Viral video brilliantly explains the ‘nag paradox’ and why it causes couples to fight

You may already be familiar with the concept of the “default parent,” a dynamic where one parent is responsible for most or all of the mental load of parenting, like scheduling and keeping track of appointments, knowing kids’ friends and teachers, staying on top of chores and homework, knowing kids’ clothing sizes, and so on. A similar dynamic is one that educator and podcast host Laura Danger calls the “nag paradox.”

“The nag paradox is a setup where one person is delegating and managing and decision-making and standard-setting, and then somebody else is the support partner—they are being told what to do, directed and managed around the house. This is a common setup. This is the setup I had in my household,” she explained in a recent TikTok video.

Explaining further, Danger said this dynamic means one partner is constantly saying to the other, “Tell me what to do. How can I support you? Just let me know how I can show up for you.”

She continued, “But it’s a trap, because when one person is decision-making, standard-setting, and asking for help, that’s a bid for connection.” 

Referencing world-renowned relationship experts, doctors John and Julie Gottman, Danger continued, “The Gottmans call a bid for connection, basically, any time you invite somebody to join you. It can be, ‘Hey, I want you to go out to dinner with me.’ It can be, ‘Hey, I want to talk about the household; let’s collaborate, let’s clean together.’”

She explained, “You can either join them, talk about it, be interested, or you can straight up reject, or you can miss it. Rejecting or missing one of those bids is not good. If you feel like you’re being rejected repeatedly, you are going to stop asking. There’s going to be emotional distance. It’s going to go poorly for your relationship.”

Danger went on to explain the Gottmans’ concept of the “Four Horsemen,” or four behaviors that, if present, can be predictors that the end of your relationship is on the horizon. Two of them, she explained, are criticism and defensiveness, which both tend to be present if your relationship falls into the nag paradox.

“One person is directing, delegating, telling you what to do. If you don’t get it right or if something else needs to get done, they have to give feedback repeatedly. Then, the other person is on the receiving end of repeated feedback about what they should be doing,” she said. “If you are constantly on the receiving end of negative feedback—or even just adjustments or things you need to do better — it feels bad. You might start to feel like you as a person, your character, your quality as an individual is being undermined. You get protective. You defend yourself. This dynamic is a setup for that. It’s a setup for both people because after a while, you don’t want to be vulnerable. You don’t want to open yourself up to that feeling.”

In the comments, many viewers related to Danger’s explanation of this paradox and how it can doom relationships to fail.

“yes! this hits the spot we’re dealing with because I know he wants to help but when I initiate that connection he MISSES THAT ITS A CONNECTION TRYING,” one commenter wrote.

Another added, “My husband acts like doing the things I task him with is helping ME. Like no we BOTH LIVE HERE. you need to do stuff to cause it’s YOUR HOUSE.”

You can learn more about the nag paradox on Danger’s podcast and blog.

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