Relationship Skills

To Nag or Not: 6 Sure-Fire Ways to Stop the Nagging Cycle


by Harold and Bette Gillogly

What makes a husband back away and seem distant? What makes him stop listening and maybe even stubbornly dig his heels in deeper? Here’s one possible answer. Not the only one, but one you as his wife need to consider. He might just be sick and tired of you telling him what he should and should not be doing. In other words, nagging.

Just to be clear, women don’t have the market cornered on nagging. Men nag too. We call it badgering. And they can become downright obsessive in whatever they are badgering about. So keep in mind that these same six steps apply when the tables are turned and husbands are badgering. But for this blog, we are especially addressing wives.

Now, we don’t know your specific circumstances, so we are not making a diagnosis. But we know from counseling a lot of frustrated wives, that this is a pretty common situation. Can we break down this nagging cycle and take an honest look at it together?

It starts with expectations. Maybe you expected your husband to do certain “husbandly” things. Perhaps things your Dad did. Or perhaps you two talked about some expectations before you got married and you ended up assuming you were on the same page when you weren’t even in the same book.

They can get far more complicated than this, but here’s a simplistic example: You consider it perfectly reasonable to expect that if you fix dinner, he will help you clean up the kitchen. Now, that’s not too much to ask, is it? But suppose he was raised by a Mom whose kitchen was her personal domain. No trespassing! Or by a Dad who said by his words or actions that kitchen duty was “women’s work.”

The first few times you sweetly asked him to help you clean up the kitchen, he made some kind of excuse and chose playing video games instead. So your asking became more insistent and you tried your best to instruct him in what he should and should not be doing as a good husband. You are not about to give up such a reasonable expectation because he needs to learn to do this and be the husband you expect him to be. Right?

But here’s the problem. He heard you the first time, but you made no sense. “You want me to do what? She must be joking.” But as you “gently” reminded him over and over and tried to instruct him into being a better husband, what he heard was, “You’re a loser. My Dad helped in the kitchen. Why can’t you be like him? Why are you such a loser?”

As the days go by, he backed away a little more. You see, he had expectations too. He did not expect to be nagged. He expected you would be that sweet, compliant girl he dated. He doesn’t like being told he’s a loser who needs his wife to tell him how to behave right, so he emotionally moves to a more comfortable spot, like in front of the TV.

This is the nagging cycle. How’s it working for you? Has it ever worked? Do you honestly think it ever will? Would you like to get out of the cycle? Would you like to know a better way? Here are six steps to free yourself and your husband of this destructive cycle:

  1. Take a step back and take an honest look at what is happening. Did you know the Bible actually talks about the dangers of nagging? Proverbs 27:15 says, A quarrelsome [nagging] wife is as annoying as constant dripping on a rainy day. So nagging is a lot like water torture. And it’s annoying! Can you blame your husband for wanting to escape it? Hopefully, this step will help you honestly understand your part in the whole backing away thing. No “But he’s….” This has to be strictly you seeing your part in the problem.
  2. Shut your face. My mother used to say, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” Wise advice. When you feel one of your wise reminders (nagging) coming on, bite your tongue and smile instead. Memorize Ephesians 4:29 and quote it to yourself. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.
  3. Get out of God’s way. This may come as a shock, but God does not need your help to change your husband. He is the One, the ONLY ONE, Who can change people from the inside out. So let Him do it already! When you take it on yourself to change the man, you may be getting in God’s way. So get out of the way and let God get a good shot at him! And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you [and within him], will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns. (Philippians 1:6)
  4. Pray like crazy! THIS is what your husband needs – you praying for him! The most powerful thing you can possibly do in your life is…no, not talk; not instruct; not remind…PRAY. James 5:16 makes this incredible claim: The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results (NLT).
  5. Be patient and wait. The Bible says, Be still in the presence of the Lord, and wait patiently for him to act (Psalm 37:7). Ah, now we get to the heart of the problem, don’t we? Because as far as most of us are concerned, God is simply not acting fast enough! We want it and we want it right now! But that’s not how it works. Just think how patient God has been with you…slowly opening your eyes to truth, little-by-little changing your intense desire to be in control. He’s still working on that, isn’t He? That’s because God truly changes us. He TRANSFORMS us – “metamorphosis” us (Romans 12:2). And that takes time. You could perhaps change something superficially. On the outside. For a little while. Like a Band-Aid. But God wants transformation!
  6. Don’t give up! Here’s your promise: So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up (Galatians 6:9). This is the secret to the whole stopping the cycle thing. It might just be the secret to everything. Don’t give up! The good news is that as a Christian, you have all the power it takes to never give up. That’s what Ephesians chapter one says – that all the power that it took to raise Christ from the dead lives inside of us Christ followers. And that’s enough power to never give up!

These are the six steps. They work because they are God’s advice. They work because they are full of truth. If someone pushes you, you will either push back (conflict) or you will back off. If that person stops pushing and backs off, you will stop backing off. That’s the way we humans naturally respond. So if you back off, using these six steps, sooner or later your husband will stop backing off. And God will do a wonderful work in you as well, making you more like Jesus.

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