I don’t consider myself a nag but, just this evening, I put on my nagging pants over a bottle cap. Let me explain. Once or twice a week my husband pops open a beer and, when he does, he leaves the bottle cap on the counter—every time. Never mind that the garbage can is sitting six inches directly below said bottle cap. I have kindly reminded him bottle caps go in the trash, to no avail. I could stop asking and be buried alive by bottle caps. Or I could resign and throw them away myself. After all, I’m the one who’s bothered by it, and it would keep the peace.
Turns out I am not alone in this dance with nagging and resignation. In fact, one woman’s essay—”Women Aren’t Nags – We’re Just Fed Up”—about the toll emotional labor takes on women has taken the internet by storm. The piece, written by Gemma Hartley for Harper’s BAZAAR about the frustrations that come with being the household manager, has gone viral. It seems her struggle, shared by powerful women like Melinda Gates, deeply resonates with females everywhere.
Nobody wants to be a nag. And women certainly do not set sail on the course of married life hoping to nag happily ever after. But, as Hartley so perfectly describes, “walking that fine line to keep the peace and not upset your partner is something women are taught to accept as their duty from an early age.” So, in a sense, we’ve been groomed to carry this heavy mental load, running our households like our mothers did and accepting the thankless work that is being the household manager.
For me, Hartley really hits it on the head when she talks about not wanting to have to ask her partner to do basic things, like pick up a box HE left in the middle of the floor two days earlier. As she struggles to put this box she has tripped over away, her husband says, “all you have to do is ask me to put it back.” Through tears, she utters the words so many of us have spoken, or at the very least thought: “I don’t want to have to ask.”
But Hartley has a hard time explaining this to her partner without fear of a full-scale throw down. I have this same issue, and my guess is—with the popularity of her piece—others do too. When she described her husband’s good nature and admirable intentions, and how criticism felt like a personal attack on his character, I found myself nodding along. In fact, I had a moment when I thought we could possibly be married to the same man.
Hartley spoke with freelance journalist Kelly Burch, who echoed similar frustrations. “My partner feels irritated and defensive by the fact that I’m always pointing out what he’s not doing,” she says. “It shuts him down.”
There I go, nodding along again. Uh-huh, uh-huh. This can be especially true in a house like mine, where the husband does share in the work. Maybe I’m crazy to want more. But this doesn’t change the fact that I just want him to notice what needs to be done.
As Hartley notes, “it’s frustrating to be saddled with all of these responsibilities, no one to acknowledge the work you are doing, and no way to change it without a major confrontation.”
Sure, things like boxes on the floor and bottle caps on the counter might not be marriage deal breakers, but they’re still no less frustrating to the noticer. Hartley is all of us when she says, “I don’t want to micromanage housework. I want a partner with equal initiative.”
But to have an equal partnership, we need to talk about the toll emotional labor takes on us as household managers. Howard Markman, professor of psychology at the University of Denver and co-director of the Center for Marital and Family Studies, agrees. He spoke with the Wall Street Journal about the importance of this communication. He says that, at some point, all married couples will deal with nagging. But, he says, “those who learn to reduce this type of negative communication will substantially increase their odds of staying together and keeping love alive.”
So if we can have the tough conversations with our partners, hopefully we can work toward sharing the load. And perhaps even better, our children can learn that emotional labor can and should be shared.