The DIRECT COMMUNICATION Series: What if Nagging Isn’t the Problem (or the Solution)?

by | Aug 17, 2021 | Resolving Conflict | 51 comments

Nagging Not Real Problem: Direct Communication
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We often hear that nagging is one of the worst things a woman can do in a marriage.

It makes her husband feel infantilized, undermined, talked down to.

But what if nagging is not the real issue? What if we’re making too big a deal out of nagging, and not enough of a big deal out of other things?

We’re talking about direct communication this month–how to express what you want and feel clearly, and how to give your spouse room to respond. We’ve looked at what direct communication looks like; why direct communication can be difficult for women; why direct communication can be difficult for men; and so much more.

Today, let’s tackle nagging, and let’s begin with a definition.

Nagging is persistently insisting that someone do something, or persistently pointing out fault in someone.

Now, a pattern of behaviour where you are constantly finding fault with your spouse is not a good dynamic. John Gottman found that in order for a marriage to feel safe and healthy, you need five positive interactions for every one negative one. If most of what comes out of your mouth towards your spouse is negative, that’s going to have a very negative impact on your marriage.

However, what about the first element of nagging? What if the issue is that one spouse keeps repeating that the other spouse needs to do something? Does this represent something that is damaging to the marriage?

Well, yes. But also–perhaps we’re asking the wrong questions. Here’s how a commenter described it earlier this week:

Nagging is a sign that a person has been treated disrespectfully.

If I ask my husband to do something and he says, “sure, I’ll do that today,” and it’s still not done a week later, it is ok for me to say, “hey hon, you said you’d get that job done, what’s going on?” If he responds with, “oh, I forgot, I’ll do it today,” and another week goes by, it is not out of the realm of normal for me to be frustrated. It is disrespectful to say you’ll do something and then not do it.

We had big talk a few years back and he admitted that he would agree to do the job without making it a priority even though his words indicated he did. I pointed out that he was lying, then. I told him if he’s not going to do it, say so. The talk involved him admitting that he doesn’t think it’s fair that I have to do everything but he doesn’t want to take on unpleasant jobs, either. Nor does he think it’s fair for me to do all the unpleasant jobs while he takes the easy ones. I told him it’s time to acknowledge that we are both the adults in the home. I’m the mom, yes, but he’s the dad. Time to just get it done.

Things are so much better now. He was infantilizing himself with his behavior. He has so much more self respect, now.

LIsa M.

Another woman expressed a similar frustration:

As for all the exhortations and warnings against wives nagging their husbands, where are all the exhortations and warnings against husbands being lazy, forgetful, uninterested liars? If a husband agrees or volunteers to do something but then never does it, whether through laziness, busyness, forgetfulness, or simply trying to keep the peace when he was asked or volunteered, then doesn’t that make him a liar? If said husband would keep his word, his wife would never have to bring up the issue again, would she? So why is all the responsibility for the husband’s utter lack of follow-through put on the wife keeping her mouth shut rather than her husband doing what he said he’d do?


Nagging has been given an unfairly negative connotation, without addressing the underlying issues.

Yes, it is unpleasant to live with someone who is constantly reminding you of things that need doing and of how you are failing.

But what if you are, indeed, failing to live up to  your word? What if someone is, indeed, being lazy and irresponsible? Let’s take a look at an all-too-typical evening for Sandra and Mark:

Sandra and Mark’s Nagging Dynamics

When dinner is over, Sandra says to Mark, “It’s your turn to do the dishes tonight, Mark.”

Mark sighs and says, “Yes, I know. I’ll get to it.” He gets up from the table and heads to the living room. 

Now, Sandra and Mark have little counter space, and Sandra can’t get the kids’ lunches ready for school the next day (or the kids can’t get their own lunches ready) until the dishes are done. 

Tonight, Sandra was planning on her evening looking something like: giving the kids a bath and getting them ready for bed; finishing up half an hour of work that still needs to be done; making the kids lunches; and relaxing for an hour or two before bed.

As Sandra clears the table, she can hear her husband start the video game player. She knows he’s had a busy day at work, and figures he just wants to goof off for a little while, but she’s afraid that little while will become hours. “Remember that I need the dishes done soon, Mark!” she calls out. He doesn’t reply.

Once the table is cleared, she gets the kids in bed, finishes up her work, and heads down to make tomorrow’s lunches–and the counter is still a mess. She calls into Mark in the living room, “Mark, you said you’d do the dishes.” He calls back, sounding annoyed, “I know. I’ll get to it in a minute!”

Sandra feels a little lost. What is she supposed to do? She was going to make the lunches and then relax. She’s finished everything else on her plate. But she can’t start relaxing until the lunches are made.

She sits down in a huff and waits for a few minutes, but Mark still isn’t coming. Walking into the living room she accuses him, “You said you’d do the dishes and I’ve been waiting.” 

He replies, “And I said I’d get to it! What is your problem? You’re always nagging me!”

Frustrated, she goes and does the dishes herself so that she can get the lunches made and then still have some time to relax before bed.

In that scenario, what was the issue? The fact that she was nagging him? Or the fact that he never followed through on what he was supposed to be doing?

I realize that this dynamic can definitely go both ways, and there are things that wives can fail to follow through on. But research has shown that this type of problem is largely a male-female one, where the woman is the one who is criticized as nagging. Indeed, “nagging” tends to be a word with a female connotation. And yet what if the problem is not nagging itself but the dynamic that often leads to nagging?

Again, I do believe that constantly criticizing someone is not good for the marriage, and some spouses do consistently find fault with one another. That does need to be addressed. But when the nagging is less about finding fault and more about asking a spouse to follow through with their promises, then is the issue really nagging?

