Fifteen Tips to Avoid Nagging.

Every Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: Back by popular demand…fifteen tips to avoid nagging.

I’ve posted this list before, but I’m posting it again, because the issue of nagging is something that people raise with me frequently in discussions of happiness. It turns out that being a nag is just as unpleasant as being nagged — so figuring out how to end nagging brings a real happiness boost to a relationship.

But even though no one enjoys an atmosphere of 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!

That’s 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 my husband 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, I 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. My husband 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, it was incredibly rude, and I was enraged. Now I tell him, “You don’t have to do it. But tell me, so I can it.”

5. Have clear assignments.

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 my husband, 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 my husband 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. Surprisingly, this is easier than you’d think.

11. Don’t push for the impossible. There’s no way I’ll do anything relating to our car, so my husband 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 a few nights a week? These days, money is very tight, but 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!

15. Remind yourself — generally, nagging doesn’t work.

Any other ideas about how to avoid nagging? What have I missed?

Also, sometimes one person is absolutely oblivious for the need for chores to be done. That person just doesn’t notice, and doesn’t care. In that case, it’s hard to know what to do. I have it easy, because if anything, my husband is more chore-oriented than I am. I’m a naggee as well as a nagger. If that’s your situation — what do you do? What advice to do you offer?

* Take a Walk on the Happy Side is an absolutely extraordinary blog. Maggie says she was inspired by me, but I’m far more inspired by her. She has identical twin boys, now 4 1/2, with Down syndrome, and she’s been posting recently about their surgery and their difficult recovery. I’m awed by Maggie’s determination and sweetness of spirit. Check it out.

* Word-of-mouth Day! Today, I gently encourage (or, you might think, pester) you to spread the word about the Happiness Project. You might:
— Forward the link to someone you think would be interested
— Link to a post on Twitter (and follow me @gretchenrubin)
Pre-order the book for a friend
— Put a link to the blog in your Facebook status update
Thanks! I really appreciate any help. Word of mouth is the BEST.

Other posts you might be interested in . . .

  • grant_b

    Many of these seem like really good advice (especially 3, 4, and 12), but #1 and #2 really wouldn’t work for me. Neither my wife nor I don’t seem to get “hints” — if she left her prescription bottles out on the counter, it would never occur to me that this was a request. Indeed, pretty much anything other than directly asking doesn’t get interpreted as a request. And barking single words would just seem rude to us.

    However, something that’s not on the list made a big difference for us: understand that not all requests constitute nagging. Sometimes how you ask is as important as what you ask! If you maintain positive affect in your relationship, chances are good that both of you *want* to do nice things for each other. Most of the chores you ask a partner to do are trivial little things anyway. So the key is to tap into that impulse — the desire to please one’s partner — rather than having your partner feel nagged — i.e. acting in order to avoid punishment (even if it’s just in the form of more nagging).

    I think I’m a pretty typical guy in this; compare my reactions to these three statements:
    1.) “The trash really stinks!”
    2.) “Why haven’t you taken the trash out yet?”
    3.) “Could you please take the trash out for me?”

    #1 isn’t even a request; my response is probably going to be “Why yes, it does” without it even occurring to me that an action was desired. Plus, I’ve gotten to listen to you complain, and listening to complaints isn’t enjoyable. #2 is classic nagging — it’s not a request either. It doesn’t ask me to do something — it rebukes me for not having already done it. Not terribly motivating — after all, clearly I’ve already failed before even being asked, so what would be the point of acting now? And there are many variants on this one: “I already told you to…” “Why haven’t you…” “Isn’t it your job to…” “You were supposed to…” etc. If your way to make requests involves pointing out someone else’s failure, that’s nagging.

    #3, on the other hand, is a polite request, to which the response will almost certainly be “Sure.” After all, I have no real reason not to take out the trash, unless I’m embroiled in something more urgent at that moment (in which case I may forget and have to be asked again, but I won’t feel any ill will for having been asked.) What’s more, it’s phrased essentially as requesting a personal favor — it’s telling me there’s something nice I can do for my wife to make her happy, which I like to do anyway. And there’s no reason not to make requests this way — adding “…like I already asked you to!” at the end has no benefit.

