It’s the little things that set me off, like my boyfriend’s leaving cups in the living room or not folding the throw after he watches TV,” says Carmen Alicia Belcher, 29, of New York City, who began living with her partner a year ago. “My thing is, if I’ve asked you once to fix the issue and you say you understand, then [no problem]. It’s when one [repeats] an excuse, such as, ‘I was rushing for work’ that I become Ms. Nag. And I hate that!” We nag those we care about most, says Rhonda Richards-Smith, a licensed clinical social worker in Los Angeles. Although intended for good, “nagging can [damage] your relationship and lead to deceit, anger and poor communication,” she adds. The Wall Street Journal warns, “Meet the Marriage Killer,” and claims it’s “more common than adultery and potentially as toxic.” But like the faint gurgling of a toilet one ignores until opening a $600 water bill, it takes its toll slowly in the background.

Pestering is a tension between both partners: You can’t have a bossy nag without a stubborn mule. Either gender can nag. Ask once, that’s a request; ask twice, it’s a reminder. Beyond that, you’re nagging. A pesky partner may repeatedly urge, criticize or tease (men may view asking as a sign of weakness and favor the last two options). However the comment is phrased, it signals an expectation of failure, says Patricia Johnson, co-author of Partners in Passion (Cleis Press). “Nagging is covert criticism accompanied by one-upmanship.” Even when expressed as a question (He asks, “Why don’t you exercise?”), it’s really a complaint, she explains. Often, we don’t recognize we’re nagging (see “Who Me?” at right). Moya Ojarigi, 30, of Los Angeles, and her mate discovered that it often took the guise of advice. “Once [one of us] asked for guidance, it became the perfect opportunity to tell [the other person] about [himself or herself],” she says. The couple curbed this when they sensed growing alienation, says Ojarigi.

Read the remainder of this article in the May 2014 issue of EBONY Magazine.