Are you listening?

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When you have been married as long as my husband Mark and I have it really starts to show in all kinds of interesting ways. Because while we both feel (and often act) like the carefree young things we were when we tied the knot, in reality we are getting shockingly old. The aging process shows itself in subtle ways such as an obsession with finding comfortable yet attractive shoes (me), receding hairlines (him) and the best reading glasses (we both can claim that one).

But there’s another truism that happens in a marriage the longer it lasts: you reach a point where you are able to tune each other out completely even when you are seated six feet away from each other. Some people call this selective listening but I think of it more as spousal deafness.

I would like to say that my husband practices this habit more than I do but that would be a lie. More often than I care to admit I have been listening to my husband talk, seen his lips moving and known that he’s talking to me but all I’ve heard is what Charlie Brown heard when his teacher was talking–wah wah wah. That’s when I have to focus really hard and practice the listening skills we were taught in kindergarten. It works most of the time.

I don’t feel too guilty about my occasional lapses of attention since I know Mark often hears me talk but what I’m saying doesn’t sink in because he isn’t listening. He proves that he isn’t listening since this is how our conversations go down when that happens:

Me  (while we are watching an old movie): “Look at that car! Is that a Catalina? My grandmother used to drive one just like that!! I haven’t seen one of those in ages. Remember her car? It was white with a dark blue interior.”

Mark (five minutes later): “Hey, look! A car just like your grandmother had! It’s a Catalina. I haven’t seen once of those in years. Your grandmother’s car was great with that dark blue interior.”

Or:

Me: “Chocolate chips were on sale so I got some. I can’t remember the last time I made chocolate chip cookies so I think I’ll bake some tomorrow.”

Mark (three minutes later): “You know what you should make? Chocolate chip cookies. Why don’t you ever bake anymore?”

When our marriage was in its springtime instead its current early autumn, such a blatant lack of attention used to drive me to tears, accusations of neglect and plenty o’ pouting. Not anymore since I’ve wised up enough to realize that tears, accusations and pouting tend to ruin an otherwise pleasant evening. I’ve also learned that such inattentive listening on my husband’s part can be played to my advantage much of the time. It’s incredibly easy to plant ideas in his head–ideas that he thinks he came up with–and reap the benefits. For example:

Me (while looking at the ads that came in the newspaper): “Ace is having a sale on paint. The bathroom needs painting. I think I’ll get a gallon and have a go at it.” (I then hand the paper to Mark with the Ace ad prominently on top.)

Mark: “Hey, paint’s on sale at Ace! Why don’t you pick out a color and I’ll paint the bathroom? It’s looking pretty shabby.”

Yes, I know it’s complete manipulation on my part but I like to think that it keeps our marriage exciting and also gets me out of doing many things I’d prefer not to do. Every so often I do wonder if he’s not doing the same thing to me but the only way I’ll know for sure is if I start paying closer attention to what he’s saying.

Hmmmm. It’s a thought.

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