I don’t think it is. However, I also don’t think that the solution is persistently reminding your spouse to do the task either. In Sandra and Mark’s case, the real issue is not Sandra’s nagging. But it’s also clear that Sandra’s “nagging” (for lack of a better word) isn’t solving the problem either.

Addressing The Practical Dynamic that can Lead to Nagging

The dynamic around nagging usually starts because the wife “assigns” a task to the husband, which is already demeaning. She is telling him what to do, like she is a mother instructing a child. He often doesn’t understand the bigger picture, and so he may not know HOW the task needs to get done, WHY it’s such a big deal (she can’t make the lunches until the dishes are done), or even WHEN it needs to get done.

He may do something half-heartedly, thinking it’s enough, only to have her grow frustrated with him and tell him he needs to do it over again. Or she constantly reminds him because she needs this done.

To a large extent this may be a mental load issue. She is carrying all of the mental load that goes into running the house. She knows what needs to get done when. She has a giant family plan in her head that organizes everything, and she is constantly keeping several plates in the air at once, trying to get everything done before it all crashes down. She can’t do it all alone, though, so she does ask for help. But because no one else understands the big picture, and because no one else takes ownership, it’s rarely done the way she needs it to be done.

As we talked about in our mental load series last year, the answer is often to assign different areas of household responsibility to different people. They’re not just responsible for doing the task (the dishes), but they’re responsible for the whole thing–the dishes, the cleanup, maybe even the lunches–so that they get that bigger picture and can do it when it needs to get done, without someone having to assign it to them. We all know it’s his job; he owns it; he gets it done.

If you haven’t seen the mental load series, I encourage you to read it, and look again at the post specifically on ending nagging! And in that series we also address how to set “minimum community standards” for tasks, too.

Addressing The Mindset Dynamic That Can Lead to Nagging

I really believe that sitting down and having that mental load talk can bring so much practical healing to a marriage, and that may be all you need.

But if it’s not, there is another element that contributes to the nagging dynamic, and it’s this one: Often one person feels as if the household is a place of responsibility, while the other person feels as if the household is a place of leisure.

One spouse feels responsible for keeping everything going and getting stuff done, and only relaxes after it’s done, and the other just wants to relax all the time, and will only work if they have to. This mindset can be due to either immaturity or gender role assumptions where men just don’t have to do any work in the home.

It is very, very difficult to bridge that gap when one person simply doesn’t see the house as an area of work. This isn’t always a gendered thing, but it is primarily a gendered thing. I have known many men who have said, for instance, “I work outside the house, so you work inside the house,” as if they don’t have to do any housework or childcare because the entire family is her responsibility. 

We must start raising our boys to feel responsible for the household as well. Give your boys as many chores as you give your daughters. Teach your boys how to clean and cook in the same way as you teach your daughters. Chances are your son will marry someone who will also work outside the home, at least some of the time. If they don’t share chores, it’s going to be difficult on their marriage. And it’s just a matter of fairness.

Even if she does all of the housework because she stays at home, children are not tasks. Children are people. And he needs to have a relationship with them, which means being involved in daily tasks like homework, giving them a bath, reading to them, and more. He can’t just disengage because “it’s her job.” No, they’re kids.

If he feels this way, I still suggest going through the emotional labor and mental load series with him, and even getting the book Fair Play (there is some language in it). It helps you talk the household responsibilities through and shows how to approach your spouse if they just don’t see it the same way that you do.



Fair Play:

A Game-Changing Solution for Sharing Mental Load and Emotional Labor–

that will transform your marriage!

How to Handle it Without “Nagging” When a Spouse Isn’t Pulling their Weight

Okay, let’s say that you’ve done all of that and your spouse still is not following through on what they’ve said they’ll do. He (or she) has assigned areas of responsibility that are clearly delegated. You’re not just making requests on the fly. Your spouse clearly knows that it is his (or her) job to get something done, and is still not doing it. There have been timelines and expectations set, and those timelines and expectations have not been met.

It is okay to bring this up as an issue. 

It is okay to say, “You said you’d do this, and you didn’t do it. I am not happy. I am disappointed and I feel taken for granted and used, and I would like to talk about this.”

And maybe you all need to hear me say this, too: It is okay to be disappointed when your spouse said they would do something and then didn’t follow through. It is even okay to be angry.

I know a lot of marriage advice will tell you to let it go, and not to let bitterness reign in your heart. And I certainly don’t think you should get bitter, either! And quite often when you are upset about something, they are also upset about something else, and talking through what you each can do to build the relationship is very healthy.

But when a spouse truly and repeatedly treats us poorly, then that spouse has compromised intimacy. They have made it so that we feel as if we can’t trust them, and as if our feelings and needs don’t matter to them. If this doesn’t have repercussions on your marriage and how you feel about your spouse, then that’s a sign there could be something wrong! You should feel hurt when someone treats you badly.

Think about how often in the Old Testament God describes blessings and cursings for the Israelites–when they do what’s right, they’ll be blessed. When they do what’s wrong and treat God badly or cavalierly, bad things happen. Now God also has grace, and loved us and gave Himself for us while we were still sinners. But in intimate relationships, how we treat each other does affect intimacy. That’s how we’re made!

What you do with that hurt is another story, but it is not a sin and it is not wrong to feel hurt, and you are not being a bad wife or husband.

You now have two questions ahead of you:

  1. What will you do about the thing that your spouse has failed to do?
  2. How will you handle the rift in your relationship?

Handing the thing that your spouse refuses to do

I have a longer series on how to draw boundaries with a spouse’s bad behavior, and allow them to feel the consequences of their actions. It’s part of my longer iron sharpens iron series, and that’s a good one to read about making changes in marriage.

Handling your disappointment in your spouse

This is really the bigger issue, isn’t it? How can you have a warm, close, affectionate relationship with someone that you can’t count on, and that consistently takes you for granted?

Can I suggest that the answer may be, “you can’t”?

