Duncan Elliot is a life coach working out of Basingstoke in England. He particularly works with people who feel that there must be more to life and are willing to work at it, so that they can feel happier and more in control of their life. He offers life coaching in person, on the phone or via audio or video across the Internet. Click here to contact him.

Can't hear or won't hear

Force Four Life Coaching

Catch the wind in your sails!

Welcome to a typical scene. Male partner is sitting in the living room, engrossed in sport on the television. Female partner comes in and starts to talk. After a couple of seconds the male kind of wakes up an looks at his partner.

“I'm sorry: what did you say?”

“Oh, you! You never listen to me! The TV's more important to you than I am!”

Both parties are now bristling. She's resentful because she feels that she matters less than some stupid football/baseball/hockey match and he's resentful because he doesn't feel he's done anything wrong. Internally he's muttering to himself something along the lines of, “comes in here, wittering about some nonsense and interrupting the match!”

It seems on the outside that this sort of situation is a minor irritation, but if it is repeated many, many times, or there are other stresses in the relationship, it can grow out of all proportion. It can easily lead to resentment and resentment is a BAD thing in a relationship. Let the resentment fester and it will sour the relationship over time. But there are ways to handle this situation that are loving and caring, that lead to increased acceptance and understanding, and that's a GOOD thing!

The problem here starts because the man genuinely hasn't heard. 

The brain receives millions of signals every second. Every nerve ending in the body is sending signals. Those in your rear end are telling your brain what your seat feels like; the nerves in your feet are telling it what contact they are making with the floor; those in your ear are sending every single little noise. And those are just a few. Thing is, most of those are “business as usual messages”. Your brain isn't powerful enough to pay attention to all of them, so it has a system of filtering. The “business as usual” messages get discarded so that you can concentrate on what's important at the time.

Males tend to use their brain in a more focussed way than females, and so when they're locked into something, almost everything else is classified as “business as usual”. Unfortunately that includes their partner's voice. It also includes children's voices.

So when his partner comes into the room and starts to talk, the man's brain doesn't register. A short while later it does register that someone is trying to communicate and it could be important and it's at that point that he is able to shift his attention from the television. It's not that he's been ignoring his partner: it's genuinely that her words haven't registered. And it's not a matter of importance, either. The fact that his brain takes time to recognise that she's speaking doesn't indicate that she means less to him than the match: it's just the way that his brain works.

If this is an issue in your household, I would recommend that the female partner grabs her husband's attention before starting to speak. Use a call sign of some sort: call out, “Honey!” (or whatever other affectionate terms you use) or call his name. Sit beside him and put your hand on his shoulder. Give him a wave – but make sure you're out of the way of the TV screen. Find out what works for you and in the particular situation.

If you're a man reading this and feeling frustrated at being misunderstood or blamed, you're going to need to communicate with your partner. Let her know that she IS important to you and that, as you love her, you don't want resentment to sour your relationship. It may help to stress to her how important your relationship is and that you're discussing this because you want to increase the love and affection in the relationship. Then explain why you have a problem in hearing her in that situation and suggest ways that she can get your attention.

I know that it's not always easy to start such a conversation or to say it in a way that builds your partner up. If you could do with some support in that, of if there are other issues to do with communication in your relationship, then contact me.