Antidotes for Annoying Neighbors / Pick a Little, Nag a Little…
Dear Dr. Hurd,
My partner and I recently moved into our dream condo in Lewes. It is everything we wanted, except for the next door neighbors. They are always stretching the HOA rules, like parking in guest spaces that makes it inconvenient for others to park. They have noisy and stinky motor scooters that they drive onto the deck in their back yard. They leave their spotlights on, which illuminates our windows all night.
Nobody seems to care about this rude couple as much as I do, and they are ruining our new home. Since they stay close to the letter of the law, I doubt if our weak HOA can do anything. What to do!?!
Dr. Hurd replies,
You’re asking two questions here: One, how to exercise your property rights under your HOA. And two, how to cope. For the question about your legal rights, you might consider consulting an attorney familiar with HOA by-laws and restrictions.
For the coping part, I suggest that you give them as little emotional power as possible. People like them are after power. In their little worlds, rules do not exist to preserve peace and order. Rules exist for their sake, e.g., they harp on the rules, but fail to follow the standards of common consideration themselves. The only possible explanation is power, so when you let them know they’re getting to you, you’re giving them what they want. I know it’s frustrating and even maddening, but find smarter ways to retaliate or eliminate some of the annoyance, i.e., light-blocking shades in your bedroom. Get creative. Letting them see your anger does nothing but please them.
Also, I suggest that you talk to trusted neighbors about why they’re not bothered by this behavior. I suspect that they actually are. So many people pretend not to care about things because they’re afraid of ruffling feathers or “appearing mean.” Chances are that most of the people you assume don’t notice or care about these obnoxious behaviors actually do.
There’s strength in numbers, though that applies only when the people with the numbers are right. You’re right, and I’m sure the other neighbors know it. Once you are all on the same page (assuming you can get there), you can perhaps come up with some way of standing up to these bullies. Moral courage costs less than a lawsuit, and it’s often more powerful —again, assuming you are in the right and that actual facts are on your side.
Dear Dr. Hurd,
I’m a bit of a nitpicker. But I feel it’s a good thing, as long as I pick in a kind and affirming manner. The point here is that my partner’s sloppy habits get on my nerves. He relaxes on the couch and leaves his clothes strewn about. His idea of washing a dish is to put it in the sink until it eventually takes on a life of its own. I mention things politely, but he says I’m nagging and berating him. Is nitpicking a bad thing? I’m slowly going crazy with the mess around here.
Dr. Hurd replies,
I’ll get right to the point: You’re not nitpicking. You’re nagging. Nagging stems from anxiety over the false belief that repetition creates motivation. It does not, and in fact nagging lowers respect and reveals weakness by implying, “I have failed to convince you through logic. So I’ll resort to mindless babbling.” Therapist and author Michele Weiner-Davis sums it up nicely: “You can say it in a number of different ways, but when you say it in a number of different ways over and over again, that’s nagging.”
The alternative to nagging is action, i.e., holding a person responsible for what they’re NOT doing. If he fails to follow through on a commitment, then you’re free to stop following through on commitments you made to him. It’s right and fair. Withdraw support and affection. Go on strike. Quit the words and focus on action.
In my thirty-plus years as a professional psychotherapist, I can’t count the number of times I’m told that once the nagging stops, the desired behavior follows. It points to how weak a tactic nagging is. It’s better to say, “I’m frustrated, I’m hurt, I’m annoyed” than to keep demanding or requesting the same actions over and over again. Because that’s really why you nitpick or nag. When you love somebody, it’s a personal relationship. So say what you feel!
In addition to all that, nagging strongly suggests a sense of entitlement. “I shouldn’t have to even ask for this,” is what a lot of naggers and nitpickers feel. Well, this may or may not be true. In fact, sometimes when we feel entitled to something, we’re not really entitled to it at all. And even when we are, nagging is probably the worst way to go about getting it. Stand back, take an objective and rational look at what’s really going on, and then find alternatives for achieving your goal.
Michael J. Hurd, Ph.D., LCSW is a psychotherapist and author. His office can be reached at 302-227-2829. Email questions or comments to Dr. Hurd.