Q:  I have been accused of being a nag many times and I hate it.  I nag my husband, but only because he doesn’t take responsibility to follow through on what he says he’ll do.  This is getting to be an old and frustrating routine. Is there a way to change it?

A:  Couples develop patterns over the years that become familiar and predictable.  The only way to change these patterns is to recognize that they are there and then make a deliberate and consistent effort to behave differently.  This may sound simple, but it’s not easy.  Under stress we all typically revert back to old patterns of behavior, unconsciously and automatically.  It will require quite a bit of practicing of a new behavior so it will be easier to remember and use during rough times.

Addressing the issue of nagging in particular, let’s look at the pattern that has been established.  Your husband “forgets” to follow through, you nag (and probably feel angry), and he feels angry because you nag.  A great way for him to “get back” at you is to “forget” to follow through again.  This cycle can go on indefinitely unless one of you stops the tug-of-war and behaves differently.

Many times people who “aren’t remembering” or “aren’t following through” are dealing with an assertiveness problem.  If you can accept and encourage your husband’s honesty and assertiveness, he may find that giving you a direct “no” is easier than saying “yes,” and not meaning it. 

You can influence your husband’s willingness to be more honest and assertive by accepting his direct statements of “no,” and then you can solve problems together.  Another common reason for people to not follow through is that it infuriates their partner.  This is referred to as being passive aggressive.  Again the solution is to be more assertive in the expression of anger.

Learning to express anger directly and constructively requires some effort, but the pay back is enormous.  Your part in changing this pattern between you and your husband is to:

  1. Recognize when it occurs.
  2. Talk to your husband about your observations.
  3. Express your feelings and offer your willingness to hear and respect what he needs from you that would help him change his behavior.

As you are probably aware of by now, when people “forget” or don’t follow through, it generally has very little to do with memory.