Dear Annie: I rarely felt heard by my outgoing husband, who talked for hours with others. We have been married for 54 years.
Several years ago, we attended a business seminar on communication between the sexes. The biggest insight we gained from it is that men and women listen very differently. If a man has his mind on something, he will not “hear” someone else’s comments. So you have to get his attention before you say something. A woman’s brain is able to follow several conversations while working on a project at the same time. It is the way our brains differ. There are scientific studies on this.
My husband and I became much better at communicating with each other after this seminar.
— Finally Heard
Dear Finally Heard: Congrats to you and your husband for taking a step in the healthy direction to improve your listening skills. What a gift you’ve given yourselves and each other! I don’t know about the scientific basis for the claim that men and women listen differently, but if it helps you live a happier life, then I’m all for it.
Dear Annie: As someone who wears hearing aids, I think “Are You Listening’s” husband’s hearing loss is more of a factor than she realizes. She may have a soft or higher-pitched voice that is much harder for most of us with hearing loss to hear clearly. So her husband may be able to hear and understand his friends much better than he can hear and understand her.
Her story about her husband not hearing her in the car also makes his hearing loss a likely culprit. A car is one of the most difficult hearing environments for those of us with hearing loss. Unfortunately, even my high-tech Bluetooth hearing aids don’t always make it possible for me to hear clearly in noisy environments. Hearing aids are not like glasses. They help, but they don’t restore normal hearing.
I’m afraid it’s also very common for those of us with hearing loss to bluff when we don’t hear people and try to guess what they said. It works better with casual conversations than with a spouse, who’s around so much they catch on!
I have a friend whose wife has a very soft voice, and she also has poor communication habits such as talking to him with her back turned or from another room, and she doesn’t make sure she has his attention before she speaks. So he has conversations he understands with my husband and me much more easily than with his wife.
“Are You Listening” should make sure her husband wears his hearing aids all the time. They don’t work as well if you wear them infrequently. Your brain has to learn how to interpret the sounds. Her husband may not have had his hearing aids adjusted recently, or he may need new ones.
There are also other hearing assistive technologies, such as a Bluetooth remote microphone, which is very helpful in noisy environments such as the car or a restaurant. Her husband should ask his audiologist whether his hearing aids have a microphone accessory available or he can use a Roger microphone with them.
Hearing loss is often mistaken for other problems, including dementia. Please start with a hearing test. Make sure that the hearing aids are properly programmed and the husband knows how to use them. He may need some rehab to help his brain adapt to hearing aids if he hasn’t been wearing them very often. HearingLoss.org has helpful information.
— Concerned With Hearing Loss
Dear Concerned With Hearing Loss: I think you’re on to something! Thank you for all the tips on how hearing aids can improve people’s lives.
Annie Lane, a graduate of New York Law School and New York University, writes this column for Creators Syndicate. Email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.