    • gretchenrubin

      Hmmmm….very interesting. I think I have to disagree with #3.

      To me, #3 suggests that you are doing a special favor for your wife, out of
      consideration for her. In the end, if I were your wife, I’d start to feel
      resentful. Why is it a special little treat for me when my husband takes out
      the family trash? Why do I have to ask, instead of just having the trash get
      taken out without me saying something? Why is the default option that it’s
      my concern? Why do I have to go around pointing out the things that need to
      be done — when it’s quite obvious that tasks like taking out the trash have
      to be done every single day?

      I used to say to myself, when I did chores around the house, “I’m doing this
      for the team,” or “I’m doing this because my husband will be so pleased to
      see the kitchen cleaned/the enveloped addressed/etc.” Then I got mad when he
      didn’t notice. Now I tell myself, “I do these things because I want to. I
      want the trash taken out. I want the recycling emptied. I want cash in the
      house.” Although this sounds selfish, it keeps me from feeling resentful.

      In my mind — but of course, one of my worst faults is score-keeping so I am
      not a good source on this!! — there’s a distinction between “favors” and
      “chores.” Favor — picking something up for my husband at the drug store.
      Chore — emptying the kitchen trash.

      Very interesting. What do other people think?

      • I agree, Gretchen. I shouldn’t have to ask for a “favor” because that makes me feel beholden to him instead of just like he is doing his fair share. Also, as I tell my husband often, I’m not the default parent or the default housekeeper, like it’s all on me unless I ask for “help.”

        • pjwonder

          I bet you didn’t feel like this before you were married. There is no fair share. More is accomplished when you ask for what you need instead of expect it.

      • TracyW

        I don’t have a problem with reminding my husband to do chores. If he doesn’t remember something and I remember then he doesn’t remember that thing. No point in saying that he should remember.

        On the other hand, I do say “Can you please take the trash out?” not “Can you please take the trash out for me?” He benefits from a non-stinking house as much as me.

      • anniereader

        I don’t “assign” chores. Why would I? Why would he? In some ways, our marriage is radical–we don’t fight, don’t nag, laugh all the time, appreciate each other every day, and take care of each other without comment.

        We start out taking care of ourselves first. I fill my prescriptions, he fills his. I do my laundry, he does his. I like plants, so I acquire them and water them. He doesn’t care about plants, and I’ve never minded, nor faulted him for it, never ask him to do gardening chores, any more than he would insist I learn how to use his power saw, or clean his workshop. What’s to fight about? He’s himself, I’m myself. Household chores: we do what suits us. He gravitates toward changing light bulbs and taking out the trash and recycling, I gravitate toward cooking and changing/making the bed. He does the dishes. If he looks tired or has a cold, I take out the garbage without comment. If I out one evening, I let him know ahead of time and he cheerfully says, “I’ll fend.” This means he, the non-cook, will get some kind of meal for himself. I don’t leave food for him or ask him what he’s cooking, or involve myself in any way. I might say, “There’s some leftover chicken, if you want,” but there’s no obligation.

        If for any reason one person is dissatisfied with ANYTHING between us, he/she makes an appointment to talk about it. I say, “I know you’re not crazy about dinner parties, but there are a number of people we both care about that we haven’t seen in ages, and I’d like to have them over. Can we make an appointment to talk about who we might have, and when would be the easiest time for both of us to see them?” He answers, “Let’s talk at 3:30 this afternoon.” And we both have time to think about it before we talk. He comes up with some names I hadn’t thought of, and I consider having dinner in a restaurant with some couples, rather than at our house. He likes the parties, actually, but he hates the preparation. But he doesn’t mind shopping. He’ll offer to shop, and i’ll cook and set the table. He’s out of the house while I fuss about details, and I have solitary time to focus all my attention on the party.

