The Nagging Wife Syndrome

Brad Says…

Every husband has, at one time or another been accused of having selective hearing. Call it tuning out, turning off, or ignoring; it can be very easy to mentally check out and totally miss what is going on around you. What does this have to do with a nagging wife? Actually the two issues are very closely linked.

Every second of every day our brains make decisions on what to listen to and what to ignore. Our brains tune out the normal sounds that we hear all the time. Without even alerting us our brains decide, “No, I don’t need to listen to that elevator music” or “Nope I don’t care about the AC turning on.” So while we do actually hear those sounds our brains automatically ignore them, we don’t listen.

The Nagging Wife Problem


This brain habit could be very problematic to your marriage if you are not careful. Marriage needs to be based on communication, everyday communication, important communication, the mundane and the essential. But if you selectively tune out to the everyday sound of your wife’s voice you will are create the very nagging problem you so dislike.

Pump Up The Volume

Every wife has a volume knob with settings Low, Medium, High and Nag. No, you cannot turn it down automatically anytime you want. However, you can very easily turn it up! When I mentally check out from home, when I’m consumed by other thoughts I am sending my wife the message to turn up the volume. This is a natural response when trying to get someone’s attention.

Tune In and Turn It Down

Hearing and listening are two different actions.  Hearing is the biological act of our ears picking up the sound. While listening is something we wear! Yes you heard me right; you wear listening as if it was that ugly fishing hat your grandpa used to wear. You take it out and put it on at will.

I used to be a pretty poor listener. I had a bad habit of hearing what Kate was saying while continuing to listen to whatever I was doing (watching TV, surfing online, or reading). I would give the obligatory “uh ha” and “ok love” type of responses, but I never really listened to what she was saying. Yes I heard her, yes I took in the information, but I was not devoting my brain to our conversation, I was not listening to her.

I was showing Kate by my actions that I didn’t really want to talk, that I didn’t care about whatever she was saying.  Of course when she turned up the volume on me (which I totally deserved) I would immediately baulk and say, “No of course I care!” but as we all know actions speak louder than words.

A few years ago I made a conscious decision to force myself to do one of two things when I would hear Kate’s voice. Either, I would ask Kate to hold that thought for a minute until I could reach a stopping point and give her my attention.  Or, I would stop whatever I was doing, look at Kate and put on my listening hat!

Stop Nagging in Its Tracks

Next time you find yourself upset because you feel your wife is nagging you, do a quick hat check. Have you been listening? Have you been tuned in or only giving her selective husband hearing? If you can recognize that you have not been checked in enough then what is happening isn’t nagging, it is screaming for attention. You have the power to turn down the volume.

As you are going through your day think about what you are hearing and what you are choosing to listen to.  Make a conscious effort to put on that old fishing listening hat when your wife speaks today.

It is easy to complain about nagging, are there other ways that you have discovered change this pattern in your marriage?

23 Responses to The Nagging Wife Syndrome
  1. Sis
    June 1, 2012 | 9:15 am

    I was around a couple last weekend who had a similar problem to nagging. They were always telling each other to be careful. Every opportunity they could find, they would point out all the dangers and warn the other to be careful. It was equally annoying to nagging.

  2. Brad
    June 1, 2012 | 9:47 am

    Sis,
    Interesting. What do you think was at the root of that problem? I wonder if they got into the habit by not listening to each other unless the message came with a “warning label”?

    Many times the roots of unhealthy communication are started in unhealthy listening!

  3. Beth Templeton
    June 1, 2012 | 2:36 pm

    Brad, the concept that a husband can turn up the nag control dial is really insightful. So true! I was thinking that as a wife, I also can be aware that when he is clearly hearing without listening, rather than pushing forward, I have the option of waiting and asking if he could take a minute to talk when he is ready.

    • Brad
      June 5, 2012 | 3:12 pm

      Beth,
      Thanks! You are correct! Giving your hubby a chance to find his listening hat is a great way to make sure effective communication is going to happen!
      Giving him a moment to pause, shut down, or unplug is a great way to give him grace in the process. In today’s media saturated world it can be hard to do, but it is VERY important!

  4. Kay Camenisch
    June 1, 2012 | 5:36 pm

    I love the picture of the husband holding the volume control. It fits. It is soon clear when someone is not truly listening. I also like the picture of wearing listening.

    I wonder though if it can be taken a step further. Isn’t there a difference between listening to what someone says, and listening for what is going on inside–behind the words?

    Sometimes, I’m upset or irrational and don’t understand why until my husband listens until I understand what is driving my emotions. His tendency is to want to fix my problem. It’s only when he consciously puts his listening hat on that he helps me hear where my issues are coming from.

    It is a treasure having a husband who knows how to listen. It’s a trap to expect him to always listen at a deeper level. He must first find his listening hat.

    Thanks for a great post.

