September 10, 2009

Nagging: Why we do It , How to Stop

Nagging: Why  Why we do it and What to do about it

Nagging is something we’re all familiar with, but, if not controlled, nagging can generate intense resentment in a marriage and be the source of major problems. Today we’re going to offer some help.

What is nagging ?

The kind of nagging we are discussing today is neither the tooth ache nor the teasing variety. Nagging in a relationship, that is the repetitious and annoying complaining is an ineffective and aggravating form of you-statement communication.

It should also be noted that not all nagging is the same. Some nagging comes out of situation where an a agreement has been broken. (e.g., you said you’d take out the garbage but it’s been three days.)  A different kind of nagging arises when there is no deal. Here,a person attempts to manipulate and control another person into doing what s/he doesn’t want to do with endless complaining. (e.g. you drive to fast, slow down, you drink too much, etc. )

Why do we nag ?

Broken deal nagging occurs because a person is frustrated and doesn’t know what else to do. It is helpful to understand the psychology of why the deals are broken.  Psychologically, the one who defaults on the agreement exhibits what is called passive aggressive or conflict avoidant behavior, i.e. that person makes a deal but doesn’t follow through. This person often has trouble expressing anger directly or with open disagreements.

In the first instance anger is indirectly expressed by withholding a desired behavior and in the second, insincerely agreeing to the deal avoids (postpones) having a conflict with his/her spouse. Depending on how serious the problem is, conflict avoidant individuals can be difficult to deal with and may need professional help.

In the second example,(non deal nagging) the nagger is trying to manipulate the other person with an annoying behavior in the hope that he will simply give in and do what s/he wants. In this case the nagger suffers from anxiety and control issues.

How to handle nagging ?

Remember nagging doesn’t work. Rather than nagging, employing consequences is a better alternative. When folks make a deal, the consequences of defaulting on the agreement need to be clearly understood and enforced. If nagging is the only consequence of not following through, many are willing to endure nagging rather than having a direct discussion of the conflict.  Just as the naggee wishes to avoid confrontation or anger, it is important to understand that that nagger wants to avoid a direct conflict as well.

Ironically the prescription for dealing with someone who suffers from anxiety and feels out of control is roughly the same for the anger or conflict avoidant type person.  Not attacking, identifying the feeling (anxiety) and need (to be in control) can often return the nagger to a more reasonable place where a compromise can be reached. When compromise can’t be found, shrugging seems to be the best response to unrelenting complaints.

How to avoid nagging

  1. Be clear and explicit about agreements and consequences.

        2.  Be direct and address (employ consequences) when agreements have been broken.                                                                                                                               

        3.Use I-statements – Don’t attack your partner. Tell your partner what you feel and what you need.

        4. Decode / Empathize – try to understand what both you and your partner feels ( anxiety ) and wants (control or to avoid anger and conflict).    

        5. Be realistic – Understand what you can control (yourself) and what you can not,(your partner).

These remarks were prepared for Bridge Street by the Rev. Michael Heath, LMHC, 9 10 2009  

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