        I guess just being considerate of each other, being honest without being hostile or punitive, being grateful for each other, being polite, off all things, and finding lots to laugh about, negates the need for nagging.

        • gretchenrubin

          This sounds great and is how I handled it with my husband for years —
          before we had children.
          Then we had four times as many chores, errands, and tasks to do, which
          almost all belonged to BOTH of us. So…who gets up in the middle of the
          night this time? who changes that ominous diaper? Who runs to the drugstore?
          Etc. I think for many people, this is the point at which nagging becomes a

      • Very Happily Married

        I often ask my husband, “would you do me a favor and…” when I need his help with something. It doesn’t necessarily infer a “treat” — it infers that I appreciate his help (which I also tell him, directly: “hey, thanks for doing that; I really appreciate it!”) He speaks to me the same way in return. Ergo, we DON’T nag and we RARELY argue. I was taught by a wise person years ago that we are often kinder, more considerate, and generally just politer to strangers than we are to our own loved ones, and it’s this lack of kindness — mindfulness, IMO — to those we love most that causes most friction in relationships. Works for us!!

      • ceduke

        I always phrase such things as a request, and thank my husband afterward. It only takes a few seconds of my time, it makes him feel appreciated, and it makes him much more likely to do it the next time without being asked. I’ve never “assigned” him any task, and if I did he would be really irritated with me (I asked him).

        If I make a request, he knows that doing what I requested will make me happy, and off the top of my head I can’t think of a single time he has turned me down. He might say “I’ll get to it as soon as I’m finished with XYZ”, or “Wow, I’m exhausted, how about if I put it outside the door and take it to the dumpster in the morning?”, but putting him in a position where he is doing me a favor rather than carrying out an obligation makes us both happy.

        • Serena

          The exact opposite is what finally got through to my husband. Once I made it clear that he’s not doing anything to “help” me, it made more sense. Just like every morning he doesn’t get up and say to me, will you please “help” me earn money and go to work. I just do. So why is the housework or childcare “helping”? It’s equally his responsibility.

      • Ann

        While I get your point Gretchen and have heard countless other women including myself voice similar sentiments, I’ve come to believe there must be a “value discrepancy”fbetween men and women: men value very highly being able to perform “heroically” while women value fairness. It just isn’t fair that he has to be asked to “do a favor” and it just isn’t at all heroic to simply do chores. Once I was able to see that “would you please do this (chore) for me?” was almost the equivalent of being tender and romantic, helping to create a mood where my husband could take pride even in such a tiny act of gallantry, it helped me push aside my desire for things to be “fair”. Before I was “right” – now, I’m just happier.

  • This is a tough one. But the best way to solve nagging is to stop having expectations for others. Expect on only the best from yourself. Set goals for yourself and be the best you can be yourself.

    Take responsibility for your actions. When you see something that needs to be done – DO IT. In other words, you lead by example. Show others that you are in control of yourself and that you are taking care of things. Stop expecting others to do anything for you. Ask yourself what you can do for others.

    That way, the other person will see a great example that he or she can learn from. That will inspire the other person to do their part and expect only the best from themselves. It takes hard work, but in the end – well, it works 🙂


    • I wish I could agree that this always works. I have tried this idea of just doing something when I see it needs doing, but that results in my doing pretty much every aspect of housework and child care because I will almost always notice it first. How is that fair? Since he contributes to the mess (and he helped create the child!), he ought to contribute. He agrees, but just doesn’t see it or get to it as quickly. I think negotiation is preferable to nagging, but I don’t think just not expecting anything is any path to equity in a relationship. Independence is great, but I think interdependence is even better.

      • gretchenrubin

        The problem comes when people have different standards. One person is
        comfortable with one level of mess, another is comfortable at a different
        level. The person who cares more will end up doing more work.

        That’s why it helps — wherever possible — to put the burden on the person
        who cares more. My husband cares more about the kitchen, I care more about
        the bedroom. He knows I’ll leave that kitchen messy for a WHILE! And I know
        he can stand a messy bedroom. But some people can tolerate a high level of
        chaos, so there’s not much wiggle room….

