How to Nag Your Partner Effectively

[ 0 ] May 20, 2014 |

unhappy-couple-shutterstockWant your partner to listen to you? Relationship expert Dr. Marianne Brandon on how to nag nicely and effectively…

Ladies, we’ve all been there. If you’ve asked him once, you’ve asked 50 times. At some point you stopped asking nicely and your tone officially turned to nagging. Now, somehow, it’s hard to stop. The nag feels strangely natural rolling off your tongue. And you feel oh so justified in doing it. After all, who could blame you? Your request is more than appropriate, and your partner is more than capable of following through. Anyway, what choice do you have? You know of no other way to handle this situation.

Well you’ve come to the right place, because there is actually a more effective solution out there. And you need it. If you keep nagging, it’s unlikely that he is going to suddenly respond the way you want him to.

You both have become embattled in one of those obnoxious power struggles that long-term committed partners do so very well. When couples get entrenched in this type of communication dance, everyone suffers. The TV becomes more and more appealing. She feels irritable around him. He shuts down around her. Sometimes she ups the ante by getting more dramatic in her efforts to get his attention. He closes down even more as a result. Making love becomes a rare event. In fact, you are lucky if you are still having sex. After all, who wants to make love to a man who is so tuned out from reality? And vice-versa, who wants to make love to a woman who won’t stop nagging you?

You with me so far? Yes, I thought so. I’ve been doing couples therapy for a while now, I know this game. So allow me to offer you a very powerful and effective alternative to the nag. You know I’m very influenced by evolutionary theory, so we are going to use your man’s evolutionary programming to your advantage. But it’s going to require self-control, exposure and sincerity on your part. I hope you are up for it.

Here’s the deal – we nag when we are irritated. Irritation is a form of anger. Anger is almost always an emotion that is fueled by something else – a deeper, more vulnerable feeling. When you look “under” your anger, chances are you’ll find some combination of sadness, rejection, and/or fear. (Fear is almost always at the core of everything dark, but if you get to sadness or rejection, that’s good enough). So ladies, find your sadness or your rejection, and let yourself really feel it. Drop down into it, so you feel it in your entire body. These emotions make us feel defenseless, helpless, hopeless, and obviously very uncomfortable. Anger, in contrast, energizes us, and makes us feel stronger and superior. Anger is a natural emotion and when expressed in a healthy way, it can be a very productive one, too.

I am in no way against anger. Personally, I’m a big fan. BUT it’s when anger gets expressed in unproductive ways that things go very wrong. And nagging is one of those unproductive expressions of anger that we want to avoid if possible. I’ve yet to hear a woman tell me that her nagging is effective in getting what she needs. In fact, here’s a word of warning. If you were to succeed in getting what you want via nagging, then you will have a new problem on your hands. You will lose respect for a man who requires nagging to get something done. But that’s a topic for another article.

OK, so let’s review. We know expressions of anger can be healthy, but nagging is not one of those expressions. We know that there are more vulnerable emotions under your anger. So here’s the deal – you have to genuinely find those deeper emotions, and then share them.

Note that I have italicized the word genuinely – cause if you aren’t being genuine in your feeling, this will become manipulation and that’s even worse than nagging cause at least nagging is more direct. So don’t mess up this advice by messing with his mind and manipulating. What you need to do is find that genuine feeling of rejection or hurt or whatever, embody it (meaning feel it in your entire body), look him in the eyes, and let him see it. And then, without attacking or belittling him, tell him about it. Keep your tone soft so you don’t sound like a mother guilting her son.

So, for example, “When I have to remind you that it’s trash day every week, I feel so alone here. I feel so unsupported – like you don’t love me, and like you don’t really care what my days are like or how hard I’m trying. I so want our marriage to feel good to both of us. It’s the most important thing in the world to me. This hurts so much, David.”

Here’s why this will work –men are intuitively oriented to protect women. It’s just what they are instinctively programmed to do. Dr. Roy Baumeister explored this concept in his book, Is There Anything Good About Men?. For example, men want to hold doors open for women, and they want to solve women’s problems (even if all a woman wants is for him to listen). This aspect of men’s psyche is likely to be evolutionary supported because if a man takes care of and protects his woman, his offspring are more likely to survive and thus his DNA marches on.

So this is good news for you. Because if you approach him from a soft, honest, feminine sensitivity, it should tap the efficient, get-things-done masculine aspect of his personality. (In contrast, nagging is not a vulnerable, soft, open communication. So all nagging does is kick in his defensiveness).

I’ve seen this work time and time again. But it’s got to be sincere on your part. AND I’d also suggest you pick your battles. We ladies can be a bit too picky, and it’s good to have reasonable expectations of our partner so he has room to breathe. If you have molded your partner into perfection, you’ll lose respect for him – a topic for another post.

OK, so let’s review:

  1. Pick your battles. Don’t try to make your partner perfect.
  2. Go underneath your anger to the more vulnerable feelings hiding out there.
  3. Sincerely show your man these feelings with your eyes, the tone of your voice, and your words.
  4. Mother Nature should take care of the rest.

    Dr. Marianne Brandon

    Dr. Marianne Brandon

If it sounds simple, it’s not. Anger is easy. Deeper, vulnerable-feeling emotions are much harder to express. But healthy relationships require these sorts of efforts to keep them out of dysfunction. So this is an example of the “relationships take work” mantra we all love to say, but then don’t actually follow through with.

Of course, nothing is fool proof, so it is possible that your man is so turned off that even showing him how he impacts you will have little effect. In this case, you may want to consider a couples therapist. You can find a sex therapist in your area at

Follow Dr. Marianne Brandon on Twitter @DrBrandon and Facebook to learn more, or comment, and she will continue this very important conversation. Until then, happy reading!

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Category: Dating, Marriage, Relationships

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About Dr. Marianne Brandon: Dr. Marianne Brandon is a clinical psychologist and Diplomat in sex therapy through AASECT. Dr. Brandon is Director of Wellminds Wellbodies LLC in Annapolis, Maryland. She is author of Monogamy: The Untold Story and co-author [...]
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