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Published March 08, 2012, 11:30 PM

Nagging dangers: Not just an annoyance, criticism can destroy relationships

MOORHEAD - Yes, nagging is annoying. But it can also be disastrous for a relationship.

By: Tracy Frank, INFORUM

MOORHEAD - Yes, nagging is annoying.

But it can also be disastrous for a relationship.

Criticism in a marriage is one of the larger predictors of divorce, said Karissa Schmoll, a licensed marriage and family therapist with the Village Family Service Center in Moorhead.

“There has been a great deal of research that shows that couples who end up divorcing are couples who are more critical of one another,” she said.

James Pfeifer, a licensed professional clinical counselor with Prairie St. John’s Fargo clinic, said that while there may be valid concerns behind the nagging, that method of communication comes across in a way that can be dismissed more easily.

“Unhealthy communication in a relationship can be fatal to that relationship, just like infidelity could,” he said. “People grow apart when there isn’t healthy communication. Resentment builds. It erodes trust. It erodes intimacy. It leads to isolation in the relationship.”

Roxann Ramberg-Cossette of Audubon, Minn., was best friends with her husband of almost 21 years, Doug Cossette.

She said they had an incredible relationship before her husband died of cancer last July, and she still writes him love letters on his CaringBridge website.

“I just can’t find a way to quit chatting with him and telling him how special he is in my life,” she said.

While she said she married the love of her life, she also noted that they had to work at their relationship.

“I remember well how I had to strive to learn to let go, to shut my mouth at some point,” she said. “And guess what? The more I quit nagging, the more things changed for both of us. It made us both happier, and it helped to teach us how to meet in the middle and not be as emotionally attached to our own opinions.”

The couple learned to talk out their problems, comfort each other through turmoil and laugh about resolutions, she said.

“If we had stayed stubborn and nagged each other we would have pushed each other apart,” Ramberg-Cossette said. “I am so happy we were wise enough to recognize that.”

Nagging, or annoying someone through persistent faultfinding, complaints or demands, is often used to ask for help with housework or childcare, or to urge a partner to be more responsible with money, Schmoll said. But it’s an ineffective way to communicate needs or wishes, she warned.

“Typically people tend to shut down and tune it out,” Schmoll said. “Shutting down is dangerous because it sends the message, ‘I do not care about what you have to say.’ Nagging and shutting down then become a typical cycle of communication for the couple, posing problems for effective problem solving.”

Pfeifer said he gained a different perspective on nagging after his first job out of graduate school, which involved working with men who had been adjudicated for domestic violence.

The men consistently dismissed their partners concerns by saying things like, “She was just nagging,” Pfeifer said.

“It was a way for them to not give any credibility to what they were communicating,” he said. “ ‘Nagging’ is a pejorative term that’s typically used to dismiss a woman’s perspective in a relationship.”

A recent survey by a men’s cancer charity in London said that women nag their partners for more than two-and-a-half hours a week, usually about helping out around the house, cutting back on their drinking, or taking care of their health.

The Everyman survey of 3,000 Brits showed that 86 percent of men are nagged by their partners and 87 percent of women admit to giving their partner a hard time to get them to do something.

The study also showed that 83 percent of men often think their partner is right when nagging them, but they would never admit it.

Men also nag, but it is often considered criticizing, Schmoll said. Neither habit is good for a marriage, but the bad habits can be broken by replacing nagging or criticizing with positive, effective communication, Schmoll said.

She recommends having a couples meeting to voice needs and wishes in a positive manner and to address whether your style of communication typically resolves issues and leaves both partners feeling heard.

It can be a tough hill to climb because it’s easier to blame the other person than to look at your own contributions to the negativity, but it takes both people in a relationship to make a commitment to improving communication, Pfeifer said.

Counseling can help couples learn to communicate effectively, but often couples only seek counseling as a last resort, he said.

“Learning how to communicate effectively in a relationship is no different than learning how to speak Spanish or learning how to speak French,” he said. “It takes time, it takes practice and it takes a willingness to feel uncomfortable.”