        • I’ve been told this often (that the person who cares more will do more). I think it’s true in practice, but it shouldn’t be part of the negotiated agreement between partners. I like how you and your husband take it into account when divvying up the chores, but at some point everyone has to accept more or less equal responsibility *overall*. My husband contributes to the mess, and benefits from my cleaning up or taking care of tasks – even if he would have tolerated its being undone longer – so he ought to be responsible for as much as I am, even if in reality I may end up doing slightly more because I care more.

    • qconklin

      I think there are a lot of place that leading by example can work and bring about the desired change. However most of these are situations were there is a clear leader and a clear follower which is not an ideal situation in a relationship. The reason for this is leading by example works best when it is combined by coaching to get the point across that this or that needs doing. A great way to lead a team in the work place but not the way to treat a partner.

    • TracyW

      This might be the best way to solve nagging, but I don’t think it’s the best way to live your life. My view of marriage is that it’s a partnership, him and me against the world if need be, and we’ve got each other’s backs. So I do expect him to do things for us, and housework falls under the category of things for us.

      As for leading by example, my husband has been setting a sterling example of doing top-quality ironing for over ten years. I have yet to feel inspired to do my part and expect only the best ironing from myself. I am getting quite good at lounging on the sofa savouring a glass of wine while making admiring comments.

  • I like this list to try to help me avoid nagging, but numbers 8 and 9 are pet peeves of mine. I call this problem The Sink Trap (and feel so strongly about it that I even wrote a blog entry regarding it): once you have settled for that partial victory, it doesn’t feel to me like you will ever get the full victory. Once he knows you won’t mind if he does the full, proper, agreed-upon cleaning in some area, why should he bother?

    And with number 8, do it yourself because you care more about it, well…this, I think, is why women still spend more hours on housework and childcare, even as we work as many or more hours outside the home as our spouses. I think it’s a major goal to avoid nagging, and very important. However, I think that equally important is having a set of mutually discussed and agreed-upon chores and what those actually look like.

    My husband and I find that having a “family meeting” at the end of the week or weekend to talk about what’s coming up helps ensure that we both do what we’re assigned to, as well as divide up any special event tasks. That helps avoid nagging because then it is just worked into our conversations: “I know you wanted to do the leaf blowing tomorrow, so I’ll head to the grocery store while you do that.” When I head to the store, it’s an unspoken reminder!

    • scout

      Jessica, the point is *happiness*, not doing less housework than your spouse. If you want to be even, then you can work at being even. But if you want to be happy, then you need to LET GO! You won’t find happiness by constantly fighting for what you’ve decided *should be*, you will find happiness by accepting what *is*. Doing more chores than he does is only bad for the marriage if you allow yourself to be resentful about it.

      • TracyW

        On the other hand – be yourself. If doing lots more chores than your husband makes you resentful, and you can’t snap out of it, then that’s who you are deep down, someone who is not going to be happy with doing more housework than their spouse.

  • a must read…Tips to Avoid Nagging from the Happiness Project

  • Great list. I’ve been studying relationship coaching, particularly the work of John Gottman (Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work). He talks a lot about “soft startups” when making requests of your partner, as well as understanding the deeper value beneath the request. This has helped a lot in my own marriage, and fits right in with your tips.

    • gretchenrubin

      I LOVE the work of John Gottman — that’s a great book.

      Along with “soft startups,” I also get a lot out of the idea of “repair
      attempts” — the little gestures of reconciliation that people make to each
      other (making a joke, doing something silly, trying to give a hug, etc). DO
      NOT REBUFF A REPAIR ATTEMPT! This is SO important. It’s tempting to stay
      angry but enough rebuffed repair attempts, and your partner will give up on
      making them. Then you’re really in trouble.

  • Emma

    Great advice, Gretchen! I have a happiness quote for you: “To triumph over ourselves is the only conquest, where fortune makes no claim” – Sheridan, Pizarro

    • gretchenrubin

      I love that quotation!

