“I Asked A Therapist How To Quit Nagging—Here’s What Happened”
By Alison Bonaguro, photography by
Could it really be this simple?
It’s not always considered nagging. Like when I tell my husband to book that flight/get that mole looked at/call his dad/RSVP to that work thing, those are just friendly reminders.
Oh God. Maybe I actually am a nag. And nobody wants that. So I consulted Dr Brandy Engler, a Los Angeles-based psychologist and the author of , to find out what’s really behind nagging and how we can all get things done without feeling like such pests.
Engler says nagging is often the result of setting arbitrary expectations, and we’re all guilty of creating those. For example, if you’re nagging your partner to do the dishes immediately after dinner—instead of before bed, as he would prefer—that’s setting an arbitrary expectation. “She should not expect that he should just do it because she thinks that is the best way,” says Engler. “He has to explicitly agree in a negotiation with her that he will do dishes, when he will do them, and how many times.” The nagging happens when you create expectations for how you think things should be done without consulting your partner, thus setting him up to fail, she says.
And it’s not just chores that make the list of naggable offences. People have a tendency to nag about things like sex and getting enough attention, she says. The problem is that most naggers assume that it’s their way or the highway—which isn’t fair to the other person. Instead of making demands, let your partner weigh in during the discussion about your needs. Then, keep these rules for successful expectation-setting in mind while you chat:
- Say your expectations out loud and ask your partner to weigh in on what he or she thinks is best, too. That decreases your partner’s resistance to getting sh*t done the way you (and he) want it to be done, she says. If you’re thinking that it’s a little too serious to be thinking about things like negotiations and expectations when you’re just talking about dishes, you’re wrong. It can actually be the key to ending nagging for good. Engler says that creating an agreement means avoiding an argument later.
- Agree to consequences when you are not able to fulfil your side of the agreement. Engler says a quid pro quo contract style usually works well in this situation. (Think: If you do the dishes immediately after dinner, I will watch that TV show you love before bed.)
- Check back in to talk about what was done and what wasn’t. That will help if one of you thought you brought more to the table than the other.
- Show appreciation when he or she does the thing you want.
- Check your tone when you ask for something. (If you sound judgmental or hostile, nobody will want to meet your needs.)
Easy enough, right? So I used Engler’s technique in my attempt to have my back patio beautified—and it worked exactly as she’d outlined.
About a year ago, I saw a pin on Pinterest of a patio with outdoor lights strung overhead. I could just imagine how cool that would look in my own backyard. I imagined it a lot. Then I imagined it some more.
So I recruited his help—because he’s way better on a ladder than I am—and that’s when the “negotiations” actually began. He said he’d do it later. I asked him to define later. He said before June was over. I countered with a date in May. He countered with June 3. And voila, we agreed. I had successfully decreased his resistance. Or at least I’d made him feel like he was part of Team Patio Lights. We also set consequences: I told my husband that if he hung the lights for me, I would watch Star Wars with him. If he didn’t, then I wouldn’t.
And on June 3, by the time dusk settled over my patio, the lights were up, turned on, and all was right with the world and our marriage.
Hey, if it worked for me and my patio light obsession, it can work for you.
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