Wifey Wednesday: Can Men Nag, Too?…And Other Questions About Nagging

Christian Marriage Advice

It’s Wednesday, the day when we talk marriage! I introduce a topic, and then you all can comment on it or link up your own marriage posts below.


Nagging Doesn't Get You Anywhere

It’s one of the worst things a woman can do, we hear. It’s poison to a marriage. It’s annoying. It’s degrading. It’s pathetic.

The Bible speaks against it. Marriage books warn of it. In fact, everywhere women look we’re pretty much “nagged” not to nag!

On Saturday I posted a Reader Question with this scenario: the husband has diet-related health issues, yet refuses to change what he eats. The wife cooks healthy meals, and he complains and accuses her of nagging. What should she do?

One frustrated commenter wrote:

Question: why is it that when a wife said a husband to do something more than once, it is “nagging.”. If a husband does the same thing, the wife’s supposed to submit.

Another question: why are we so hung up on this stupid word “nag.”. I swear it is a sexist word people use to shut down a woman who has real thoughts, questions and concerns. Maybe we should focus on the disrespect, laziness, and disregard of the spouse ignoring his wife and shutting her down rather than just telling her not to be a nag. If I repeatedly left hubby’s tools laying around and he repeatedly told me to please put them away when done and I said, “quit nagging me. This is who I am,” all heck would break loose. If i repeatedly asked my husband to improve his health or pick up his socks, I’m a nag and should just let him be.

How to Not be a Nagging Wife: What is and ISN'T NaggingI think she has a point. We often do have double standards around this. And it isn’t healthy! So let’s look at at the truth about nagging:

1. A Nagging Wife–or a Nagging Husband–Kills Intimacy

Proverbs 21:9 says:

Better to live on the corner of a roof than to share a house with a nagging wife.

Obviously, then, nagging is wrong. But what exactly is nagging?

2. Nagging Is Persistent

Here are a few definitions:

to annoy by persistent faultfinding, complaints, or demands.

Here’s another:

to find fault or complain in an irritating, wearisome, or relentless manner

The key words here, I think, are “persistent” and “relentless”. A good synonym may be “harp”: She’s always harping on me to put the laundry away! It’s something we do constantly, and we quite often know that we’re being annoying.

I know one couple who have been for just under a decade where it seems as if every word out of her mouth is a criticism. She often thinks it’s a joke: “He doesn’t even know how to change a diaper!”, or “when I’m sick everyone just starves because he can’t cook.” Her mouth is full of criticism, but I don’t know if she notices because she thinks it’s funny.  Yet as she talks I can see his posture getting worse and worse as he just sags. If he tries to do anything, she says, “oh, you don’t know how to chop right. Let me just do it. Why don’t you just watch the game? You know that’s all you want to do anyway.” And off she goes.

She doesn’t do this with animosity. She doesn’t sound angry. Just mildly exasperated. But if that were all you heard, day in and day out, wouldn’t it be exhausting? Interestingly, she’s not always even making new demands of him. She’s just constantly saying that he is inadequate. Nagging doesn’t mean that you’re always trying to get someone to do something specifically differently; sometimes it’s just a constant litany of faults.

'Self Portrait' photo (c) 2008, Anthony Cain - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

3. Men Can Nag, Too!

A few years ago my husband and I used to go out to lunch with a number of couples every month. The ten of us would get together and enjoy a great time of conversation and fun.

But one thing that killed it for me was one of the husbands who would question his wife’s menu choices, warn her if she was eating too much, and kid her about her weight. She was on the bigger side, and he never let her forget it. It was humiliating to her, and horribly awkward for the rest of us. The men started joking with him about his faults to make him see that what he was doing was over the top, but he never quite got the message.

Yes, men can nag, too. Whenever one of us relentlessly criticizes our spouse, we’re nagging. It’s just that women are more likely to nag simply because we tend to use our words when we attack. Men may use the silent treatment, or may withdraw, or may react in anger. But women like to use our words because we tend to be more relational. So it isn’t only a female problem, it’s just that we’re more susceptible to it!

If he is constantly criticizing you, it’s perfectly okay to say,

I feel as if you are criticizing me a lot lately. If there are things you want to change about me, I don’t mind having an honest discussion about that. But if you start criticizing me repeatedly, I’m going to have to leave the conversation.

4. Pointing Out Shortfalls Is Not Always (Or Even Usually) Nagging

Constantly critcizing, though, is not the same as occasionally bringing up a big issue for discussion.

