Valentine's Day advice for a healthy relationship

Here's a nagging question: How can you help a loved one without nagging?

The word "nag" actually comes from 19th century German and Scandinavian words meaning to "gnaw" or "provoke."

Well, that's appropriate.

The thing about nagging is it's counterproductive. Statements that start with "You never…" and "You always…" and questions that start with "Why can't you…" hardly ever get us what we want. And it usually results in bad feelings, ill will and even anger. The "nag-ee" feels like they're being controlled and disrespected, and they're not motivated to try harder.

As thoughts of love and kindness fill our hearts for Valentine's Day, I want to share some ideas on how to help a partner, spouse or loved one take better care of themselves without nagging.

First, what are some signs of nagging? Relationship experts say asking for something more than twice, starting statements with "you," and feeling like a parent rather than a partner are red flags.

You shouldn't eat that. You shouldn't sit on the couch so much. You should go to the gym.

Sound familiar?

Here are some ideas that might help you change the dynamic:

1.) Be polite. Sometimes we are rudest to the people we love the most, maybe because we're around them a lot. But what would it be like if we treated our loved ones with the same politeness we use in other situations?

2.) Use kindness and compassion. Focus more on listening skills while showing love goes a long way. Make it safe for your loved one to be heard and respected no matter what they say, too.

3.) Focus on positive qualities. On the popular TV series, coach Ted Lasso tells his therapist that he is purposeful about every day expressing his appreciation of others. If you enjoy your loved one's sense of humor, tell them!

4.) Ask proactive questions. Rather than ask, "Why haven't you eaten a vegetable today?," ask instead, "How do you feel about having asparagus tonight? Is there another vegetable you'd enjoy more?"

5.) Use "I" language rather than "you" language. "I love you, and I feel very concerned about your health. I'm afraid you won't be around for me as long as I'd like." It's important to know what you're feeling and not assume you know what the other person is feeling.

6.) Be affirmative. No one wants to feel like how well they follow the "rules" is more important than their value as a person. Be kind and complimentary for any positive steps - no matter how small - your loved one takes. Bite your tongue for anything negative.

7.) Offer to help. You want your loved one to feel supported, not controlled. One of the most loving sentences in the English language is "Tell me how I can help you."

8.) Look for different ways of expressing yourself. Requesting the same thing over and over isn't likely to get to the result you want.

9.) Accept what you can't control. We may feel scared and concerned about a spouse who smokes, but that's not going to stop them. We can, however, control ourselves. If you want your loved one to take better care of their health, be sure to model that behavior in yourself.

10.) Pick your battles. It's tempting to criticize a lot of things at once. Rather, become an observer of your own behavior and understand how and how often you're criticizing. Then, if you must offer a criticism (using "I" language remember!), choose one thing and let the others go.

The author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry once wrote, "Love does not consist of gazing at each other, but of looking together in the same direction." What a lovely sentiment. Approaching concerns about your loved one's health with the idea that you want to be looking together in the same direction leaves no room for nagging.

And wouldn't that be a lovely Valentine's Day gift.

• Teri Dreher is a board-certified patient advocate. A critical care nurse for more than 30 years, she is founder of NShore Patient Advocates ( She is pleased to offer a free phone consultation to Daily Herald readers. Call for an appointment at (847) 612-6684.

Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the "flag" link in the lower-right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.