Fourteen tips to avoid nagging.

Every Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: Fourteen tips to avoid nagging.

In marriage, or any partnership, chores are a huge source of conflict. How do you get your sweetheart to hold up his or her end, without nagging?

One of my best friends from college has a very radical solution: she and her husband don’t assign. That’s right. They never say, “Get me a diaper,” “The trash needs to go out,” etc. This only works because neither one of them is a slacker, but still — what a tactic! And they have three children!

This is something to strive for. But even if we can’t reach that point, most of us could cut back on the nagging. Here are some strategies that have worked for me:

1. It’s annoying to hear a hectoring voice, so suggest tasks without words. When the Big Man needs a prescription filled, he puts his empty medicine bottle on the bathroom counter. Then I know to get it re-filled.

2. If you need to voice a reminder, limit yourself to one word. Instead of barking out, “Now remember, I’ve told you a dozen times, stop off at the grocery store, we need milk, if you forget, you’re going right back out!” Instead, call out, “Grocery store!” or “Milk!”

3. Don’t insist that a task be done on your schedule. “You’ve got to trim those hedges today!” Says who? Try, “When are you planning to trim the hedges?” If possible, show why something needs to be done by a certain time. “Will you be able to trim the hedges before our party next week?”

4. Remind your partner that it’s better to decline a task than to break a promise. The Big Man told me that he’d emailed some friends to tell them we had to miss their dinner party to go to a family dinner—but he hadn’t. Then I had to cancel at the last minute. Now I tell him, “You don’t have to do it. But tell me, so I can it.”

5. Have clear assignments. I always call repairmen; the Big Man always empties the Diaper Genie.

6. Every once in a while, do your sweetheart’s task, for a treat. This kind of pitching-in wins enormous goodwill.

7. Assign chores based on personal priorities. I hate a messy bedroom more than the Big Man, but he hates a messy kitchen more than I. So I do more tidying in the bedroom, and he does more in the kitchen.

8. Do it yourself. I used to be annoyed with the Big Man because we never had cash in the house. Then I realized: why did I get to assign that job? Now I do it, and we always have cash, and I’m not annoyed.

9. Settle for a partial victory. Maybe your partner won’t put dishes in the dishwasher, but getting them from the family room into the sink is a big improvement.

10. Re-frame: decide that you don’t mind doing a chore — like putting clothes in the hamper or hanging up wet towels. Suprisingly, this is easier than you’d think.

11. Don’t push for the impossible. The Big Man knows that there’s no way I’ll do anything relating to our car, so he doesn’t even ask.

12. No carping from the sidelines. If your partner got the kids dressed, don’t mock the outfits. If you want something done your way, do it yourself.

13. Think about how money might be able to buy some happiness. Could you find a teenager to mow the lawn? Could you hire a weekly cleaning service? Could you buy prepared foods? Eliminating conflict in a relationship is a high happiness priority, so this is a place to spend money if it can help.

14. Remember that messy areas tend to stay messy, and tidy areas tend to stay tidy. If you want your partner to be neat, be neat yourself!

I admit that these tips are practically useless, however, in a situation where one person is absolutely oblivious for the need for chores to be done. I have it easy, because if anything, the Big Man is more chore-oriented than I am. If a person simply does not care, it’s practically impossible to get him or her to participate.

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Other posts you might be interested in . . .

  • Nagging is certainly hurts relationships, sometimes beyond repair. The main problem with it is that when we do it, we do it from the self-appointed position of being somehow better than the other person with regard to at least that particular nagging point. The terrible feeling of being judged is what’s so awful about being nagged.
    In my article, “4 Signs that a Marriage Will End in Divorce,” a short dialogue between a young, newlywed couple doesn’t even sound to the casual observer like they’re nagging each other. Instead, they sound as if they are merely having a light-hearted discussion with playful teasing and good humor. But, relationship experts say this was enough to predict their eventual divorce within an estimated 7 years. (The experts and their reasons are discussed in my article.)
    Unfortunately, parents and teachers tend to nag children even more than they nag their spouses or life partners. I think a lot of the great tips in Gretchen’s article above would work just as well with children!

  • I admit that these tips are practically useless
    On the contrary, I found them quite useful indeed. Especially the one-word tip. Ta!

  • I spend more time at home than my boyfriend (being a writer), so I end up doing more stuff around the apartment. I had been doing it full of resentment, but then I stopped and asked myself “Do you mind doing these things?” The answer was no, not at all. In fact, I quite enjoy doing them.
    So I dumped the younger sibling “but it’s not fair!” attitude and now do what I feel like doing when I do it and the nagging has stopped because I’ve stopped resenting him.

  • Katie

    I have seen how miserable constant nagging can make a marriage, I don’t want to do that to us! Since I’ve married someone who is equally stubborn as I am, and as forgetful, it is sometimes pretty hard. I’ve used at least half of these items and they really do help, especially re-framing and not insisting that it get done on my schedule. I will definitely try out the one word trick, that one is genius.
    Great list!

