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.
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.