    • Andrew
      June 1, 2012 | 7:54 pm

      This is a good post. I learned a while ago that listening is important, but it was really driven home at a WeekendToRemember event we went to. I try to be an active listener, but sometimes I do misplace my “listening hat” (great visual!!) One of the key things to remember is if she is trying to communicate with you, put down your electronics/book/whatever and make eye contact with her. It makes it easier to listen and shows her you are making an effort. (same for wives, but that’s a different post!)

      • Brad
        June 5, 2012 | 3:08 pm

        Andrew,
        You got it! what ever other “stimulation” is happening that is preventing you from listening needs to be taken out FIRST! There is NO way to actively listen and watch TV, or look at a phone….

        And you are correct this does apply to both wives and husbands, (just this post was directed to the guys)…
        Blessings!

    • Brad
      June 5, 2012 | 3:06 pm

      Kay,
      Thank you for your comment and question. I do believe there is a difference between listening to the words and understanding. This is often difficult because words are such lousy carriers of what we really mean. However, we have to remember that our spouses are not mind readers, they can not be expected to understand what we are thinking.

      We always encourage couples to extend grace, to allow each other to refine, change, and take back words that do not communicate what they are really trying to say. This takes ALOT of grace sometimes, but it is necessary!

      No one will always be listening at a deeper level all the time, this takes effort, and must be requested, or planned! And listening is a skill that takes time to learn too!
      Thanks for your comment!

  5. JKK
    June 4, 2012 | 1:05 pm

    I’m offended that women always seem to get the negative connotations in marriage…the nagger, the one who doesn’t want sex, etc…What is that?

    • Kate
      June 4, 2012 | 2:49 pm

      Hi JKK! Thanks for commenting, this is Kate. I can see why you would think that at times, heaven knows I used to. Yet we try to present both sides of marriage. That is why one of us starts a post and the other writes from their perspective. Just to be clear, there are many husbands out there who don’t want sex (we have said so many, many times)! There are many things husbands struggle with, same as wives-yet they are often very different struggles. We like to talk about those here, to be open and honest, real and sometimes raw! We Christ followers need to have a place to be real and biblical about marriage. Not everything we right is going to be what people love to hear, yet we believe these things need to be talked about. God has placed a burden on our hearts for marriage and to talk about our journey-which has had some really rocky terrain!

      So Brad was talking to husbands here, about their responsibility in listening to their wives and putting them first above all else (except God). He was saying that if husbands were better listeners and responders, wives would not have a reason to nag. He was challenging husbands, not criticizing wives. I will be resonding tonight from a wives perspective. Brad talkes to the hubbys and I talk to the wives (usually). :)

      I will say, that in the past and even now, when I am offended that women are always to blame-it is usually because I know that I too struggle with this and instead of doign what I need to work on that issue-I would prefer to deflect the attention elsewhere. Yet really I need to search my own heart because I know that deep down, it is true and I struggle and don’t want to deal with it. This may not be the case with you at all, but it has been consistent with me in my journey as a wife.

      Thanks again for sharing. Would love to hear your further thoughts! Blessings, Kate

  6. [...] know that some of you didn’t like the word nagging and wife going together in Brad’s last post, The Nagging Wife Syndrome.  Yet, if we are honest with ourselves wives-all of us have been there.  We have all pushed at [...]

  7. Jean
    October 16, 2012 | 7:42 pm

    Hi,
    I am new here. May I come aboard?

  8. S. Mathew
    November 12, 2012 | 5:49 pm

    Great wife but infected with a very chronically and genetically inherited problem of repeating the same old issues and events of life which brings deeper sorrows and pain in life. Nothing good of the past-the many blessings of life given by GOD will not mention, but only the dark part of life. Being with this pain shooting partner in a room or car is a tormenting feeling. Being alone is a great freedom. 36 years of life have gone in pain and it is getting far worse every day.

  9. Kate
    November 14, 2012 | 5:46 pm

    Hi S. Matthew,
    Thanks for sharing where you and your spouse are. I wish I had a magic word to give you to make all things better. All marriages are unique and therefore working through the issues that arrise are just as unique. I would suggest counseling as there are hurts that run deep through this journey. Please know that you are not alone and that I am praying for you right now! Blessings, Kate

  10. Jean
    November 17, 2012 | 1:28 am

    11/12 Could it be that women carry the burden of so many responsibilities in a marriage and they see that things will not get taken care of unless they do them, thus causing feelings of stress Enter selfish husband who sits back and does not share everyday tasks with wife. She begins to plead. Maybe, just maybe id women would sit back and not do all the many m,any tasks and act as the husband does, then see what happens. Do you all remember the movie where the wives/moms went on strike and camped out in the front yards?? You all get my drift yet??

