Honey, can you hear me?

My husband and I have been married for 26 years. Both of us are in our 50’s but we feel healthy and look pretty youthful. Ok, so we get up from a chair groaning with knees creaking like the Tin Man. And perhaps we can’t read a menu or price tag or anything at all without glasses or a flashlight app. But other than that we have all our faculties. Well, most of them anyway.

Recently I noticed that my hearing is on the decline. I’ve always been like a CSI with razor sharp instincts and a keen sense of hearing. I always knew whose footsteps I heard coming in late at night and who was chugging milk out of the container from a room away, but recently I noticed I need to turn up the tv volume and I can’t understand anything either of my sons say.

I have begun using my cellphone on speaker even though I have often complained to my own aging parents how annoying it is to have them call me on speakerphone, echoing like they are calling from a cave in Afghanistan instead of from their sunny kitchen in Delray Beach. On the rare occasions when when my own children call I pretend to hear them so they don’t call me deaf, although I suspect it’s because they are slumped in their beds, barely wasting enough energy to move their lips when they speak.

But what concerns me most is not that I can’t hear people – it’s that people occasionally can’t hear me. And by people, I mean my husband. My slight hearing problem was diagnosed by an ENT doctor as age-related hearing loss. My husband’s hearing loss was diagnosed by me, a KLAD (Kinda like a Doctor) as marriage-related hearing loss. It is called being Wife Deaf.

Most men with WD don’t even know they have it. Or if they do they don’t admit it. Unlike real hearing loss which mostly affects the afflicted – Wife Deafness is most annoying for the observer. In this case that would be ME. While my husband is oblivious to his problem, I find it extremely frustrating. For example, I often tell my otherwise attentive and loving husband about plans I’ve made for us. Hours or maybe days later he will deny I’ve told him about those plans. Other times I might share a story I heard or something I read and believing I have his attention, I finish the conversation. I may even get a nod or look of acknowledgment. Then not ten minutes later he will tell me the same story as if it is his own thought.

“Are you kidding me?! Didn’t you JUST hear me say that?” I will yell as I roll my eyes. In an instant he is backpedalling, saying that he did hear me, even throwing in a couple of key words that actually infiltrated his subconscious. Most of the time he swears I never told him, making me doubt my own sanity. What was he doing while talking? Working out a business problem? Thinking about who is starting for the Jets? Did I sound like Charlie Brown’s mother? WHA, WHA, WHA…

I notice this problem is very common among middle aged husbands. I venture to say most married men suffer from it. My own father has one of the worse cases of wife deafness and is actually proud of it. He prefers to call it selective hearing. For most of the 50+ years they’ve been married he has been burying his head in a book or puttering in the kitchen only occasionally looking up to ask my mother to repeat a long story or conversation he has just caught the tail end of. But I have also seen it among my own age group.

My friend Debi was trying to get her husband’s attention as we sat in a group of couples last winter. “David, David, David,” she repeated without so much as a turn of his head. “Watch this, “ I said and at the same decibel level I said his name again. Immediately he heard his name, looked at me and said “Yeah, what?” as she looked on in shock and disbelief. Diagnosis made – WD.

I shared my frustration with my friend Donna on a recent friday night. We had invited her and her husband George to meet us for a movie premiere. She told me what had just happened that very night. George is not known for his subtlety, so she asked him not to tell their teenage daughter that we were seeing the movie she had wanted to see. As he walked out the door 20 minutes later he called out to his daughter that they would be back late after the premier of the new Jennifer Aniston movie. Donna was flabbergasted.

Do they not hear? Do they not care? Do they not remember? Is there a cure? I don’t know the answers. I could take him for an actual hearing test – but unless those hearing tests that normally emit beeps and tones of various pitch match the actual sound and frequency of my own voice I don’t think we can get an accurate reading. Perhaps there’s a hearing aid for this disorder. But there’s not a man alive who’d use it. So I’ve come up with my own hearing aids. I’ve considered a megaphone but it doesn’t fit in my overstuffed handbag, so I make it a point to speak louder and check for rapid eye movements that might indicate voice recognition. Then my husband can’t complain that the window was open, or I speak softly, or that I never said what I know I said.

I also cover all bases by emailing a summary or confirmation of important conversations so I have a record in my computer, and in a court of law, that he was informed of dates and times and plans. Not that it helps when he double books us and we have a standoff to see whose plan prevails.

There is a cartoon I love that captures this universal issue – it pictures an elderly couple sitting in a living room with the husband looking up from a newspaper and the caption “Can you please repeat everything you’ve said since we’ve been married?” That is the line he says to me when I catch him being wife deaf. It always makes us laugh. I know he may not always hear me. But I know he gets me. And a sense of humor is definitely the best medicine.

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