Better to live in a desert than with a quarrelsome and nagging wife (Proverbs 21:19)
I’ve counseled many husbands who have been driven out of their homes by wives who simply won’t stop criticizing them. What these husbands want is peace, but what they get is war. What can they do to prevent the divorce that usually follows their escape? More to the point, what can they do to satisfy their wives so they’ll stop being so critical?
Their story usually begins in the same way. During courtship, and throughout much of their marriage, their wives seem very happy and supportive of them. They feel that their marriages are just about perfect. But ever so gradually, their wives became quarrelsome. They begin to argue about seemingly trivial matters, only to apologize later, blaming it on having a bad day. As their issues increase, so does the intensity of their criticism. Before long, these husbands find themselves spending more time at work or at play without their wives, just to have a little peace and quiet. And that infuriates their wives even more. Regardless of how patient a husband tries to be, the steady flow of criticism eventually becomes intolerable. Eventually, they find themselves living separately wondering how they will be able to save their marriages.
Their wives’ story usually begins with an effort on her part to be accommodating in the face of her husband’s thoughtlessness. She mentions the problems she is having with decisions he makes in a polite and restrained way, but nothing ever changes. The problems he creates for her persist indefinitely and the resentment that accompanies them finally boils over. He wants her to forgive and forget but she cannot do either. The more she thinks about what she’s been through the angrier she feels. And when she’s alone with him, she lets him know about it.
The reason that this problem has persisted for so many millennia is well understood by most women whose husbands ignore their complaints. By expressing their displeasure with intensity, at least they are letting off steam, and once in a while they get their husband’s attention. Many of these women I’ve counseled have told me that they know it doesn’t do much good to keep rehashing the past, but they feel better when they do it. One husband told me once that he occasionally lets his wife lambaste him for about two hours because he knows that she will be in a much better mood when it’s all over. But then he does nothing to address the problems she raises.
THE STAGES OF NAGGING:
As I indicated above, nagging comes in stages. At first, a wife’s complaints are usually introduced with respect. She lets her husband know that she would appreciate it if he would discuss his decisions with her before he makes them. But he tells her that there are some issues in life that he must decide for himself. Or he says that he will discuss them with her in the future, but then rarely does. He considers her complaints to be nagging, but they’re nothing compared to what’s in his future.
After a while, when she realizes that her husband has no intention of resolving conflicts with her, she raises the volume. That’s the second stage of nagging. She tells him that she won’t put up with his thoughtlessness and picks a fight whenever he makes an independent decision. That’s where demands, disrespect and anger take over. She lets him know that he won’t get away with his thoughtlessness. She’ll make him pay.
But fights don’t solve problems. They just make matters worse. And her resentment over the many thoughtless decisions he’s made piles up to where it’s all she can think about.
The third stage of nagging takes over as she remembers the countless ways that her husband has mistreated her. And her memory is sharpened whenever they are together. She won’t forgive him for suffering he caused her, and she certainly can’t forget it. One woman recently told me that she felt as if she had been stabbed by her husband a thousand times, and as she lay bleeding on the floor he wants her to forget the past and hope for a better future.
WHAT CAN A HUSBAND DO TO A NAGGING WIFE? :
If you don’t face this problem in your marriage, which has existed for other couples for thousands of years, it’s relatively easy to see that its solution requires the cooperation of both spouses. Neither can solve it on their own.
During the first stage, when a wife is being respectful when she has a complaint, a husband should take her complaint very seriously. She is trying to work with him to find common ground, and is willing to consider options that would make them both happy. But if he were to call her complaints nagging, and encourage her to keep them to herself, he would be making a great mistake. He’d be missing an opportunity to solve little problems before they grow to become monsters. By trying to shut her up in this first stage, he is not only being disrespectful toward her, but he is also destroying the good will she still has for him.
By the time conflicts get to the second stage of nagging, her good will has been squandered. She no longer believes that her husband cares about her interests, so she must fight for them. She must force him to care for her. So she becomes demanding, disrespectful, and angry in an effort to get her way.
In this second stage, when a husband recognizes a shift in her approach from being respectful to being disrespectful, he usually fights fire with fire. If she wants to be disrespectful, he can be that way, too. But if he makes that mistake, he will see his marriage unravel rather quickly.