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Getting What You Want from Marriage

Written by Paul Wolf

Nagging the one you're with can be good for his health and your relationship, if (big if) you do it right.

Martha Mahan's husband of 39 years is, in her words, a "professional nagger."

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Martha had been nagging  Fred for some time to put away the laundry rather than just taking it out of the dryer, folding it and leaving it in piles in the bedroom.

Recently, Mahan started a ritual. She wrapped the clothes in beautiful blue paper, tied it up with string, and placed her husband's favorite Vienna Sausages in a can on top of the pile.

"To transcend all this nagging, you have to put yourself into a playful, humorous, creative mode," says Mahan.

Fred still puts the laundry away himself, but he doesn't seem to mind anymore.

What death and taxes are to life, nagging is to marriage . But it doesn't have to be the bane of anyone's existence. If the two of you learn how to laugh at and have fun with nagging, it will only make life sweeter.


One of the secrets of a long, successful marriage is being able to nag, or respond to nagging , playfully and lovingly, according to cognitive therapist Kathleen Burton.

In fact, a wife's nagging can be good for her husband's health, says a study from the University of Chicago. According to the study's lead researcher, sociologist Ross Stolzenberg, men are conditioned in our culture not to think about their health. A wife plays a valuable role in this dynamic, at least on the health front.

Burton says the playful approach works only in a relatively loving and happy relationship. In the case where one nags compulsively or the other refuses to budge, the defenses are so strong for one or both that not even humor and creativity can break them down.

Even healthy relationships demand nagging with discretion. Here's how to nag like a pro:

Don't dish it if you can't take it.
Before you tell your spouse to get out there and exercise, you had better be prepared to throw on your sweats and jump in the action yourself, says Burton.

Nag as a team.
Instead of nagging your spouse about walking the dog, suggest you do it together.

"Would you like some company when you walk the dog?

Confess your own sins.
Chances are you've procrastinated on a few occasions. Your nagging should acknowledge this fact: "I know I haven't gotten to paying the bills as I said I would, but could you clean out the car so at least one of us does what we said?"

Present options.
Sometimes the task at hand is more important to the one doing the nagging than it is to the one being nagged. Acknowledge this by offering alternatives: "Maybe we ought to just break down and buy a doghouse rather than have you build one."

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