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Landmark in the News

Don't Let Nagging Bring Down Your Relationship

Staten Island Advance, by Elise G. McIntosh, February 07, 2012
 Staten Island Advance

Staten Island WomanGranted, a recent story in the Wall Street Journal story explicating how nagging is a destructive force that can wreak havoc on a marriage and ultimately lead to divorce isn’t earth-shattering news. But it’s certainly a topic that strikes a nerve with many, as evidenced by the thousands of heated comments this and follow-up stories have generated in online discussion threads.

Elizabeth Bernstein’s Jan. 25 article, "Meet the Marriage Killer," has reignited a debate between the sexes that seems to date back to the cavemen era.

Men complain their wives are nag hags and women insist they must resort to such tactics because their husbands never listen. And on the vicious cycle goes.

When asked if she’s observed nagging playing a role in some divorce cases, Anne-Louise DePalo, an attorney with a pratice in Grasmere, said it has.

"I have had many cases – especially longer-term marriages – where people just want peace, not have demands made on them, not hear complaints," she said.

Bill Devery, a licensed social worker in New Dorp, said that by the time many couples come to see him, it’s too late to break the years-long nagging/tuning-out cycle that has corroded their marriage. To eradicate such a toxic dynamic requires a total shift in how they interact with each other.

Devery said a breakdown in communication is to blame for much of the nagging that exists in a marriage.

Illustrating how rapidly communication can skid off-course, he relates a typical scenario: A wife calls out to her husband to help her in the kitchen when he’s engrossed watching TV in the other room. When he doesn’t respond, she yells again. Still no response. The cycle repeats; inevitably, they end up in a fight.

In this case, Devery recommends the wife go into the living room so she can speak calmly and also give a visual cue, not just an auditory one.


Josselyne Herman Saccio, a communication expert with Landmark Education, an international personal development program with a Manhattan location, said clashes often arise because many women want a request fulfilled "right now," and when it’s not, they repeat it over and over again.

Her suggestion? Have your partner promise "by when" he/she will perform the task since, she noted, it’s easier to deal with a partner’s word than expectation.

This way, if a task isn’t completed, you can say, "Hey, you said you’d have this done by now and it’s not" instead of "This is the umpteenth time I’ve asked you to do this."

The tone and words you use when getting a partner on board with your goals are critical.

"Language is very powerful," Mrs. Herman Saccio stressed, noting, "There are two kinds: language that describes and language that creates."

Consider how "I never get to spend any time with you" – which negatively describes a situation – sounds as compared to this statement that creates an action plan: "I love you and miss you. Let’s make a date and put it on the calendar."

"It’s a big change in the style of communication," Mrs. Herman Saccio said.


According to Devery, nagging often crops up when listening skills – which, he believes, are most important for communication – deteriorate.

The most common offense: interrupting before the other can make a point. Both the nagger and the nagged might be offenders.

As part of his work in couples therapy, Devery asks one spouse to talk without the other cutting in and then has them flip-flop roles. He said couples should practice this same courtesy when addressing each other at home.

Good communication skills take practice, Mrs. Herman Saccio conceded, noting they’re like a muscle that must be exercised regularly.

"Everyone wants buns of steel without putting in the work," she said, noting the same analogy applies to communication.

According to Mrs. Herman Saccio, it’s not only what you say to a partner that can erode the marital dynamic, but also what you say to yourself and others.

"Be conscious of how you talk about the other," she warned, noting the more you gripe that you’re husband is lazy, say, the more this perception takes shapes and becomes "real."

Mrs. Herman Saccio adds since you can’t be focused on two things at once, "if you’re focused on what’s not working, then you can’t be focused on what is."

Thus, when trying to get a partner to collaborate with you, concentrate "on what you really want and the actions to fulfill what you really want," she advised.

Finally, the communication expert concluded, a person may have to embrace the reality that what he/she really desires isn’t what his/her partner does.

In this case, the pair can negotiate some sort of compromise or, you may cringe to read, settle for less.