Nagging: little words that cause big problems. Nagging is a pattern of negative communication in a relationship. Most of the time it goes something like this: one person asks for or recommends something, or comments on his spouse. He receives either a vague response or silence. Later, he asks again, which causes his spouse to feel even more resistant. This pattern escalates until it provokes anger and arguments.

Why does nagging happen? Part of the puzzle has to do with the different ways in which men and women communicate. According to some research, women are more emotionally perceptive and sensitive to signs that there is something troubling their spouse. Since women tend to be more verbally communicative and explicative, they expect full and detailed answers about what is wrong. Therefor, getting a terse or evasive response from their spouse feels troubling and unsatisfying and they will continue to ask about the matter.

Women also tend to “nag” about household chores because they are conditioned to believe that managing home life is their prerogative. This holds true for whomever your family has decided is generally in charge of the household. However, it tends to affect women more (even if you decide to break up the work evenly) because of social conditioning. Most women still feel that they should be and are ultimately responsible for the smooth functioning of the home, even if they don’t explicitly believe this.

Of course, everybody is guilty of nagging. An anxious, obsessive, or highly organized personality of any gender will be more inclined to nag.

Why does nagging feel so awful? A successful marriage is based on balance. Both you and your spouse should feel that you have equal power in the relationship (the “Power of two”!) and respect each other. Nagging creates an atmosphere of power imbalance. Repeated instructions to your spouse undermine the perception of trust and adult responsibility in the other. Those being nagged report feeling scolded like a child and feeling that their needs and way of doing things are unappreciated. Many instances of nagging simply comes from a difference in priorities and approaches between spouses. In the end,  couples begin fighting about nagging  and end up ignoring those core issues underneath–each individual’s concerns and needs.

Here are some tips for dealing with nagging before it becomes one of your worst marriage issues:

1. Admit you are part of the problem. Both parties have responsibility in perpetuating the nagging cycle and both have work to do to solve their marriage issues. The good news is, there are many steps you can take to find win-win solutions that will leave you both satisfied.

2. Frame requests in the least aggressive way possible. No spouse should ever command the other. In addition, a stressful tone when asking your spouse to do a chore or a favor can leave her feeling stressed and attacked.

Nagging can create an atmosphere of tension and negativity in your marriage.

3. Try an experiment. Ask once for help with a chore, give a reasonable deadline, and then wait–no more asking in between! Chances are, your spouse will end up accomplishing the task. This may help you realize that he does things at his own pace, and your requests do get honored in the end. If he doesn’t follow through, you two need to site down and talk about expectations. Begin by explaining your own feelings –how you feel let down and frustrated when something that matters to you is left undone. Remain receptive and interested in hearing his side of the story.

4. For tasks that need to be accomplished regularly, sit down and make a written agreement for how and when each task will be accomplished and who will do it. Share with each other what you are willing and able to do each week, and how you prefer to have it done. If you disagree about something, remember to look deep into your underlying reason behind your opinion–don’t get stuck on one solution to your concern when you can find another solution that works for both of you!

Working through nagging issues involves much learning about “what makes the other person tick.” You will grow closer from the process and your marriage will grow stronger!