Does your marriage have a nagging problem? You know, the kind where one of you keeps pestering the other to do some simple tasks that never seem to get done. The more you nag, the more your partner dawdles and blows off your requests. Which leads to more nagging.
A recent Wall Street Journal article called this problem potentially as toxic as adultery. It’s a pattern that has certainly caused some chaos in my own marriage, and I’ve watched it corrode intimacy between friends. Nagging can be a vicious cycle, with both partners feeling like they’re being pitted against each other over things they should be on the same side about. You both want the dishes to be done and the bills to be paid. Why are you fighting about these things?
Amanda Marcotte has a great solution over on XX.
If the male partner stops viewing it as women’s work to anticipate what needs to be done, and instead chooses to do his work without being asked, that works really well! And if he is asked to do something, as long as it’s reasonable of course (it usually is), he does it without having to be asked twice, either by getting right on it or telling his partner when she can expect to see it done. Interestingly, I’ve seen bona fide conservative couples who managed to figure this magic formula out, so it’s not like you need to be radical feminists to embrace this frightening new lifestyle. It just requires abandoning the notion that domesticity is emasculating or that open communication is more difficult than it is.
She has this nailed.
Nagging doesn’t come out of nowhere. It’s usually the woman doing the nagging and the man feeling nagged. And it happens because of a power imbalance in the relationship: men have more power to blow off what women say to them, in almost every sphere of their lives. I’ve found this especially exaggerated in relationships where one partner stays at home and the other works full time.
I put a stop to the nagging cycle in my own marriage a few years ago, doing it exactly the way Marcotte describes. My husband is a feminist. He cares deeply about gender bias. But he’s still a guy who was raised with male privilege, and it’s not always visible to him when gender dynamics are at the root of a problem.
So I sat him down and made it clear that he could not “help” me with childcare or housework. Parenting the children and caring for our home are shared jobs that we’re equally responsible for. That means that not only is it his job to change half the diapers and fold half the laundry (roughly speaking), it is also his job to know that these things need to be done and take responsibility for doing them.
In essence, I resigned my position as household CEO. It took a while for the changes to sink in. I did have to lower my standards somewhat and give him room to catch up. He needed time to learn what needs doing. But now we have a family where I don’t even know what the kids eat for lunch. He makes the lunches and does the grocery shopping, so it’s entirely in his realm. Not only is he doing the tasks, he’s also doing the executive functioning to know what tasks have to happen and plan for them.
As a result, we have a real sense of sharing when it comes to parenting and housework. There’s little to no nagging because neither of us is in control and neither of us feels like we’re magnanimously helping the other. Instead, we’re a team, taking on the work of our shared life together.