No Wonder They Call It The Marriage Killer

I was surprised to see the headline story about the Marriage Killer that’s to blame for more divorces than infidelity or financial woes.


Compared to the usual suspects, nagging just doesn’t seem like that big a deal. Annoying, yes. But a marriage killer?

Well, I’ve had a couple of weeks to think about it, and I’m inclined to agree that nagging is a very bad thing.  Here’s why:

1. Naggers indicate that they don’t trust their spouse to follow through on their promises.

2. Naggers can become demanding. The nagger is the one making a request, and often they are asking for something that they want to see done for their own benefit.  It’s unfair to nag your spouse because they’re not accomodating your desires.

3. Nagging can turn into criticism. Criticism is one of marriage expert John Gottman’s 4 horsemen: its presence indicates that your relationship is headed for trouble, fast. (The other horsemen are contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling.)

4. Nagging sets the stage for stonewalling. Statistically, the nagging spouse is usually female.  In the face of constant nagging, many men become silent. This is a deadly pattern.  Gottman says that once your relationship enters the stonewalling stage (and 85% of stonewallers are male), statistically, you’re doomed.

5. Nagging puts you in the role of your husband’s mom, and not his wife. My husband already has a mom. He doesn’t need–or want–me to tell him to put his dishes in the dishwasher, take out the trash, or pick his socks up off the floor.

When communication breaks down in a marriage, it’s only a matter of time before the relationship falls apart.  Nagging is a sign of communication breakdown, so do your very best to keep it out of your relationship. It really is a marriage killer.

What do you think? Do you struggle with nagging?

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  1. Amber says:

    I struggled with nagging early in my marriage. And, looking back, I still feel justified at times…I mean, why should I have to ask you over and over to help around the house? I don’t feel like cleaning the kitchen either, but we are adults and this goes with the territory. I just didn’t like how I felt when I nagged, and certainly didn’t like how it made my husband act towards me. Then it dawned on me…maybe, if I ask in a playful, flitry way, I will get him to do his part (and we can have some fun too). We have a “husband points” system. When he does something I ask, or out of the blue, he gets points and can cash them in for all sorts of, ahem, rewards 😉

    Now, we don’t fight about the typical nagging stuff. And he doesn’t resist me when I ask him to do things.

    • Adriana says:

      I agree Amber. Keeping things light and playful really helps! Substitute nagging for flirting and over time he will be eating out of the palm of your hand. My husband jumped up from the table and started washing dishes last night. Why? – He could see that I was tired! It has taken ten years for him to become so intuitive. Patience and playfulness!

  2. sonja lange says:

    No one WANTS to be the nagging person in the marriage, but what does it say about the husbands if we have to resort to nagging to get things done. Mine very rarely does anything around the house without some sort of a request or reminder. It drives me insane. We now have an expectant cat because he waited too long to get her fixed and she got out. Super… Christmas crafts still unassembled, late fees for past due sports registrations, dinner dishes still on the table when I wake up…my mom told me that she eventually gave up and just did the best she could on her own, that it made for less fighting but I feel like that would just build up a lot of resentment…I don’t know the answer, I wish I did.

  3. Katie says:

    We agreed that instead of verbally nagging, I would just write it down. I keep a list that I leave out of things I’d like the DDH to do, and he periodically looks at it and checks off the tasks. It doesn’t work perfectly (he doesn’t always check it; I don’t always write things down), but it’s less confrontational than nagging.

    The DDH says he just tends to forget to do things I ask him to do, but he also doesn’t like it when I ask him about it more than once. So this seems to be a good compromise: a reminder without a criticism.

  4. I learned my lessons in my first marriage way back when and I did the personal work it took not to bring that feeling of entitlement to marriage. I also did the work to understand how men’s minds and bodies work. I am thrilled me to say that on both of our parts our marriage of 15 years ( and 6 kids) is nag-free. This has taken work.. maybe more on my own side at first but the time I have put in has more than paid me back.

