Nagging vs. Communicating

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Chris and I are coming off the heels of a tough month for our marriage.  We go through these periodically, and I’m hoping that’s fairly normal.  About once a year, there’s a big explosion in our marriage where everything that’s been piling up gets aired out.  Our big one was last month, and, boy, did it encompass a lot of issues.  We’d just been through the holidays, he was going through a really hard time at work, I was feeling the pressure of a standardized test my kids were preparing for (took it today, actually, and I think they nailed it!), we had just buried my dad, and we were on hold for a big project that I’m hoping comes through in the next few months.  Stress levels at our house were soaring.

I’ve been making a big effort lately to not take my frustrations out on Chris.  Which is a good thing.  But one of the side effects was that I sort of stopped talking to him about anything important.  In an effort to avoid arguments and make things less stressful for us, I just stopped communicating.  I didn’t have the energy for a fight or even the energy to work through things that just seemed trivial, but in actuality, when you stop working on even the small things, the big things just pile up and up and up.  Which is what happened.

The fight began one night about household responsibilities.  Trivial, right?  But if you’ve been married for any length of time…like, even two days… you understand that household responsibilities are a big part of married life.  Afterall, you can live happily ever after, but someone is still going to have to take the trash out, and your pets are still going to need to be fed, and your children are going to need to be cleaned.  Princes who ride white stallions still need clean stalls to put them in.

And my prince?  Well, he kind of stopped mucking out the stalls, if you know what I mean.

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Chris and I have very distinct responsibilities around the house.  We’ve spent the past eight years perfecting who does what chore, and we have a nice little system going.  But with Chris working so much, I had started to naturally take on more of his housework simply because I was the one who happened to be home.  But Chris sort of started taking advantage of that by not picking up his chores again when he WAS home.

Finally, I exploded one night.  I told him that he seemed to have forgotten he wasn’t the only working parent in our house.  And that I still worked a full day and came home to care for our family, just like him.  Which meant that it should not all be my responsibilty just because he was busy at work.  I get busy at work, too, but that doesn’t mean I get to just stop doing the laundry or decide to work late and just not pick up the kids one day.  Being a working parent worked the same for both of us, and that meant we had to share responsibilities, and I was tired of things falling on my plate by default.

I thought it was an excellent point.  And it was.  But so was his response.

He said that he had no idea this was bothering me.  He said that I had stopped talking to him about my job and about things like chores around the house, so how was he supposed to know that there was a problem?  (To which I responded, “Are you a third child?  Do I have to nag you before you change your behavior, too?”  Another excellent point, I believe…)  And he was right.  My lack of communication made it hard for him to know when there was a problem because as much as I would like to believe that my husband just KNOWS what is wrong, he really doesn’t.  He’s not a mind reader.  If he doesn’t give baths to the kids for a week and no one says anything, then how is he supposed to know that that’s becoming an issue?

Fair enough, and well played, Husband.

But, naturally, this one issue (well, two really) led into deeper issues, which I don’t really need to go into because they aren’t just my issues and I’d prefer to not air our dirty laundry that much.  Suffice to say that the issues covered the topics of death and grief, spending equal time with our families, and setting priorities for our family.  All important.  All worth a good discussion and/or fight.

Since our explosion, things have gotten much better.  We’re both more aware of the needs of our partners.  Chris knows that I need him to step up, even when I don’t have the strength or time to ask him.  And I know that I need to make more of an effort to communicate BEFORE there is a problem.

One thing I’m really focusing on after our fight is nagging versus communicating.  Nagging is not communication.  Nagging is just saying the same things over and over again while getting the same response.  Which, coincidentally, is the same definition as insanity, by the way.  Communication – good, positive communication – should prevent nagging.  Good, positive communication is about expressing needs, thoughts, emotions, or ideas before there is a problem at all.  And I’m trying to learn to do that.  I’m trying to learn to ask for help before the help becomes critical.  And I’m discovering that’s a really hard thing to do.

