Surrender control. Surrender control. Let it go. These are words I repeat to myself often. This mantra of sorts stops me in my tracks when I am about to commit a marriage killing crime, more commonly known as nagging.
“Did you take the trash out?” Nag.
“You do know that bill is due tomorrow, right?” Nag.
If the charge is nagging, I plead guilty. The Wall Street Journal claims that nagging is more toxic to a marriage than adultery, and I admit to being a repeat offender. I’ve been nagging my husband of nearly four years from day one. Before we moved in to our home, he had never lived on his own. I felt it was my duty to school him on household tasks. And when they were overlooked, the nagging began.
Nagging is never just an innocent question, a friendly reminder or a calmly delivered statement. It comes with a accusatory tone and, as my husband will tell you, “that face.” When slapped with a nag, his immediate response is to shut me out.
He isn’t alone in his lack of defense for forgetting to handle the task at hand. As the WSJ explains, “many times [the nagged] doesn’t respond because he doesn’t know the answer yet, or he knows the answer will disappoint her [the nagger].”
His casual attitude or silence would enrage me further. And suddenly I would be accusing him of laziness, insensitivity, even sexism, for expecting me to handle all of the household tasks on my own. Of course, after hurling these accusations at him, he would be angry, too. And then there we were, in the middle of a full-blown fight that began over a garbage can.
That “nagging can become a prime contributor to divorce when couples start fighting about the nagging rather than talking about the issue at the root of the nagging,” certainly rang true in my relationship.
That underlying issue, for us at least, is control. Because I work from home and (like many women) make maintaining the household my priority, I often feel like I have to control even his portion of the responsibility. This means that I am easily overwhelmed, which is the perfect starter fuel for a nagging fire.
Then something changed this year. We added another human into our family. After our daughter was born, I realized I needed to give up some control. I could no longer micromanage trash day, toilet scrubbing and the proper placement of towels after a shower.
Tending to the needs of an infant, two dogs and trying to care for my super sensitive postnatal self left little room for anything else.
I decided the fights over trash had to stop. I needed to begin to trust that even without my seemingly gentle reminders, things would get done. I had to have faith in my husband’s ability to take care of himself and his portion of the household responsibilities without me looking over his shoulder.
Of course, I didn’t stop cold turkey. I discovered a few ways to make nagging more pleasant. Or to make sure my requests sounded nothing like nagging at all.
When the task has to do with my daughter, I place the importance of the task on her. He can’t get mad about doing something for his little girl, right? “Don’t forget to set up Elena’s humidifier, her nose is pretty raw today.”
My best anti-nagging trick is text messaging. Most of the time I am nursing the baby or putting her to sleep and I can’t get away. He responds much better to a text message reminder than to my frustrated tone and “that face.”
I admit this isn’t ideal. It sounds like I’m saying my husband and I communicate better via text message than in person. But we’re talking about chores, not expressions of love and intimacy.
It has been about two months and things have been better between us since my nagging epiphany. Tasks are still dropped, but when they are, I remind myself that I am not perfect, and that I’m certainly not the partner I once was either. These days the house is messier, my hair is a little dirtier and I am not always present and available for quiet time with my husband. He has never complained about this, so why should I fault him for continually leaving the wire hangers from the dry cleaner strewn about the house?
When all else fails, I have my mantra to guide me through. Surrender control. Surrender control. Let it go. In the meantime, improving my tone and “that face” are on my to-do list.
Brooke Dowd Sacco is a freelance writer, editor, and mom based in Philadelphia.