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How to Stop Nagging

Find more effective ways to communicate in your relationship, and leave the nagging behind.
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WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Clean the living room, wash the dishes, take out the trash ... nag, nag, nag. The incessant nagging you do not only drives your partner mad, it drives him or her away and hurts intimacy. How can you learn to communicate more effectively and go from being a broken record to a poster child for relationship success? The first step, say experts, is to recognize that asking for the same thing over and over again -- believe it or not -- just doesn't work.

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"Nagging takes the form of verbal reminders, requests, and pleas," says Michele Weiner-Davis, MSW, a marriage and family therapist. "You can say it in a number of different ways, but when you say it in a number of different ways over and over again, that constitutes nagging."

The Essence of Nagging

"If a person thinks, 'If I've said it once I've said it a million times,' or 'it's in one ear and out the other,' or 'I talk till I'm blue in the face,' this should be a strong clue," says Weiner-Davis, author of several relationship books, including Getting Through to the Man you Love and The Sex-Starved Marriage.

Strong clue or not, most naggers don't know they nag -- they think their nagging helps, explains Weiner-Davis. And it's not up to them to decide: A helpful reminder becomes a stinging nag when the person who is being nagged says so.

"It goes from a reminder to a nag when the person who is being reminded gets offended," says Weiner-Davis. "How the behavior gets labeled depends on how the person hears it, not on how the person who says it feels."

Feelings and emotions play a large part in nagging, which means that women usually play the stereotypical lead role.

"Women take on the lion's share of nagging," says Jamie Turndorf, PhD, a couples therapist. "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, whining and nagging 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."

But like any facet of a relationship, nagging is a two-way street.

"Obviously, if a woman feels responded to she won't need to keep bringing up the same issues," says Turndorf, who is author of Till Death Do Us Part (Unless I Kill You First). "On the surface, it's easy to assume that it's all the nagee's fault -- if he responded better, nagging wouldn't be happening."

But rather than assigning blame -- is it the husband's fault for not cleaning the kitchen, or the wife's for griping so much about it -- start looking for more productive ways to communicate, or risk damaging the intimacy in your relationship: According to a study presented at the 2003 Society for Personality and Social Psychology conference in February, nagging can lessen a couple's intimacy.

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