The more I work with women around their relationship issues and the more deeply I spiral into the shadow layers of my own psyche, the stronger my conviction becomes in the following statement: the need to nag is embedded into the historic and genetic code of most women. I say this not with judgement or criticism but with great love for my half of the human race and an instinctual knowing that it’s time for us to break this negative and unnecessary habit that creates stagnation within ourselves and restricts the flow of love in our relationships.
As I write this I see my own legacy of nagging, controlling, and criticizing floating in front of my mind. I see my maternal grandmother’s lips pursed in a thin, tight line that said, “I’m not happy with you right now.” I can hear her complaining about my grandfather and see the result of her years of nagging: him quietly reading in his Barcalounger encased in an invisible protective shield that he must have erected years earlier to protect himself from her need to control and silently communicated, “Leave me alone, woman.” I can feel the cellular memory of my great-grandmother, who I never met but after whom I’m named, as she filled the doorway of the house with her bulky frame and waited for my grandmother to come home from her dates so she could castigate her for “being bad”. I see my own mother and sense into what I consciously know and what my body unconsciously carries about her need to control (and how hard she’s worked to let it go). And finally I feel how it has all filtered down into me and shows up in ways that are both blatant and subtle but which are defined by a constriction in my heart, a tightening in my voice, and usually the beginning of an argument with my husband.
For all of my clients who are in relationships – whether dating, engaged, or married – the need to nag inevitably appears as a core issue that needs attention. The nagging can take many forms: controlling, criticizing, thinking you’re right, thinking that your way is better, complaining, but, again, is defined by a tight feeling that communicates to your partner that you know better. You may not think that have a tendency to control, but if you’ve ever heard your partner say something along the lines of, “Get off my back!” or “I can’t do anything right”, you’re probably a nagger.
The impulse to control often stems from fear: the fear of loss, the fear of losing ground, the fear of letting go, the of losing control. It’s an attempt to have control over time, money, socializing or a way to avoid sitting with the existential truth that you cannot control another human being. As I’ve stated above, it’s also a learned behavior, a negative habit that many women adopt simply because it’s what they witnessed growing up and absorbed as part of their genetic legacy. It’s not a pretty thing, but it’s not something to judge ourselves for either. Like any shadow aspect of one’s personality, the work is about shining the light of consciousness onto the wound and breathing into the habitual behavior with softness.
As I shared my latest realizations with a friend the other day about my own subtle yet insidious forms of controlling, I said to her, “I truly believe that part of the liberation of our planet depends on women letting go if their need to nag.” I see this time in history about each sex coming into their full power, which requires breaking out of the old paradigms which, in turn, requires vast amounts of courage. In order to embrace the fullness of our power as women, we need to find the courage that understands that softness is power. It takes courage to trust someone enough that you don’t have to micro-manage their lives. It takes courage to dive into the sometimes murky waters of intimacy and trust that your partner won’t let you drown. It takes courage to let down our guard, to crumble the brick walls, and to allow our beautiful men to be their own people and to communicate to them, “I trust you to make good decisions about your life and our life.” It’s not about staying silent around important issues. It’s about picking your battles: knowing when and how to skillfully speak up when something really matters and then to let the rest of it go. We owe it to our partners. We owe it to our children. We owe it to ourselves. And, dare I say, we owe it to the planet.
Sheryl Paul has her Master’s degree in counseling psychology and is regarded as an international expert in transitions. In 1998, she pioneered the field of bridal counseling and has since counseled thousands of people worldwide through her private practice, her bestselling books, "The Conscious Bride" and "The Conscious Bride's Wedding Planner," her website, http://conscious-transitions.com, and two Home Study Programs: Conscious Weddings E-Course: From Anxiety to Serenity and Birthing a New Mother: A Roadmap to Calm Your Anxiety, Prepare Your Marriage, and Become the Mother you Want to Be. She has appeared several times on “The Oprah Winfrey Show”, as well as on “Good Morning America” and other top television, radio, and newspapers around the globe. Phone and Skype sessions are available internationally for all types of transitions and ongoing counseling. She lives in Boulder, Colorado with her husband and two young sons.