  11. Kate
    November 30, 2012 | 7:29 pm

    Hi Jean, I think every wife has felt like you at one time or another. I know I was there for many years. Too many! Yet this type of attitude is a “keeping score” attitude. It is hard to serve our spouse and not keep score, but keeping score will not bring you together. It will have the exact opposite affect. A couple of things have helped Brad and I to communicate and understand each other better in these areas. 1. Talking opening and honestly about what we need done and when. When I need Brad to help with something, I ask nicely and also I share what kind of time frame I am looking for. Do I need it done right away, or will getting it done by the end of the weekend work. These things are helpful to both spouses. 2. Trying to approach all of married life, housework included as a team. If you feel like the only player on the field, then talk to your husband. Take time to make him a special dinner, have sex with him-serve him first and then share how you feel overwhelmed and need his help. Share from your feelings, not pointing fingers. I think that all marriages struggle with this dynamic, but ignoring it won’t help. Seek God in prayer and seek to change the situation! Blessings, Kate

    • Jean
      December 3, 2012 | 11:10 am

      Hi Kate. So is the suggestion, that we as wives should cook a special meal, and offer sex, each time we need to speak to our spouse about something? That is not what God wants wives and husbands to do to each other. Kate, a husband should listen to his wife when she has something to say.
      Forgive me if I say write in a harsh way here, but I think we put some unrealistic expectations on wives and the expectations are hurtful and grossly unfair to wives.
      What would be the opinion from everyone, if I suggested to the husbands, that each time they want the wives to have sex with them, that they should wash a load of clothes, cook her dinner, or something.
      Husbands would tell of their frustration Kate, and they would say, no way. Do we see the double standard and unrealistic doctrine here? We put so many of these on women.I am a not a troll, nor am I fanatic, but, I will definitely advocate for my women comrads, when we put more unfair expectations us. I love my man, but I love my sisterhood too! :)

      • Kate
        December 4, 2012 | 5:33 pm

        Hi again Jean! I appreciate you writing again. Sadly you have misunderstood everything I said! My first point was to share your feelings with your husband, first. I then shared that if you are having trouble finding a time to do so, plan a time! Make him a special dinner, share sex and then talk. Why? Because it is showing your husband that your intimacy together is most valued, not the housework or even the issue you need to talk about.
        And I disagree completely that this is not pleasing in God’s eyes! If you are using dinner and sex as a manipulation-then yes it is wrong! Sexual intimacy is one of the most precious gifts given to us by God, manipulating it is just plain wrong! If you are making your husband a nice dinner and prioritizing your one flesh union with intimate time-then it is exactly how God wants it! Putting your spouse and your spouses needs above your own, is exactly what God wants. Thinking about him before you think about yourself. That is a good thing!

        If a husband wants to do loads of laundry it should be out of his desire (and love) to serve and care for her above himself. The same with the wife.

        I hope that clears things up! Blessings, Kate

  12. Jean
    February 13, 2013 | 1:33 am

    Sorry to come back 2 months later. Been busy with many responsibilities. I enjoyed your comments. Keep writing. And also wanted to tell you that you all seem to be a lot nicer than many other blogs.

    • Kate
      February 13, 2013 | 10:54 am

      Thanks Jean, I greatly appreciate your kind words! All glory to our God! Blessings, Kate

  13. Eric
    March 18, 2013 | 9:17 am

    Hi my name is Eric and i appropriate the advice that you gave to Jean. I can say my wife is having the same issue Jean have, I work every Monday-Sunday and i only get two days off in a month and work twelve hours a day and my wife she is in the house almost every day because she works once awhile and after hard work when i get home and the next day she will ask me to help her do some laundry and when i tells her that am tired she gets angry and start nagging. So am asking what is the best way to handle this issue? thank you Kate

  14. mimi
    April 21, 2013 | 11:08 am

    My fiance’ says that I am nagging him when I hold him accountable for what he says is going to do. For example, he will say I will do X, by tomorrow. When I ask him the next day if he has done X he often says, no. When I then ask why not, he then says that I am nagging him.

    He procrastinates in every area of his life and it is exhausting and really, really serious point in our relationship.

    Can anyone share any positive insight to help me share with him why this behavior is annoying, counter productive and unless corrected will end us.

    He has 28 years of drug and alcohol use, and has been off drugs for about 8 years. However, he is what I have read is a dry drunk because he still has some behavior of an addict.

    We can use help.

    Thank you.

    • Brad
      April 28, 2013 | 1:17 pm

      Mimi,
      thank you for sharing your struggle. There is a fine line between nagging and accountability. Can spouses hold each other accountable, yes. Is it easy to do? no. Deciding to do something together is fine, but as soon as you take that “did you do it?” step you are placing yourself in the authority, parental or boss roll. That almost never works well in marriage. The challenge is actually understanding why he doesn’t do something. Recently my wonderful wife asked me to make a phone call and I said I would. After a few days when she asked I admitted I still hadn’t done it. The reality was I didn’t want to do it so it was easy to forget about it. When she asked the question, “how can I help you get it done” it made all the difference. I was able to tell her a minor change that would address my problem with the task in the first part. I know all that is vague, but the point is, if he isn’t doing it there is a reason for it. Helping him to tell you the reason why is important. If it is memory, find ways to help him remember. If it is not wanting to do the task for one reason or another help him talk about why. The reality is he doesn’t like feeling like a failure, he doesn’t like letting you down. Talk to him in a way that lifts him up and lets him know you are there to help him will go a LONG way in helping.

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