How To Make 'Nagging' Work For You

Communicate with your partner better without being called a 'nagger.'
PHOTO: istockphoto

The naggers we see on TV and movies are often the women: Jessica Huang in Fresh Off the Boat, Tess Coleman in Freaky Friday, Mrs. Weasley in Harry Potter, Daphne Wilder in Because I Said So. In real life, we know at least one woman who nags: our moms who nag us and our dads, or our lolas who nag everyone in the family. Very rarely do we see or hear about a woman who is level-headed.

With all the portrayals and talk on nagging, we can’t help but wonder if nagging works. Does nagging happen precisely because polite communication has failed, or are certain people just more inclined to nag? Perhaps a more practical question is: How do we get someone who’s tired of listening to us to actually do?

Before we get to that, let’s go back to the basics. The word “nag” is defined in LearnersDictionary.com as:

  • To annoy (someone) by often complaining about his/her behavior, appearance, etc.
  • To annoy (someone) with repeated questions, requests, or orders

The keyword is “annoy,” and the implication is that the annoyance is caused by repeated or habitual complaints or orders.

For some people, nagging works because the person they’re talking to will do what they want so that they’ll finally shut up.

But frankly, that’s a Band-aid solution for the nagger and the one being nagged. The nagging will go on because people—whether out of habit or knowing that the incessant complaining works—will nag about the next thing they want their partners to change or do.

It takes two—you and your partner—to stop the nagging and make sure it doesn’t happen again. The simplest way to put it is: One must be kind and clear about the request, and the other must do what is respectfully asked of him. Let’s face it: People don’t like repeating themselves, and you don’t want to treat your partner like a child or make him feel incompetent. And contrary to pop culture’s depiction of women, you can be level-headed for a decent confrontation; it just takes some wisdom.

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The tricky part about our perception of nagging is that a person can count anything as annoying, even a kind request. After all, there are people who get annoyed just at the mere fact that their partners are unsatisfied somehow. So even a polite request can be called nagging by the ultrasensitive, overthinking person, unfortunately.

But what we can all do to minimize that risk of being considered annoying or a nagger is by still communicating kindly and by nurturing an open and loving environment in our relationships. It’s the only good option we’ve got. Those two things give the idea of two rational and mature adults talking things out to be understood so that the “issue” will be fixed. Here’s how to communicate your complaints or requests better:

Sit your partner down, say what you want to happen, and explain why. Also, say how his current habit or behavior affects you.

He needs to understand where you’re coming from so that he can be more aware of his actions or inactions. That way, next time, you won’t have to worry about the same things again.

When he does what you’ve been wanting him to do, recognize his efforts.


Thank him.
Tell him he did a good job. This reinforces him to keep doing what you asked him to do. More importantly, it lets him know that his efforts to change weren’t pointless or in vain, and that they were, in fact, the right thing to do. We all know how frustrating and disheartening it can be when we go out of our way to do or change something, only for us to be shut down due to another shortcoming.

If he failed or forgot to do what you told him to, communicate your wish kindly again.

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It’s not always easy to shift one’s habits, so it’s important to be patient and understanding as you put your foot down. You know what’s a relationship killer? You pushing for something he can’t or doesn’t want to meet, and him feeling inadequate to meet your needs or wants. It just makes your relationship lose direction and purpose. So treat him respectfully—the way you want to be treated, really.

When you confront him about something, sound sad or concerned, not angry.


Anger makes people either bite back and want to win that fight regardless of who’s right, or completely block you out so you don’t get on their nerves. But coming off sad, hurt, or concerned moves your partner to comfort you and settle for what you want, or at least compromise. Who enjoys seeing and hearing their loved ones sad, right?

Instead of making orders, suggest.


Sweetly ask: “Do you think you can tell me that you’re home safe after a night out with your friends? Just so I won’t worry.” “Do you think you can be friendlier towards my family? I want you guys to get along; I think it’d be great.” Suggesting makes people more inclined to oblige and cooperate while ordering them around makes them more inclined to rebel. (BTW, this, as well as any other confrontation, should be done in person, so he can tell that you’re sincerely asking something of him, and not being sarcastic or snooty.)

Stay in the present.


Avoid statements like “You have always put your friends first before me,” and “You will always make me clean up after you.” First of all, those can’t possibly be 100 percent accurate, so it’s unwise to say them. Second, you’ll just make the other person argue with you. Those words reveal that you refuse to recognize your partner’s agency and capacity to change, and that you have completely forgotten all the good he’s done and is capable of doing. No one wants that. Remain in the moment and tackle the matter at hand. If you and your partner come to terms, you’ll both move forward feeling strong and hopeful.

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Stephanie blogs about art on Catchinglight.org. Follow her on Instagram.

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