    Nagging is the twin sister of husband bashing, another thing I cannot abide or understand. If you feel free to bash him how much do you really love him?..and if you don’t love him with your whole heart than for heaves sake get a divorce or learn to love him!

    I know quite a few nagging/husband-bashing women and while doing my best not to be indelicate here one thing I see is that they use sex and intimacy as the strangle hold over their husbands.. and by “holding out” or denying their husband this thing that is practically their lifeblood they think they are ” teaching him a lesson”.. well I can well tell you that this is a false economy at best.

    I often get asked what my secret is…. well honestly I just don’t have to.. my husband is not feeling deprived or chastised so he feels open to doing the things that need to be done or that I mention to him without any real hesitation or attitude.

    And while not a popular opinion and one that can possibly insight great debate.. with 15 years of experience on my side I will stick with my plan 🙂 I wrote a post on this a few weeks ago as an update to a post a few years ago. I challenge any wife to be consistent in the attention she freely gives and pursues with her husband for a full month and see how her husband changes.. and during that time for heavens sake stop nagging!


  5. Karianna @ Caffeinated Catholic Mama says:

    There is a fine line between nagging and reminding and we have to remember that. I like what PP said about writing it down on a list rather than saying it over and over again. It was funny, my vacuum was working maybe 1/2 way because of a broken belt. I would mention to DH about the broken belt and he’d say he’d fix it but then forget. Not wanting to be a nag, I wouldn’t mention it for a while. On and on it went for about 8 months. For Christmas, I got a new vacuum whether that was his intent in the first place, I have no clue. But I didn’t want to be a nag so I tried not to bring it up as much.

  6. Grace says:

    My husband and I are currently going through the Love and Respect workshop with a group of couples. With that in mind, I would say that nagging from a wife can come off as disrespectful to a husband (giving off the impression of criticism, as you said). When a husband is treated with disrespect it is instinctual for him to react in an unloving way. Then when the wife is treated without love, she reacts disrespectfully again. It creates an awful cycle that is very hard to get out of.

    I have certainly struggled with nagging, but I am becoming more aware of it, and thus try to stop. I give him a lot more time, and most of the time I would say he comes through. The other few times, I can overlook. It’s all about 80/20.

  7. In the book Spousonomics the authors talk about how the solution to nagging is to just trust your spouse to get things done.. And my reaction was exactly what they said my reaction would be, which was, “HAHA yeah right.”

    Then I gave up nagging my husband for Lent last year.

    And it worked.

    It worked because I told him I wasn’t going to nag him anymore. So he stopped relying on me to remind him to do things, and actually took responsibility for accomplishing them.

    Now I’ve gotten better about distinguishing between things he does need my help remembering and stuff that he can either take care of or let it go. For example, it’s really bad for him to go on and off his asthma medication, so I have a calendar reminder set up to remind him to order it before he runs out, and he has said he’s fine with me bugging him until he does it. Other things I’ve just let go of. We have a lot of communication around what kind of reminding is helpful and what’s not, and that’s been a big help to both of us.

  8. GREAT ADVICE. In my experience, I’ve found that nagging backfires. It drives my husband nuts so he’s MUCH less inclined to do anything at all for me! Now, sometimes he DOES need reminding once or twice…especially if I’ve failed to get his attention properly when I asked the favor the first time. And sometimes he legitimately forgets. But I’ve found that the WAY I remind/ask him makes all the difference. I have to remember that he’s an adult, not a child, and that I am his wife, not his mother. It’s all about respecting his authority, and being kind and gentle.

  9. 'Becca says:

    I definitely struggle with nagging, being a precise and super-responsible sort of person who fell in love with a procrastinator. In our case, nagging triggers not stonewalling but defensiveness, and once I’ve triggered him to start defending himself he’s busy doing that instead of getting around to the original task! We both are struggling to do better. Like Jessica said, you can’t simply stop nagging; it has to be replaced with his being more determined to keep up with things and/or with a gentler way for you to remind him.