Look, we all have areas we can grow in in our marriages. None of us is perfect. And if you have a problem in your relationship, it honestly is okay to share that and talk to your husband about it. That isn’t nagging. Discussing an issue is fine; constantly and relentlessly telling him that he is inadequate, or that he is failing, or that he hasn’t done his job, isn’t. Nagging attacks the character of a person–“he’s so lazy!”. Discussion, on the other hand, looks at an issue–“I feel as if we’re not connecting”. They aren’t the same thing.

Nevertheless, I have had some frustrated women say to me, “my husband never spends any time with the kids! I’ve tried to bring this up gently, when we’re in a good mood, and he just yells at me for nagging him and shuts down the conversation completely. He doesn’t listen.”

If your husband calls it nagging the first time you bring up an issue, if you bring it up with goodwill, without slandering his character, then that’s a cop out. When men don’t want to deal with problems, they often label it “nagging” so that the blame can be transferred to the woman. I have seen women do something similar, too! Some women who want to get out of a marriage label their husband’s yelling or anger as “abuse” because it gives them the upper hand (this is not to say there isn’t abuse! It’s just that I have had friends leave their “abusive” husbands who then turned around and gave those husbands joint, or even majority custody, of the kids who were supposedly subject to this “abuse”. But calling yelling “abuse” gave them Christian cover to divorce).

So if you have an issue, you can certainly talk about it without it constituting nagging, like this:

  • Bring it up once or twice and have a big talk about it. You don’t say it in anger; you talk about it because you want to increase intimacy in your relationship.
  • Talk up the things that you love and appreciate about him, too.
  • Work on your friendship with your husband to build goodwill so that you can communicate about issues better, but also so that issues don’t seem bigger than they are. When we laugh with each other, problems often lose some of their potency.
  • Decide whether or not to drop the issue. Some things we just have to live with. You realize you can’t change it, and if you’re not going to leave the marriage over it, then you accept it.
  • If it’s an issue that may endanger the marriage or the family (like chronic pornography use, major debt, addiction, or withholding sex), recruit help. Talk to a pastor, or a counselor, or a mentor about what to do. You aren’t mean to deal with big problems in marriage alone.
  • Go to God for your peace and your sense of security.

Sometimes we have to live in a marriage that isn’t ideal. He does something that we wish he would change. That’s just life! But hopefully if you’ve taken these steps, you won’t resort to nagging, and both of you may find more peace.

Note: one thing that people email me about a lot is what to do if your husband doesn’t want sex. Is it nagging if you ask him about it a lot? That’s a tough one, and I deal with it in The Good Girls Guide to Great Sex. I’d say that if this is a chronic problem, you really need to see a counselor, and so does he. But if you can keep the communication channels open, maybe you can at least agree on what a minimum number of times a month is okay. But I know that’s hard when you want to feel wanted, and you don’t. I’ll write more about this soon!

Now, do you have anything to share with us about marriage? Just link up a post in the linky below!

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  1. Every woman who knows a man nags. Every man who knows a woman can nag. Nagging is a terrible thing! I am just a guilty. As I am nagging my husband it will register in my brain that I am nagging. And I will say to my self why don’t I just shut up. Some time I can but most of the time because I don’t control my mouth I escalates into a fight. So maybe next time I’ll listen to myself!

  2. living in blurred lines says:

    Here’s an added thought….whenever I observe nagging or have done it myself, I notice that the man never does anything to draw a boundary. Instead, they withdraw, get angry or what have you. When a man doesn’t man up and make a clear decision, it leaves the door of communication wide open for a woman to keep trying. I’d say often nagging occurs because one is seeking an answer that the other isn’t clearly giving. Inaction isn’t seen as an answer or decision. As frustrating as hearing nagging is, it is equally frustrating to the nag to not get anything from the receiver of the nagging. I’m not saying nagging is right, just offering my insight.

    Thank you, Sheila for defining nagging so well. You hit the nail on the head. I also discovered that many women I know feel shut down unfairly by the word nag by men who wish to avoid dealing with the issue.

    • it's not easy says:

      I’d really like to hear more dialogue on this because I couldn’t agree more here!! Receiving a big NOTHING from your husband makes one crazy when trying to get through life in the thing called “Oneness/Partnership”. Thank you for bringing this up and be blessed!