Mostly, I’m finding that being a good communicator means being a good predictor of my own needs.  I have to anticipate what will be challenging or what will be successful, and then include Chris in that process before it even really begins.  A simple example of this is dinnertime.  I know that is a busy time of day for our family, and the exact point in the day when both our kids get crabby and whiney.  Normally, I try to prepare in advance for that dinner rush by meal planning and prepping on the weekends or the night before.  But when I can’t do those things, I have to let Chris know that HE needs to anticipate that time of day, too.  Now, I send him little emails to let him know when dinner is going to be late that night.

“Hey – I forgot to thaw the chicken last night, so dinner is going to be a little late.  Any chance you can make it home a little early?”

This preemptive response prevents the frantic phone call I make to him at 6:25 asking him where the hell he is and why he hasn’t made it home yet and doesn’t he know that I need some help around here?!?!

Preemptive communication is gooooooooooood.

What Chris has been making more of an effort on is picking up the slack when there is no advanced notice.  Come home late and the house is crazy?  Better jump right in and help.  Someone has to work late or work from home?  Better jump right in and pick up the slack.  He is paying more attention to what he can do around the house before I even have to ask him.  He has also had to make a slight shift in priorities.  Some days, I need him home early – or at the very least on time – so that I can get my things taken care of.  Sometimes, he’s going to have to say no to a project or two simply because he is needed at home to help with things like feeding all of our beings.

Cutting back at work really drives Chris crazy because he has such stellar work ethic.  It’s what makes him an excellent provider for our family.  But I am a provider, too.  And my work ethic is top notch.  And I can’t always be the one who sacrifices so that Chris can succeed at his job.  It has to be balanced.  And we’re working on that balance right now.

Are things 100% fixed?  Heck no!  But we have at least identified a few key issues, and we’ve got good game plans to help ourselves get stronger in areas where we are each weak.  And I think THAT is the mark of a healthy marriage.  It isn’t how much you fight or who gives more at home or who works harder.  I think a strong, healthy marriage is one where both partners are working to make each other stronger, better people.  And I’m really glad Chris and I can do that for each other.

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13 Thoughts to “Nagging vs. Communicating”

  1. Dessi

    Oh this is so perfect! I especially like the part about your hard working hubby having to sometimes pick home over work. It’s certainly a good problem to have such a great work ethic (my hubby is the same way)! But sometimes it really isn’t fair to the other person holding down the fort. 🙂

  2. I totally agree that nagging and communicating are entirely different things. I’ve seen nagging and know what nagging does. Yeah, nothing. I remember before getting married that I want to make an effort never to nag but to communicate. Mistakes are made once in a while but like what you learnt, ask nicely and it’s more likely to get done than the “WHY AREN’T YOU LISTENING!” rant. Right?

  3. Great post Katie! The line between nagging & communication can be difficult to navigate, and I think the odd bad month is normal- happy to hear you are getting through it. Thanks for sharing with us 🙂

  4. jenny-bird

    I hear you. It drives me nuts when I have to ask m husband for help around the house. I have made similar arguments that he is not child, and I am not his mother; therefore, I should not have to remind him of his responsibilities. As much as we discussed/fought/ignored this issue, we weren’t clearly communicating our needs. In fact, we discussed separating before he finally realized the extent of the harm caused by choosing entertainment over work. Now that he has assigned duties, and I preemptively ask for his help our relationship is much better. The line between nagging and communicating is very fine, but when two partners are willing to work for the betterment of the relationship, all things are possible.

  5. You are very right! Communication is key! With two children under 3 and both of us working full time jobs and our dad staying with us it becomes very difficult. We don’t get much time to just talk. We’ve made an agreement that once a week we go to bed early and just chat. Sometimes a topic comes up that has been bothering one of us and we work it out; other times we just talk about all kinds of meaningless stuff. We talk about politics, friends (not in a bad way just updating each other on lives), work, things happening in town, ect ect. I even got Hubby to chat about the Kardashians one night! ;0 This time of just opening up to each other makes all the world of difference because those small niggles seem to work themselves out! Thank you so much for sharing!