    Regarding #2, I’m usually not nagging for something that would benefit only me but for something that helps the whole family. Thus, I tend to see my nagging as selfless and feel justified. But I’m still not justified in being nasty, resentful, or trust-less about it! What works better is to discuss how our responsibilities are divided: Do I need to do this thing that he’s not been doing, or a part of it? If I do that, what responsibility will he take from me? This is how we arrived at our system in which I plan the meals and he does most of the cooking. We are about equally good at cooking, but he has some strange weaknesses with planning that I don’t have, and he is home earlier in the evening than I am, so it works out well!

  10. Holly says:

    This can be so hard though when men are NOT holding up their end of the deal. I say that with all love of my husband — #1 is often because they have not been trustworthy in the little things over time and fear creeps in, or the I’ll just do it myself to avoid disappointment and then the rest follow. As far as #4 men need to remember that women want to connect and are desperately wanting a response so that stonewalling just makes me want to nag more …. a viscous cycle indeed.

    • Anne says:

      Holly, you’re so right. It is is a vicious cycle. Best of luck working through this in your own life. I would highly recommend picking up one of Gottman’s books for insight–I especially like The 7 Principles for Making Marriage Work.

  11. Annie says:

    Nagging used to be an issue in my marriage until I came to the realization that you can only count on yourself to do the things you want done. If it’s really that important just do it yourself, (and I don’t mean in a “Fine! I’ll do it myself!” resentful kind of way.) I love my husband dearly, but he often forgets to do things and procrastinates constantly. This made me resentful because I mistakenly took it as a sign that he didn’t care about me when it was really just his own inability to remind/motivate himself. He’s just not wired the same way I am and no amount of nagging will change that. These days I do the same thing Katie mentioned above, I make a list of what I need to accomplish and if he pitches in then that’s great. Some of you may think this is letting him off the hook, but I assure you it’s not. If it’s something I want done then it will get done, and if not then I will pay the consequences, and the same goes for him for things he wants done. If it’s a chore that benefits us both then I ask him to help and 99% of the time he pitches in, no nagging needed.

  12. S says:

    Gosh, am I the only woman around these parts with a nagging husband? What’s really funny (not in the ha-ha sense) is that I read this just this afternoon after clicking through your “Links I love.”, and then an hour or two later he nagged me, which I responded with “Hey, go easy on me.” which seemed only to insight more frustration on his part. Then he brought up the same situation again tonight, as if I didn’t hear the first time, and then AGAIN after I told him that his bad attitude had upset me. I wonder if one goes about the whole nagging-in-marriage issue differently if it’s the husband who nags instead of the usual wife-led nagging? I’m sorry, Anne. I completely ranted on your excellent blog. I’m usually pretty strict with myself on what I put out there into the internet, but this time around, I’m choosing to voice some negativity. It’s just nice feeling heard sometimes, and your blog is a big girl, I know she can handle it! 🙂

  13. Molly says:

    Nagging is a problem. I try so hard not to ask my DH to do things repeatedly, but when his clothes sit around for days (both dirty and clean) and the door hinge goes unfixed for months, it is infuriating. I am determined to NOT be his mother and constantly clean up after him. But his response is that he simply doesn’t see the mess or things that need to be fixed. He gets angry and defensive. I feel hurt and ignored. He says he’s tired and just isn’t going to deal with _____ now. I tell him I’m tired too but I don’t get to beg off making dinner for that reason. So what is the answer? How do the things get down without repeated requests?

  14. brokenheartednomore says:

    i actually heard my husband say to another guy (as we wives were fixing their plates in the kitchen) “if i just wait long enough, i know she’ll get tired of asking me and do it herself” and they laughed. and that’s what ultimately happened. as time went by i gave up on feeling heard or respected or loved or even noticed. i stopped expecting anything, stopped hoping for anything…and eventually i gave up being married to him too. sad…i loved him with all my heart, and most of what i asked him to do would have been totally to his benefit. when we were dating he joked about me being a “strong” girl who could “keep him in line”…if i had known he just wanted a mommy to foil and frustrate i never would have married him.

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