“Honey, would you take out the trash?” “Honey, please take out the trash.” “Honey, Why do I have to keep telling you? The trash! The trash!” In his book, “Counselling with Choice Theory,” Dr. Glasser lists seven deadly habits that, if used long enough, will put an end to any relationship. Not surprisingly, nagging is one of them.
Reality Therapy also says that although we can’t control what anyone else does, we can provide information. Perhaps they will consider the information we’ve provided as they decide what to do. Or, they might ignore our information. Perhaps they will listen and then choose to do the opposite. Ultimately, we each make our choices.
Now I’m sure that neither you, nor I, ever nag. We simply provide information to our spouses, children, co-workers, and so on. However, for Wanda and Bob and their ongoing battle of the trash, one person’s perception of “information” fits another person’s perception of “nagging.” So, when does the simple, helpful act of providing information become nagging?
Wanda and Bob have built up a routine where Wanda repeats herself many times before Bob eventually responds. Even though Wanda’s first remark is a question, “Honey, would you take out the trash?” it’s providing information. Wanda wants the trash removed; she wants Bob to remove it.
Bob has choices in how he responds. He could say, “Yes,” or “No,” or “Later,” or “Ask Billy to do it.” Bob could even say nothing; that’s a response, too!
Wanda’s second remark, “Honey, please take out the trash,” repeats her information. Maybe Bob didn’t hear her the first time. Maybe he forgot, or got distracted. As the first piece of information she provided wasn’t effective (the trash is still there), Wanda tried again in a different way.
However, somewhere between Wanda’s first remark and her fifteenth, that innocent request has been transformed from providing information to, well…nagging.
Wanda wants to improve her relationship with Bob and has decided that she will no longer choose to nag. Great! However, Wanda also wants the trash taken out. What are her options?
- Wanda can take out the trash herself.
- She can let the trash sit, fragrantly fermenting…
- She can hire someone.
- She can have a chat with Bob to let him know that she will no longer nag about the trash. What will happen instead? They could agree that removing trash is Bob’s responsibility, and Wanda will provide one reminder at trash time. What if Bob doesn’t follow through? It may be helpful to also negotiate a consequence before it happens.
How do you draw the line between information and nagging? Here’s my guideline:
- Say it once: it’s information.
- Twice: it’s reinforcing information (in case you weren’t heard, or it’s been forgotten.)
- Three times: it’s nagging!
Here are two questions to consider when you are about to repeat yourself:
- Do you honestly believe that the person doesn’t already know this information?
- Do you believe that repeating the information will help or hurt your relationship?
When do you think that repeating information becomes nagging?