Rabbi Simcha Feuerman, LCSW-R DHLNEFESH International Publications and Information
The Gemara Beutza 35b describes the halakhic status of water dripping into a house from a leaky roof, and if it is permitted to put a pot underneath it to collect the drippings. You can imagine this man’s wife begging him to get the roof fixed before Yom Tov (the Holidays), and him procrastinating. While we are on the subject of leaky roofs and nagging, let us take a look at what Mishlei (Proverbs) has to say about this:
דֶּ֣לֶף ט֭וֹרֵד בְּי֣וֹם סַגְרִ֑יר וְאֵ֥שֶׁת (מדונים) [מִ֝דְיָנִ֗ים] נִשְׁתָּוָֽה׃
An endless dripping on a rainy day And a nagging wife are alike
What is the psychology of Nagging?
In a 2012 Wall Street Journal Article by Elizabeth Bernstein, nagging has been called the “Marriage Killer”. According to this article, “Women are more likely to nag, experts say, largely because they are conditioned to feel more responsible for managing home and family life. And they tend to be more sensitive to early signs of problems in a relationship.”
This makes sense intuitively, and means husbands should be “influenceable” to their wives’ concerns because they often are the early warning system of emotional and relationship problems. Yet, other academic research shows that men can be equally nagging about matters that concern them (see Soule, referenced later in this article.) In addition, the WSJ article quotes research from Dr. Howard Markman published in 2010 in the Journal of Family Psychology that indicates that “couples who became unhappy five years into their marriage had a roughly 20% increase in negative communication patterns consistent with nagging, and a 12% decrease in positive communication.” "Nagging is an enemy of love, if allowed to persist," Dr. Markman says.
But, what is Nagging, and what causes it?
Martin Kozloff, Ph.D., Professor of Education at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, identifies four main steps of nagging:
- The nagger gives the signal to perform or stop performing a task or behaviour.
- The person being nagged does not comply with the request from the nagger.
- In response, the nagger repeats his request or signal in a further effort to gain compliance.
- The person being nagged again responds with non-compliance.
Kozloff argues that this interaction cycle continues until either the one who is being nagged complies to the nagger’s request, or the nagger gives up the attempt to persuade.
(Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nagging )
Nagging is a complex relationship game, and pattern that is reinforced by both the nagger and the nagee. Each person must do their part in order for the nag cycle to continue. Kari P. Soule (Soule, Kari P. (2011), "The What, When, Who and Why of Nagging in Interpersonal Relationships", in Galvin, Kathleen (ed.), Making Connections, New York: Oxford University Press, p. 193-200) offers the following theory as to why nagging persists:
The nagger is someone who cares enough to persist in the request without resorting to escalation, threats or violence for the most part. In other words, there is some trust and security and a wish to maintain the relationship coupled with a strong desire to have the need met. Hence a persistence that is continuous and unrelenting, without anger or aggression.
However, the nagees’ role is critical as well. The nagee’s response to the nag is typified by what is known as “behavioural noncompliance” instead of verbal non-compliance. That is, either the nagee silently agrees to perform the task, and then “forgets“ to do it, or the nagee actually agrees to take care of the task, and still “forgets to take care of it“. On the other hand, if the nagee employed verbal noncompliance, that is he would say, “I will not do this because of ….” It stops the illusion of niceness and forces a confrontation.
It is important to note that confrontation in relationships does not have to be hostile. It can be respectful and caring. The person can state clearly his unwillingness to perform the task and offer an explanation why. Of course it is also advisable and wise to conclude with something like, “If it is really important to you, I am open to reconsidering.“ Confrontation is about two people actually taking each other into account and respectfully, and even lovingly, negotiating matters, acknowledging each other’s subjective and objective priorities.
Ultimately, nagging is not a problem, but a symptom. And that is why it is wise to consider what Ecclesiastes says will happen if you ignore persistent problems in your home:
בַּעֲצַלְתַּ֖יִם יִמַּ֣ךְ הַמְּקָרֶ֑ה וּבְשִׁפְל֥וּת יָדַ֖יִם יִדְלֹ֥ף הַבָּֽיִת׃
Through slothfulness the ceiling sags, through lazy hands the house caves in.
Simcha Feuerman works with high conflict couples and families. He has an office in Queens, Brooklyn and Boca Raton. He also writes a daily blog and produces a daily video, “Psychology of the Daf”