I know that’s harsh, and I’m not saying that you can’t have a decent marriage, where you do things together and raise kids together and find a modicum of contentment. In fact, if your spouse consistently refuses to step up to the plate, you may need to find ways to emotionally deal with this that don’t depend on your spouse changing, because your spouse may never change.

And that means that you may need to come to terms with the fact that your marriage will never be as warm, affectionate, and close as you had hoped, because you can’t build a warm, affectionate, close relationship all on your own.

So, yes, keep trying to do hobbies together and spend time together.  Build your emotional connection. But you may also need to plug in to a great women’s group to get your emotional needs for friendship met elsewhere. You may need to start developing some hobbies outside of your marriage so that you have something else that makes you happy. Because your marriage may simply be a disappointment.

I wish I could paint a happier picture. But some people do disappoint us, and to try to pretend that isn’t true doesn’t help.

Also, to treat your spouse as if you are still best friends when your spouse is treating you badly rewards your spouse for bad behavior and grows your own wounds. When you have to ignore the very real hurts you feel, and pretend they don’t matter, eventually that’s going to catch up.

You can still have a decent surface relationship. You can try to build a genuine friendship. But yes, your marriage has been hurt by this, and it’s okay for you to acknowledge that and to tell your spouse that (and hopefully go to a licensed counselor about it!).

If he never follows through with anything he said he would do around the house; if she consistently refuses to stick to the budget even when she’s promised, and continually drives you into debt; these things are problems! And problems should impact your marriage (and in some cases problems are so huge that the marriage can’t even continue.)


What’s holding you back from a GREAT marriage?

Do you find yourselves taking each other for granted?

Has marriage lost that “spark”?

Learn how to feel connected again–and how changing the way you THINK about marriage can make all the difference.

In 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage, I spend the first four thoughts helping women look at themselves and change any attitudes that need changing, and look for ways to take responsibility for her own happiness.

Then we look at three thoughts that can help address these chronic issues–and why it’s okay to address those issues. It doesn’t mean you’re being selfish or bitter or angry.

And then we turn to two thoughts to help keep the relationship feeling close! If you’re finding this series resonating with you, 9 Thoughts That Can Change  Your Marriage is my book that will help you go deeper!

I do think there’s hope!

Many, if not most, marriages can actually be turned around when we tackle problems well.

Rebecca and I were talking today about how we may not actually know what happy marriages look like, because marriage books tend to focus on how if you’re upset at your spouse, you need to let it go and recognize that you’re a sinner, too. To a certain extent there is some truth there–the John Gottman Institute, for instance, did find that you need 5 happy communications for every 1 negative one if you’re going to have a happy marriage. So as you’re working on dealing with something difficult, build some fun in too, and encourage where you can.

But research has also shown that not dealing with small things causes them to become big things. And setting the groundwork early in your marriage where there are some things that you just won’t tolerate can bear great dividends in the long run.

The most unhappy marriages are not those where there is no conflict; the most unhappy marriages are those where conflict is suppressed.

So if you need to have conflict over something–have it. Quite often that conflict can be resolved.

But it will never be resolved if, when your spouse treats you badly and takes you for granted, you swallow your disappointment, pretend everything is okay, and stop expecting anything more.

What if Nagging is not the Real Problem

What do you think? What’s the best way to stop nagging while actually dealing with the issue at hand? Let’s talk in the comments!

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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. Kelly

    It feels like what complementarianism does is encourage husbands and wives to instead take on paternal and maternal roles with one another instead of partnership.

  2. Jo

    Thanks for quoting me, Sheila! 😀

    What do you do when there’s no way to assign consequences for an undone task to the person who didn’t do it? The Sandra and Mark example is perfect for this: his not doing the dishes very soon after dinner, and not even by the time Sandra has completed all her other, non-re-schedulable tasks, means she cannot complete her last task of preparing the kids’ lunches for the next day. There’s no way for Sandra to make any consequences fall on Mark for his delay in doing the dishes, since his delay doesn’t inconvenience him in any way.

    Would it be a consequence—or revenge—for her to leave undone some task that she does to help him but doesn’t inconvenience her in any way when it is left undone? For example, maybe he needs dress shirts handled by the dry cleaners, but she chooses to neither drop them off nor pick them up. After all, his not having clean dress shirts doesn’t screw up her schedule, just his, as he now needs to make some extra stops on the way to or from work to deal with his own shirts. Or if he doesn’t need dry cleaning, maybe she just stops doing his laundry and lets him figure out when (and maybe how) to do his own clothes washing.

    Why is it that so many men think that getting married relieves them of all the responsibility of the daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly tasks we **all** need to do just to survive? If he were single, he’d have to run his own household completely by himself, so why is it such a huge issue to ask husbands to pitch in and pull their weight? And don’t get me started on fathers who think that caring for their own children is “babysitting”!

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, research does show that women do more housework after marriage, while men do less. Again, I don’t think all men are like this, but it is a dynamic that many marriages experience, like yours.

      When I think consequence, I don’t think “tit for tat”, because that isn’t always healthy. I think bigger picture: You do not have to act like the marriage is perfect if the marriage isn’t perfect. You’re allowed to make things issues, and to have this show up in other areas of your life–the time you spend together, the time you spend with friends, the time you spend volunteering, etc.

      Like, if you’re totally not connecting at home and he’s taking you for granted, is it a good idea for you to be volunteering somewhere together before you get this sorted out? Should you be taking that weekend away with friends, where you have to pretend everything’s okay? Should you be hosting his parents right now? Like if this is a big thing that’s a crisis, then treat it like it’s a crisis and let it take the emotional energy of your relationship right now so that it gets dealt with. If something is really hurting you, you don’t have to continue with business as usual. It’s okay to deal with something. Maybe you start counseling–and for some women they may even realize in counseling that they’ve been taking their husband for granted, too. It’s not always one way. But when there’s a real problem, it’s okay to act like there’s a real problem, and deal with that problem. Does that make sense?