    • I totally agree. I nag my kids, but I have always tried not to nag my husband. YET, when he doesn’t answer, or won’t answer, I continue to bring up the issue. My husband is notorious for getting up and walking away from me when I start a conversation. He says it’s because he doesn’t want to be criticized and “nagged”. But like you said, bringing up concerns isn’t nagging. Starting a serious conversation at the dinner table when it’s just the two of you, isn’t nagging. However, it does make me angry when I’m not given the respect to at least be heard on a matter. And if I feel the need to pursue the conversation in spite of his withdrawal, I’m the one who ends up looking like the bully. It can be very frustrating.

      • I will add, my husband has gotten angry when I brought up the same subject twice in two years. I asked him early on in our marriage to have joint checking accounts. He said he didn’t want to talk about it. I didn’t mention it again for a year or two. Then we were having some financial problems and I asked him again if we could look into joining our finances. He said, “No. End of discussion”. This is not nagging. But this is what he refers to as “nagging”. So, sometimes we put pressure on ourselves to “improve” something about ourselves because our husbands are unhappy with us. But I’ve found, the problem (in this specific instance) isn’t me- it’s him. It has taken me years to understand what is and isn’t nagging- and many times I’m pushed away for just trying to be honest and proactive.

        • This is an excellent example of what is “not nagging”, and how we don’t need to own every problem. It is really manipulative to blame someone else for bringing up a problem. If this is something that is serious in your marriage, it is perfectly okay to want to talk about it. If he refuses, then you’re stuck. Is this something that you can live with? Or, do you think that by living with it you’re actually encouraging him to be less Christlike? Is this an important issue not just for your marriage but also for godliness in his life? Then it may be time to talk with someone else about it, too, and ask him to sit down and talk about it. I wish we all had key mentors in our lives who could help us with these difficult issues. It would be so much easier!

  3. Thank you so much for posting this Sheila, I struggle with this so much. And like the commenter above said I can see it while I am doing it, but I am so annoyed at the time I can’t make myself stop. I get this feeling like I have to get my thoughts across and I feel like I don’t than he will never understand. It’s a crazy cycle one I am trying to break. Thanks for the tips, I am definitely going to pin this to remember it.
    Kathryn recently posted…17 iphone NecessitiesMy Profile

  4. I needed your post today. Yes, I may have been one to nag. I have learned a few things and am trying not to nag. My husband says that I ask too many questions. It reminds him of his dad when he was growing up, who was constantly asking all sorts of questions. I just like to know about his day or what he’s been doing or about the people he has been talking to. Nice reminder that men can nag as well.

    • With my husband, if I ask too many questions he feels like I’m doing a form of nagging. It takes concerted effort for me to be content with a brief answer to “how was your day?” If I am content with his brief answer, he is more likely to open up when he’s in more of a mood to talk.

    • Nothing wrong with asking about his day, just don’t expect him to give you a complete description of it as soon as he walks through the door. Home is our refuge, the last thing we want to do after a day at work is start talking about work the moment we walk in the door. Greet us, hug and kiss us, jump us, just don’t expect a lengthy monologue about work until we have decompressed.

      When i walk through the door and my wife asks about my day, I usually give her a one or two-word answer: Fine, uneventful, slow, etc., etc. A couple hours later, after I have decompressed, I’ll actually start sharing more details about my day without her even asking, I just don’t want to do so as soon as I arrive home.

      If you start asking a dozen questions about his day the moment he is in the door, then he will feel like he never left work.

      • living in blurred lines says:

        Thank you for this insight into the minds of men. I get kidded when hubby gives me little to no answer about his day at work (reminds me of the non answers teenage kids give). I always felt like he didn’t feel I was worth sharing his day with, or he was hiding something. Now I realize work isn’t usually enjoyable so why would he want to talk about it when he’s finally away from it!

  5. I think that if a woman seldom brings up an issue to discuss–a few times a year–she is still considered a nag. One thing my mom told me before I got married was to pick my battles, meaning if it is something you can live with (a toilet seat left up occasionally, the cap left off the toothbrush, etc) then live with it. However, when it is something that you cannot live with then you should bring it to your mate’s attention. That concept has saved me much frustration.

    One way I’ve learned to live with some of the small things is to make sure that my behavior is indicative of how I want to be treated or how he would like to be treated. Unfortunately, everyone does not have the same upbringing or desire to make sure the other person’s needs are met. This is when nagging can creep in and cause dissension.
    Makasha Dorsey recently posted…Wise WomenMy Profile

  6. Sheila,

    You always make me think! So here it is…

    If the issue is obviously sin, the offended spouse has two Biblical choices:
    1. She can just let it go. Proverbs 19:11 says, “A man’s wisdom gives him patience; it is his glory to overlook an offense.”
    2. If she decides it’s too important to let go of, there’s a Biblical process to walk through found in Matthew 18.

