Is It Nagging … or Is It Motivational Speaking?

by Sally R. Connolly, LMFT and John E. Turner, LMFT

Is it nagging or motivational speaking .... or are you just caught up in a terrible downward spiral going nowhere fast?

That awful nagging cycle of complaining and withdrawing which both partners feeling controlled shows up in many marriages that we see at Couples Counseling of Louisville and couples that we talk with through Counseling Relationships Online.

Nagging, or making the same request over and over again, usually does not get the desired result. Instead, it generally leads to a downward spiral with negative thoughts and feelings about each other and withdrawing, feeling discounted, misunderstood, controlled or unimportant.

Many people don’t realize that nagging can lead to more divorces than affairs because nagging leads to negativity throughout the relationship.

Here is the story of one couple who really started out in a good place. Problems crept in over time as they each set different priorities for their weekends and had different ideas about common marital differences like neatness vs. messiness.

Bill and Suzi’s story

Suzi thought that she and Bill had come to an agreement about how much each would do around the house. Bill committed to helping with chores around the house for one half day every Saturday. He promised to do the vacuuming and the yard work.

 Suzi agreed to laundry, dusting and cooking. As each Saturday rolled around, Bill became less interested in helping out with his portion of the chores and Suzi became more and more frustrated by his lack of team work and follow-through.

At first, Suzi would kindly ask or remind him. When she did, he often felt like she was treating him like a child and he would refuse or just not follow through.

Suzi would feel mad, hurt, disappointed and angry but did not know how to change the way she approached him. She also did not know how to get the changes she wanted.

Soon they were in an awful pattern. The good will eroded and they each believed that the other one was “wrong”.

Nagging can do that to a relationship. It brings on a vicious cycle of complaining and withdrawing, feeling hopeless and controlled.

There are ways to break this nagging cycle. It is easier if both work at it but it is more likely that it will be just one person who will start the process.

Change the Nagging Cycle

1. Name it and claim it. Talk with each other about the pattern. If possible, each can acknowledge their own part of the dance. Awareness is a step in the right direction.

2. Talk together about possible solutions.
Brainstorm ways out of the pattern. Do what you can do to change your own part, don’t try to manage your partner.

3. Recognize that your spouse is not your enemy. Even though it may feel like a power struggle, neither of you really wants that to happen. See your spouse as your fellow problem-solver. Together you can figure out a solution that fits for both of you.

4. Find ways to make requests differently.
Ask in “soft” ways. Remind your partner that you love him and you want to make sure that he understands that you are not being critical. Use “I” statements. Be very specific about what you want.

5. Follow up with appreciation and acknowledgment.
Any time that you notice a difference or an effort on your partner’s part, acknowledge it simply.

Are you headed in the right direction? Check back in with each other to see if you both feel that there has been progress. Discuss your own reaction to the change. Keep it as positive as possible, talking about what you like and want to continue more than what is wrong with the other person.

Share this article with your spouse and see that he or she thinks about these ideas. This is something that you two may be talking about throughout your marriage and you will make a lot more progress if you talk about it in loving ways and scratch your heads together as you look for solutions.

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