End Your Nagging Habit
Quit Taking It Personally
Tanya Chartrand, Ph.D., a mom of two, was aggravated by her husband's
superhuman ability to ignore all requests for housework help. But she couldn't
help being impressed by his consistency. Since both Chartrand and her husband,
Gavan Fitzsimons, Ph.D., are professors of marketing and psychology at Duke
University, they decided to investigate the concept of "nag
They conducted a study with 135 students, asking each subject to name a
pushy person who wanted them to work hard. Then the participants were
instructed to solve anagrams on a computer; in some cases, the name of the
nagger was flashed subliminally on the screen. The couple was surprised by what
they discovered: The subliminal flashing caused people to do 25 percent worse
than the control group — and those who faltered were completely unconscious of
what had thrown them off.
What's going on here? One interpretation is that people who are
nag-resistant may be experiencing a control issue. Says Chartrand, "I think
people like my husband perceive nagging as a threat to their autonomy." So
when she needs help, she tries to make him feel like he's the decision maker.
"I've learned that if I say, 'Could you stop for milk on the way home?'
he's very likely to say, ‘We don't need milk.' So instead, I start the
conversation by saying, 'Do you think we might run out of milk soon?' If he
says yes, then I ask, 'Will you stop and get it on the way home? Or shall
I?'" With that kind of approach, he usually takes charge.
Being micromanaged is demoralizing, even for a toddler. Think of what kind of
message it sends to your husband, a fellow adult, when you ask him to load the
dishwasher, then you go back and restack the cups and saucers. "Look at it
from his point of view," says Ramirez. "Sitting and watching the game
on TV is pure fun. Getting up to load the dishwasher is not fun. And if his
only 'reward' is having you silently criticize his work, what's the payoff for
If all else fails, try calling for reinforcements. Catherine Lambson of Vienna,
VA, figured out that her husband excelled at getting their three children —
ages 7, 9, and 11 — to take care of chores around the house. "He's much
better at the job because I'm all talk and no action," she admits.
"He'll ask them to do something twice. And if they still don't do it, he'll
announce, 'OK, I'm going to do your chore for you now,' and they know there
will be a real consequence, like less TV time."
The best part about Lambson's approach, of course, is that it encourages
people like me to do a little delegating. After all, being Command Central of
the Domestic Universe isn't exactly a glamorous job — no pay, limited respect.
In fact, I'm now planning a leave of absence: Next Sunday, I'm kicking the dog
off the couch and taking a nap myself.