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Nagging, Not Talking

QUESTION: I can't stop nagging my husband. He refuses to talk about problems, so I keep talking on and on. How do you resolve conflict if he won't talk? We have been married 11 years, have a lot of stress in our lives and have recently started a new business.

ANSWER: Reflect on what it is you are trying to communicate to your husband. You are not comfortable "nagging" him, so see what happens if you do stop. It is possible that you are avoiding feelings that will come up for you when you do not fill the silence with your own anger.

No doubt you are sad beneath all that frustration and extremely lonesome! Certainly there must be things that you want him to change and this is the focus of your "nagging". It is likely that he contributes to your "mothering" him in this negative manner by not being proactive about solving problems. The more you "nag", the more he withdraws and the more he withdraws, the more you "nag". In this viscous cycle, it is likely that you are trying desperately to keep some level of connection, albeit negative with your partner. Perhaps you are afraid that if you let go of the anger, there would be nothing else there to hold you together.

The two of you need to reconnect before any true negotiation based on understanding can result. Sit down and try writing your husband a letter about your loneliness and disconnection. Reach out in writing that expresses not only your dissatisfaction, but your love and appreciation too. When a negative cycle has a stronghold on your interactions, this may be more easily done in a letter by yourself, than in the moment with one another.

Let your spouse know that you are not comfortable with the "nagging" either and you would like to retire it and his silent withdrawal from your coping repertoire. Ask him to help you identify and develop more productive ways of dealing with your current life stress through teamwork. Tell him you need his help to develop a successful forum for discussion and solving problems.

Recognize that your responses to stress may be very different. You may have learned to "blame" others or "lash out". Perhaps this is what your parental role models did in childhood. Conversely, your husband may have learned that withdrawal under stress was his best coping strategy as a child. It is true that we all regress under stress and resort to unproductive patterns out of a sense of helplessness. But we are no longer children. Take your power back by stopping the "nagging" and beginning an effort to communicate and reconnect.

Also, seek to protect your relationship from the negative stresses of daily life. Save time each week to devote to fun and enjoyment of each other, no matter what else is going on in your life together. Develop a shared goal of making the "stress" your enemy rather than each other!


Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

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