The Relationship Couch

Nagging: The Blessing in Disguise

A woman nags her husbandAn all too common scenario for me: I get a call from a frantic husband, telling me that his wife just dropped a bomb – she wants to get a divorce. Frequently he’s stunned because he thinks, “Everything is fine.” When they both come into my office, the wife feels disconnected and has felt that way for a long time.

How is it possible that the husband thinks everything is fine while the wife is on the brink of divorce? One key reason is she stopped nagging.

When a wife nags, she’s still invested in the marriage. She cares about how things are run in the house and what needs to get done. She’s aware of her needs and wants, and how the relationship is going. It’s her way of reaching out for support. Often wives tell me they started by asking their husbands for help, but because their requests and eventual pleas went unheeded, they turned to nagging.

When the wife stops nagging, the marriage is in trouble. It’s usually a sign that she has emotionally disengaged herself and that kind of disconnection is difficult to repair. The wives I’ve worked with often say, “I kept asking, then nagged, then gave up.” Once they give up, the husband thinks, “She finally stopped nagging. Things are good.” But during this time, her resentment and anger grow. When she reaches her breaking point, she drops the “divorce” bomb.

Although nagging is a good sign that a wife is engaged in the marriage, this isn’t the best way to handle things. There are a lot of jokes about the “nagging wife,” but I believe we need to take it more seriously. I’ve never met a woman who enjoyed nagging and I’m not an advocate of it either. If this behavior actually worked, you wouldn’t have to keep doing it!

I encourage my couples to hold a “weekly meeting.” Set a specific day and time aside where you and your partner discuss what needs to get done in the upcoming week. If you have a lot going on, meet twice a week to make sure everything gets covered. This puts you on an even playing field where you both know what to expect of each other. Discuss chores, errands, appointments and other logistics. If something has a deadline, be specific about when it needs to get done. Otherwise, respect each other’s schedule and timeline for the week.

It’s not always about the chores, however, but also more meaningful things like unmet needs. For instance, examples of the needs my female clients have asked for from their husbands include being respected in public, wanting more quality time with him, wanting more sex and other physical affection, having more financial control, etc. The husbands commonly responded with brush-offs, minimizing their concerns, or by doing nothing. If your wife is reaching out to you and making a request, it warrants some attention.

Be honest instead of telling her you’ll do something but then you don’t. It erodes the trust between you two that can further propel your wife down the emotional disconnection path.

If nagging is already present in your marriage, to the husbands I have this message: Listen up! What does your wife want? Are her concerns or requests valid? If you know you won’t do what she’s asking, then tell her. I encourage my clients to say either, “Yes and I’ll do it by this time….” or “No, I won’t be able to do that.” Be honest instead of telling her you’ll do something but then you don’t. It erodes the trust between you two that can further propel your wife down the emotional disconnection path. Too often the wife tells me, “I can’t trust him to get anything done” or “I can’t trust that he’ll take care of me emotionally.” This is dangerous for any relationship and you don’t want it to be a part of yours.

Validating a woman’s concerns is an important first step to breaking the nagging cycle. Otherwise she may start shutting off and pulling away, and though you may think everything is ok because she’s finally off your back, she’s actually separating herself from your relationship. Do it before it’s too late.