    On the other hand, if it’s NOT sin (the lid off the toothpaste, the toilet seat up, etc.), she can put the ball in his court. She brings it up calmly and without anger (not in the heat of the moment.) “Honey, I would appreciate it if you would take off your shoes and put them in the closet when you come in the door.”

    We should both (yes, this cuts both ways) desire to glorify God by pleasing our spouses in things like this. It’s a reasonable request that doesn’t lead to sin, right?

    So let’s suppose the husband agrees, but they both know full well that he may forget. So she asks him something like, “Are you ON IT, or would you like me to remind you?”

    Again, the ball is in his court. He may refuse the reminders and she may just have to let it go. But…

    If he acknowledges that he may well need reminders, she might even ask him how he’d like to be reminded. Something she can say that doesn’t offend him.

    That way, if he’s given her permission to remind him it’s not nagging.

    Make sense?

    I know that doesn’t help much if the spouse is really uncooperative, but for most of us I think it will help ;D

    Julie G
    She makes her appeal calmly and without anger. “Honey, I’d really appreciate it if you would ______.”
    Julie recently posted…CAP SAREXMy Profile

  7. Oops. Sorry about the extra sentence after my name.
    Julie recently posted…CAP SAREXMy Profile

  8. I’ve been working sooooooooo hard on not nagging my husband recently. It’s paying off – things in our house are more harmonious, and when I do bring up something, he’s more likely to listen now. He can totally nag too! I think the way men nag is different than how women nag. So we don’t think of it the same. In the end it all comes back to healthy communication on both sides, y’know? Marriage is a two-way street.
    Melissa recently posted…End of Summer Update-nessMy Profile

  9. Is there a Naggers Anonymous organization? “My name is J, and I am a recovering nagger.” It took me years to learn that even if I was completely right in the content of what I was saying, the way I brought up the offense over and over was neither fixing the issue nor helping my marriage. That’s not to say that I don’t slip up, but I try to keep my requests calm and infrequent and take on big issues through questions and conversation rather than criticism. Great post, Sheila! Wonderful reminders here.
    J (Hot, Holy & Humorous) recently posted…Bridal Boudoir PhotographyMy Profile

  10. My husband repeatedly tells me that he can forgive me many shortcomings because of one of my strengths: I make him laugh. I can say so much more to him if I take the time of crafting it in a funny way. I am not alone in this! A commenter on my blog apologized to her husband for thoughtlessly putting the hamper three feet away from where he wanted it. He got the joke and he got the point. Problem solved creatively! Bless that wife!
    Christie Martin @ Garden of Holiness recently posted…Wifey Wednesday: Naggity Nag NagMy Profile

    • Great example! Works with kids, too. If we’re just more light-hearted in our relationships things are usually taken much better.

  11. I’m a recovering nagger, too! My husband and I have talked about how if I feel the desperate need to keep asking/telling him, then he has some responsibility for not communicating with me clearly the first time. But of course, it’s still my responsibility to handle it without nagging! I don’t want to set that example to my kids, either.

    The “abuse” when it isn’t actually abuse thing gets me, too. I’ve known women who tried to convince themselves and others that things like repeatedly leaving laundry on the floor or being inconsiderate are abuse…they aren’t. And like you said, if someone really think it’s abusive, why is she sending her children there alone half of the time? So confusing to me. (And to those poor kids, I bet!)

  12. Excellent post! I love how you summarized it well! :o)
    Mary @ A Productive Endeavor recently posted…Marriage MondayMy Profile

  13. Loved the synopsis in this! Wasn’t sure where it was going so relieved to see such a Godly take on nagging in marriage
    Jennifer recently posted…The Empty Half of the BedMy Profile

  14. I too am a nag but i see it persistent on both sides and we speak about it being criticising and how it makes the man feel inadequate but its also belittling for the women who feels shes doing twice the load un-noticed? Another question I ask is, would my husband ever search sites for ways to improve our relationship? One man band I ask???

