationship." Your partner may also feel rejected. "If someone is getting nagged, the impression they get is that they're not OK the way they are."
If your partner believes he or she has to do things differently in order to be accepted and loved, he or she might start to retaliate by withdrawing, getting angry, or becoming resentful.
Try this instead: Burley recommends picking your battles with your partner and to become a scientist observing yourself and your relationship. "Observe how often you have an impulse to tell your partner what they're doing wrong or haven't done," she says.
If you feel the urge to criticize, try keeping every other critique to yourself. As Dr. Johnson recommends, try using praise more than criticism. It can feel completely unnatural at first, but the results are more likely to be in line with what you desire than a nagging approach could ever produce.
6. You feel like a parent instead of a partner.
Constant nagging can make your partner feel infantilized and as if they're a disappointment to you. It also makes the nagger feel authoritarian. "When you nag you lose your sense of partnership with the other person. It's like you're wagging your finger at them like a parent or authority figure," Burley says.
Try this instead: If you're arguing about chores or finances, set acceptable standards for maintaining your home or your standard of living so that it will be up to both partners to live up to those expectations. "Ideally, you want to be working towards the same thing so there's no need to nag one another," Burley says.
7. You're neglecting yourself in some way.
If we have to look to someone else to make us happy because we're unfulfilled or incomplete, we're neglecting our own needs, Dr. Wade advises. "Nagging comes from a feeling that we don't have the resources to make ourselves happy," she says. "Someone who is nagging is not focusing on themselves. There's too much time and energy being put on their partner."
Try this instead: Modern psychology tells us that the things we "hate" or "reject" out in the world are actually potentials that we ourselves possess. Do you find yourself chiding your partner for laziness? Can you think of any area in your life where you're lazier than you'd like to be?
Owning up to your own shortcomings and figuring out where you need to do work on yourself will make you a more self-possessed and empowered partner. Luckily, the same goes with the good things we see in the world. Admire your partner's sense of humor? Remember that you have a great one, too, and do your best to bring it out when you are together.
8. Your sex life has taken a turn for the worst.
"Nagging is such a passion killer," says Burley. "You don't want to turn around and hug the person that's been nagging you."
Try this instead: Psychologist Dr. John Grohol recommends two tips for getting your sex life back on track: having open communication and allowing yourself to feel vulnerable. Talk about what's really going on in your relationship without being overly attached to "winning points" in the conversation.
And in allowing yourself to really listen to your partner and share some of your own fears or faults, you'll be putting yourself in a vulnerable position. A position that says "I'm fallible, too." This can be a scary place to be, but the good news it'll make you a more open and receptive lover.
9. You've lost respect for your partner.
The topic that most couples bicker about is surprisingly not money, sex, or even in-laws. The number one topic couples bicker about is their partner's behaviors or attitudes, which hardly sets the stage for a mutually respectful relationship.
"Nagging crosses into a lack of intimacy, lack of trust," Dr. Wade says. "You know you're nagging when you don't trust your partner anymore, when you can't count on them, when you lose respect for them and pull away intimately."
Try this instead: Come to a mutual decision with your partner to drop the barriers you've built. Revisit your deepest desires together and make a vow to work towards them together.
"If you get to the point where you're nagging, it's usually a symptom of a lot of things that have gone wrong," Burley says. "It's a sign of a poor agreement or foundation in your relationship and fractured communication. Communication needs to take place between partners about what your code is going to be about how you live."