  • qconklin

    For me number 6 would set my teeth on edge, i would find my self feeling like what you don’t trust me to get the things done you ask me to. i also feel that numbers 10 and 4 are hugely important to keep in mind not only inside relationships but every time we are asked to help some one out. Don’t commit to something if you can’t do it and once you committed don’t be resentful.

    The one thing that I would add to the list would be tone of voice, my other half has a habit of making perfectly reasonable requests in a demanding tone. The result is I instantly get defensive and snap back and then we both get grumpy. Now if i could only get him to understand #12.

  • great reminders, but I’m still befuddled about how to ask for help in the first place. Hints don’t work around here, and even asking the first time is considered nagging.

    • TracyW

      Perhaps an idea might come from how I get my husband to stop criticising how I do my share of the housework. (He does have many good features as a husband, and he does think about how to do housework in more practical detail than I do so his ideas are mostly good, but every now and then his tendency to perfectionism goes beyond what I can tolerate).

      I stop doing things for him and announce this. Once he has noticed the lack and is not happy about it, then I will open negotiations.
      The first time I did this he was in a state of shock at first. We would have conversations where he would say things like “Marriage is about partnership, it won’t survive if we just live in our own little worlds and don’t do anything for each other.” My reply would be “Our marriage doesn’t look like surviving in the current state either.” Another response I’d make is that “I’ll be quite happy to go back to how things were before as long as we have one tiny little change, in the future you do all the work and I’ll do all the criticism.”
      Basically just keep repeating that a marriage has to work for both parties and the old way wasn’t working for you. Keep your voice sounding as calm and reasonable as you can manage.

      In your case, I think the first item on your negotiation list should be that asking the first time won’t be considered nagging anymore.

      I call it a negotiation list, but you can have on it things that are “must haves” before you will go back to doing whatever you have stopped doing for him.

      Some more advice:
      – Pick something to stop doing for him that he really cares about. If you pick something to stop doing that he doesn’t give a toss about then you won’t have anything to negotiate with. Ideally pick something that you can just do for yourself, so you can credibly keep on not doing it for him. Stopping adding his clothes when you do a washload fits the bill. (Normal family operation is that I do the washing and he does the ironing, as I hate ironing hubby knows that if I break this agreement and thus have to do my own ironing then things are really bad).
      – Put together a long wishlist, on top of your “must haves”. So if he makes any requests of you, you can bring up an item on your wishlist and say “If you take the kids to school then I will be happy to do …” or “If you say thanks whenever I’ve prepared dinner then I will be happy to do …”. Try to pick items on your wishlist that are approximately equal, in your eyes, to whatever he is asking you to do. And if he agrees to them, keep to your side of the agreement as best you can as long as he keeps to his.

      This doesn’t work perfectly, my husband keeps moving back to the critical mode every couple of years and your mileage may differ. But it does get beyond deadlock without nagging.

      Oh, and I happily praise my husband when he does do housework. And I ask for such praise in return.

  • v…

    I was upset with my husband when I was in college, trying to study and he was always working. His suggestion: Hire a babysitter once a week so you can study in peace. Please do it.

    I did, and peace ruled. The kids were happy. I graduated. Life went on.

    I love the part about not mocking the outfits. I suppose that applies to pajama tops and bottoms that do not match. (Honey, they’re sold in sets…never mind.)

  • Long ago I decided not to resent any chore I did that benefitted my other half if it was something I would have to do were I single anyhow. Some people would say that just let him off the hook; I say it let me off the hook, the resentment hook.

  • logoscoaching

    each can only walk their own path and inspire others; not nag others into submission

    • gretchenrubin

      True — but I also sympathize with people who can’t get a sweetheart to lift
      a finger!

  • Beth

    If my husband left his empty perscription bottle on the counter as his request that I refill HIS perscription, I”d consider that a passive aggressive move– a hint from someone who doesn’t have the strenght to say it out loud. He wants ME to do HIS personal chore, but can’t even say “Honey can you get my perscription filled since the pharmacy is near your work?” That ‘hint’ is insulting. I don’t think the wife should be expected to do PERSONAL chores for her husband and the fact that he doesn’t even think he sould have to ASK is awfully sexist and presumptious.

