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.

I 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.

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 Girl’s 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?