“Nagging” is how we describe a persistent source of annoyance or distraction. We can have a nagging headache or a nagging cough, which means those conditions won’t go away. When applied to descriptions of people, nagging means “badgering, constant scolding, or pressuring.” Children who haven’t learned good manners may nag their parents about rules or wish lists. Bosses may nag their employees about uncompleted tasks. And spouses may nag each other about household chores. Nagging can become a habit, even a character trait that causes others to avoid us. Nagging is negative behavior and is something the Bible tells us to avoid.
The most famous examples of nagging are found in the story of Samson. Although destined for greatness (Judges 13:1–5), Samson was foolish in regards to women. He allowed himself to be trapped by his enemies on two different occasions through the nagging of women he was involved with. Judges 14 recounts the story of Samson marrying a Philistine woman and walking into a trap laid by wicked people “because she was tormenting him with her nagging” (Judges 14:17). Two chapters later, Samson meets Delilah, another Philistine. She, too, was used by her wicked countrymen to trick Samson. He gave in to Delilah’s request for the secret to his strength, and Judges 16:16 tells us how she prevailed: “With such nagging she prodded him day after day until he was sick to death of it.” Nagging led to a tragic end for a man who had such potential to be used by God (verses 21 and 30).
The book of Proverbs has a lot to say about living with a nagging wife (e.g., Proverbs 19:13; 21:19). Proverbs 25:24 says, “Better to live on the corner of a roof than to share a house with a nagging wife.” And 27:15 says, “An endless dripping on a rainy day and a nagging wife are alike.” One reason nagging is often associated with wives has to do with the way men and women are wired. Women tend to be more verbal than men and solve problems, resolve conflict, and brainstorm solutions by talking about them. Men are often less verbal and more task-oriented and do not respond well to female attempts to instruct them. When their wives ask for a chore to be done, husbands sometimes hear that as bossiness or attempts at control, so they either do not respond or purpose to do the project in their own time. The wife, being verbal, mentions that lapse again and again, and the stage is set for a nagging/resisting relationship.
Nagging can become a habit before we realize it, but both the nag and the resister have some responsibility in changing that dynamic. In Samson’s case, rather than clearly state his intentions and the reasons for them, he allowed the women in his life to continue nagging him. Their nagging was abetted by his lack of clear boundaries, leading them to believe that, if they persisted, he would give in. They were right. Children learn to nag for the same reasons. A parent can easily stop the habit of nagging by setting clear boundaries and always following through on threatened consequences (Proverbs13:24; 19:18; 23:13). Spouses can break a cycle of nagging by recognizing what isn’t working and establishing better communication patterns.
We are to watch our words and speak “only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29). Nagging is not helpful, it does not build up, and it provides no benefit to the hearers.