    • gretchenrubin

      Because of our particular logistics (which makes picking up prescriptions a
      lot easier for me), and because my husband needs an unusually high number of
      prescriptions, I do consider prescription-picking-up one of my “chores” not
      a “favor.”

      Picking up shaving cream for him, from the drug store? That’s definitely a
      personal “favor!” But prescriptions, not a favor.

      This may be idiosyncratic on my part, but I don’t like saying or hearing
      requests. It bugs me, so I asked him to adopt this system. I’d rather just
      know what needs to be done and do it without the chatter. So this works for

      • Alicia @ Atypical Type A

        The hint method depends on the couple and their circumstances I think. For example, if I put the mop next to his side of the bed to “hint” that the floors needed cleaning I agree that would be passive aggressive and downright rude. But if he puts a letter by the front door, he is hinting for me to post it. I happily accept this personal favour as “my job” because I go to the post office every day for work anyway, not because I’m the woman.

  • Beth

    I’m more often the naggee in these types of interactions. I notice messes, but I have a pretty high tolerance for them as well. I’ll get around to cleaning it up, but not before another mess crops up.

    I would say the best way to get me to do many tasks is to say something like “would you load the dishwasher after you are done eating?” or “can you come help me fold the laundry?”. You don’t have to act like it’s a big favor (because it isn’t), but asking is more endearing than complaining or acting like you’re my mom. In addition, respect what the other person is doing; don’t expect them to drop everything to do a chore (unless it truly is urgent).

    Also, I like to do chores with other people, so if it is a chore that can be shared, try starting it up yourself and asking for help. But I think the most important thing is the timing of the request. Don’t ask someone to do something as they are plopping down for dinner or to watch their favorite TV show.

    Requests and reminders don’t have to be nagging if they are given without an angry attitude (and maybe with a hug and a kiss!).

  • Barb

    My husband and I like to go a step beyond not nagging–to expressing gratitude for whatever is accomplished. We try to say “thank you” many times during the day, mostly for ordinary tasks accomplished. “Thanks for emptying the dishwasher, hon,” I’ll say. Later my husband will say, “Can you pick up something for me at the drugstore–I’d really appreciate it.” And when I hand it to him, I get another thank you.

    Maybe its because we married later in life (mid-forties) that we are so polite, but I think its because we each like to hear “thank you” that we say it often to the other person!

    — Barb

  • Sam

    I don’t want to nag, but Mr. Sam won’t do day to day tasks without being told to do them (not cause he’s a jerk but becaus it just doesn’t occur to him, I suspect adult ADHD). He will clean the whole house, he will go to the grocery store, he will clean out the garage and organize it, he will mow, and weed and trim and power-wash all the walks. But, he won’t put a dish in the dishwasher, he won’t hang up a towel, he won’t fold and put laundry away, he won’t put his dirty clothes in the hamper, he won’t put his shoes somewhere that I won’t trip over them (i.e. away).

    Bottom line, he is great at weekly or bi-weekly chores but sucks at day to day stuff. What do I do?? I’ve been trying to keep the house cleaner by doing 15-30 minutes of cleaning every day because I don’t want to spend my precious weekend time cleaning the whole house.


  • gaey

    Hello Gretchen, I am curious. You do not say much about the sense of injustice that usually results in nagging. That feeling of being “hard done by”. Your tips are very practical but I wonder if they are likely to paper over the cracks? And not deal with the source of the nagging. My mother and sister are both fine naggers and it often seems to stem from their own sense of righteous indignation. I sometimes wonder if they wouldn’t be happier if they dealt wth this self righteousness.

  • flsquared

    Great post!

    I would add that it is beneficial to pay attention to when you ask your partner to do something. For example, if you ask me to help you with a task before I have had my morning coffee, you won’t get very far. However, right after is a good time. Same goes as to when my husband is watching a soccer game–the request will be ignored and grunted at. However, if I ask him first thing in the morning, it is usually added to his list.

