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How to Stop the Badgering
Is badgering a sign of love? Find out where the badgering is coming from and how to stop it.

Is all this badgering because of love?

Why do I always badger my spouse over the smallest things? I truly feel deep love, but I always get so upset over nothing. Is it because the love is so strong that I'm looking for perfection?

Badgering is a way to call attention to something you donít like in someone you do like. It would be a wonderful character traitóand itís very romantic of you to think soó if finding fault were simply a sign of love. But actually, itís merely a sign of being alive.

All animals are pre-programmed to look for incongruities between our expectations and reality. When experimental monkeys are marked with paint, they are shunned by other monkeys; when birds in research centers get their wings cut, they are not chosen by other birds for mating. People, likewise are very attentive to incongruities in other people, and are likely to be upset by them.

So, while finding fault is a characteristic of all animals, and not a sign of love, badgering is, as far as I can tell, a distinct human trait. Badgering links the observation of a fault with the insistence on the part of the individual who found fault that the other correct him or herself. Whew, that's a mouthful. Ironically, we donít usually badger unfamiliar or unloved peopleówe save this feedback for the poor souls whom we are closest to.

Think about it; if the cashier at the supermarket looks like he hasnít combed his hair in weeks, you donít tell him to clean up his act. But if your husband hasnít picked up his socks from the floor youíre right on it, reminding him of his mess! The cost of having a close relationshipóor a marriageóis that each of you wants the other to meet certain standards.

Why We Badger
We badger because we think it is an effective way of fixing faults in others. It doesnít work. Iíve met with many individuals that say, "If he (or she) just stopped badgering me, I would do it!" Frankly, that doesnít work either.

Itís not possible to get someone to change unless you let him or her know that something is out of place for you. So not saying anything is unlikely to get you what you want, yet unless you ask for what you want in the right way, you may also come out empty handed.

But before you try to change your partner, the first question you need to ask is: "Is this so important?" There are a number of litmus tests that will help you decide whether itís worth going down the "I love you exactly the way you areónow change" road.

Ask yourself:

1. On a scale of 1-10, how would I rank this issue? [If itís not a 7-10, consider letting it go.]

2. Twenty minutes from now (or 20 days, or 20 years) will this issue really have made that much of a difference? [If not, consider taking a step back.]

3. How much of a burden would it place on my partner to change this, versus how much do I gain from it.

4. Am I asking him or her to do something that just isnít part of their nature, and comes out of my own insecurities?

If you do feel compelled to seek some change in your mate, itís better to work for common happiness rather than insist on change because you alone want it. Instead of complaining about what he or she is doing wrong, try some of these strategies:

1. Donítí finger point ("youíre inconsiderate!"), that just prompts defensiveness. Instead, describe how the issue and your mates actions affect you ("I feel frustrated when I have to always pick up the socks you leave around").

2. We are drawn to faults, yes, but your spouse still has many positive traits. Make sure to take the time to point out the things about your mate that you value.

3. Avoid getting defensive, yourself, if your partner resists changing at first. Change takes time, and your mate needs your understanding.

4. Respect your partner. Your mate has an opportunity to be a source of inspiration and information to you, if you show you are open to it. Feeling respected is critical in relationships; give your spouse the respect you would want for yourself.

Remember that the phrase "Growing old together" includes the word "growing"óthis means that each of you will move in different directions as you spend your lives together in ways that you adore and ways that drive you nuts. Finding the way to accept some of these changes, and discovering ways to change your spouseís behavior without being critical, is part of that growth.

Dr. Haltzman is a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at Brown University. He is also the author of "The Secrets of Happily Married Men: Eight Ways to Win Your Wifeís Heart Forever." You can find Dr. Haltzman at www.DrScott.com

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