  6. HeatherM

    I love that you blog about this stuff because it reminds me that normal people can and do fight and still have happy healthy marriages. My husband and I have the EXACT.SAME.FIGHT. He is a university professor working towards tenure, which badically means he had to work about 100 hours a week and do the research/ publishing equivalent of writing and selling a new book every year for six years. It is crazy stressful, but he still needs to be there for our little family, ya know? the worst is when he comes home so exhausted tgat he has nothing left to give when he IS home. Only we have it like once every 3 weeks, not once a year. My husband is also a workaholic. He is the opposite of a procrastinator. It is simultaneously one of the things I admire most about him and the biggest thing that drives me crazy about him. The only thing I have found that seems to help a bit is to redirect my attention into trying to be the best me I can be. I’m back to running, actually cooking again, getting straight A’s in school- I just try to spend the energy on achieving my own goals, which makes me happier & more confident which helps our marriage. This is NOT an end all- be all cure for this issue- it is just what I am finding a bit of success with right now (because getting to the point where we go 3 weeks w/I fighting IS progress for us). It is so good to hear what works for you w/ this issue because not everyone understands it.

  7. Brad and I have just come to the place in our marriage where communication is hard. It happened right along with Baby #2, and so in my mind it’s incredibly interwoven with this whole transition. It’s so hard for me to think that disagreements in marriage are normal, even though I KNOW they are! I mean, my parents have been married for 33 years, so I’ve seen a good fight or two {or hundreds} in an extremely healthy marriage… but, it stresses me the heck out! Yet, at the same time, I know that they’re necessary. Anyways, all that to say… we’re very much in a new stage of communication issues, and it’s hard. Worth it, but hard.

  8. Kelly H

    Once again I want to thank you for openness and honesty with us! I agree with you 100% about communication vs nagging and it can be so tough. One thing I have learned (am trying to still learn) is that arguments shouldn’t always be avoided. They are uncomfortable and gross but they are also really healthy if you learn to argue in the right way. Now we try to focus on productive communication/arguments (ie I need this, I feel this, vs you are the problem because…) it has helped our marriage so much! Sometimes it’s really hard to anticipate the other persons needs and I have learned my hubby and I read situations totally differently! Speaking up and speaking out of love with the intent to problem solve can work wonders

  9. Thank you for being so willing to be open and share this. I hate having to ask for help and our arguments tend to also stem from chores. I feel like that’s always what visually breaks down in a household as a representation of what’s going on emotionally. Learning how to communicate is easily the hardest part of being married.

  10. I needed to hear this! My partner and I have been going through issues because I need him to participate more around the house! Since he started working more, he stopped doing as much around here…which makes me feel like I am being taken advantage of. So this is something we’ve communicated a lot about lately, and I know I need to keep being open about it with him! Thanks for the reminder.

  11. WOW, it sounds like you have been through a lot. The more I read ‘marriage blogs’ the more I realize my husband and I are just not there yet… as newlyweds, without children, marriage is just different. But we are very aware of building something good now, that when life changes and years are added on, we have a good foundation that help us handle exactly what you describe.

    I like what you say about nagging versus communication because even for a newlywed as myself this is important to be aware of, and sometimes I don’t even realize I am nagging… got myself last night ;-(

  12. I love when you share these super honest stories. You take the time to offer good perspective and I’m grateful for that. Also I love that nagging and insanity have the same definition!

  13. Kat

    oh dudette…….i’m so there too. we work full time (and, not that i’m counting, but you know since we’re at the same company i think it’s ok to point out that i’m higher in the food chain at work than he is) – yes when it’s time to ‘sacrifice” it’s somehow landing on me (ok, i’m sure he’ll say differently but you know…). I feel like although he’s great around the house, when the toddler wakes up at night, it’s me who gets up and sacrifices sleep, when the toddler is sick I leave work to go get her; when she takes 5 years to eat breakfast, I’m late to work. Bc he stresses about work easily and I don’t. I just make up the hours by working late or working at home or on weekends or working harder during the day. And that’s just unfair. But yeah I should totally be communicating that instead of snapping when he gives me a kiss and heads out the door and I’m still covered in banana and blueberries from her breakfast.

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