    I also totally agree with letting your partner get things done on his/her timeline….but make sure they let you know what it is so that your expectations are set. A lot of times we have so many things going on and so many projects that we want to complete that taking out the recycling may not seem as important. If your partner knows this he/she can decide whether or not it’s worth it to wait for you to do the task or look for alternatives.

  • Thank you so much for this! I’ve lamented to my husband often that I hate playing the role of nagging wife, but I don’t know how to get around it! Numbers 3, 4, and 5 were the most effective to me. These are truly great tips that I know we all appreciate!

  • This is so very dependent on both your maturity and personality and the other person’s maturity and personality. The issue of getting stuff done applies everywhere.

    Some rough rules I try to apply are:

    A) unless there is a very good reason, don’t ask someone to do something and also constrain HOW they are to get it done. If there is a good reason, explain it otherwise if it is theirs to do, let them do it their way.

    B) don’t delgate something you can readily do yourself unless the other is going to become the main doer of that from now on. Just suck it up and do it yourself.

    C) be accountable yourself. I give my wife and my work colleagues permission to remind me of stuff I said I would take care of. So they aren’t nagging, they are keeping me accountable to my own standards. They are now partnering with me. They can say “you asked me to remind you about …”

    D) don’t sweat the small stuff. It is easy to get iritable about stuff that isn’t that important. I try and check my own reasons for the response I am having first.

    E) ask questions. Sometimes things aren’t happening because of something important that you aren’t aware of or because the other person’s perspective or priorities are very different to yours. Validate the other person. A good example is “How would you like to see this handled”?

    F) agree together on how the chores are to be divided. Use a side by side list so each sees what the other is committing to doing. It is easy to not notice all the stuff the other does and then only focus on the one thing that didn’t happen. If you need the other to take on a task from your list, do a swap. Let them choose the item from their list they want to swap.

    G) Be grateful that you have a choice. I worked for 6 months in a third world country as a volunteer. I discovered there are 2 kinds of poverty. There is a lack of access to material or financial resources. Clean water was a big issue where I was working. The second poverty is a lack of access to an opportunity to change your destiny. In other words, you have no choice. So I remind myself that it is a privilege and responsibility to be rich enough to be able to have a choice about my own future and what role I will play in it.

    My list is like this because my wife and I also own and run a business together and so we deal with both domestic and commercial issues on a weekly basis.

    Ray Keefe

  • daphnejoyfuldays


    I love this post. My favourite tips are remind without words by leaving a physical reminder, and the one-word reminder rather than many-worded lecture. Thanks for this – I’ll definitely incorporate this into my life!

  • 7 sounds lovely, but it turns out that there is no amount of mess that i can still live in that my girlfriend will notice. (i’ve done sociology/science experiments with glasses left by her in strange places – they’ve been known to stay and rot for months…after being pointed out) anyhow, so i generally don’t do that anymore =)

    number 9 is definitely the most important one to me, though. we both work, but she also goes to school. generally i figure that means housework is my job (as she already has a “2nd job” in school). even so, i have found that if she does none of it i get resentful. however, if she helps out every now and then i am generally content with doing far *more* – it’s doing it *all* that gets to me.

    another tip that i have found helpful is acknowledgement. if she puts away the laundry and i say “thanks, honey,” she is much more likely to take out the trash, even though those are totally unrelated. i’m sure that this only works for some sorts of couples (like #s 1 and 2 sound awful to me), but it appears that every time i acknowledge a chore, another one gets done.

    oh, and #12 is one that is very hard for me (i’m a little ocd about how i do the dishes, for example). so, an additional tip – if you know you’re prone to this, just *leave the room* while the chore is being done. more often than not, you’ll never know the difference, and the end result is one more thing finished.

  • rosyosegueda

    I think I do mostly most of this articule say to my self. And the mos important do i learn in my life doing this is that make me feal better is dont bleam in other or be in in situation that I have to deffend my self because I didn’t do this or that.
    Apreciate all the time good thinks that others do for you
    is simple and help to stop nagi….

