Enough with the nagging

The teaser on AOL said something like “More likely to cause divorce than adultery!” What? I thought to myself. How could anything be more likely to cause divorce than adultery?

Was it differences in how we use the remote? Could it be arguments over who gets to do The New York Times crossword puzzle each week? Maybe it was guys’ insensitive comments about their wives’ hair or her subtly suggesting he might wear a different shirt.

But no, when I checked the teaser out, it turned out to be a reference to a Wall Street Journal story with a headline which read, “Meet the Marriage Killer: It’s More Common Than Adultery and Potentially As Toxic, So Why Is It So Hard to Stop Nagging?”


Aha, I thought. Or just plain hah. I can’t remember.

I was excited to check out the article online, but my wife kept bugging me that I was spending too much time on the Internet and not enough with her.

“Will you stop bugging me?!” I said, as I put the article up on my screen.

Actually, before analyzing the whole nagging problem, I decided to check the definition, just to make sure I was on the same page as everyone else. “To nag” is defined as “to find fault, or complain, in an irritating, wearisome, or relentless manner.”

Hmm, that would imply that there are ways to find fault and complain in ways that aren’t irritating or wearisome. How do you do that? Maybe this article would show me the way.

And it tried, but not before the writer, Elizabeth Bernstein, discussed what nagging means in a marriage, why we nag, and how even ingenious ways of doing it don’t necessarily work. The last referred to a case where a wife, feeling that her requests to her husband to pick out floor tiles — for a renovation he was doing on their kitchen — had been repeatedly ignored, put a post-it note about it in the middle of the ham and cheese sandwich she made for him to take to work. He wasn’t pleased.

So if the note in the sandwich, cute as that may be, doesn’t increase marital bliss, what will?

Well, it turns out that the post-it writer kept at it, but added smiley-faces and hearts to her notes, and made them humorous, and this helped a lot. So while the article doesn’t come out and say it, what I take away from this little story is that as long as your notes are fun and filled with hearts and smiley-faces, you’re in business. E-mails and texting would, I assume, also be helpful. In fact, why take a chance on speaking? Talking is so yesterday.

But some people insist on using this very old-fashioned means of communication in their marriages, so for those who do, Bernstein does offer some words of advice.

As usual, there is the old standby recommended by counselors and therapists all the time: Use “I” statements rather than “you” statements. An example the writer gives is this:

“I would really like you to pay the Visa bill on time,” rather than “You never pay the bill on time.”

Yeah, sure, this is going to work. I can picture my wife’s response if I were to say, “Honey, I would really like you to pay the Visa bill on time.” It would probably be something like this: “Oh, would you? Anything else you’d like me to do? If you’re not happy with how quickly I’m paying the bill, you pay it!”

I guess a better approach would be for me to attach a post-it note to the Visa bill, which would say, “Hi, I’m your Visa bill. Please pay me soon, or I’ll make you pay through the nose in interest,” complete with smiley faces and hearts — though my personal preference is for skull and crossbones.

The article doesn’t just stop with the I-you thing, but also mentions several other ways to deal with what is clearly an age-old problem. (Adam: “You just had to take a bite out of that apple, didn’t you! We had a regular paradise here, our very own Garden of Eden, and you go and ruin it! A snake you had to listen to, a snake?!” I suppose it would have been much better if Adam had said, “Honey, it really saddens me when you listen to snakes.”)

Another suggestion is: “Set a time frame. Ask when your partner can expect to finish the task. (‘Can you change the car oil this weekend?’) Let him tell you when it works best for him to do it.” I would say that if you do this, be ready for your partner to say, “It will work best to do it some time next year. I’m busy up to here. See, I used an ‘I’ statement!”

The final suggestion is to “consider alternative solutions. Maybe it’s worth it to hire a handyman, rather than harm your relationship with arguing.” Yes, that’s right, hire a handyman – a big good-looking one, a real man, as opposed to you. And then you might have the opportunity to test out which is more dangerous to your marriage, nagging or an extramarital frolic.