“Dates are for having fun, and people should use them to get to know each other. Even boys have something to say if you listen long enough. -Lynnette, age 8.Even at the tender age of eight Lynette was onto something. I don’t have to mention this to the women reading: we men often practice selective deafness when our spouses and women friends talk to us. And we often run on and on about whatever interests us at the time–baseball scores, the stock market, stock car races, chain saws etc.–ignoring the feminine voice trying to tell us the dryer is on fire. The age old tale of Moses wandering around in the desert with the Israelites may have had some basis in actual fact; it could be that the old fellow may have been getting directions, just not hearing them very well. After all, the Sinai isn’t all that large a place.Why is it that people have a difficult time communicating, especially spouses, especially older spouses? Is it just because we have different interests? Are we built differently? Do men have smaller ears?Doesn’t matter, does it? It’s just true, and we have to learn to expect the difference, even if they’re just stylistic. Particularly as we grow older, hearing loss and styles of communicating become accentuated. Here, then, are a few tips on understanding the problem, and how to approach it in as courteous and loving way as possible to the benefit of your marriage. You might call it a sound investment in each other.Do you call your mate from another room in the house? This is such common practice you may not even realize it’s an irritation. Ask your mate, and their answer may surprise you. Particularly if your spouse is hard of hearing, they may tell you they hate it when you call to them from another room because they have to drop what they’re doing and go see what you want. They consider it disrespectful, and an interruption of whatever they’re doing. My wife and I work from home, in separate offices twenty feet apart, and we used to have this issue. Then we (actually I) understood she disliked the yelling back and forth, so we learned how to use our computers’ chat feature, and voila’, problem solved.The two of you may be operating with a different level of understanding, and the conversation may seem awkward, or strained. Thinking the conversation is over, mates have been known to simply walk away when this happens. As you might imagine, or if it’s happened to you, this is a mystifying outcome. Your spouse may believe you’re finished, or they may feel as if they’re being attacked in some way if they misunderstand. It’s been said that the real obstacle to understanding isn’t ignorance; it’s the illusion of knowledge. If we think we understand something but really don’t, all manner of mischief is possible. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, even if they seem inane or childish.Especially for older married couples, the possibility exists that the trouble communicating is related to some physical ailment, and should be investigated. Some people’s hearing does fluctuate over time. Those with Meniere’s disease often exhibit this characteristic, as do people with other hearing disorders. It’s important in these cases to understand that this natural fluctuation in hearing is in addition to the other factors that can cause variations in your mate’s ability to hear you. Here again, my experience may be helpful. My former career in aviation involved long periods exposed to high levels of sound, from turbine engines, screaming rotor blades, and radio frequencies drilling into my headset day after day. As conscientious as I tried to be, wearing ear plugs, headset and helmet all the time, my hearing loss is still significant. One thing my mate and I have learned to do is be aware of the deficit, and make adjustments accordingly: We don’t converse when the dishwasher is running; we don’t call each other on our cell phones from a windy place; we turn down the TV or radio prior to asking questions etc.; and we’re careful to get the others’ attention before trying to talk in a crowded room. If my wife realizes she hasn’t made herself clear, she’ll actually touch my arm, and repeat what she said. As an addendum to this, I never pull the deaf card when I actually forget something she told me to do, because, well, I’m a guy, I forget things. She seems able to remember what I said on our honeymoon, and every day thereafter. Go figure.As for situations that elicit irritation and possible conflict when differentials on hearing occur, here are a few to be aware of: Going out with friends. Did they understand you? Talking on the phone.It can be a source of real frustration for both of you when a hearing loss or inability to interact well with other people restricts your social life. Every one of us needs to get out with friends and family once in a while, and if one of you is threatened by that situation because you don’t hear well, it’s much easier to just stay home. One solution to this is to identify locales such as restaurants and the like where you know the extraneous noise level is low. Another possibility is to meet at someone’s home, or your own, or, if they insist on going out, call ahead for a table or booth in the quietest part of the facility.If you don’t know for sure whether or not your mate heard you it can be irritating, confusing, even dangerous. If hearing loss is a reality, perhaps a signal of some kind is in order. A simple question, such as “Did you hear me okay?” may suffice. On the other side of this scenario, the one who doesn’t hear well, or who has a habit of inattention, needs to acquire the habit of asking for a repeat, if that’s what it takes. No one likes being ignored; no one dislikes being asked for clarification.I already mentioned our difficulty with cell phones in the wind. My spouse has learned that any attempt to phone me when it’s windy is a study in frustration. So she doesn’t. She goes out of her way to find a calm spot, or waits till she’s inside.So communicating well in a quality marriage is more than just hearing each other, but it’s that, too. At some point it comes down to basic courtesy and appreciating your spouse’s interest. As they say, there’s a reason we have two ears and one mouth. In marriage that’s one bit of wisdom that helps create a sound investment for both of you. One last item: sometimes what’s truly important is hearing what your mate doesn’t say.