Nagging: Why We Nag and How to Stop

by Julie Barrier

My mother-in-law was a nag extraordinaire. Helen spread negativity like oily peanut butter on bread. “Papaw,” her doting husband, tuned her out 4 years after they married. Helen, bless her heart, took hen pecking to a whole new level. Her hubby felt belittled and featherless. He shut down emotionally. They cohabited but the romance was gone. I never saw them smooch.

However, as I age, my “naggy quotient” seems to be increasing too!

One morning as I brushed my bicuspids, I gazed in the mirror and made a startling discovery. I was becoming Helen, and I hate myself for it. So I decided to go into rehab. I poured over the Scriptures and googled “nagging.” Wow! Twenty-five single-spaced pages, 10-point font, were filled with convicting and helpful info. I now plan to share it with you.


King Solomon was supposed to be the wisest man on earth. Then why did he marry 700 wives and 300 concubines? Poor schlub. Thanks to his misery, the book of Proverbs is filled with unflattering descriptions of murmuring and complaining women who made everyone miserable (especially the King). Solomon wrote that is was better to sit on a roof (21:9), cross a scorching desert barefooted (21:19), listen to a drippy faucet (27:15) than live with a naggy wife.

He called a woman who couldn’t hold her tongue a gold ring in a pig’s snout. Flattering image. No wonder Solomon was so jaded late in life. (Have you read Ecclesiastes?)


The Bible is filled with whiny, nagging women. Eve wore Adam down with her begging. He finally couldn’t stand it any longer and acquiesced to her pleading. We all know that ended badly. Delilah finally caused Samson’s demise by whining until he revealed the secret of his strength. After his haircut, Samson was weak as a kitten. Samson=0, Philistines=1. Job’s wife was the queen of grumbling. She told Job to “curse God and die.” It doesn’t get more negative than that! Martha of Bethany griped to Jesus about Mary shirking her dish duty to listen to the Master. Jesus put her in her place.


Nagging is a nasty habit. Today’s Jews call nagging “kvetching:” to express complaints, discontent, displeasure or unhappiness. Here are just a few synonyms for kvetching: yammering, grumbling, scolding, grouching, protesting, bellyaching, griping, squawking, crabbing, and, of course, the five-letter b____ word that describes a female dog. Not a pretty picture.


So why do we nag and how do we quit? Nagging is a passive-aggressive behavior that can stem from unbelief, unmet needs, feeling powerless, unheard and unsupported. My mother-in-law grew up with an abusive, alcoholic father. She suffered from an anxiety disorder and was clinically depressed. I’m not excusing her behavior, but it does give me compassion for her struggle to control her environment and keep those around her safe. We could have cut her a little slack!


Dr. Elizabeth Bernstein, in her article “Meet the Marriage Killer,” has some very pertinent advice concerning nagging. I found her insights very enlightening. She writes,




Even though your gripes may be valid, nagging makes others resentful and defensive. Nagging puts you in the parent role and the other person in the child role. This isn’t healthy for any relationship. Nagging is disrespectful. Nagging is often perceived as criticism, so others may tune out making what you are saying ineffective. When others were being nagged, he/she probably feels attacked personally. Nagging can make others feel inadequate.



Don’t blame. Don’t demean. Don’t attack. Don’t criticize. Don’t manipulate. Avoid making others feel stupid. Don’t give in to your frustration and assume other’s responsibilities. The “nag-ee” needs to learn to deal with the logical consequences of his or her actions.



Share your feelings. Stick to the issue at hand. Keep your statements brief so they don’t turn into long lectures. Don’t give ultimatums. Avoid using the phrases, “You always…” and “You never…” and “You should…” Consider saying “would you” or “will you” rather than “could you” or “can you.” There’s a subtle difference in the way the request will be heard by others. Set a good example for those you nag. Let your lifestyle speak louder than your words. Try to brainstorm solutions. Acknowledge your different perspectives. Show your appreciation and encourage others when they respond to requests. See what happens if you stop nagging.



  • Be humble (I Peter 5:3)
  • Be respectful (1 Peter 3:1-2; Romans 12:10)
  • Be submissive to Christ and your husband (Ephesians 5:24)
  • Be discreet (Proverbs 11:22)
  • Be loving (Matthew 22:37)
  • Be encouraging (1 Timothy 5:1-2)
  • Be prayerful (1 Timothy 2:1-15)


Identifying the problem is half the battle. Confess your sin. (“Kvetching” IS a sin before God.) Ask the Holy Spirit to help you change. Then enlist someone to hold you accountable. I created a nagging piggy bank out of a cookie jar and asked him to drop a penny in for every time I nagged. He said he’d use dollars and we could take a trip around the world. Ouch!! I got the message….


1Elizabeth Bernstein, “Meet the Marriage Killer,” 1/25/2012.

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