      • Jo

        I agree completely that big issues should be dealt with and that there’s no need to pretend they aren’t there just so the couple can keep a good face to outsiders. (And I can already hear the men complaining, “You mean she canceled the weekend get-together because one night he didn’t do the dishes as soon as she wanted? Wow, how controlling is she???”)

        But the problem is that the husband’s not following through on these small tasks that then impacts the wife (or even the kids) without directly impacting him is not big enough to warrant such treatment as not doing a weekend with friends or family. However, the accumulating list of tasks left undone, or the accumulating list of tasks HE SAID HE’D DO that she then has to remind him about seventeen times, eventually makes what seems like a monolithic pile of unsolvable problems rather than lots of small, solvable problems. At which point canceling the family outing or parent invite makes sense. But that doesn’t solve the immediate issue of getting him to realize that he is majorly inconveniencing her (and it’s likely habitual), so that’s why I wonder if a similarly “small” inconveniencing of him is the only way for her to get through to him.

        There’s an interesting parallel discussion over at “must be this tall to ride dot com” in the recent comments on the post “Are You Afraid When the Elevator Doors Open?” (caution: language warning in the posts and comments). Just this morning, “dangermom” asked, “The articles I read say over and over that women do this thing where they talk and try and talk and try and then they give up, go quiet, and plan to leave. And the guy only notices when she actually leaves, because men really only notice actions. OK, well… what on earth ‘action’ is there that women are supposed to take before they get all the way to walking out?”

        So that’s my question. He hasn’t done what he’s said he do (and per the lower comment about her explaining WHY may help him do the task—then again, it may well not), so since no consequences fall on him from this failure to follow through, what ACTION can she do so that HE can see what it’s like to be inconvenienced like this?

        • Lynn

          I don’t ever want to just be petty, but I absolutely took my (ex) husband’s preferences off my to-do list when he wasn’t doing any housework at all. It took me nearly ten years to get to that point. I quit doing his laundry the day he piled a mountain of it in the kitchen. He insisted that he was “helping me” by bringing it to the kitchen so that I didn’t have to go pull it all out of the hampers in his closet. He had often fussed at me for not wiping the tops of the backs of the dining room chairs, which bothered him if he thought they felt sticky. I had never noticed that issue, so I let him take care of it (he didn’t). I quit packaging leftovers in portions that were easy to take for work lunches and did what was quickest and most convenient for me when I was cleaning up after dinner alone. I cooked what was simplest and quickest for me and the kids, instead of working around his ever-changing (manipulative) likes and dislikes. And I was perfectly frank with him, that if I was carrying the entire load, I had to do what worked for me and I wasn’t going to burn myself out trying to keep up with his stuff when he refused to contribute. If it was really that important to him, he could take care of it. And that’s how I survived for the last two years before I got out. We basically moved on without him, and that made it so much easier when we moved out.

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            I think this is a great strategy and one that I was going to suggest on my post on my Monday. You do what works for you.

    • Kya

      I was pondering this, too–how can this issue be structured so that he feels the consequences of not holding up his end? They could go the mental load route and decide that it is his job to do all the post-dinner cleanup and get the lunches made while she puts the kids to bed, but if he chooses to play video games instead, who suffers in the long run? Probably her, because the counters are still dirty when she goes to make breakfast, AND she has to rush like mad and maybe even drive to school later when she realizes he never made the lunches. The solution I came up with is that, if the lunches aren’t made, then he has to give the kids money to buy lunch out of his own pocket. Not out of the grocery budget or the eating out budget, but out of his personal spending money or hobby budget. Not making lunches occasionally probably won’t hurt him much, but if this is a habit, he will soon find that he is spending all of his money on kids’ lunches instead of what he wants.

      • CM

        How does she enforce that? Does she have access to his wallet?

    • Kacey

      I think the more appropriate response in the Sandra and Mark situation would be saying, “Honey, I don’t have space to make the kids’ lunches. I’m going to go relax before bed. Please make sure the lunches are done once the dishes are cleared.” That way he understands the logic of the problem and experiences consequences that make sense–I prevented her from being able to finish her work, so I have to help–instead of Sandra getting “revenge” by not helping in another area.

      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Yes, that’s also fair. Again, I think going through the mental load process and assigning tasks would clear a lot of this up, because it makes sense to have the same person do both.

      • CM

        It’s not “revenge”. It’s a strategy she is forced to use to get him to do what needs to be done.

  3. anon

    I wish I had a time machine to give this to many, many couples I knew who have gone on to their reward. Esp my parents. They kind of figured this out eventually, but it took a lot of yelling and throwing things and traumatizing of their kids, to get there. I feel like all lonely men who want to marry a woman, need to read this… I know the main reason I steered clear of certain very interested guys, is bc I could tell they weren’t being careful to hear me about the things that matter to me, and it was hard to envision a collaborative future with them where they felt a responsibility to help me steward the gifts I have beyond cleaning, cooking, childraising, and obediently following instructions. And I’m thinking the many, many women who’ve been married before and would rather have a root canal than do that again, would probably agree thoroughly with all this.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, so many women marry and then divorce and are perfectly happy being single, while men are more likely to remarry afterwards. It’s an interesting dynamic. I think the change comes with the way that we raise our own sons, and I encourage all moms to make sure that they don’t require more/different chores from their daughters than they do from their sons. Even requiring daughters to look after younger siblings but not sons to baby-sit younger siblings. It definitely gives the impression that “this is what girls do” and “this is what boys don’t do,” and that makes their marriages so much harder later.