  • Oo, lots of great tips! Especially having clear assignments based on each person’s priority. There’s nothing more frustrating than waiting for the other person to take care of something that bothers you and doesn’t bother them.
    Honestly, I think having one word shouted at me would annoy me more than a quick, “Hey, don’t forget the milk.” I’d rather be spoken to like an adult than have one word commands thrown at me. #1 and #3 could quickly get passive-aggressive, too. I guess the key with those is to keep a friendly, relaxed manner, and not to overdo it.

  • One more thing, about re-framing — that’s a great idea even if you live alone and have no one to nag but yourself! (I’m a champion at nagging myself and getting nothing done.) I’m going to try to keep that in mind. I really /don’t/ mind vacuuming, and the results are worth it. It just seems like so much work when I think about it (even though it’s a quick task in an apartment the size of mine).

  • How useful! I especially like the non-verbal reminders to each other and the one-word reminders. Sometimes people need reminders, but obviously don’t respond well to feeling nagged :/

  • MJ

    I’m a strong believer in equitable sharing in the partnership (lawyer me, of course) but it does flow both ways – the weekend that I did all the yard work and painted the garage, I asked him to clean up the kitchen and he did. But the weekends where he worked on the bathroom tile, I picked up the kitchen and vacuum stuff too.
    I have to issue a reminder, or make a commitment, out loud, even if it only involves myself, or else no one will do anything.

  • Rich

    Alas, I agree with Bryan Caplan on this one:
    Believe it or not, this is a significant factor in my decision to remain single.

  • Heh. The last commenter says they like #1 and #2 — for me, those two (plus 3, 4, and 6) would all feel amaazingly passive-aggressive and would cheese me off a lot more than my partner repeatedly asking me to do something! (Especially #2 — as someone said above, I’d rather be talked to like an adult than shouted at like a child.)
    The rest of them are quite good, though! We pretty much live by #7 in my house.

  • Debbie M

    Interesting. I find the “When are planning to trim the hedges?” sounds like nagging to me. But “Don’t forget to get milk” doesn’t. I guess that’s because the former sounds too much like “Were you ever planning to trim the hedges?” or “You’re not going out wearing THAT, are you?” whereas the latter just sounds like a reminder. I figure if I’m distracting the poor guy by hanging around and talking, I could at least also help him remember things I am distracting him from remembering.
    It probably depends on how these kinds of statements are made and interpreted by the relevant parties.
    I like your idea of bringing up the consequences. “Will you be able to trim the hedges before our party next week?”
    One thing I’m going to try is to make a list of things that need to be done daily, weekly, and monthly, with a place to check off when they have been, someplace prominent, like on the fridge. Just seeing how much each person is doing and how much is or isn’t getting done may be motivating.
    I also find that just asking is shockingly useful. “I’d like us to spend 30 minutes just cleaning. Pick anything.” And then he’ll say “Okay” and start cleaning. It’s like magic. I don’t like it because I feel like it should be obvious that things should be clean and that I would like this, and so I think I shouldn’t have to be the one who has to keep bringing it up, but I need to get over that.
    With my little sister, nothing I tried worked at all except making it a game. And even that rarely worked. If she had to actually get up and do anything, she would cry.
    Mostly, I think the important thing is to start off with an assumption that my partner is basically reasonable, fair, and good to me and I should only do and say things that match that assumption, even if I’m only motivated to bring it up because I feel put upon or angry or whatever other feeling is really my problem and not his.

  • Ahh, nagging. I especially like the tip about settling for a compromise. I’ve found that my man’s way of doing things is very different than mine, and if I just let him do it his way, it’s much more successful than if I nag him to do it MY way. 🙂 Thanks for the post!

  • Jim

    If I left an empty prescription container on the counter she would a) throw it away and b) remind me to take care of my own trash.

    • Elephile

      You have to come to an arrangement about it, then it works!

  • ha, 14 is my lucky number! Thanks for posting…I come from a long line of naggers.

  • I always respond to a request more happily if I get a little acknowledgment for the effort. “I know it’s out of your way, but could you pick up my prescription?” And if I get credit for what I did. “Hey, I noticed you filled up my car!” I resent receiving an order to do anything, but I’ll do just about anything if I’m asked with appreciation. I’ve noticed this approach works on kids and husbands, too.

  • I think No. 2 Limit yourslef to one word can still be perseved as nagging. I would suggest don’t repeat yourself.

  • sound interesting!

