From what I hear from other people, it's clear that I'm not the only person who struggles with nagging. It turns out that being a nag is just as unpleasant as being nagged -- so finding strategies to stop 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. Don’t insist that a task be done on your schedule. “You’ve got to get those boxes into storage today!” Says who? Try, “When are you planning to deal with the boxes?” If possible, show why something needs to be done by a certain time. “Will you be able to get the boxes out of the hall before your family comes over next week?"
2. 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.”
3. Every once in a while, do your sweetheart’s task, for a treat. This kind of pitching-in wins enormous goodwill.
4. 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. My husband thought our older daughter needed a spring jacket, but I didn't. He asked me a few times when we were going to pick one up, and I said, "I don't really think she needs a jacket, so I'm not planning to do that."
5. 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. My husband used never to return my emails. Now he sometimes returns my emails. That's progress.
6. 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. I used to think, "I don't like making the bed." Then I realized, "Actually, I like making the bed."
7. No carping from the sidelines. If your partner got the kids dressed, don’t criticize the outfits. If you want something done your way, do it yourself.
8. 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 you can, and if it can help.
9. Most helpful: Do a task 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.
Any other ideas about how to avoid nagging? What have I missed? If you want suggestions about how to stop being nagged, here are 8 tips to stop the nagging.
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?
* Is your book group reading The Happiness Project? (I know a lot of groups were waiting for the paperback release.) I've prepared a one-page discussion guide for book groups, as well as a guide tailored for church groups, prayer circles, spirituality book groups, and the like. If you'd like either discussion guide (or both), email me at gretchenrubin1 at gmail dot com. (Don't forget the "1.")