What’s the difference between ‘nagging’ and communicating?


Published: 19 Mar 2021


Where does the word nagging come from?

The word is derived from the Scandinavian nagga, which means “to gnaw”.

Reporter Elizabeth Bernstein defined, in a Wall Street Journal article, nagging as “the interaction in which one person repeatedly makes a request, the other person repeatedly ignores it and both become increasingly annoyed”.

 She states: “Many more marriages will deal with nagging [than infidelity]. In fact, every marriage,” she said. “We roll our eyes when we think of it, but it really does bring down marriages if you don’t deal with it.”

The word itself is harmful, and to be clear – both men and women nag!

So, how do we define nagging? The definition is this – when you have to ask or tell something more than 3 times.

Types of nagging

Critical nagging – Asking someone to do something and then being critical when they do, do it.

Hostile nagging – intentionally hurtful or sarcastic nagging.

Anxious nagging – feeling overwhelmed so you ‘fire’ things off to people.


The Gottman Institute. https://www.gottman.com/ 

Clinical Psychologists Dr’s John and Julie Gottman have been doing research on couples for over 40 years. They identified that the magic ratio is 5 to 1. What this means is for every negative interaction during your partnership you need 5 positive ones to counteract that!

In 1970 the world’s biggest study on couples was done. Simply by asking couples to solve a conflict in their relationship in 15 minutes, Dr Gottman predicted within 90% accuracy which couples would be divorced when he checked back with them 9 years later!

This discovery concluded that the ONLY difference between happy and unhappy couples is the ratio. Too much negative and it can’t be forgotten. Over time it wears people down.

Criticism, contempt, and defensiveness are the worst of the negatives. The worst of the body language would be eye rolling, dismissive hand gestures, and contempt or disgust lip.

So, how do we stop nagging?

  • Set things up to succeed from the get go. If it isn’t getting done then there’s a mis-communication, mis-balance, difference in perception somewhere. Re-set it. Re-negotiate it. Explore both sets of values and preferences. Outsource it? Ask yourself if it’s even reasonable what you are asking for, or expecting
  • Can you see how your partner became who they are because of their upbringing and life experiences? Does that make you feel differently about them when you consider this? More compassionate? Does it make you feel differently about how you are bringing up your own children? Can you see patterns repeating themselves?
  • Look at yourself first. Are you part of the problem? Even if you are, it might not be entirely your fault due to your pre-conditions (what life has done to you, thrown at you, shown you.)
  • Express affection in words and body language often – this adds to the positive quota, even if it does turn negative.
  • Back your partner up, (especially in public). Let them know they matter and give them positive affirmations. Be mindful of who is having the worst day, it doesn’t have to be a competition. If your partner is having the worst day that day then do something nice to take the stress off.

If you had to test your ratio on an average day, what would yours be?

Would you be happy with the ratio?


  • People leave because they don’t feel appreciated and loved.
  • Be present – there really is nothing more important than your partnership.
  • Protect your ‘couple’ time.
  • All men need time for them. If you take away their man stuff time AND the ratio is wrong – they go into a state of resigned-ness.
  • It’s not a competition between men and women. Women tend to be hardwired to do ‘everything’. Try this: ask yourself “what if” now and again. “What if he did the lunch in his way? Packed the car in her way? Etc.

Need some help with your coupledom? I do one off coaching sessions to explore that: https://www.elementalpotential.com/shop/uncategorised/impact-session-for-couples-1-2-people-1-hour-including-gst/

Want to learn more about Compassionate Assertiveness? Or understand your partners body language more?

Get the e-books for just $13:

Compassionate Assertiveness https://www.elementalpotential.com/shop/ebooks/ping-pong/

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