Dear Tzippora,

My husband never does anything around the house unless I nag him. If I nag him, he will do what I ask him, but then he complains that all I ever do is nag. I feel like I just can't win. How can I get my husband to pitch in and help without being a nag?

Fed Up

Dear Fed Up,

It sounds like you and your husband are playing out a common pattern, where you are playing the role of "Mommy" and he is playing the role of "lazy child." It is time for you and your husband to sit down together as adults and as equals and discuss how you can develop a new system where you truly share the responsibility together, and which will emancipate you from the unpleasant role of needing to be responsible to make sure he gets his chores done.

Open up an honest discussion about household tasks. Find out which ones he prefers, and at which times he prefers to complete them.

One strategy that is effective in this area is to externalize the problem. Draw a chart or write a detailed list of household responsibilities and when they need to be accomplished. For instance dishes might be a daily responsibility, while laundry may be bi-weekly. Add a space to check off when something is accomplished.

Then, let the chart speak for itself. Positioned in a central location, it will function as a daily reminder without needing you to assist it. Let him be responsible for his behavior and focus on being responsible for your own.

It is important to realize that nagging is a communication pattern, although it is probably not one you would have consciously chosen. Most likely, it is something you learned or were exposed to in your childhood. In order to break this pattern, you will need to pay careful attention to the way you speak.

When you catch yourself nagging again, use it as an opportunity to learn about yourself. How are you feeling? Are you feeling tired or angry? Ask yourself, "what do I really need?" What are you really asking your husband for at that moment? Do you need to call attention to how hard you have been working? Do you need praise for your efforts or do you need permission to take a break?

Think about what it is you need to say, and then say it clearly. If you resent seeing him sitting down and reading the paper when you are doing housework with no end in sight, then give yourself permission to call an end to your workday and take a break too. Instead of nagging, you can announce, "That's it. I am off-duty."

Most women resort to nagging when their frustration level reaches its peak. At that moment, you husband may sense that it is dangerous not to give in, and go along with you, while secretly resenting it.

Breaking this pattern will enhance your marital happiness and your own personal well-being because it will help you to become aware of your true needs as well as relieving a major source of tension within your marriage. Since marital harmony is valued so highly in Jewish tradition, the act of improving your marital communication is not only an emotional achievement, it is a religious one as well.