Dear Annie: My husband loves to talk. He’s known for it. Friends who drive past our house and see him outside usually stop to talk to him, often for an hour at a time. He’s one of those people who’s “never met a stranger.” Many times, I have seen him have long conversations with people he’s just met at the farm store — or just about anywhere.
This love of conversation does not appear to carry over to talking to his wife, though — unless it’s a conversation he started. I am expected to respond to everything he says, but it doesn’t work that way in return. He has hearing aids, which he doesn’t wear all the time, and I had been attributing his lacking responses to that. But now, I’m beginning to wonder. He appears able to communicate with everyone else!
Sometimes, when I ask him if he heard what I just said, he claims he not only heard me but answered me — even though I was looking at him and didn’t see his lips move.
This morning, on a drive through the countryside, two examples cropped up. We passed by a house I hadn’t noticed before that appeared to have metal siding. I asked, “Isn’t that metal siding on that house?” He said, as if I hadn’t even spoken: “There’s a new house. It’s metal.” He’s parroted back what I’ve just said as if it were new information so many times that I’ve joked about it, claiming it must mean we think alike.
Later on, during the same drive, I started sharing an anecdote from my younger years. When I was a couple of sentences in, he interrupted to point out something we were passing in the car. I stopped talking, but he appeared not to notice. He certainly never asked me to continue.
And this happens a lot. A couple of days ago, I was telling him something I thought was interesting, and a few sentences in, he fell asleep in his chair! I had always considered myself an interesting conversationalist, even somewhat funny, but I must be wrong.
What do you think is going on here? Is there anything I can do to fix it?
— Are You Listening?
Dear Are You Listening?: Perhaps, as a joke, you could pretend to be a stranger to your husband so that he talks to you more. Seriously, it’s completely unacceptable for him to interrupt while you’re midsentence in a story. Next time he does that, just say to him, “Let me finish my story.”
Or, after you’ve finished talking, ask him questions about what you just said. If he gets angry at you for asking him not to interrupt or he’s still unable to carry on a two-way conversation, ask yourself: Has he always been like this, or is this new behavior? If it’s new, it could be a medical condition that’s causing him to ramble on or have trouble focusing.
If there is nothing medically wrong with him, then it’s up to you to talk with him about how you feel when he doesn’t listen to you.
The fact that you always thought of yourself as an interesting conversationalist but are now doubting it tells me that you and your husband would benefit from some type of counseling, whether at your church or with a doctor.
He appears not to be listening to you. Dealing with this issue together will help you feel that you are being heard.
Annie Lane, a graduate of New York Law School and New York University, writes this column for Creators Syndicate. Email questions to email@example.com.