“Still haven’t repaired the fence, cleaned out the garage, or picked up the dog’s prescription? How many more times do you have to be told?”
Nagging is one of the most common relationship complaints reported by couples therapists. It may not be the most serious, but it’s certainly annoying and frustrating for both partners.
Even if nagging doesn’t sound the death knell for a relationship it can bring about another, more serious death… your own.
As amazing as it seems, you can actually nag somebody to death. We’ve got the numbers to prove it. . .
Health studies going back to the 19th century have almost always pointed to marriage as a boon to a person’s health and happiness. In the last century, cardiologist James Lynch argued that premature death from heart disease more frequently occurred among people who lived alone or were never married.
Then again, a study on longevity that’s been running for more than a century brings that research into question, showing the longest-lived folks included both the married and unmarried.
The Question of Personal Fulfillment
As more research continues to emerge, scientists have wondered whether life expectancy has little to do with marital status and more to do with how internally happy and fulfilled a person is. While personal fulfillment is certainly different for each person, it’s often attained when an individual finds a purpose in life and maintains strong social connections.
If a marriage is happy for each partner, then maybe good health and a longer life follow. But if the opposite is the case, then perhaps a shorter life in poorer health would be the more likely outcome.
Professor of psychology Jamila Bookwala, from Lafayette College, Pennsylvania, decided to carry out a study to find out if this was true. But she wanted to examine a specific area in a relationship which hasn’t been explored much.
That’s the effect of griping, nitpicking and sniping in relationships among seniors.
It might sound innocuous, but an unending drip-drip of negative verbal assaults is a common way to sour a relationship and can have a very bad effect on the person being nagged, damaging their self-esteem and sense of self-worth.
Measuring Support and Strain
For her study, she drew on data from the National Social Life, Health and Aging Project in which thousands of interviews were conducted with a nationally representative sample of adults born between 1920 and 1947 aged 57 to 85 at the time of recruitment.
The first wave of interviews took place in 2005 and 2006. The same interviewees were followed up in 2010 and 2011.
Prof. Bookwala analyzed the quality of relationships among 1,734 participants in the first wave. They were all either married or were cohabiting in a committed intimate relationship.
In particular she examined the amount of support partners give each other, which is a measure of satisfaction in the relationship. And she also examined two components of strain, where the partner makes either excessive demands or is unduly critical.
She also looked at answers they gave as to whether family members and friends supported or strained the relationship, as these would influence the results. Other factors such as age, gender, education, health and medications were also taken into account.
Griping Doubles Risk of an Early Death
Looking at the follow-up interviews five years later, she found, surprisingly, that high levels of support among couples did not help them live longer. But high levels of strain from criticism within the relationship did have a major effect — it led to an early death. Only excessive criticism had this effect. High demands did not.
Excessive criticism moved the needle a lot – in the wrong direction. The most frequently nagged had a 44 percent increased risk of death within five years compared to those under occasional criticism. This rose to a 107 percent increase when comparing the most criticized mates to the least criticized.
In other words, criticism more than doubles the risk of an early grave.
Prof. Bookwala speculated that this may be because criticism leads to unhealthy behaviors like smoking or drinking and increases long-term stress.
“It can be a type of chronic interpersonal stressor,” she said, “and, just like other chronic stressors, can have a cumulative and enduring negative impact on not only health and well-being – morbidity – but also mortality.”
For those who nag their partners she offers this advice: “Put simply, stop criticizing your partner — it can negatively impact their health and how long they’ll live.”
If getting out of this pattern of behavior is difficult, she suggests visiting a couples counselor for help.