How One Couple in the Arctic Got Over Nagging

by | Aug 18, 2021 | Uncategorized | 7 comments

4 Ways to Deal with Nagging
Merchandise is Here!

Sheila here!

Today I’m turning the blog over to Joanna, my awesome co-author with The Great Sex Rescue, and our resident statistician and super smart person. She’s responsible for all the data that we derive from our surveys, and for running all of the numbers.

She’s also an American who married a Canadian lawyer, and when we started The Great Sex Rescue project she lived in the same town as me. Now she literally lives in the Arctic, where her husband works for the government of Nunavut (one of our territories).

She and Josiah have had to find solutions to avoid the nagging situation we talked about yesterday–where you’re constantly reminding someone of something–because they’re both rather disorganized when it comes to household stuff.

I thought their story may be a useful one today, showing how sometimes just getting systems in place can  help the whole dynamic of your marriage. And sometimes even good marriages struggle with these sorts of dynamics!

So here’s Joanna:

Sheila talks a lot on the blog about mental load and emotional labor and I am so grateful for those discussions.

They’ve honestly been a huge help to me and my husband… except about 6 months ago when we STILL found ourselves struggling.

So what if you’re both on board with dealing with mental load friction in your marriage and you’re doing your best… but it’s still leading to conflict, things aren’t getting done, and something isn’t working?

The background (aka the inciting incident(s))

Early in the pandemic, my husband lost his job because of COVID. But that job loss turned out to be a blessing in disguise – his being home allowed me to finish doing the statistics for the Great Sex Rescue, he got 5 months off work to spend with our daughter, and he got his dream job. The downside of said dream job is that it is located in the Canadian arctic, far from our support networks and from the amenities of the south (aka the rest of Canada).

Coping with marriage in the Arctic

We found ourselves moving to one of Canada’s arctic islands (Baffin) with a newborn and a toddler. We are very thankful to be in staff housing but due to the high construction costs, housing size is based on occupancy and as a family of four we were allocated an 850 square foot two bedroom apartment, a far cry from our 2000 square foot three bedroom townhouse in Belleville.

Our community is accessible by plane or by boat (occasionally), not by car, truck, or train, which means that groceries and housewares are complicated to get. We rely on a network of different solutions to get what we need and while we enjoy northern living, it’s not uncomplicated.

Coping with marriage in the Arctic

The transition to the north happened in the midst of the push to get edits in for The Great Sex Rescue and in the time since we moved we’ve launched one book, run two more surveys, and have been working away at writing a follow up book (Sheila is writing several). My husband’s work is wonderful but not easy. And our kids? They are wonderful but very very busy.

Coping with marriage in the Arctic

Needless to say, it’s been hectic. And all of the transitions (new job, new city, new house, new baby, etc etc etc) have come with a LOT of mental load tasks.

We’d done the basic stuff in the past like splitting up tasks by owner, but in the chaos of the many, many tasks we had going on, things were still slipping through the cracks.

1. Work with YOURSELVES (Understand your limitations)

My husband and I are trash at getting groceries off of a paper list. It just will not happen. We’ll forget the list or we’ll forget the pen to cross off the items on the list or we’ll forget to get three things written at the top. Or if we try to text the list it will get buried and then we’ll forget that the list got texted and we’ll try to rely on memory and it will be a horror show. Again.

Six months ago we could NOT figure out how to deal with the untenable situation of the grocery lists when we had a eureka moment: we are never going to be paper grocery list people. It’s just not happening. It’s not that we’re unintelligent, it’s that we’re both absent minded and that we’ve got a LOT on our plates. So we knew we needed a solution other than the paper list.

2. Think outside the traditional solution for getting things done

Instead of just dedicating ourselves to doing paper lists better, we decided to try something different. We found an app (picniic) that allows us to input a grocery list. Their digital lists include options to note which aisle to look in and check items off while we shop. We can even ping the other person to let them know we’re at the store and issue a last call for items to be purchased. Organizing our list this way has meant that we don’t forget the list (we always bring our phones) and that we don’t forget items (it’s easy to check items off as we go).

3. Make a to-do list for your partner (if you have to)

The most stressful part of the mental load tasks was the items that one of us had to do but that the other one kept remembering. Only my husband could submit receipts for moving expenses as he was the only one with an employee email… but I kept remembering and reminding him. Because we were both dealing with SO MANY tasks, it was understandable that it kept being forgotten… but I found it increasingly frustrating.

We eventually used the same app to create honey-do lists for each other so that we don’t have the angst of trying desperately to remember 50,000 things, reminding the other person to do their list, only to have it forgotten. Being able to send reminders and add to each other’s lists has removed a lot of the friction. (Admittedly, not being in the middle of what felt like 6000 simultaneous transitions has also helped.)