  4. Meghan

    Sheila, I love these series and enjoy reading the posts but the solutions just don’t apply to our situation. Would you consider having a guest on sometime to discuss how to address these issues when one spouse (or both) is neurodivergent or chronically ill?

    • Wild Honey

      Yes, please please please! We went through the Fair Play cards system. It was helpful, it gave us a common vocabulary, he has “taken ownership,” he understands the big picture and domino effects of particular tasks not getting done… and I STILL end up with no toilet paper in the bathroom when it’s awkward to do the refill myself, if you get what I mean. On my period. Three times, now. As just one example.

      Our daughter is in the process of getting evaluated for ADD, and if she ends up having it, I’ve already told hubby I’d like him to go through a formal evaluation, as well (his sibling has it).

      How do you tell when it’s immaturity, when it’s just learning a new process, when he simply doesn’t care, or when there’s something out of his control going on?

      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        If you think he may have ADD, by all means see if you can get him evaluated for it! It may really help. But even if he doesn’t, what about looking up coping strategies for ADD and starting to implement some of them and seeing if they change things? Does he have these problems in other areas, too, like work?

      • Wild Honey

        Regarding coping mechanisms, that’s next. But, frankly, ADD would never have been on my radar if not for our daughter, and it wouldn’t have been on my radar for her if it hadn’t been for a good friend whose child was having the same struggles who had an outside source to clue her in to it.

        Regarding work, the answer is yes, no, and I don’t know all at the same time. I get a closer view of his work life than many spouses because he works from home (and I’m stay-at-home), and he definitely goes through the hyper-focused then super-distracted/restless cycles. But I don’t work intimately with him at his job like I do with raising kids and managing a household, so there’s a lot of I-don’t-know, to answer your question. And at work he has a project manager. If I’m the so-called project manager at home, doesn’t that defeat the whole Fair Play concept?

        And it also seems as though he uses his whole ration of mental focus for the day at work, with little-to-nothing left for the family at the end of the day. I should acknowledge, he has said the same thing of his father (so I don’t know if it’s nurture or nature or both), but his parents both worked high-paying jobs and had the income to pay others to do a lot of things for them around the house and property that we simply don’t have in our current circumstances.

      • Lyndall

        I’m a woman with ADHD, and I currently live in my parents’ basement suite and am expected to help with some aspects of running the house upstairs. Definitely not the same as being a husband with ADHD, but there are some parallels that might help. The number of times I’ve forgotten to put the dishes away. . .

        ADHD is plain old hard to deal with a lot of the time. It sucks for the person with it, and it sucks for the people around them. It’s a disability, and that disability impacts people around you.

        However, internally there’s a huge difference between someone who’s trying to work with their ADHD and make an effort but legitimately forgetting to do things due to ADHD, and someone who uses it as an excuse and just gives up. The tricky part is that on the outside, these look similar.

        Ultimately, the person with the ADHD is responsible for their own brain. They should be the ones looking for coping mechanisms, seeking therapy/diagnosis/coaching, trying medication if that’s something they want, and so on. But ahh, it’s so tricky because after years and years of undiagnosed ADHD, it’s really easy for someone to feel hopeless and like nothing can change and like they’re just lazy butts who will never live up to what they want, never mind what other people want. . . I guess I don’t have answers. Just that it’s hard, and it’s frustrating for everyone involved.

        If the person is willing to make even micro steps on their own initiative towards working through their ADHD, I’d say that’s a good sign.

    • KaterpillarRose

      Yes please! My husband was diagnosed with depression, anxiety, and ADD about a year ago and has been seeking professional help to deal with these things. We have talked a lot about mental load and he really does understand and wants to help me more, but is still really struggling with trying to establish healthy routines for himself, besides routines for us and the household. I’m doing my best to be patient with him and try to think about how frustrating this must be for him too and I know he is still working on building his self esteem, which was really low when he decided to seek professional help… but as he tries to take over parts of the mental load and sometimes doesn’t get things done that matter to me, I’m having a hard time trusting him to do anything.

  5. Anon

    I feel like this links back into your post on direct communication. Sandra reminds him about the dishes 3 times but the closest she gets to specifying a timeframe is when she said she needs them done ‘soon’ – but she doesn’t give a reason. Maybe Mark was planning on doing them just before bedtime and thinks getting them done earlier is just Sandra’s preference? I wonder if she’d said ‘Mark, can you get the dishes done before I finish up this work so I can get tomorrow’s lunches made before I chill out’, whether there would have been a better response.

    I do our main houseclean on Fridays because I like to have the place looking good for the weekend – my husband always said to leave the vacuuming to him as he wanted to contribute to the cleaning. So I’d finish the cleaning , and then wait for the vacuuming to get done – which often didn’t happen until late Sunday or early Monday! But if I did it myself, he was upset because he said he wanted to contribute to keeping the house tidy! When I explained WHY I liked the floors done straight after the rest of the cleaning, he got it. Now most weeks, he vacuums Friday night or early Saturday morning and it’s rare that I either have to remind him or do it myself. But if I hadn’t been specific about the reason, I don’t think anything would have changed!

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, very true, Anon! She never actually asked him or told him why. Great point. And I love how you and your husband negotiated this!

      • Anonymous

        I’m going to take issue with the idea that Sandra needs to give any specific direction with doing the job Mark agreed to do. He’s an adult and she is not his parent. He absolutely knows why she needs him to do the job he agreed to do and when. If his children are in school and need lunches and she takes care of that each night, this fact can’t have escaped his notice over the years. He needs to get over himself and his belief that he deserves some down time. He doesn’t, not any more(or any less) than his wife does.

        Isn’t this just one more way to feed into the idea that wives are controlling and husbands feel infantilized and degraded by being told what to do all the time? Grow up!! Maybe you feel infantilized because you’re acting that way.

