Being married is a lot like being deaf. If you hear the same person talking day-after-day, you literally lose the ability to hear what that person is saying. I will give you two examples from my own life. Both are true. This one happened last week:

Shelly: Do you want some carrot cake?

Me: Hurricane? What hurricane?

In that particular case, we eventually got to the bottom of it, but only because Shelly needed an answer. I estimate that half of the time she says lamp, I hear doorknob, and it doesn't really matter so we go on with our lives. I might spend a few seconds confused about the larger point, but I shake it off.

Within a day of the carrot cake incident, I made an offhand comment to Shelly to the effect that she might enjoy a certain sport. That conversation went like this:

Me: That's your new game, honey.

Shelly: What did you call me?

Me: (slower and louder) I SAID, "THAT'S YOUR NEW GAME, HONEY."

Shelly: Oh. I thought you called me Jimmy Bean

Me:  Why would I call you Jimmy Dean

Shelly: Not Dean, Bean. Jimmy Bean.

Me: Why would I call you Jimmy Bean?

Shelly: That's what I wondered too.

Me: No, I said, "That's your new game, honey."

Shelly: What's my new game?

Me: I forget.

As I'm sure you've learned,  it's impossible to speak to a spouse if he or she is near running water, or using power equipment, or concentrating on something else, or eating something crunchy, or wondering if the squeak in the distance is the cat dying, or there is a child within a hundred yards. Amazingly, that covers 90% of every conversation you might attempt at home.

Recently I discovered that spouses, like computers, must be booted up before they can hear what you say.  Try walking into a room where your spouse is otherwise engaged and simply launch into your statement or question. Notice that your first sentence doesn't count. That might go like this.

You: I think the ice maker isn't working.

Spouse: What?

In that example, the spouse had not yet booted into listening mode. You can solve this problem with what I call the boot up tone. It is a sound that serves no function except to say, "Shift to listening mode." I highly recommend that you use your spouse's first name as your boot up tone. People are programmed to hear their own names even when they won't notice other background noise. And I recommend speaking in the key of F, even if that isn't your normal range, because it's a great tone for penetrating background noise. It's also a good idea to stretch out your spouse's name a bit. I turn Shelly into She-e-e-e-e-lly. Try it at home. It works. But use your own spouse's name.

I have the added disadvantage of being a serial mumbler. In my head, everything I say is clear and loud, sort of like Prince Charles. But I have been told that my actual sound is more like a corpse farting in a rolled up carpet.  My semi-solution for that is to trick people into reading my lips while I talk. Even people who are not expert lip readers can get some extra comprehension from seeing mouths move.

My method, which I share with you today, is to first get eye contact. If you are at home, start with your boot up tone. If that doesn't get you the eye contact you need, try a scary opening phrase such as "I didn't want to tell you this..." Anyone will give you eye contact after you use that phrase, even if you mumble it.

Once I have tricked Shelly into giving me eye contact, I quickly stand on my tiptoes so my lips are where my eyes once had been then blurt out my message. The only downside is that I will later have to explain, maybe several times, why I opened with "I didn't want to tell you this." I usually handle that by eating potato chips and standing near running water.

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+7 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 12, 2011
this is totally, absolutely 100% dead on accurate. So much so, I go over to my wife and say, "here's what I THOUGHT you said:-" and then I repeat what I heard, which is NEVER close.
Jan 12, 2011
Glad to see you got the app fixed.
Jan 12, 2011
This marital deafness is a problem for middle aged and older married people. My husband and I married in our early twenties and did not have this problem for the first twenty years. Your blog is an accurate and hilarious description of our current communications.
Jan 12, 2011
My wife is certifiably hard of hearing and we've wasted lots of money on hearing aids she swears don't help. But she always hears me f@rt.
+7 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 12, 2011
I read an article a while ago that said something similar about the telephone. If you call someone and they pick up and you just start talking, they miss the first few words. I think the example they gave as most frequent or most annoying was trying to order room service (?) at a hotel - and those people are trained to answer the telephone.

To get around the problem, they advised just saying "hello". That allows the listener to adjust to your voice (it's automatic), so they hear the rest. Of course, it's also polite to first say hello, but maybe there's more to it than just politeness - ie, the listener hears what you say the first time.
+35 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 12, 2011
My wife loves to start conversations with me while I am in the shower in the morning. Through the glass door, which is fogged up and has water droplets all over it so I can't see her mouth moving. Plus, I have the water running on my side and the fan running on her side. I cannot understand why she doesn't understand that I can't hear her, and bringing it up leads to me being wrong somehow. So I have started shouting back random answers, and it seems to work. But I am not sure if I got the right answer, or if she just gives up and walks away.

Random answers include:

"Not today"
"Put it with my shoes"
"Ask the kids"

and my favorite:

"Sure, come on in"
Jan 12, 2011
This was your funniest post ever! Thanks for making me laugh out loud (it also got my wife's attention!).
Jan 12, 2011
It's also true that one's spouse is completely oblivious to when you are concentrating on something else, be it reading a book, watching TV, or stitching up your child's head wound, and will become deeply offended when you respond to his or her statement with "What? I didn't hear you." This is usually accompanied by "You never listen to me." I've been married for 35 years in spite of this phenomenon.
Jan 12, 2011
I give my iPad to wifey.
Me: check this out
Wifey hands back after reading.
W: I shouldn't tell you this
Me: what?
Me: you didnt tell, Scott Adams did
W: starts laughing
Me: pause. !$%*!$%* that's what he's talking about....

Totally hilarious.
Jan 12, 2011
Awesome. So true, and now I have reference material for my wife the next time she gets mad.
Jan 12, 2011
Scott...I have a bad habit of compulsively chewing on cigars throughout the day...My wife seems to care what I have to say so she's always yelling at me when I try to talk to her with the stogie stuck between my teeth...If you're interested, I recently wrote about some additional communication challenges we have in my house....http://tuttopersona.com/2010/11/family-life-i-have-a-question/
Jan 12, 2011
As others have said, not just spouses, co-workers, bosses, siblings, kids... can fall into the same mode, especially if someone in the house/office drones on about nothing. It's part of the BS filter folks have that we forget to disable at times.
+5 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 12, 2011
I don't know how you do this. I'm convinced that you somehow have spy devices planted in several homes and offices in the U.S., and you make a living simply pointing out the amusing anecdotes you observe from all your spy data!
Jan 12, 2011
Scott...great advice on getting attention of the spouse. It works for older children as well...most of the time. Also, great series this week on Pon Farr. Thanks for the tip of the hat to us Trekkers...or for at least giving us a good laugh on that one, if you are not a Trek fan.
+4 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 12, 2011
This made me LOL several times. And I like to LOL. This describes my everyday life in my house perfectly.
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