4. Remove the word “nag” from your vocabulary and talk openly about reminders and how the situation is making you feel.

When there are a lot of mental load tasks, it’s really easy for one person to start issuing reminders. And sometimes that’s fair. Other times, it’s not. We found that getting away from the word “nagging” was really helpful. Instead, we talked about what was working and what wasn’t. We talked about how having to issue reminders made us feel (or that being reminded all the time felt like being micromanaged). Using direct communication, being honest about our limitations, and making developing a family culture of “enough” with time to do things right have been keys to our success.

So there you have it – the solutions we’ve used recently to help us deal with mental load conflicts in our marriages. Have you tried similar solutions? Did they work? Why or why not? Let me know in the comments!

Thanks, Joanna! 

And Joanna is working so hard right now to get a number of peer-reviewed articles placed. She’s also been working with a pelvic floor physiotherapist professor, who is partnering with us on some of our vaginismus research! We want to get our stats from The Great Sex Rescue to a wider audience.

When you support us on Patreon, you support Joanna as she works up in the Arctic with two toddlers publish our research, and you support Rebecca as she tries to get our stats into new hands of people who haven’t heard of it before. Plus you get access to  unfiltered podcasts, a super active Facebook group, and more! 

The Great Sex Rescue

Changing the conversation about sex & marriage in the evangelical church.

What if you’re NOT the problem with your sex life?

What if the things that you’ve been taught have messed things up–and what if there’s a way to escape these messages?

Welcome to the Great Sex Rescue.

4 Ways to Deal with Nagging

What do you think? Have you ever found practical solutions that help you get around this dynamic? Let’s talk in the comments!

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Blog Contributor & Co-Author on The Great Sex Rescue!

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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  1. R

    I’m glad this system works for you. But if we’re having to make to-do lists for our spouses, that doesn’t reduce our mental load right? Perhaps I’m misunderstanding your example and submitting receipts for reimbursement is your Fair Play card. Our current struggle is this: Husband says he gets it about mental load and wants to pull his weight; we’ve divied up tasks in a mutually agreeable way (I have a lot more cards than him, but I’m happy with the division); and husband has made digital lists and set reminders with helpful apps. However, often when his reminders go off, he snoozes them perpetually or simply ignores them. For example, auto care is his card. His commute is long, and he needs frequent oil changes. Yet he recently went 9 months between oil changes, and it only happened because I insisted. So I still had to handle the mental load of this task, plus the frustration of our vehicle not being maintained, potentially leading to it not lasting as long. Husband is very repentant when I bring these situations up, and he might make more effort to CPE his cards for awhile, but then he goes back to being lax until the next time something big falls through the cracks and I bring it to his attention. I’m really at a loss because he’s a wonderful husband and father in most other ways. But I can’t trust him to do what he says in matters big and small, and it affects me on a practical level and emotionally.

    • Joanna Sawatsky

      Hi R,

      We have an almost farcical breakdown of tasks – it is literally as granular as I mix up the pancake batter and he makes them, haha! But for the move, it was SUCH a complicated problem that we both had to be all in on it. If I wash issuing a to-do list for areas that he’s in charge of, that would be a mental load problem. But sometimes there are areas of household management that we’re both in on. Sometimes it’s something as simple as my needing my husband’s help to move around heavy bins. In our case, the issue was a bit of absent mindedness combined with a BRUTAL number of tasks to complete and remember, many of which couldn’t be done on the first attempt or by just one of us. I’ve that having tasks divvied up by owner works for a LOT of household management issues… but it doesn’t work for all of them. And the ones where we have to work together can be the trickiest to manage.

      The thing I liked about the to-do list was that it took checking in on whether or not tasks had been completed from stressful to easy. Instead of worrying that I’d forget to mention that x or y had been done, I could make a note in the app and then check that occasionally to bring up anything I was concerned about.

      I’m so sorry you’re having trouble with your husband. I’d highly recommend trying some of the direct communication issues Sheila has outlined (and bringing in some professional help if it’s still an impasse.) Another tactic that we’ve used is having reminders come up after a set amount of time to bring up a particular task to make it easier to remember.

  2. A2bbethany

    Welcome to the blog Joanna! We all appreciate you and it’s cool hearing from you sometimes! You’re obviously getting plenty of work, living in a tiny place with 2 tiny’s! Thanks for your contributions!!

    • Joanna Sawatsky

      Thanks so much!

  3. Em

    Do you have any tips for working with two toddlers???

    Can’t wait to hear more about your articles!

    • Joanna Sawatsky

      1. We believe in schedules. Everyone does better with a schedule.

      2. I am trying to be really okay with the fact that I have very limited time to work. I am trying to do an hour or so a day either after my daughters are in bed or during their nap. Being realistic about what I can take on has been key. I also am finding the balance of wearing a lot of different hats.

      And honestly the thing that makes a huge difference that I can’t exactly recommend because… it’s not a thing for most people is having a spouse with a lot of vacation time/who can take a parental leave. My husband took time off occasionally as we got closer to the book launch and I often worked during the lunch hour while he watched the girls. While he was on leave I was able to get more done as well. He has great work/life balance and honestly without his support there’s no way I could have the job I do.

      Hope that helps!

      • Em

        It does! Thanks!


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