On stopping the nagging

On stopping the nagging. Photo by Brady. 2017

” She just won’t stop nagging. She gets so angry… the rage… it triggers me. I have so many flashbacks of all her anger, all her rage, and all her nagging. It needs to stop.”

Here we go.

I work with many people in relationships. I wish I saw most of them, either individually or collectively, years, if not decades, prior, so I could help them navigate conflicts, and become more accustomed to open conflict as necessary for a working relationship. Openly bringing up grievances, openly bringing up disagreements, and openly bringing up different approaches to the same problem; to me, all of these fall into the general category of open conflict.

In general, a lot of couples don’t have the clarity to recognize when both parties are right in their respective arguments, or the clarity to discern when several arguments are haphazardly, and hastily if desperately, had at the same time. So, to scorecard a typical argument I’ve refereed more times than I can count: one party bring up the problem of needing to use coasters, for instance, and another party counter arguing that cups with hot liquid don’t need coasters, and then the original party counters that counter with the problem of how disrespectful a partner is being, and then is met with a counter on the second counter with another problem of how the nagging is the real problem… all the while the coasters go unused and the coffee table gets a little more damaged, intentionally, each day. In this, the problem of not using coasters still goes unseen when all the other conversations are used to kitchen sink someone.

The problem is generally the problem; talking about a problem, isn’t.
However, problems are rarely addressed as problems, and relationships unconsciously devolve into these contracted positions where seemingly one person has a problem that another person doesn’t see/acknowledge/respect as a problem. Thus: nagging ensues.

I could stop right there, and simply point to the difference in one person being aware of a problem (i.e. using coasters) and another person refusing to be aware of the problem, and that any person refusing to see a problem only wants a problem to continue. They may get something out of the problem existing, either objective (i.e. a cleaning staff to pick up after their own disregard) or subjective (i.e. a feeling of control in their environment by taking up all the space and leaving none for others) or both, but they have an interest in maintaining the problem. With this, any acknowledgment of the problem, any attempt to discuss it, must be attacked, must be challenged, must be heard as nagging, to maintain the problem and win the argument. Unfortunately, whichever party is arguing for the problem to remain and the nagging to stop, in truth, is fighting a losing battle.

The problem is generally the problem; talking about a problem, isn’t. If it is, well, then that is a red flag that one party in a relationship doesn’t care about, value, or even respect, the other party.

There’s really no other way to say it.

If taking about a problem is a problem, then that says something foundational about a relationship, and it is an altogether different conversation to be had at another time. And if I can give arbitrary advice, the second level conversation about talking about the problem needs to happen after the first one: the initial problem.

Whichever party is arguing for the problem to remain and the nagging to stop, in truth, is fighting a losing battle.
There’s also a different kind of nagging style, perhaps one that you might not consider nagging at all: silent nagging. I call silent nagging those internal if incessant screams about a problem, that are never made externally. A problem, an irk, a peeve, or whatever minimizing language is used for your own strategic advantage, is kept hidden and solved in silence and in the shadows. The silent nagging does function to solve a problem, sure, but not calling it out or acknowledging it to the other person, so that you maintain the higher ground of solving a problem and keeping someone else from knowing there is a problem, has an insidious cost: uneven and unseen distance in a relationship.

Stopping this kind of nagging means not keeping a problem unseen or unacknowledged.

The only way to stop someone from nagging is to not hear discussions of problems as nagging at all, then, actually look at the problem and look at your relationship to that problem in particular. I’m always in favor of having those second level discussions of: how come you don’t see this as a problem? And really get into it. From a respect standpoint, from an efficiency standpoint, from a safety standpoint; all the angles you can see. Full-tilt explore how they see no problem with themselves or their behavior whatsoever.

True, there are many different ways to do right by someone, and there are many seen and unseen ways that we can do wrong by another person. It is challenging to see how we have wronged those we love, how we have created problems and burdens and wounds simply from not knowing. It is necessary to take on this challenge, so that a relationship can be nurtured and grow. Otherwise, they’ll only nag, you’ll only get angrier, all because you need to win.

To me, this feels more like losing the opportunity to have a working relationship.

 

About the Author

Brady

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I'm a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice down in the greater Long Beach, CA, area. I've been in the mental health field, formally, since 2005, and I consider it a deep and rewarding honor to see other people grow and live the lives that they want. If I'm not sitting on a couch with a cup of tea in hand, I'm probably on my bicycle, or lost in my own thoughts on the beach; meditating, tweeting, blogging, and talking into a video camera are also known to happen.

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