  • Candace

    Dear Gretchen,

    You look like you could be the daughter or some relation to my first grade teacher “Mrs. Gilbert”. She remarried and I don’t remember her remarried name. She taught at Christian School in Santa Barbara California in the late 60’s. Just wondering if you know who I mean and/or are related to her. She was a very nice person and a wonderful first grade teacher. I still remember the stars she would draw on my papers : )

    Sincerely, Candace DeMack….formerly Candy Saunders

    • gretchenrubin

      No, no relation! But worth a shot!

  • RTP


    “I’d really appreciate it if you would…”

    “Would you mind please doing…X for me?”

    “I really like it when you…”

    “I” statements work better than “you” statements!!

  • Linden

    Hmmm. This all looks great in theory, but my partner has a VERY high tolerance for mess and chaos. He’s happy to help out, but NEVER notices that a chore needs to be done.

    I suppose I’m fortunate that he doesn’t mind me reminding him, but I really hate being the person whose job it is to notice and remind — especially when it usually takes multiple reminders before there’s action.

    I guess it’s time to just deal with the fact that I’m going to be the only one in the home who does chores. If the goal is happiness and not equal responsibility, it might be easier to make my peace with being the primary home-cleaner and move on.

  • Ginger

    Remember your partner is a grown-up.
    It is not your job to be a parent to your partner. You make your own decisions about how to spend your time, your partner makes his/hers. Live and let live.

  • yop

    Technique #1 is incredibly passive aggressive, and in the wrong marriage could cause more fights than it prevents. Technique #2 is just plain rude. I’d replace those with these: “Ask for a favor, don’t command a subordinate.” and “Say please.”

  • While love can conquer all, relentless nagging can wear down even the most strongest of emotions. Intimacy can and will, without doubt, take a severe beating if you don’t stop nagging.

  • NLCarlson

    I don’t know why this works, but I find that if I thank my hubby or kids before they have even started what I need done it works beautifully. Example: Thanks for taking out the garbage; it’s getting pretty ripe! or Thanks for straightening out the bed when you get up, it looks nice! I get my wish and have done it without nagging.

  • Info

    One thing that wasn’t in the article was if asking nicely without nagging, if they do that let’s say 5 times a day isn’t that nagging? So limit the request, if you feel it’s urgent, which this was in the article, Do It Yourself!

  • Ann

    I’m not even married yet to my boyfriend and the nagging is getting out of hand on my part, which I’m not proud of. I’m attempting to put these tips to use, but more than that, I think it’s important to take a moment and reflect on where the need/urge to nag comes from personally. It’s self-analysis type of work but you’ll arrive at the root of your nagging. For me, the root cause was control – nagging gives me an (illusory) sense of control, but like you say – it doesn’t work. I’m getting better; biting my tongue often helps :). Thanks for the tips Gretchen 🙂

  • Paul

    How do I encourage my wife to do her excersises without being accused of nagging? She has had a Stroke and the longer she delays excersising the less reabilitated she will become. i.e. time is of the assense.

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  • claudia

    They are all just a different style of nagging that would piss me off. Why doesn’t he get his own pills or get mailn order. When are you going to trim the hedges sounds bossy. Not good advice I hate being nagged and find it is more of a control issue. I was hoping for help with that.

  • Deborah Gaines

    These are great ideas overall, but numbers 6 and 10 have consistently backfired for me. No matter how lovingly I do the task, or how clearly I say that it’s not a big deal for me, my partner interprets it as me being unhappy with his *not* doing it. To me it’s “taking one for the team” or making a sweet gesture–to him, it’s criticism or interference.

  • Matthew Glover

    How about just asking, rather than accusing or ordering?.

    Honey, could you please do the dishes?


    You never do the dishes!


    Do the dishes!

    The second 2 are what constitute nagging, in my opinion. I don’t mind doing anything my wife asks, but it will always start a fight if I’m told to do it in an impolite manner.

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