I've posted this list before, but I'm posting it again, because the issue of nagging is something that people raise with me frequently in discussions of happiness. It turns out that being a nag is just as unpleasant as being nagged -- so figuring out how to end nagging brings a real happiness boost to a relationship.
But even though no one enjoys an atmosphere of nagging, in marriage, or any partnership, chores are a huge source of conflict. How do you get your sweetheart to hold up his or her end, without nagging?
One of my best friends from college has a very radical solution: she and her husband don’t assign. That’s right. They never say, “Get me a diaper,” “The trash needs to go out,” etc. This only works because neither one of them is a slacker, but still — what a tactic! And they have three children!
That's something to strive for. But even if we can’t reach that point, most of us could cut back on the nagging. Here are some strategies that have worked for me:
1. It’s annoying to hear a hectoring voice, so suggest tasks without words. When my husband needs a prescription filled, he puts his empty medicine bottle on the bathroom counter. Then I know to get it re-filled.
2. If you need to voice a reminder, limit yourself to one word. Instead of barking out, “Now remember, I’ve told you a dozen times, stop off at the grocery store, we need milk, if you forget, you’re going right back out!” Instead, I call out, “Grocery store!” or “Milk!”
3. Don’t insist that a task be done on your schedule. “You’ve got to trim those hedges today!” Says who? Try, “When are you planning to trim the hedges?” If possible, show why something needs to be done by a certain time. “Will you be able to trim the hedges before our party next week?”
4. Remind your partner that it’s better to decline a task than to break a promise. My husband told me that he’d emailed some friends to tell them we had to miss their dinner party to go to a family dinner—but he hadn’t. Then I had to cancel at the last minute, it was incredibly rude, and I was enraged. Now I tell him, “You don’t have to do it. But tell me, so I can it.”
5. Have clear assignments.
6. Every once in a while, do your sweetheart’s task, for a treat. This kind of pitching-in wins enormous goodwill.
7. Assign chores based on personal priorities. I hate a messy bedroom more than my husband, but he hates a messy kitchen more than I. So I do more tidying in the bedroom, and he does more in the kitchen.
8. Do it yourself. I used to be annoyed with my husband because we never had cash in the house. Then I realized: why did I get to assign that job? Now I do it, and we always have cash, and I’m not annoyed.
9. Settle for a partial victory. Maybe your partner won’t put dishes in the dishwasher, but getting them from the family room into the sink is a big improvement.
10. Re-frame: decide that you don’t mind doing a chore — like putting clothes in the hamper or hanging up wet towels. Surprisingly, this is easier than you’d think.
11. Don’t push for the impossible. There’s no way I’ll do anything relating to our car, so my husband doesn’t even ask.
12. No carping from the sidelines. If your partner got the kids dressed, don’t mock the outfits. If you want something done your way, do it yourself.
13. Think about how money might be able to buy some happiness. Could you find a teenager to mow the lawn? Could you hire a weekly cleaning service? Could you buy prepared foods a few nights a week? These days, money is very tight, but eliminating conflict in a relationship is a high happiness priority, so this is a place to spend money if it can help.
14. Remember that messy areas tend to stay messy, and tidy areas tend to stay tidy. If you want your partner to be neat, be neat yourself!
15. Remind yourself -- generally, nagging doesn't work.