Now that seems counterintuitive until you stop and think about it. Who do we nag? Not the ticket taker at the movie theater, not the speaker at the conference we are attending, not the person making bird houses at the craft fair, not the conductor at the symphony. No, we usually shrug off any annoyances we encounter in those situations, walk away, maybe mutter under our breath, but we don’t nag. We nag at the people we care about, either when we see them doing something that might have bad consequences if they continue a certain behavior, or because we are feeling if they cared as much about us as we do them they would do what we asked when we asked the first time….or at the very least the second or third time we asked.
Hmmmmm. I nag you because I love you? Is this how it really feels?. Like love??? If you are the one being nagged (remember when your kids kept asking if they could have a sleep over after you had just had a really tough week at work and wanted nothing more than a weekend of peace and quiet…..) It doesn’t feel like love. If the nagger really loved you they would understand why you aren’t doing what they are requesting. You are tired, you don’t want to, you would rather…….and so on and so on.
Nagging: Let me count the ways
What do I mean by nagging? While we’d all like to think that our continuous entreaties to get our loved one to behave in a certain manner, do something we want them to do, or stop doing something we don’t want them to do, are a form of nurturing, helpful, motherly love, it more often comes across as a no let up stream of criticism. It sounds like “see what you are not” “see how you have failed….again”. Nagging is the repetition of a request for someone to change a behavior or to do something, ususally by pointing out that this is something that they have NOT done and they have fallen short of an expectation.
Nagging may produce a short term result but you can not nag someone into permanent change says Charles Goodstein, MD, professor of Clinical Psychology at NYU School of Medicine. The results may look positive but for the result to recur the nagging must recur. Why? Dr. Goodstein says that when we nag we are calling attention to something that the person may already feel badly about (not doing what you asked when you asked) and the nagging makes them feel worse but doesn’t necessarily get the results you are looking for. Nagging does not put the recipient in a “giving” mood. In fact it becomes a vicious circle – she nags, he gets irritated, he ignores what she is asking for, she nags more until they both shut down.
Are you or aren’t you?
How can you tell if you are becoming a nag?
- You are increasingly frustrated because you aren’t getting through to your mate inspite of asking, asking, asking.
- Partner is becoming increasingly defensive
- Things bothering you grow in scope and you become more bothered by more things more often. This leads to a more aggressive, nagging, criticism stemming from frustration.
- Irritation is contagious. The more irritated you become the more irritated he becomes so it feels like you need to ask again
The Emotional weight of nagging
Nagging usually symbolizes emotional weight. Delegating work to others when they should know (in our minds) instinctiveely to do it is emotionally exhausting. For example when the trash can is full to overflowing it means it needs to be emptied not be used to test ones skills at balancing one more thing atop it.
I remember slamming out of the door (another way of nagging) ,trash can in hand, after asking my husband (now ex) to please take the trash out while I unloaded the dish washer. He walked out of the room and started reading the paper. When I came back in with an empty trash can he asked why I was upset. When I told him he had just ignored what I asked him to do he said “I didn’t know you meant to do it right then…. I’m not a mind reader.” But he was also NOT a stupid man.
After a while If this “she asks, he ignores” becomes chronic and requests aren’t acted upon the nagger wonders why? “Doesn’t he love me? If he did he would…….(whatever the request is). OR “I can’t trust/depend on him” OR “He/she doesn’t respect what I have to say.” Actually it is usually way out of proportion to the scope of the request and the reason it wasn’t acted on the first time you asked. But it still FEELS like you are not important.
When this becomes a habitual way of communicating it can destroy self esteem, can erode love, and does real harm to a relationship whether it is between couples or parents and children. It can lead to resentment of both parties.
Stop! In the name of Love
So how do we stop this destructive behavior? According to Dr. Harris Stratyner, Mt. Sinai Medical Center we need to use “carefrontation instead of confrontation.” It’s not so much what you say as how you say it. Listen to the difference between “There is a problem…” rather than “You are the problem”. “Carefrontation” puts you both on the same team. “You didn’t….” and “why don’t you ever…..” engenders negative emotion. Most people do not cooperate with increased negativity. Positive reinforcement, showing appreciation, or even using a positive way of stating what’s bothering you get better results. Calmly state what needs to be done and wasn’t done and how you feel about it. This helps stop the nagging or the need for “nagging”.
And last but not least if you find yourself nagging and bickering more than laughing and talking together it’s time to reconnect and have fun. Take time away from the stress of the situation. Go to a movie. Take a walk together. Communicate. Let it go for the moment and remember – These are the people you love.