Relationship advice: Why do I nag my husband every day?

Welcome to Relationship Rehab,’s weekly column solving all your romantic problems, no holds barred.

This week, our resident sexologist Isiah McKimmie helps a woman who wants to stop nagging her “placid” husband.

QUESTION: I really love my husband but I can’t stop picking fights with him. I’m not sure why I behave this way but I criticise him a lot over everything from how he dresses to the fact he doesn’t do enough around the house. He’s a very placid man and the more I nag him, the quieter he gets. I begin each day promising myself that I will pick at him less but then before I know what I’m saying a scathing remark about him is coming out of my mouth. Why am I behaving this way toward him and how can I stop?

ANSWER: It’s hard to acknowledge where we’re messing up in our relationships. I appreciate your awareness and acknowledgment of your actions here.

There are always good reasons we act the way we do. It isn’t because you’re a terrible person. We need to understand what’s driving your actions and then give you tools for change to prevent this permanently damaging your relationship.

Criticism will damage your relationship

Criticism is one of four common communication styles, known as ‘The Four Horsemen’ that predict the end of a relationship. Criticism will always damage your relationship, even if you don’t intend it to.

My concern is that your husband isn’t just placid. It’s that he’s actually conflict avoidant. While it might seem like he’s just becoming quieter, my fear is that he’s actually building resentment and distance with every sharp remark.

Avoiding criticising your husband doesn’t mean that you never share your concerns with him. There are ways you can learn to share that will make it easier for him to hear and that won’t damage the relationship.

Changing your communication to avoid criticism will take some effort, self awareness and practice. Instead of picking at your partner, you’ll need to learn to slow down, connect to your emotions and then speak differently.

Our actions are driven by emotions

While it would be easy for me to tell you to change your communication, that’s almost impossible without a deeper understanding of what’s going on emotionally for you.

We are emotionally driven beings – even those of us who consider ourselves ‘logical’.

Most of the time, our emotions are unconscious. We spring to action before we’ve really had a chance to notice which emotions are driving our actions.

When we gain awareness of our emotions, we also gain control of them.

Go slowly for more understanding

For us to understand the emotions that are unconsciously driving our actions, we need to go slowly.

Imagine yourself back in one of those moments right before you pick at or criticise your husband. What do you notice happens in your body? Our body is the doorway in which to begin to feel and name our emotions.

What emotion goes with that? Go slowly.

We often feel what are known as ‘secondary emotions’ first. These are less vulnerable emotions like anger or frustration that protect us from the harder to feel emotions like sadness, fear and shame.

There are emotions inside of you that are driving you acting out. It might be how you feel about yourself, how you’re feeling in your relationship or something you feel about your partner.

My educated guess is that there is some kind of fear here.

Perhaps fear about what your partner is doing. Perhaps fear that he isn’t really there for you.

Research shows that when women feel disconnected to their partners throughout the day, they’re more likely to share their concerns in a harsh way when they reconnect in the evenings.

With this deeper awareness, you can then change how you’re communicating. This is the premise of really effective couples therapy.

The ‘antidote’ to criticism

Once you know what your emotions are, you can then use the ‘antidote to criticism’ when you’re communicating.

The antidote to criticism has three steps:

I feel …

About what …

I need …

First, share your underlying emotion with your husband. Then tell him what it’s in relation to. Then tell him how he can be your hero, what you need him to do.

Again, this takes practice, but it can make an enormous difference to your relationship in the long term.

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