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"I've asked her to clean the house a thousand times." "No matter how frequently I tell him to take the trash out, I always end up doing it."
"I've told him he spends too much time on the computer, but nothing changes."
Nagging. Everybody does it from time to time, and everybody has been the victim of it. The question is, does nagging actually help to motivate a spouse? Some studies have shown that persistent nagging can help to wear down a person's mental defenses until it may be possible to persuade them; however, this ignores the important fact that such nagging may very well cause resentment in a marriage. When a person persistently scolds or bothers their spouse with complaints, the equality of the relationship may shift. This can cause resentment, frustration, or complete disregard of the issues being raised. Research printed in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology suggests that spouses may even subconsciously rebel against the wishes of a nagging spouse.
So how can you get what you want without pushing your partner away?
Make it competitive. Creating a to-do list like this will give your partner clear, concise goals. More importantly, adding your own goals to the list will show your partner that he or she is not the only one who is making contributions. Make it fun by competing to see who can finish their tasks first. Agree on a prize, such as a back rub, for the winner.
Ask for help. Instead of complaining that the kitchen is never clean, create an immediate situation where the two of you can work together. A simple request of, "I need to clean the kitchen, but I'd like to spend some time with you. Will you clean off the counters while I put up the dishes, so we can watch a movie together when we're done?" will usually get the job done. It may not be as thrilling as coming home to a spotless house, but it is much better than having to do everything by yourself.
Be nice. There is a very good chance that your spouse already realizes the things he or she needs to do. Complaining, yelling, or relentlessly pestering your partner may make them feel personally attacked. It may also frustrate them to the point where they decide not to do the tasks they had already planned to do. Nobody wants to feel as though they are being 'ordered around.' While an employee may respond to orders, a spouse is more apt to fight back to protect their self-esteem. Being kind and treating your partner with respect will keep them from 'shutting down' in your presence. If you must remind them to do a task, use your own contributions in a positive manner to ask for help. Try, "I just had a really long day at work. Would you mind putting up the laundry tonight?" or "I mowed the lawn and cleaned the bathroom. I really would appreciate it if you'd do the dishes today."
Give thanks. When your partner does clean the bedroom or take out the trash, be generous with your gratitude. Whether you give them a great big hug, fix their favorite dinner or just say a few kind words, be sure to show them how much their contribution means to you. The positive reinforcement you give may be just what it takes to motivate them to do even more.
Illustration from Clyde Mendes column at MetroSexual LA