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Nagging: the hidden problem in marriage or divorce communication?

There are many reasons that marriages lead to divorce. Most people know about the dangers of infidelity or financial misfeasance, but nagging is one marriage killer that is much more subtle and dangerous.

Nagging is a form of toxic communication in which one spouse repeatedly makes a request which is repeatedly ignored by the other. Both parties in a nagging situation become frustrated and are more likely to entrench their positions. This form of communication is also dangerous in divorce proceedings because it can repeatedly bring up hidden resentments and fuel a simmering sense of animosity which is likely not helpful in a orderly dissolution process.

Most people would agree that nagging is an ineffective way of communicating, but why do so many of us do it?

"We have a perception that we won't get what we want from the other person, so we feel we need to keep asking in order to get it," one psychologist says. The irony is that the repeated requests make the fulfillment of the request less likely to happen.

There are also some indications that a spouse's personality has a lot to do with nagging. Highly organized or anxious spouses tend to be more likely to nag those who they perceived as being more laid-back or lazy.

There are plenty of things that couples can do if they find themselves in a nagging cycle either during a marriage or afterward during divorce or child custody negotiations. The first step is to acknowledge that the form of communication is not helpful and to calm down. Naggers should think of a more tactful way of framing their requests and naggees should try to give a clear response to their partner's request.

Source: Wall Street Journal, "Meet the Marriage Killer," Elizabeth Bernstein, Jan. 25, 2012

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