Uh-oh. Your spouse is at it again, telling you what you’ve done (or not) and what you need to do to fix it. Like some sort of self-appointed personal improvement counselor, your spouse thinks they know exactly what’s wrong with you and is not afraid to tell you what you need to do to fix it. They then get angrily frustrated that you just won’t listen!
Let’s face it: you’re tired of being nagged and it’s driving you crazy. You don’t know how to get your spouse to stop being such a… nag. Or maybe you don’t know how you can cope another day with their nitpicking. Either way, I offer this post as my feeble attempt to address this problem.
The phenomenon identified by the word “nagging” is age old. Men certainly are capable of becoming naggers – I’ve counseled women whose husbands were so. However, even a cursory perusal of the scholarly literature, pop-lit, or even daytime talk shows will testify to what virtually every culture recognizes: women have a unique propensity for becoming naggers. With this reality as our foundation, in what follows I’ll be referring to the husbands as the ones being nagged, and the wife as the one doing the nagging. Yet bear in mind that I am fully aware that a man is capable of nagging his wife and I’m also aware that not all wives fall into the bad habit of nagging. So please don’t fill up my inbox with hate mail. If the shoe fits, wear it. If not, then disregard. Ok? Also, if you’re in a marriage in which the husband does the nagging, then simply swap pronouns in your mind as you read this. Let’s get started!
Men, among other things you are called to dwell with your wife with understanding (1 Peter 3:7). As such, it may be helpful to ask the question: Why does your wife nag? I can hear it now: “Ben, she nags because she’s a nag!” Dismissing the behavior as “this is just who they are,” even if the dismissal is done in a disgusted manner, actually has the effect of preventing us from engaging our spouse in a way that shows they are both responsible for the actions they choose and capable of changing with the help of the Holy Spirit. While it may temporarily feel good to acknowledge and vent frustration, it hardly ever has any positive effect. So let’s look at the four key components of why nagging occurs with an eye towards how we can respond positively to encourage her sanctification. Remember, that is the core of the admonition to husbands in Eph 5:25-28: your leadership should have her sanctification in view.
Why Nagging Occurs
First, I think it is important to note that nagging by one spouse to another is intended to be a sign of caring. That may sound crazy, but it’s true. Though it is a misguided effort at showing it, the only reason your spouse nags you at all is because they care about you and want what they believe is best for you. So although the nagging is annoying and counter-productive, at its core your wife is saying “I care about you!”
Second, nagging is rooted in the belief that the one doing it has identified a “problem” of which the one on the receiving end is either unaware or ignorant as to how to remedy it. The one doing the nagging feels it is their job to provide the needed insight and instruction.
Third, nagging occurs when the wife feels unheard. She then feels the need to try bringing her husband the insight she believes he desperately needs, again… and again… and again. And she’s angrily wondering, “Why won’t he listen to me?!”
Fourth, naggings flows from a heart that wants to be in control. It absolutely galls someone engaged in a pattern of nagging that their spouse would resist conforming their dress or behaviors to their expectations or tastes, and they will hammer away until you bring yourself into conformity.
With these four things in mind, let me suggest a few things you can do when you find yourself the recipient of nagging.
Suggested Responses to Nagging
First, when you are irritated at your wife’s nagging and you feel the anger welling up inside, remember that your wife cares for you and is trying to help fix what she believes is a problem. Acknowledge and express appreciation for that concern. This is an important first step.
Second, knowing that she perceives there to be a problem, give an honest assessment of yourself. Hear me now, men: It is not a sign of love to show prideful indifference to the opinions and desires of our wife. Just because you’re happy with you doesn’t mean that it is ok to blow off your wife’s concerns about you. A reality of marriage is that we reflect upon the other. Just like you don’t want your wife being an embarrassment to you, so you shouldn’t want to be an embarrassment to her. So honestly and humbly consider what she’s saying.
Third, since a major cause of nagging is that she feels unheard, take the time to listen. Engage. Even if you disagree with your wife’s assessment and guidance, seek clarification. Ask questions. Try to understand. Paraphrase back what you believe you’re hearing her say. These practices will aid tremendously in helping her feel heard.
Fourth, if you think the previous three suggestions are difficult, then hold on – concerning the controlling attitude. You’re going to have to patiently but very VERY persistently engage this attitude. Remind her that she is your wife and not your mother, that you value her counsel and advice but do not appreciate her unsolicited nit-picky demanding overtures about what you can do better, and that it is belittling and disrespectful for her to try to boss you around by her nagging.
I recognize that some readers will likely skip suggestions 1 through 3 and only do number 4. After all, you want to give “that nag” a piece of your mind! Such a response is misguided, based on pride, and only fuels her sense of not being heard or appreciated. So please don’t do it, ok?
Ultimately, the best course of action is to live your life in such a way that your wife is deeply convinced you love her, have her best interests in mind, that you appreciate her and her insights, and that she feels heard. A way to start is to pray diligently for your wife, for God to bless her and sanctify her. Pray for yourself, that you would be a godly husband who faithfully models servant leadership and that you would be attentive to your wife’s needs, concerns, and interests. Lastly, be patient. God doesn’t bring sanctification on our timetable. Show mercy knowing that just as your wife has annoying habits – like nagging – that irritate you, you too have annoying habits that irritate your wife.
Until next time,