248. Why Nagging Doesn't Work

248. Why Nagging Doesn't Work

One of the tremendous pain in a relationship comes from the illusion of having the power we don’t have. It is the belief that “I can change others.” We may never say this out loud, but it is not difficult to see this belief manifesting in how we respond to people.

Nagging, lecturing, being forceful and yelling are all byproducts of this belief.

But it would save us so much trouble and frustration if we could just face the truth that we cannot change anybody. Because people don’t change for others. They change for themselves. People change when it becomes too painful to continue what they do or when they get sick and tired of being themselves.

Parents who use force (verbal or physical) to correct their children’s behaviour find themselves continually being frustrated and helpless. Many married couples also get frustrated by their spouse, who seems unwilling to change even after continual nagging.

However, though we cannot change people, we can make it easier for people to change for themselves. The best way is to say or show the consequence of their behaviour so that “they” can think about their behaviour. For example, if a spouse keeps on yelling, instead of telling them not to yell, it would be better to gently but firmly say, “I will talk to you once you are calm enough to talk,” and walk away. It makes the spouse think what they need to do differently, without being told what to do.

I told my kids that I wouldn’t answer their requests if they didn’t say “please.” So if they forget to ask appropriately and wonder why I don’t respond, I smile and say, “no one asked me to do anything.” It makes them wonder for a few seconds, and soon they realize what they have done and correct their way with a smile.

So, the best way to help people change is not telling them what “they” should do (or should not do) but telling them what “we” are going to do. That is why nagging and lecturing never change people because it tells other people what they should do. The only person we can control is ourselves.