One of the unexpected side effects of becoming a housedad is that it has turned me into a nag. Now this was a trait that was usually owned by my then Stay-At-Home-Wife. But, no, I have sought, owned and conquered this characteristic now and carry it off with some aplomb. Anyway, this acknowledgment put me in mind of the column my wife wrote for one of Britain’s biggest selling women’s weekly magazines before she and I swapped roles. And here it is…
This week: Like many women, I had to nag my man to get him to do anything.
A key scraped in the lock, the front door opened and a voice called out: ‘Hello, I’m home!’
I stood in the hall, hands on hips, took a deep breath and said: ‘What sort of time do you call this? You were supposed to be home an hour ago. Where’s the takeaway? And the loaf of bread? Have you forgotten? Again? Don’t leave your bag there. Take off those shoes. No! Not the socks! Put them in the washing basket for goodness sake. Honestly, this isn’t a hotel….’
The Partner Who Is Not My Husband rolled his eyes.
‘Hello dear,’ he said. ‘Nice to see you too!’
It was our standard greeting to each other. He’d get home late, having forgotten half the things I’d asked him to get, and would then shed his clothes and belongings all around the house I’d just spent several hours tidying.
My response was to nag.
I didn’t particularly enjoy it. I was sure The Partner didn’t particularly enjoy it either. But it was the only way to get him to be tidier, less forgetful and more thoughtful. It was the only way to get him to do what I wanted.
And it seems I am not the only woman who thinks so. The other day I read that women spend an average of 7,920 minutes a year nagging. That’s 132 hours or five and a half days.
The Partner muttered: ‘Five and a half days! Five and a half months, more like!’
The thing is, I have tried many alternatives. I’ve tried ignoring his shortcomings. I’ve tried retraining him. I’ve even tried retraining myself not to notice or care.
But in the end I always go back to what works.
And nagging works.
But then I read something in the newspaper that made me question the wisdom of what I was doing.
Under the headline: How one woman says vowing never to nag your husband is the secret of a happy marriage, a writer by the name of Lizzi Vandorpe revealed the devastating consequences of half a lifetime of nagging.
According to Lizzi, her moaning and complaining wrecked her marriage.
She said: ‘The constant moaning chipped away at our marriage. The more we found fault with each other, the more we forgot why we’d fallen in love in the first place.’
Fed up with being nagged about being untidy or not doing his share of the housework, her husband upped and left.
I thought about The Partner and I said: ‘Oh crikey.’
When Lizzi married for a second time she vowed not to make the same mistake. Instead, she uses a different approach. When she sees fault, she holds her tongue, thinks of all the wonderful things her man does for her and reminds herself how lucky she is to have him.
Now, normally this sort of behaviour would have me snorting over my cup of tea and shouting: ‘Doormat! He’s walking all over you.’
But I couldn’t help wondering if she had a point. After all, what man wanted to spend his life being nagged when he could be appreciated elsewhere?
I imagined The Partner arriving home one evening and saying to me – mid-nag – ‘I’ve had enough of this. I’m off!’
And I made a decision.
Next day, when I heard the key in the lock I didn’t dash into the hallway. Instead I waited for The Partner to walk into the kitchen. Of course, I noticed the trail of muddy footprints up the newly vacuumed stairs, the coat left on the kitchen chair and the bag dumped on the table.
But I pretended I hadn’t.
I thought of Lizzi Vandorpe, smiled sweetly and said: ‘Hello love. It’s good to see you! ’
The Partner took off his shoes. One ended up on the stairs, the other in the bedroom. His socks ended up on the landing.
I was itching to have a nag but I said nothing.
I said nothing when he left the lid off the milk and nothing when he dumped his dirty tea mug on the floor beside the sofa. It took a superhuman effort not to say anything when he just sat there while I vacuumed under his legs. But I managed it.
And, as Lizzi suggested, instead of nagging I focused on The Partner’s good points.
‘Ooh this cup of tea is lovely,’ I said. ‘Thank you for making it. And thanks for taking the boys to the park at the weekend and taking the rubbish out.’
It felt good. And so I carried on. Over the next few days I stopped nagging The Partner about forgotten prescriptions, unsent birthday cards, and wet towels on the bed. Instead I thanked him for putting petrol in the car, helping the five-year-old with his reading and changing the toilet roll in the bathroom – okay, so I was clutching at straws by then.
Trouble was, the flip side of not nagging was that I ended up doing most of the chores myself. By Friday evening I was exhausted. I fancied a night out with my friends. But The Partner beat me to it.
‘Off to the pub!’ he called. ‘Back by eight.’
I thought: ‘I’ve heard that one before!’
As eight o’clock and then nine o’clock came and went I reached for my mobile phone and began to tap out a message:
Where are you? You said you’d be home an hour ago. I haven’t nagged you about a single thing this week and look how you repay me!
I was just about to press send when I thought about Lizzi Vandorpe once again. Nagging had wrecked her relationship. Did I want it to ruin mine?
My thumb hovered over the send button. I didn’t want to be treated like a doormat and yet….
I deleted the message and instead sent this:
Don’t worry about dashing home. You deserve a bit of free time.
Twenty seconds later, my phone beeped. A message appeared.
I’m on my way NOW. Sorry!
‘Oh no!’ I thought. ‘He’s so used to me nagging that even when I’m not nagging he thinks I am nagging!’
Stay put! I texted.
Coming home! he replied.
Me: No! I don’t want you to!
Him: Too late, I’m on the bus!
Ten minutes later he burst through the front door and said: ‘All right. What’s going on? Why are you being so nice to me? Why aren’t you nagging about me being messy and forgetful and late home?’
I told him about the story in the newspaper. I told him about Lizzi Vandorpe and how I feared he’d leave me over my nagging.
‘You are daft sometimes,’ he said. ‘I don’t want someone to tell me how great I am all the time just because I make a cup of tea. I know I’m not perfect. I want someone who’ll tell me the truth, who’ll stop me being selfish and remind me of my duties.’
‘But men hate being nagged,’ I said.
‘We say that,’ he replied, ‘but deep down we know we need it. We expect it. We even like it.’
‘Why don’t you just do what you’re asked first time?’ I said. ‘Then I wouldn’t have to nag you?’
‘Then what would we moan to our friends about, eh?’
He continued: ‘Just be yourself. And then I can be myself.’
Next day, as the key turned in the lock I was waiting. I said:
‘What time d’you call this? Your dinner’s all shrivelled. Did you get a loaf? Take off those muddy shoes. No, not the socks! Put them in the washing basket….’
The Partner cheered.
‘She’s back!’ he said.
And we were both very glad.