  • As mom of 4 and grandma of 3 I’ve had lots of practice reworking my nagging. I especially have benefitted from Suggestion #3,Don’t insist that a task be done on your schedule and #13 money might be able to buy some happiness.
    Instead of insisting that a task be done on my schedule I state the need and ask if the party in question is available at a certain time frame. Making this open to negotiation rather than insisting that it done on my schedule feels so much better and is more likely to win cooperation.
    Paying someone to clean my house weekly has been one of the best investments I’ve ever made. Contrary to what people may think, this doesn’t mean that chores are eliminated. Between the housekeeper’s visits keeping a house above filthy is a constant series of tasks. But having the house restored to order once a week has raised the cleanliness set-point and we all are more invested in keeping it there. It also makes us all happy to be able to spend our time on other tasks.
    Nothing works forever or all the time, but the best way to avoid nagging is to decide that our environment does not have to be in perfect order. It’s much more important to work on our insides than it is to dwell on those outside things that lead to nagging.

  • Don’t insist that the task gets done on your schedule is great advice. I always want things to get done right away and it frustrates my wife. She is a little more laid back than me and I’m learning to be ok with that. It’s not easy, but this post give me a few extra reasons to improve my patience.
    Thanks for the post! It really made me take a deeper look at my relationship with my wife.

  • I find the blog interesting but you’re dealing with an important subject; no place for this twee “Big Man” silly preciousness. Please. Let it go. Make me happy, G! 🙂

  • Yeah,
    This is cool info. Cool tips.
    Clearly stated and easy to practice.

  • Tim

    Stealing something from “How to Talk so Kids will Listen and Listen so they will Talk” (great parenting book that I got from this blog) you can also avoid the strident tone of voice by leaving a (gentle, humerous) note.

  • Michelle

    the Bryan Caplan blog link is interesting, but completely inaccurate. Caplan thinks men actually do more housework once they get married than when they are single (since women have higher cleanliness standards), so it is reasonable that men feel miffed when women complain. Actually, research shows that getting married *saves* the average man a bit of housework… And creates an average of 7 hours more a week for women.
    Women often really do have a justified complaint that they are doing more around the house than the man is (in cases where the woman works outside the home). I don’t think we need to blame men; rather, our society expects that women will do more housework, especially childcare work, and both men and women’s brains have been soaking up these societal expectations all their lives. Many women, on some level, believe that it’s their “job” to do more. So they will bust their butts doing the shopping, washing the dishes, wiping up the kids’ vomit, etc., but still feel resentful because they can see that Dad isn’t exhausting himself quite as much. I think more women need to crack open a beer and sprawl out on the couch after a hard day’s work and sigh and say, “can you make the kids dinner tonight, honey? I’m beat.” Believe me, Dad doesn’t want the kids to starve any more than you do. Men also don’t want to live in a filthy house. If you don’t do it, he will. You just have to trust that, and not get up before he does… Remember, women are entitled to a bit of relaxation once in a while, too.

  • PSL

    Wow! I googled “trouble sticking to a schedule” as my home is messy due to the aforementioned. I found many tips on this site to stick to my daily routines. I find that if I do everything in the order on my list, my home is immaculate, I have taken care of myself and my family.
    I was surprised that the beautiful Gretchen was an attorney-from Yale. Wow! I just put my LSAT review book down to check my email. I am a SAHM yearning for my career life again as I feel very poor not having my own earnings. My husband is a six figure earning executive who spends money like water and I am worried about my financial future, especially if his health ever fails, as he is a smoker. I will visit this site for its great content-albeit seemingly neurotic and OCD nature-and tips in the future. I hope that by learning how to stick to a schedule, at least for 3 months or so, I can carve out time for my career and education and have a clean, comfortable home with a healthy family. Wish me luck! – Pam

  • I agree with alot of these suggestions. Alot of the time the problem lies with how we think about something…which is why reframing and not expecting it on your own schedule is key. If you want it done your way you DO need to do it yourself.
    I was really surprised though that it wasn’t mentioned about being polite. I think its really easy to forget saying Please and Thank You. And sometimes this can make all the difference. Asking someone to do something nicely will go alot farther then stating commands. And how much more likely will someone be to do something when they receive a Thank you. If we always get lost in the idea that its a person’s responsibility therefore please and thank you aren’t necessary…well I think thats where problems come in. Just being polite and showing manners could really make the biggest difference. Also having clear communication helps. If you want something to get done in a specific time period for a specific reason, be sure to mention that from the get-go. Don’t expect them to read your mind or “just know”. If your clear from the beginning then the need to nag might be eliminated right there. If there is no specific reason why something needs to get done by a specific time and it would just be nice to you…well then state that too. In a nice way of course. You never know they may surprise you…and do it. If they don’t…oh well. Don’t make a big deal about something thats not worth it. Anyway…thats my 2 cents.

  • doe

    I agree with most of these tips especially taking partial victories. My mom nagged my dad a lot, and it broke my dad and me.Then I found myself nagging trhe other day and almost died! It’s hard when one person works and the other one doesn’t. It’s never equal, and both sides feel like they are doing to much, either working to much. Or cleaning to much.
    Humor and reframing do work. My live in always leaves the cabinets open in the kitchen and it drove me mad until her son pointed out that I could laugh and think wow she’s been in kitchen! Now I do because how long does it take to close cabinet doors?