Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Try to be deliberate about subbing compliments for nags
Naggy McGee II: I nag my new husband. I've gotten worse since we married, which is also when he moved into my house. He is the best partner I could ask for, and we communicate well and are very loving, but I cannot keep myself from criticizing him. I'm determined to develop good patterns now that will wear well over our life together. In the past you've advised finding the source of unhappiness. Is there anything else I can do to supplement your advice?
Carolyn: If Step 1 is to identify unhappiness, then Step 2 is to make happiness. Start with a conscious decision to say "thank you" — and nothing but "thank you" — every time your husband does something nice, thereby willfully cutting off the criticism before it comes out of your mouth.
You can also expand that to consciously focusing on, and expressing, good things. "You look nice today," "The kitchen looks great," "I'm so glad you suggested going out to dinner tonight." Noticing his contribution both rewards — and thereby encourages — attentiveness, and reinforces your sense of well-being, which will make you a more attentive partner, too.
Forced cheer will only postpone the reckoning, so if you have to look really, really hard to find anything to compliment, then my advice cycles back to Step 1: Find underlying problem, face underlying problem.
Arizona: Re: Nagg-ee: So, what if you're on the other end of the nagging? When we got married, my husband and I complimented each other frequently; his praise of my housekeeping, good looks, parenting skills, etc., means a lot to me.
But that has dried up the last couple of years, and now I seem to hear only when I've done something wrong. I think my behavior hasn't really changed — AND I have made a concerted effort to give what I would like: regular specific praise for my husband's own excellent housekeeping and parenting, etc.
He is very prickly and defensive about any criticism, so I just don't do it — but how do I say, "I really love it when you appreciate me"?
Carolyn: Wait for a relatively calm moment, and have the "Is there something we need to talk about?" conversation, because "I'm beginning to feel as if everything I do is wrong. I'd like to know if it's me, or if something else is bothering you and it's just coming out at home."
Having examples handy always helps, as does keeping your cool, as does treating this as a joint effort toward the greater good, versus an accusatory ambush. If he gets prickly, then hold that up as an example supporting your point.
Anonymous: Re: Naggie: My husband and I got to the brink of divorce over not appreciating each other enough. Saying "thank you," stopping criticism and looking for compliments can feel a little fake at first, but it becomes normal over time. Fifteen years later, we do it automatically, and it makes for a really nice life.
Carolyn: Thanks. We're often taught courtesy as something we use when out in the world, and then we come home and take people for granted. But if you're grateful, it's not fake, and if you're faking gratitude, why are you sharing a life, right?