Nagging—the interaction in which one person repeatedly makes a request, the other person repeatedly ignores it and both become increasingly annoyed—is an issue every couple will grapple with at some point. While the word itself can provoke chuckles and eye-rolling, the dynamic can potentially be as dangerous to a marriage as adultery or bad finances. Experts say it is exactly the type of toxic communication that can eventually sink a relationship.No one hates like family...
Why do we nag? "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," says Scott Wetzler, a psychologist and vice chairman of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Montefiore Medical Center in New York. It is a vicious circle: The naggee tires of the badgering and starts to withhold, which makes the nagger nag more.
The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) has been running a series on marriage and relationships. Generally, I am not a fan of such psychobabble pablum. This is not a rejection of the value for some to be gained by reading about how to improve one's love relationships; rather, for me so much relationship advice boils down to common sense. Treat each other well; follow the golden rule; and find an Adrian to your Rocky where you fill in each other's gaps.
However, the WSJ's "Meet the Marriage Killer" struck a chord with me. There is something wonderfully generalizable about its narrative. The essay sharply and efficiently captures the roles of trust, communication, power, acceptance, and ego in a relationship. For one party, nagging is just persistence, a cry for justice, help, and attention. For the other party, nagging is annoyance, pestering, and results in a lack of cooperation as he/she becomes increasingly intransigent as a means of self-defense against a perceived assault.
In all, that dynamic sounds a bit like that centuries long intimate relationship between blacks and whites in America. Does it not?
While the marriage analogy may not hold as a perfect metaphor or analogue, there is a deep relationship between blacks folks and their white "brothers and sisters." Historically, this (forced) marriage has been contentious, unequal, violent, dysfunctional, bloody, exploitative, parasitic, and destructive. This relationship has also been creative, productive, energetic, and synergistic. I would suggest that black and white folks can get along fine with each other on a micro-level as individuals; it is the messy business of social institutions, structures, and "who gets what, when, how, and why," that is the cause of so much upset.
There is so much codependency here. Thus, I must ask: as a group, do black people nag whites? In mass, are people of color a class of professional naggers?
This is not an over-simplification of complex dynamics. Moreover, it is not a rejection of the fact that nagging can result in positive change. For example, if Dr. King was anything at all, he was a professional scold...and a great one at that. Let's substitute some language in"Meet the Marriage Killer" and see where it leads us.
For students of the colorline, this passage should sound very familiar.
It is possible for
husbandswhites to nag, and wivesblacks to resent them for nagging...And theyblacks tend to be more sensitive to early signs of problems in a relationship. When womenblacks ask for something and don't get a response, they are quicker to realize something is wrong. The problem is that by asking repeatedly, they make things worse.
It is not a perfect match (because "marriage" presumes a level of mutual respect, and a shared investment in love and success). However, there is some resonance here. Black and brown folks (and the Other) are the miner's canary and conscience of a nation, a people who are simultaneously more sensitive to changes in society, precisely because they are most vulnerable to them. And what are "white guilt" and white racial resentment, if not feelings rooted in a profound sense of "annoyance," and for the former, a dual fear of disappointing and sense of (ironic) powerlessness?
MenWhites are to blame, too, because they don't always give a clear answer. Sure, a husbandwhite people might tune his wifeblacks out because he isthey are annoyed; nagging can make himwhite people feel like a little boy being scolded by histheir mother. But many times hewhite people don't respond because hethey don't know the answer yet, or hewhite people know that the answer will disappoint herblack people.
This example is evocative of how conversations about race and racial justice in the post Civil Rights era almost inevitably recenter whiteness and white people as victims of reverse racism--a group who must be treated carefully lest claims of white victimology--and manufactured elephant tears--fly fast and furious.
Ultimately, Whiteness imagines itself as benign and vulnerable. Be careful or you could hurt its feelings:
Ms. Pfeiffer decided to soften her approach. She asked herself, "How can I speak in a way that is not threatening or offensive to him?" She began writing requests on Post-it notes, adding little smiley faces or hearts. Mr. Mac Dougall says he was initially peeved about the sandwich note but did show up at Home Depot that evening smiling."Meet the Marriage Killer" concludes with a list of tips and guidelines for breaking the nagger-naggee cycle. These include "calming down," "understanding each other's perspective," and "managing expectations." If black folks are indeed a class of professional naggers, I would suggest that we do none of these things. Our holding to these principles has gotten us few rewards in recent years. But then again my advice is quite suspect, as I have the recurring habit of finding myself in unhealthy relationships.
Ms. Pfeiffer sometimes writes notes to him from the appliances that need to be fixed. "I really need your help," a recent plea began. "I am really backed up and in a lot of discomfort." It was signed "your faithful bathtub drain." "As long as I am not putting pressure on him, he seems to respond better," Ms. Pfeiffer says. Mr. Mac Dougall agrees. "The notes distract me from the face-to-face interaction," he says. "There's no annoying tone of voice or body posture. It's all out of the equation."