As a therapist, I regularly hear women complain that their husbands don’t listen to them. Does my wife complain about this? I don’t know. That’d require me to listen to her. What’s funny is a lot of women think I’m a great listener and will even say how lucky my wife is, but then I point out if I have listening geared conversations for nine hours in a day, what do you think I want to do after work? Yeah, that’s why you never marry a marriage therapist… or a porn star (the latter is not about listening). You don’t marry someone who does something all day for work you want them to do at home. There’s a reason my wife bought me a plaque that says, “Husbands never tell your secrets… because they likely didn’t hear you say them in the first place.” To be honest, I’ve gotten a lot better at being able to have the mental energy to listen to my wife after work, but I’m still a guy, so sometimes… I just don’t listen. Why? We’re about to look at some reasons.
First, I should point out that there is a difference between listening and obeying. There are many times women complain their husband doesn’t listen when what they mean is their husband doesn’t obey them. The husbands heard what was asked, but they don’t want to do as they were told… you know like a grownup. It makes me laugh when I have to point out to the wife, “When a boy hears his parents boss him around and give him rules he doesn’t like, do you think he dreams of one day can finding someone to marry who will continue to boss him around and give him rules he doesn’t like while also taking money he earns to do what she wants or do you think he wants to have a say in his life?” Usually when I ask this the wife looks at me confused because they had never thought of that before. Marriage isn’t slavery (hopefully); it’s supposed to be a partnership, a union of equality. As a grownup, we can make requests and share desires that will help us feel cared about, but the other person isn’t obligated to do everything on the list; sometimes it’s not even possible because the list is too great or the only way the partner can do something is to sacrifice something that means a lot to them. Marriage isn’t about giving our partner everything they want. It’s about finding a healthy balance where both of our needs and wants can be met enough in a fair way, which means both people should feel equally valued.
Another reason why men are accused of not listening is because they don’t give the reaction the woman expects: (wife) “And then Becky said (thing).” (guy staring blankly) “Okay.” (wife) “You must not have heard me because that is the juiciest news I’ve heard in a long time!” Men and women are different. We communicate differently… but I’ll get more into that in a moment.
Reasons a Guy Doesn’t Listen
- The Bridgerton Effect: One night while I was working on a project, my wife was watching the show Bridgerton. It was like Paw Patrol for women. Kids love Paw Patrol, but as an adult, it’s garbage. My wife loves Bridgerton, but as a man, it’s garbage. Sometimes guys don’t listen to women because we really can’t stand what they’re talking about, and that’s okay. Men and women need friends of the same gender because we get each other differently than our spouse can. We shouldn’t be angry at our partner for not liking all the same things or talk in the same way. Instead, this should be motivation to have friends.
- He’s Rude: Sometimes a guy is just being a rude dude. It happens. Everyone can be rude from time to time even women. Of course, just because someone might appear to be rude doesn’t mean they are. A lot of guys get accused of this when that’s not actually their goal. Sometimes the guy seems rude because he wants to fix the problem when there’s a good chance the woman wants to feel understood and affirmed. In cases like these, this isn’t rudeness; it’s being misguided and needing some training for how he can better respond.
- She’s Boring: As strange as it might sound to some women, there’s a chance a guy thinks you’re boring… there’s a chance other women think you’re boring. This is especially a problem for people who can’t get to the point.
- He’s Easily Distracted: Guys are very much like dogs… squirrel! Our brains are more apt to being distracted than most women. I write “most” because my wife has ADD and gets more distracted than the average guy because that’s one of the symptoms of it.
- Bad Timing: I learned very quickly that if I was to survive being with a wife with ADD I needed to learn the importance of timing for trying to have conversations. If she isn’t in the right headspace, it doesn’t matter how entertaining I am, her head will be somewhere else. It’s like a guy trying to talk to a woman who is focused on the kids – she’s not going to be paying attention to him.
- Different Agenda: In every couple I find there’s a “fix-it-now” and a “fix-it-later” person, which creates its own fight situation: (fix-it-later person) “I’m leaving. I need a chance to process this and/or I hate conflict, so I’m running away in hopes it’ll magically disappear.” (fix-it-now person) “Where are you going? Don’t abandon me! If you loved me, you’d want to fix this now, especially since you’ll try to sweep it under the rug later.” In situations like these, whether the woman is the fix-it-now or the fix-it-later person, the guy is not going to simply follow what she wants. He has his own goal. It’s like when someone says “F off,” and the other person doesn’t leave. Clearly the swearing person wants to be left alone, but if the other isn’t done talking about it, they’re going to want to try to keep the conversation going… which will lead to being told to F off again and again until they leave.
- He Doesn’t Want to Get Angry: Women typically tell stories based on how they felt while guys are more fact based, which is one of the reasons a guy’s story is likely a shorter version – there are only so many facts. This difference can cause some serious conflict. For instance, I’ve learned that when my wife is telling a story that involves me, I have to not listen because I’ll hear her share how it felt (aka get the facts wrong) and I’ll want to correct her, but if I do, I just look rude. The answer? Don’t listen to avoid the temptation.
- He Assumes it’s More Panicking: My wife has these jumpy, panicking mom moments that spark my own panic brain. I’ve had to work at not reacting to her panic because it happens so often with our two toddlers. Usually the best way to prevent my brain from having a panic moment is to tune her out, especially since her panic mode is 99% unnecessary or overblown.
- He’s Hiding: Whether it’s fear of criticism or conflict, sometimes guys get really good at hiding, which is like pre-emptively tuning her out to be safe. Last summer at the family cottage, my wife was screaming because my daughter who was just over one was drinking from a teacup out of the toilet… that wasn’t flushed. It was a “Let it mellow” moment. When my wife was screaming who didn’t flush the toilet, I hid in the other room and pretended that I didn’t hear her. I clearly did… the street likely did, but I was busy praying not to be seen because I was hiding from being reprimanded like a child.
- He’s Given Up: I’ve met guys who don’t try to listen anymore because they feel so defeated. It’s like when they try to do something nice, they get shot down. If they try to be helpful, they get criticized. If they offer silence, they get in trouble for not offering suggestions. Whatever they do, they get in trouble for not doing the opposite. This kind of situation is likely the result of the woman wanting to be angry, and her husband is the easy target: (wife) “Does this make me look fat? If you say no, I’ll attack you for lying. If you avoid answering or stay silent, I’ll attack you for being a wimp. If you say yes… I’ll be planning your funeral.”
POSSIBLY THE BIGGEST REASON
- Men are Sprinters: When it comes to conversation, men are sprinters and women are marathon runners. One isn’t better than the other; we’re just different. Guys have shorter attention spans, which makes sense when our stories tend to be shorter. We’re very much, “What’s the point?” whereas women are more about the journey and bonding. What helps women listen for long periods of time is they can think of 10 things at once, so when the story is slow she’s listening while also organizing thoughts in her head: (woman) “After this I need to pick up…” – it’s the marathon. As a guy, we can only focus on one thing at a time, so when someone is talking that’s all we can focus on, so it won’t last – it’s the sprint. We have limited listening stamina. As a therapist I’ve grown mine to a pretty good level, but now I struggle to listen to one person for more than an hour including friends: (my brain even talking to friends) “Okay, it’s been an hour, time for me to go to the bathroom and hear someone else talk.” As a guy we can train to be more of a 400m racer instead of a 100m dash, but it’s still a sprint.
This week may you consider what will help your man be a better listener whether you getting to the point quicker or him learning to help you feel understood instead of fixing what you’re complaining about.
Rev. Chad David, ChadDavid.ca, learning to love dumb people (like me)