If you’re a woman, you might feel annoyed about being told you’re a nag. If you’re a man, you might feel as if you’re constantly being nagged. But where does this gender stereotype come from? We ask a psychotherapist and couples counsellor…
If I spend the day working away from home, the scene I’ll return home to will almost certainly look something like this…
Toys strewn around the entire house (I’m talking teddies in the bath, Playmobil in the washing machine, Lego stuffed behind the sofa).
Washing-up not washed up.
Clothes not laundered.
Food not cooked.
It’s not that my husband isn’t capable of tidying, cooking or putting on a wash – he definitely is – it just slips his mind when he’s looking after the kids. Also, he’s usually trying to squeeze in some work emails or phone calls himself.
So I come in, feeling refreshed from a day away from my motherly and domestic duties, and immediately grimace. I say grimace, I mean say: “For fuck’s sake!” under my breath. Or above my breath, quite loudly.
And then I start manically clearing things away, putting the clothes in the washing machine, filling up the dishwasher, preparing the food for dinner. My husband, meanwhile, is watching me and probably thinking: Calm the hell down, it’s just a few dirty plates.
I try to just get on with it but if I’m especially tired, I won’t be able to hold my tongue. “Erm. Did you not have time to put on a wash, then?” Or: “Were you out all day with the kids, is that why nothing’s been done at home?”. And then I get: “Stop nagging me, I’ve been busy.”
That word. Nag. It rhymes with ‘hag’. And it makes me feel like one when it’s used to describe me. But what annoys me most is that it isn’t used for men. And yet when I break the toilet seat (for some reason, I do this quite often), there’s a certain animosity displayed, which feels a lot like nagging.
So I started to use the word back. Every time my husband shows frustration about the way I’ve crammed things into cupboards, or thrown an ironing board in the cellar or accidentally killed a house plant, I say: Stop nagging me.
But these things happen much less often.
Because my husband is the ‘fixer’ (a builder, who’s therefore good at fixing things), it means when I loosen the toilet screws, it will be him who has to tighten them. That’s annoying. But breakages don’t tend to be daily occurrences, they happen once in a while.
I’m usually in charge of childcare and domestic duties, so when I have a day ‘off’ to work – I expect him to keep on top of things in the same way that I do. But he’s had less practice. And prioritises things differently. So he doesn’t do it. And then I have to quickly sort it all out at the end of the day.
It all makes a certain amount of sense, we can see why these frustrations arise, and so it doesn’t become a huge issue for us. But it is boring – both nagging, and being called a nag. So I decided to ask a couples counsellor what she thought about nagging, why women seem to do it more and how to stop nagging your partner…
Jennie Miller is a psychotherapist and the co-author of Boundaries: How to Draw The Line In Your Head, Heart and Home. She specialises in working with couples and helping individuals to understand how boundaries can help you have a happier life.
“In a nut shell, nagging is all about not being heard and the “nagger” not truly realising they are not being heard. When the same thing is being asked about over and over again it turns into a back ground buzz and this frustrates the nagger, who keeps going.
It’s not always women but I would say in a lot of heterosexual relationships it will be the women. This I believe is still an archaic throw back to the women being the home-maker. Some men will nag but it is rarer. It’s very easy for the pattern to become circular – so, how to stop the pattern?
- Decide what truly matters to you and let other stuff go. Letting go of the ‘not important’ will mean there is less background buzz.
- Boundary when you talk. If one is just setting off to work that isn’t the time. Neither is bedtime. Pick a calm time when the other will be more available.
- In a household with children, sit everyone down and lay out some house rules. The sooner children start to help, the better for them to learn about living with others.
- Don’t fall into the trap of “oh well I’ll do it as I will be quicker/ better” etc. Find a different way of communicating if you really feel unheard, writing an email can be effective.
- Appreciate what the other does do, it’s easy to miss what the other does. Eg. Takes the dog out last thing at night in all weathers when you are heading off to bed.
Who does nagging in your house? Or perhaps you manage to keep the peace – if so, how??