  15. My parents are a perfect example of the truth that men can nag. I remember much of my childhood with my mother being laid back and relaxed and my father was very controlling and nagging. The picture posted at the top of the page with the man and woman is a perfect example of my parents, except switch them around so that the man is nagging and the woman is sitting there and tired of it. My father would often scream out things such as, “No one in this house ever listens to me”, or, “It’s not fair.” He would always go up to my mother like “Why haven’t you done this, when are you going to do it” “why is this put away like that?” I’m grown and on my own now but every time I come home for a vist I see that he is still the same way. Always nagging her and asking questions and saying the same thing over and over. I dont mean this too harshly, but my father had always seemed like a heinous bitch trapped in a man’s body. Growing up with a nagging father and a laid back mother has caused me to view even in adulthood that women are more laid back and men nag.

  16. I,ve been praying a lot about this lately. I don’t call it nagging lol, I call it impatience and anger. God corrected me and called it mis-trust in my husband. He told me to trust Him (God) , pray for wisdom for my husband, and trust his (my husband’s) decisions, and I would feel a lifting of these stresses. So I have. I have to say, this has worked for me lately. A few months trying, a few weeks doing better in my corner, (it takes persistence to change a habit, and I bring it to God when I can’t seem to keep my mouth shut and blow it) And he (my husband) has a lighter spirit. I am not claiming to be perfect, but God is, and He is helping me with this. His (my husband’s) decisions on some things seem odd sometimes, but when I give my opinion, which I still do, I end with, that’s my opinion, you make the decision, and I will back you. And I do. And wa la , less stress, and we get to point b a little different in some instances, but we get there, and he looks different, and I feel different. Thank you God

  17. patricia Abule says:

    To always tell your husband what is wrong. Is that nagging?

  18. As an abuse survivor I have had to learn to see if advice is good for difficult or destructive marriages. I have to tell you I had a really hard time seeing the comment about abuse. If anything in working with women in abuse what I see is the woman under reporting or minimizing abuse. Just recently a woman told me her ex was not abusive because when he knocked her to the floor and had his hands around her neck he didn’t choke her. Now later talking to her the son had reported seeing him throw her across the room. This is someone who isn’t abusive??????
    As far as giving them custody that is up to the justice system and they don’t always take abuse into consideration. We had a police report from the abuse and the neighbors wanted to testify to him leaving her outside in her walker while he was inside for an hour or so and he lived in a busy traffic place with some transient population coming through the area. My attorney was told that unless she was hurt while he had her and they could prove that it was do to his abuse or neglect they couldn’t do anything and if I refused him visitation, custody I would be thrown in jail.
    Leslie Vernick has a great test within her The Emotionally Destructive Marriage that women should take to determine what state their marriage is in before any other counseling is undertaken. You don’t want to treat cancer like a cold and you don’t want to treat abuse like disappointment.

    • Cindy, thank you for your comment, and I echo your suggestion about Leslie Vernick’s book. She’s an excellent author!

      I absolutely do agree that abuse is real and that it is dangerous and that we do need to deal with it. It’s just that abuse is not the only problem in marriage, and we can’t ignore that there could also be other things. I do understand what you’re saying about custody, but in the two cases I’m specifically thinking of, the women willingly gave custody to their ex-husbands so that they could pursue relationships with their boyfriends and marry those boyfriends. They told the whole church how their husbands were verbally abusive because they yelled, but then as soon as their husbands moved out, the kids basically moved out, too, and these other relationships were pursued. The women were able to switch churches and still be in leadership positions there because their marriages had ended due to “abuse”. And the children say there was no abuse.

      I am quite aware that often children state there was no abuse when there is abuse. But children also state there was no abuse when there was no abuse.

      Just like rape is very real, false rape reports are also very real. Pursuing false rape reports does not mean one doesn’t believe in rape; on the contrary, it means you want to take real rape seriously by making sure people don’t make so many false reports that people start disbelieving rape.

      I think the church needs to do the same thing. Let’s recognize real abuse, but let’s also take false reports of abuse seriously.

      I have known friends who have been abused, and I have known friends who have claimed abuse so that they could marry another man without being labelled an adulteress.

      The fact that I have had friends who have done the latter does not mean that I don’t believe the former were abused. It’s just really messy, and we need to be careful, because sin, deceit, brokenness, and evil come in all forms, and we can’t ignore one at the expense of the other, that’s all.

      • Thanks for the consideration of my comments. I very recently started following your blog and I know from several other topics you have that you do have a heart for those that are in abusive relationships. For example http://tolovehonorandvacuum.com/2012/08/submission-doesnt-mean-lying-over-and-taking-it/
        was a great example. This one just really hit hard because of the double mindedness of the abuser. It is like they are wearing a mask for the public and the family sees the real person. Rarely in abuse does the person act the same in public as they do in private.
        Thanks for the reply.

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