        Yep, this is a huge pet peeve of mine, right up there with dads babysitting. I was never able to get my husband to take on his part of the responsibilities. He decided at the beginning of our marriage that I knew how to do everything better and just checked out. I was 18yo when I got married. I’m not sure how that qualifies me for knowing how to do everything better :/ I became his parent and he wouldn’t/couldn’t do anything outside of his paying job without being told, even his own stereotypical jobs like lawn mowing and car maintenance.

        He read part of the book Fair Play and said he “saw the error of his ways” but it didn’t change a thing.

      • Anon

        I’ve learned with my husband that what is ‘obvious’ to me is far from obvious to him! Unless Mark has tried to make lunches on a work surface covered with dirty dishes, he probably doesn’t even realise that she needs him to clear the surfaces before she can start. He probably thinks that as long as they are done by bedtime, he’s ok!

        Maybe Sandra communicating directly wouldn’t have changed things – but I think it’s worth considering. I know when I switched from reminding my husband about the vacuuming to giving a time I’d like it done by and a reason for that time, it worked.

        • Katie

          Realizing that what’s obvious to me is a completely different world than what is obvious to my husband was a total game changer for us. We found we both had things that bothered us the other had no clue were even a thing. It made it sensible to create the habit of including a “why” when I asked him to take care of something.

          “Will you please close that tiny crack in the curtain on your side of the bed because I won’t stay asleep when the sun comes in.” Rather than “Why don’t you ever close the curtain all the way!”

          Now if I ever have to ask he does it without any negative thoughts because he understands that it matters instead of thinking it’s some arbitrary rule.

  6. Meredith

    I would argue that women don’t have to settle for a marriage that is a disappointment. A long term pattern in a husband of selfishly disregarding his wife’s reasonable requests and expectations shows that he doesn’t really care for her. He isn’t loving her as he loves himself. And if he refuses to change, she has every right to leave. No woman is obligated to share a life with a man-child whose only contribution to her life is to make it more burdensome. And her staying is only enabling his selfish behavior.

  7. Emmy

    Hi, it’s me again. Emmy from the reversed universe.

    I don’t mind doing the chores by myself and actually, I do prefer doing them by myself rather than to be helped by my husband. Of course I’d love a helping hand so now and then but his help comes with a price and it costs me way too much.

    As a young couple, he did help me with chores…but he never could do it without lecturing me the same time. How I could do the things faster and in a much more efficient way if I just followed his advice. And if I’d do a better job I’d not even need his help, for he worked for the money and actually should not be doing these chores at all. And I even had a washing machine and other household equipment, all things our grandmothers just could dream of, but just look how much better their households looked like than mine. And if I just did the dishes right after the dinner, it would not be that much trouble. And if I mended the clothes right away…and if I did the ironing right away…those kind of piles would not be building up. And I should learn to do the tidy up of the rooms in a more structured way. And if I just…

    Is it OK to call it nagging?

    You may understand that at certain point I stopped asking for his help, and when he offered it himself I said it’s OK I can manage.

    Later on, I learned this pattern of behavior came from his childhood home. His dad used to criticize and “correct” his wife in somewhat the same fashion. His mom on the other hand, also has a way of lecturing while helping. She is a wonderful strong woman and very helpful, but she seldom manages to help without offering free advice.

    So…I concluded that chances for a change were slim. Things learned in early childhood are difficult to unlearn. For my own peace of mind, I decided to settle for a marriage not that great or not that intimate I had hoped for but for one still agreeable enough. In order to avoid a total melt down.

  8. A2bbethany

    My husband is always going to be working Alot to support us, and is always going to not want to do anything. With 1 child, that’s ok, but when we have any any more, he’s going to have to step up more.
    In exchange for not bugging him for help, when I want my time off, I get it. I don’t try to accommodate him and his lesure time. I do get angry about it, but in reality, it’s not actually that much actual work. It’s that he is so completely clueless and blind to simple daily tasks.

    recently, I asked him to wash our toddlers hands, and he instead looked at them and declared them clean. She had just touched a package of raw meat! I chose to stop cooking (and I had 4 different things going, and I told him) and wash her hands myself. He got all sulky and I just got enraged about his uselessness! After I calmed down, I explained what he got wrong: TIMING! I don’t want a philosophical debate in the moment. I just needed the hands washed.

    I’m thinking I should write down my expectations for both of us.

    Also, I refuse to nag. I’ll go on strike for a week. If he ignored me like that! We have golden rules about always giving full attention and clear communication.

  9. Sue R

    Well, my goodness, today’s post about disappointment in marriage summed up my marriage perfectly. It’s impossible to have a warm and close relationship with my husband. For him, a superficial relationship is just fine and, in fact, seems preferable. I have to force him to talk about anything more meaningful than “What’s for dinner?” And when I do force him, he is obviously miserable.

    If he can discipline himself to listen for a minute or two, he’ll then make a remark like “Are you done now?” And I’m not nagging or talking about what he does or doesn’t do. It’s usually just what I think about something (like a book I’m reading). If he does engage in the conversation, he’ll just “talk over” me because I’m wrong/uninformed or he knows more about it than I do no matter what it is, from the design of a wastewater treatment plant to how to make a meatloaf. (And no, he’s not a civil engineer and he’s never made a meatloaf.)

    I’ve tried to find things that we could do together, but in 30+ years, can’t find much that works for both of us, not even very simple things. I could go on and on with examples, but I can rarely meet his standards for anything, meaning it almost always ends up as a no-win situation.

    I have done the things suggested — belong to a women’s group, develop outside interests, etc. And they help. But I remain disappointed and very sad. I’ve been to counseling, but I can’t seem to get over that marriage is supposed to be where we feel supported and cared about. Sorry for the vent.

