Nagging…or Motivational Speaking?

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Sally Connolly, LCSW, LMFT has been a therapist for over 30 years, specializing in work with couples, families and relationships. She has expertise with clients ...Read More

I recently bought some napkins that had the phrase, “It’s not nagging, it is motivational speaking!”

Does that sound like something familiar in your marriage? That awful cycle of complaining and withdrawing and both feeling controlled.


Many people don’t realize that nagging can lead to more divorces than affairs because nagging leads to negativity throughout the relationship.

Nagging, or making the same request over and over again, usually does not get the desired result. Instead, it generally leads to a downward spiral with negative thoughts and feelings about each other and withdrawing, feeling discounted, misunderstood, controlled or unimportant.

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Sharon and Bob’s story

Sharon thought that she and Bob had come to an agreement about how much each would do around the house. Bob committed to a half day every Saturday doing vacuuming and yard work. Sharon agreed to laundry, dusting and cooking. As each Saturday rolled around, Bob became less interested in helping out with his portion of the chores and Sharon became more and more frustrated by his lack of team work and follow-through.

At first, Sharon would kindly ask or remind him. When she did, he often felt like she was treating him like a child and he would refuse or just not follow through.

Sharon would try to ask in nice, sometimes humorous or playful ways, offering rewards or just being silly. Bob often felt like Sharon was being patronizing or treating him like she did with the children. This made him even madder and more resistant to do what she asked.

Sharon would feel mad, hurt, disappointed and angry but did not know how to change the way she approached him. She also did not know how to get the changes she wanted.

Soon they were in an awful pattern. The good will eroded and they each believed that the other one was “wrong”.


Nagging can do that to a relationship. It brings on a vicious cycle of complaining and withdrawing, feeling hopeless and controlled.

There are ways to break this cycle. It is easier if both work at it but it is more likely that it will be just one person who will start the process.

Here are some tips for change.

1. Name it and claim it. Talk with each other about the pattern. If possible, each can acknowledge their own part of the dance. Awareness is a step in the right direction.

2. Talk together about possible solutions. Brainstorm ways out of the pattern. Do what you can do to change your own part, don’t try to manage your partner.

3. Find ways to make requests differently. Ask in “soft” ways. Remind your partner that you love him and you want to make sure that he understands that you are not being critical. Use “I” statements. Be very specific about what you want.

4. Follow up with appreciation and acknowledgment. Any time that you notice a difference or an effort on your partner’s part, acknowledge it simply.

5. Check back in with each other to see if you both feel that there has been progress. Discuss your own reaction to the change. Keep it as positive as possible, talking about what you like and want to continue more than what is wrong with the other person.

Keep Reading By Author Sally Connolly, LCSW, LMFT
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