There are a lot of reasons why couples are either satisfied (or dissatisfied) with their relationship. From major disagreements about lifestyle choices to smaller choices that slowly erode intimacy, couples have no shortage of factors that determine why they’re either ultimately happy, or unhappy, in their partnership. More recently, however, relationship experts* have pointed out a specific trait that ends up leading to the most dissatisfaction in long-term relationships (even early death for some partners): Nagging.
As you can imagine, a healthy partnership is developed on support and trust. When you feel like you’re being supported by your partner and that they trust you, you thrive in your relationship. On the flip side of that, you see that the most dissatisfied partners in a relationship feel like they’re on the receiving end of criticism too often. They also feel like they’re constantly receiving demands, being told what to do rather than having the ability to make their own choices.
Both the criticism and constant demands are the opposite of support and trust, which is why these two factors often determine just how happy an individual is in a relationship.
And as much as we’d like to think that we’re not frequently criticizing or making demands of our partners, the reality is that both criticism and demands tend to hide under the guise of nagging — and that’s something that many of us do all too often.
Not only does persistent nagging lead to marital strain, it can even correlate with early deaths in relationships, most significantly by causing a partner to create unhealthy habits in order to cope with the constant negativity and criticism.
This doesn’t mean, however, that we should stop holding our partners to a high standard. It does mean, however, that standards require support in order for them to cultivate a healthy relationship. If you want your partner to do something, communicate it in a positive way and then offer support, rather than criticism. While it might seem like a small shift, this reframing can produce tremendous results, specifically a happy, healthy relationship that endures through the ups and downs of the years.
Knowing whether or not you constantly nag your partner takes time for reflection, as well as calm, honest conversations with your significant other. Oftentimes nagging becomes so commonplace in relationships that it flies under the radar, not being noticed or identified until it’s too late. If you do recognize that nagging plays a big role in your relationship, then you might consider some kind of marriage or relationship counseling. Contrary to popular belief, counseling doesn’t need to be reserved for “extreme” moments in a relationship. In fact, it can be incredibly helpful for course-correcting small habits that lead to feelings of general dissatisfaction. After all, these “small” feelings of unhappiness and discontent are often the driving factors behind separation and divorce.
It’s true that you can’t change someone else, which is why nagging so often leads to discomfort and dead ends. Instead, look at yourself and your habits. See where you can provide your partner with more support and trust, rather than a constant wave of criticism and negativity.
Working on reducing the number of times you nag your partner doesn’t mean that you should never offer criticism. Holding each other accountable and to high standards is a cornerstone of a healthy relationship. When you do offer criticism, however, make sure it’s constructive, not just a passing comment. And be sure that you’re ready to support your partner, whether through a big gesture or a small change, so that they don’t feel like they’re doing the work alone.
*Lund R, Christensen U, Nilsson CJ, et al. Stressful social relations and mortality: a prospective cohort study. J Epidemiol Community Health 2014;68:720-727.