    • Anonymous305

      Don’t be sorry!! You have deep, legitimate hurts, and it would be abnormal if you didn’t feel pain!! If he also manipulates and controls you, that is a reason to talk to an abuse expert. ☹️❤️☹️

      • Sue R

        Thank you, Anonymous 305. I’m so used to his behavior that your response makes me think I’m not so off-base after all. It really helps to be validated.
        My husband is not manipulative per se. Fortunately, I’m too independent for that. But I feel emotionally bereft in many other ways.
        I understand, all too well, Sheila’s answer that “you can’t” in regards to improving a marriage without both spouses contributing. I feel I’ve exhausted everything I can do or try.
        But I always want to have a little hope. People can and do change (yeah, maybe not often, but sometimes). An unanticipated life event or just advancing age might generate some insight or self-awareness. I know that I certainly reflect more as I get older.

        • Nessie

          @Sue R- Have you considered he may be on the autism spectrum? Perhaps not at all, but if so it might at least bring you some peace of mind. My son was diagnosed with Aspergers years ago and the traits you listed sound very similar to some of his. I have worked with him and he has improved, but it helped me to know that he wasn’t trying to be a goober but actually thinks about things in a very different way. Once I got better at seeing things from his mind, we were better able to work together to figure things out.

          Thought on the blog in general: Why isn’t it considered nagging when husbands are constantly after wives for sex or else telling her she is sinning, etc.?? Those types of situations seem to fit the definition listed… “Nagging is persistently insisting that someone do something, or persistently pointing out fault in someone.” (Not trying to pick on men- lots of great guys out there!-, but I doubt the guys that do this would consider themselves to be nags.)

          • CM

            Autism has nothing to do with this. Autism means you’re very introverted and literal and pedantic, not entitled and abusive. Though a lot of men love to excuse their abuse on their made up mental issues.

  10. EOF

    I’m so glad you’re doing this series! If only I’d had it twenty years ago.

    I think that explaining the why can go a long way… if it’s allowed.

    That was something I couldn’t do early in our marriage. I’d had the L&R type of messages drilled into my head: if he said something, I had to submit – no questions, no complaints. Speaking my mind directly was disrespectful. Period.

    Where did that leave me? Frustrated, bitter, and angry. I had a short fuse, and everything set me off. To make matters worse, at the time my husband critiqued everything I did around the house (because as the leader, that was his right) and he refused to do any “woman’s work” even though we were both working full time.

    When we tried to get help from the church, I looked like the bad guy. I was complaining, nothing made me happy, and I was blowing up over “petty” things – since at that point everything was a major thing to me, no matter the size. When he screamed at me, it was my job to be more submissive so he would stop his outbursts. (The stress was also destroying my body.) It was losing situation for me no matter what I did.

    These days things are better. I can speak my mind. My husband *wants* me to. Clear communication helps both of us because we know WHY something is important to the other person. It doesn’t feel like nagging to him, and to me it doesn’t feel like an order I can’t say no to.

    It’s freeing. Why doesn’t the church teach this??

    Thank YOU, Sheila.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’m so glad things have changed for the better! That’s actually really encouraging to hear, because often all I hear is the bad stories, and it can get really heavy. And, yes, it’s amazing and tragic how the church’s messages about gender roles really locked both of you into a no-win situation where you were going around in circles and couldn’t solve anything. I desperately hope the church wakes up and sees that the messages like those in Love & Respect are really toxic.

  11. Sad reality

    Shelia, in the article you say the following:

    Worst case scenario, you may not be able to trust your spouse and your marriage will lack intimacy.
    If only couples could understand that before they let it get that far.

    My question is, how to know the difference between an unfulfilling and non-intimate marriage and an abusive marriage? I don’t mean one where there is physical abuse or even verbal abuse, but where there is always an undercurrent of stress and tension. When does the insensitive behavior cross the line into abuse? How to break the cycle of caring so much and wanting a warm intimate marriage and realizing that your husband simply doesn’t see it that way?

    I identify so very much with this article, but occasionally feel like our dynamic becomes abusive.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      If you’re worried that it is becoming abusive, please either call a domestic abuse hotline or talk to a licensed counselor trained in abuse dynamics who can walk you through it. And read up a lot on boundaries and how to respond to difficult people, to learn some strategies when things do become rough. It may be that you have to learn to disengage from things so that, if he is angry, he really has no one to yell at or complain to, because you either don’t respond at all (the “grey rock” method) or you remove yourself. I’m sorry this is happening in your marriage. So very sorry.

  12. Jennifer S

    If he consistently fails to meet you in the middle, to meet your needs, even after all the discussions, why is the solution to plug in to a women’s group? If the marriage does not meet your needs, leave it and find one that does. Not saying that this is the initial solution, obviously, but if after work and discussions and hopefully even counseling… if it’s not working, why stay? Children will thrive more in a separated home than they will in an unhappy one, and they certainly aren’t learning good habits by watching how their father treats his relationship with their mother.

    • Anonymous305

      Jennifer S,

      *Like*. It’s hard to know where to draw the line when you come from a perspective of honoring marriage, but you make a good point about showing the kids that they can’t expect their future spouse to tolerate that.

  13. Anonymous305

    Church gender roles can combine with other factors when it comes to imbalanced housework. “You can’t change him, you can only set the example” combined with the idea that men are leaders means that he’s never going to follow her example. Even if that enables his lazy behavior, she might not realize it if she thinks she’s doing right. Plus, she wants to believe that he will respect her work instead of taking advantage. Another factor is that she may do more housework to prove that she deserves his love.

    I also feel complicated about the idea of “enabling” because even if it’s factually true, it can sound like victim-blaming. The church is telling the woman she’s a failure if she doesn’t give him unconditional housework and unconditional sex, and then she hears from alternate sources that she’s a failure if she doesn’t stop the housework and stop the sex (until he behaves respectfully) and the poor woman feels like she can’t succeed by anyone’s definition. I know that’s not your intention, but I hope you understand why it feels complicated.

