I'll never forget the first time my husband, David, accused me of being a nag. To hear that word come out of his mouth was upsetting, even disturbing. In my newlywed mind, I thought I would never end up like that ... and so soon after our wedding, too!
I don't want to nag; I really don't—sometimes I even get on my own nerves. But there are times when I feel if I don't continually remind David about washing the car or finishing the cabinets, the job just won't get done.
It seems I'm not alone. I polled several married friends to find out why they nag. Here are some of their answers:
- "When I decide something needs to be done, I have a hard time waiting for it to be completed."
- "I get frustrated that things aren't getting done when and how I want them."
- "I nag my husband when I am not confident that he will follow through on something I've asked him to do."
- "I nag when my husband isn't meeting or validating my needs."
Each one of these women basically said the same thing: "I have a need, and it's not being met when and how I want it to be."
For a long time, I couldn't figure out why my husband didn't understand this. I thought of nagging as "reminders" or "motivation." But when I asked David for his explanation, he agreed with the more descriptive definition in Merriam-Webster's dictionary: "To find fault incessantly."
Ouch. That's not the kind of wife I want to be. I want to be loving, kind, patient, supportive; not someone who complains all the time.
It's no wonder the book of Proverbs scorns nagging wives with words like, "The contentions of a wife are a constant dripping" (19:13b), and "It is better to live in a corner of a roof than in a house shared with a contentious woman" (21:9). That last image is a powerful reminder to my friend Alicia who said, "When I feel the urge to 'lovingly remind' my husband of what he should be doing, the Holy Spirit shows me a picture of him on the right corner of our roof, in the rain, with his knees drawn up to his chin ... not a pretty picture!"
Indeed. I certainly don't want David to feel that way. Home should be a warm and loving place, and when my husband gets home from work, I want him to look forward to being there, not despise it.
Four ways to be nag free
Believe it or not, there is a way we wives can have our needs met and still be nag free. At first, it's difficult to embrace this shift in thinking, but with some practice, I think you'll find that these suggestions will make life easier for the whole family.
1. Let go of control. At times I feel the sole responsibility of life has fallen on my shoulders, and it's my job to make sure everything gets done. It seems if I don't nag, my family won't do their jobs, and everything will fall to pieces. Ever feel that way?
As I probed to find the motivation behind my nagging, I discovered that it came down to one powerful factor—fear of losing control. Angie Peters, author of several women's Bible studies and the book Celebrate Home, confirms that feeling in her own life:
My nagging can probably be traced back to times when I don't trust my husband and/or a constant need to be "in control." I'm not confident that he will follow through on something I've asked him to do because he's forgotten before.
When I think about it, it's sad how quickly I forget the million and one things he always remembers to do without my reminders, my thanks, or even my recognition—but I still let the fear that he won't follow through cause me to keep harping at him.
Nagging is fueled by fear, and we're afraid that things are not going to get done when and how we want them to be. For example, if guests are coming over on Sunday, I want the lawn to be mowed before they come. If the lawn isn't mowed on Friday, I start nagging. If it's not done on Saturday, I go into panic-nagging, hoping there's still time.
I gave this scenario to my husband, explaining, "I'm afraid the lawn might not get mowed in time."
To which he replied, "So what? It's not the end of the world!"
Good point. Many of us wives need to learn to let go of some things. So the floor is dirty? So the grass is long? So a light bulb is burned out? Life goes on. Not everything has to be the way you want it, when you want it. I'm ashamed to think how many fights I might have avoided by letting go of little things.
2. Talk to your husband about your needs. There are times when things can't be overlooked, when wives really do need husbands to do something important, like pay the bills on time or make sure the kids aren't late for school—things that have real consequences.
There are also times when we want our husbands to do something extremely important to us personally. Karon explains, "When my husband doesn't place the same importance on something that is important to me, it makes me feel second-string to the other things that he's doing instead."
These needs are legitimate, but your husband can't read your mind—men generally think differently than women. At these times, you need to tell him what's important to you and how his actions (or lack thereof) make you feel. Find a time that's convenient for you both, and then discuss your needs. Try not to fuss or fight, but rather, come to a compromise to resolve the issues.
It's also important to remember that husbands do forget things—they are only human, just like you. When they fail to fulfill your expectations, they aren't always disregarding your needs or feelings. Bobbie Thornton of St. Mary's, Georgia, recently had this revelation:
When my husband says, "I forgot" or "I was busy," I usually say, "No, you didn't remember because you didn't care." I assume I know his true intentions, and I won't even let him talk. I frequently put words in his mouth, and that makes him feel his opinions aren't important.
Your spouse is not your enemy; he's your partner, your comrade, your friend. If you can learn to tackle issues as a team, not as opponents, you will begin to see a change in the way you interact, and there will be less of a need for nagging.
3. Change your attitude. Nagging is defined not only by what you say, but how you say it—eyes rolling, voice whining, fingers pointing, etc. No one likes a "tongue lashing," and most husbands deal with it by tuning you out, which causes even more nagging.
I like the advice that Allison Wessels of Fayetteville, Georgia, passed down to me from a pastor's wife: "Don't point out your husband's failures. Believe me, he already knows!" What your husband needs from you are reminders of where he has succeeded, not where he has failed. It's important for a husband to know that his wife is proud of him and respects him. As Allison says, "Scripture tells us that wives are to respect their husbands (Ephesians 5:33), and nagging shows a lack of respect."
The key in successful communication is to request things in a way that is kind and non-accusatory. You can accomplish a lot more with a sweet attitude than a sour one. If you really want to get through to your family members, remember, "A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger" (Proverbs 15:1).
4. Do things yourself. I'm amazed at how lazy I've been in some areas since marriage. When I was single, I changed light bulbs, raked the yard, and even painted the outside of my house. Now, I expect my husband to do all those things and more. It's not that I'm incapable, just unwilling.
Not only do I expect him to do these "manly" chores, but I also expect him to live in our house my way:
- I like the kitty litter to be changed once a week; he could leave it for two.
- I like to fix broken things right away; he likes to put it off for a while until he finds the time and energy to do it.
- I like the dishes rinsed out after meals; he likes to leave the food on the dishes in the sink until they are placed in the dishwasher.
Just because David's standards are different from mine, that doesn't mean they are wrong. I realize that if it's important for me to do things a certain way, then I should do them myself.
I'm not suggesting that wives be independent from their husbands, or silently hold on to bitterness while we do their chores. But I am suggesting that doing things ourselves can keep us from being too demanding and expecting to be served all the time.
There are times when we legitimately need our husbands' help, but there are also times when we don't. The next time you find yourself wishing your husband would get something done, ask yourself if it's something that you can do to serve him, instead. As Galatians 5:13b-14 says, " ... Through love serve one another. For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'"
Gauging your nag-o-meter
These changes in the way you interact with your spouse may improve your marriage dramatically. If you've been a nagger for a while, it may take some time to get used to this new way of thinking. There will be days of triumph and days of failure.
As you go through this transition, remember that God gives grace to the humble (James 4:6b). Keep leaning on Him for strength—pray, read the Bible, talk to other wives who can keep you accountable. As your family sees your efforts to be nag free, they will be gracious to you, too.
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