There was a retired military officer who loved fishing. Once when in his boat he heard a voice say ‘pick me up’. He looked around and found no one. He heard it again and noticed a frog floating on the top. ‘Pick me up, then kiss me, I’ll turn into the most beautiful woman you have ever seen. I will be your bride and everyone will be envious’ said the frog. He merely picked it up and put it in his pocket. The frog persisted. The officer told her, ‘I had rather like having a talking frog than a nagging wife!
The dictionary meaning of nagging for purpose of this article is ‘constantly harassing someone to do something’. Every household experiences this where one partner tries to dominate the other subconsciously, or while trying to get a point across. The word, derived from the Scandinavian nagga, means “to gnaw”. Nagging is as old as families. Solomon the Wise in all his wisdom, with his thousand wives, laments, ‘a nagging wife goes on and on like the drip drip of the rain’ and he continues in his book Proverbs, that “it’s better to stay outside on the roof of your home than to live inside with a nagging wife”.
The nag factor
To be honest, almost all of us are nags, without even realising it. And the worst part, your partner may be dealing with your nagging silently, until one day, he/she decides to react. Women are more likely to nag both men and women, while men are more likely to nag only men, studies show. Perhaps the reason why women are stereotyped as nagging people all the time.
Nagging, in interpersonal communication, is repetitive behaviour in the form of pestering, hectoring, or otherwise continuously urging an individual to complete previously discussed requests or act on advice.
Nagging by spouses is a common marital complaint. Husbands’ nagging usually involves finding ‘fault with their dinner, with the household bills or with the children’, along with ‘carrying home the worries of business’. Like any facet of a relationship, nagging is a two-way street.
Wall Street Journal reporter, Elizabeth Bernstein defines nagging as “the interaction in which one person repeatedly makes a request, the other person repeatedly ignores it and both become increasingly annoyed”. Thus it is a form of persistent persuasion, more repetitive than aggressive, and an interaction to which each party contributes.
“Nagging takes the form of verbal reminders, requests, and pleas”, according to a therapist. “You can say it in a number of different ways, but when you say it over and over again, that constitutes nagging.” Though initially the nagging interaction starts out in a calm and polite manner, it is more likely to become aggressive in nature as the persuader becomes more repetitive.
Psychotherapist Edward S. Dean, M.D. finds individuals who nag often ‘weak, insecure, and fearful … their nagging disguises a basic feeling of weakness and provides an illusion of power and superiority’. Most naggers don’t even know they nag – they think their nagging helps, explains Weiner-Davis, family therapist. “A helpful reminder becomes a stinging nag when the person who is being nagged gets offended. How the behaviour gets labeled depends on how the person hears it, not on how the person who says it, feels.”
Jamie Turndorf, PhD, a couple’s therapist opines, “Because many women find it difficult to directly communicate their needs, they fall into the fatal trap of whining and nagging about what they aren’t getting rather than directly stating what they want, need, or expect from their partner. Unfortunately, that doesn’t put a man into a giving mood, and a vicious cycle is born: The more her man starves her of what she wants, the more she nags and the less likely he is to be responsive to her wishes.”
Warns Turndorf, “Modern danger is no longer the ferocious tiger. It’s the angry wife or girlfriend. When she comes at him baring her teeth, berating him with criticisms, and nagging his head off, his body sees danger and switches into the fight-flight mode. Since he doesn’t want to fight her, he flees instead.” Heather Hatfield, freelance health writer, suggests that instead we find more effective ways to communicate in a relationship, and leave the nagging behind.
“Try taking action and skip the nagging” suggests Weiner-Davis, “Active listening skills allow couples to learn how to talk to each other in such a way that they are heard. Too often, when couples talk to each other about heated issues, they are too busy defending themselves. Nagging isn’t necessary if they can learn the tools for fair fighting, and both spouses can be heard. When the urge to nag strikes, focus on the positive experiences you’ve had in the past with your partner, when something other than nagging elicited the response you were looking for. Learn from that situation, and change future situations accordingly so you don’t need to nag.”
“Start out by doing what your spouse is asking to you to do – that might nip it in the bud,” Weiner-Davis says. “Another alternative would be for the person who is getting nagged to avoid getting angry or nasty, which doesn’t work well. Instead, have a heart-to-heart about what it feels like to be constantly hounded about something, but in a loving way, instead of a defending way.” When these techniques fail, or when nagging consumes a relationship, therapy might help.
“Bottom line: Good relationships are based on mutual care taking,” says Weiner-Davis. “You really have to look out for your spouse. You have to put your spouse’s needs before your own and that might mean doing something you’re not really crazy about doing. And when you have to nag, that’s a sign mutual care-taking is not happening.”