  14. Sad Reality

    I tried posting earlier and it seems to have gotten lost. In the article you state:

    “And that means that you may need to come to terms with the fact that your marriage will never be as warm, affectionate, and close as you had hoped, because you can’t build a warm, affectionate, close relationship all on your own.”

    My question is, How do you do this in reality? How do you stop caring so much and move past the constant hurt caused by a barely functioning relationship? I don’t want to be separated from my husband, but I am so tired of being the one to pull the emotional and mental load. At what point is it best to just quit and accept a marriage that is unfulfilling and non-intimate?

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Honestly, I think that’s where you might benefit from a licensed counselor to talk this through. It’s a lot. And a counselor may also be able to help you see where you can draw some boundaries that can change the dynamic of the situation. It’s a lot to bear if you’re married to someone very immature, or someone of bad character. It is very difficult.

      • Sad Reality

        Thank you for your response. It looks like I ended up posting twice. I need to find someone I can talk to. My husband is not physically abusive. But we are always one wrong word or tone of voice away from an argument, and I am tired. I have begun setting boundaries, but he says I am reading too much secular sources rather than the Bible. He does not ascribe to the Love and Respect line of thinking, yet he always feels disrespected. Anyways… I need to find a counselor. Thank you for this series.

    • CM

      Keep remembering the negative and remember you can always love him from afar and come back if he changes (for a LONG period of time). Think of the children if you have them. They need peace and freedom.

  15. Chad

    The mental load assessment provided a natural opportunity to discuss what she considered to be some “little foxes” (song of Solomon) that I was clueless about. I’ll add that as a result I’ve now taken on keeping the bathroom clean. I can tell you, when you’re the one that has to clean it up, you’re also much more mindful of it. I have coaches and managers who expect certain things to be done “their” particular way and so I encouraged her to “coach” me on how she wanted the shower cleaned. As odd as it seemed to me, she felt very respected and honored by this. For us, having her leave a “honey do” sticker is helpful. I honestly do forget and if she’s taken the time to write one, I know it’s important to her. To the guys I would say that most women, by God’s design, have no desire to be The leader, but simply want to be seen as one and not alone in all that has to get done. They are designed to be your help-mate and at times this requires some humility and elbow grease.

  16. Sue

    “And that means that you may need to come to terms with the fact that your marriage will never be as warm, affectionate, and close as you had hoped, because you can’t build a warm, affectionate, close relationship all on your own.”

    This is so sad, and so painful to read, and so challenging for me to face the truth.
    And finally facing the truth is better than all the sappy solutions I read in the past.
    All I needed to do was respect my husband, compliment him. praise him, be feminine, desire him sexually , on and on. Even Psychology had a recent stupid article on 5 things to do to change your spouse. One included change yourself and surely he will follow. Yeah, RIGHT.
    And I read about how change doesn’t occur until the pain is great enough. I don’t know what else to do to increase the pain for my husband. He makes no effort to deal with his hurts and hang ups and insists on his privilege to continue his solo sex.
    And I am tired of hearing, just work on yourself.

  17. Anonymom

    I’m perplexed about my unique situation. My husband seems good-willed; he usually apologizes profusely for not following through on something he promised to do when confronted on it. He always blames his poor memory, yet he’s a very intelligent man who seems more than capable of remembering things of interest to him. Yet, over 9 years of marriage, he will forget 8 out of ten things I ask him to do (pick up his socks, do some yard work, etc) and it will take 4 or 5 reminders before he’ll follow through. It’s frustrating and makes me feel sad and disrespected, something I’ve shared with him in many ways over the years. (From very calmly and positively to angrily through tears). I’ve always felt like he disrespects me in the most “benign” way possible. Like he never realizes he’s doing it, but when confronted, acknowledges his problem, then immediately reverts to the same behavior. It’s bigger things too, such as guaranteeing he will take over our anniversary plans, then ending up doing nothing. (I’ll even say, “are you sure you’re willing to follow through with this, because I’d rather do it myself, then feel upset at you later because you didn’t make good on your promise.”) The odd thing is that he suddenly will take over one of my chores, like laundry, and it feels so frustrating because I don’t need laundry help. I need him to take care of cleaning up after himself and what-not. (We’ve had so many discussions about roles and expectations, but nothing seems to help.) I also then feel guilty for ‘nagging’ him because he’s ‘helping some”. I’m starting to dislike him as a person in part because of the strain this places on me as a chronically ill mom of three (sometimes feels like 4) I don’t know what to do. Such grief.

    • CM

      I would rule out that he has ADHD, if that’s even a thing, but I would also read Don Hennessy and Lundy Bancroft and make sure he’s not intentionally being manipulative.

  18. Christina

    If you or a loved one struggles with ADHD, I highly recommend Organizing Solutions for People with ADHD: Tips and Tools to Help You Take Charge of Your Life and Get Organized by Susan C. Pinsky. This book is the single most helpful book on keeping on top of things that I have found as a person with ADHD. The key for people who have executive dysfunction (whether ADHD or any other neurodivergence) is to make it easier to put things away than to drop them wherever they land, and there are many tricks in this book for tricking your brain into cooperating–a few I had stumbled into accidentally and even more that I have successfully implemented.

    For me right now, long Covid, ADHD, and PTSD are creating a straight-up evil alliance: turning my brain into an uncooperative mush that medication, supplements, and other treatments just haven’t put a dent into. I have been dedicating quite a bit of time to prayer about the matter and I am seeing some change finally. 🙂

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, that sounds so frustrating! I’ve been reading a lot about Long COVID and it just sounds awful. I saw a thread where right before she had had COVID her mental processing speed had been tested for work and she was at the 96th percentile. She’s now at the 14th, a year and a half later. So very sad.

      Thanks for the recommendation!


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