New research indicates that poor communication in marriage, like nagging, is more toxic to the health of a couple’s marriage than infidelity or financial problems. In fact, it is this type of negative communication that can end a marriage.
If nagging is so harmful to relationships, then why do we keep doing it? Some people nag because what they consider important does not get taken care of by their spouse, and their method of addressing it is to repeat what they want, over and over again, and more urgently over time. Unfortunately, their spouse reacts in the exact opposite way that they had hoped; instead of wanting to take care of the issue they become resentful and withholding and are less likely to complete the task at hand. What happens then? More nagging-creating a cycle of negative communication in marriage.
Who Tends to Nag?
Those with obsessive, anxious personalities are the most likely to nag since they are planners, notice small defects, and want to fix things as quickly as possible. Women also tend to nag more often than men, as they are more often in charge domestically and may want more help from their spouses. Unfortunately, nagging is not the way to establish good communication in marriage.
Nagging can be a prime contributor to divorce, as couples that have this type of negative communication in their marriage have a higher probability of ending the marriage. Couples who report being unhappy in their marriage five years into marriage have a 20% increase in negative communication patterns consistent with nagging, and a 12% decrease in positive communication.
How to Communicate in Marriage Without Nagging
Fortunately, couples can learn to communicate effectively without nagging. The following tips can help:
Try to stay calm
Your marriage and relationship are more important than whatever you are asking your partner to do. It is important to work as a team and change patterns of negative communication in marriage. As such, stay calm and ask nicely. Also, you can respond calmly and maturely when asked or nagged.
Explain why the request is important
Explaining why you need something done can help. Saying, ‘It is important for me that the garden looks nice when your family comes over,’ works far better than, ‘You never mow the lawn.’
Set a reasonable timeframe
You may think is it reasonable to ask for something to be done and have your spouse attack the task immediately. Your spouse may not see things the same way. Let your partner know when you would like the task done, and give them enough time to do it without feeling rushed.
Remember you are asking for a favor!
It is always easier to get someone to do something for you when you remember that you are asking them to do something that they do not have to do, even if you feel that they should offer to help without being asked. Adjusting your tone and perspective can help.
Try to look at it from your spouse’s point of view
Remember that no one likes feeling nagged, unappreciated and controlled. On the other hand, if you are the spouse being nagged, try to remember that your spouse wants to work as a team and may just want a little bit of extra help from you.
Make sure your expectations are realistic
Does this task really need to be done now? Does your spouse have to be the one to do it? If your spouse is not responding to your requests, you may have to stop asking for a while.
As unfair as it might sound, it is important to know when to stop. If a negative pattern of communication in marriage is escalating, it is far more important to break it than to continue an ugly power struggle that threatens the marriage. Whatever the task is, it is ultimately less important than your marriage.
Consider other options
Sometimes it is just easier to get a handyman, plumber, or maid to do the extra work. The fight may not be worth it.
Marriage Counseling in Orange County Can Improve Your Communication in Marriage
Jennifer De Francisco, MPA, MSW, LCSW is a Newport Beach couples counselor who serves Irvine and the Orange County area. She specializes in relationship and marriage counseling. Please call her at (949) 251-8797 to schedule an appointment or schedule an appointment on her website.