Lost in Translation: Why Your Spouse Isn’t Listening to You

Have you ever tried to communicate with your spouse and it seemed like the message just didn’t get recieved? You tried everything: emailing, texting, using your words, shouting, nonverbal gestures, role play, coloring books, painting, and still nothing seemed to get through. If you’re like me, you’ve probably said to yourself, “I know I’m speaking English.” Chances are, you probably are speaking the correct language and did everything you could to get your point across, they just didn’t hear you. When this happens, it can seem like you are talking to a brick wall, or maybe a room full of empty seats.

When we speak to our spouses, the one thing we want to walk away with is knowing we’ve been heard AND we need proof. Unfortunately, “of course babe, yeah honey, or ok,” is not enough. We want to see action. When we say to our spouses, “I would like more affection,” the very next day, or the next moment, we expect a long hug or to feel the touch of their hand. We all of a sudden begin to feel good about the communication because it shows we were heard.

However, what happens if actions don’t follow after we’ve expressed a concern? It can have a huge impact on our confidence. Sometimes we begin to have doubts about our efforts. We question if our spouse cares or we may just shut down altogether to avoid that “slap in the face” for vulnerability. Don’t lose hope. Being unheard isn’t always your fault. There are other reasons.

Here are 5 Reasons Your Spouse Probably Didn’t Hear You…

1. Lack of Comprehension Skills

Learning disabilities are a “thing” and a very common reason why people misunderstand one another. There’s truth to the saying, “I say tomato and he says, tomoto.” While some may be able to read the story, they may not be able to tell you the main point of the story. This is a big deal when communicating with others. The brain is a very complex muscle and depending upon what happened to your spouse in utero or early childhood, it is likely that those cognitive skills didn’t develop appropriately. Get tested. It never hurts to know you or your spouse’s actual IQ. You may learn that the way you two understand the world, is drastically different.

2. Adult Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, predominately inattentive type (ADHD)

Children are not the only group of people who struggle with lack of attention span or poor impulse control. Adults have this problem as well and many of them are misdiagnosed or undiagnosed.

Symptoms include extreme forgetfulness, inflated reaction to trigger words, cutting a person off in mid-sentence, inability to follow clear and precise directions or a need for step by step instructions. An example of this would include, having a simple request to take out the trash, and instead of it getting done in that moment, it may take a day or two to get the request fulfilled. This is because your spouse probably needed you to be precise and say, “Please take out the trash, right now or at 3:30pm.” Similarly, he or she probably also needed an alarm, a schedule book, or a constant reminder. As annoying as it is, it’s not personal.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or ADHD is a mental health condition that is best treated by behavior modifications, constant stimuli and lots of structure and sometimes, medication. An explanation of such a disorder is that the frontal lobe of the brain was possibly distorted during development by premature use of drugs or alcohol, or physical trauma. Be specific and consistent at all times or be prepared to put a check mark on your spouse’s behavior chart.

3. Lack of empathy

Empathy is described as having the ability to feel what another person is feeling by putting oneself in their shoes. This is a very tricky task for a lot of people, especially those who’s needs were met their entire life and they didn’t have to master meeting the needs of others. Some parents, (especially mothers with their sons) tend to give their children everything. They want their children to have what they didn’t have. They also don’t want their children to experience setbacks, pain or hardships, so they coddle them. This is dangerous and highly ineffective when it comes to “adult-children” learning to love someone else. This lack of empathy decreases their ability to listen or see others as having needs. Sometimes, they can be unintentionally dismissive or have a tendency to downplay serious emotions until it’s their own. So, if you’re married to a “momma’s boy,” or a “kept daughter,” Good luck!

4. Shame

One of the hardest things for a lot of people to do is humble themselves and admit that they don’t know everything. Many people go into relationships thinking they have all the answers and they know what their spouse needs better than their spouse does. That logic couldn’t be more wrong. However, instead of acknowledging that their spouse is the only expert on themselves, they dismiss the entire idea. The shame of not knowing everything takes over the communication and the spouse goes unheard. An example of this would be, a wife likes making love in a particular way, yet her husband is convinced that he’s doing a great job because it seemed pleasing to his previous partner. So, instead of listening to his wife’s needs, he’s ashamed that he may not be the lover he thought he was. Therefore, he continues making love the way he knows how. As a result, the sex continues to be a poor experience for the wife all because the husband’s shame wouldn’t allow him to put his pride aside and listen. Don’t be this type of spouse. Be humble, sit down…

5. Filters

Communication is best understood in two ways: what we actually said and what the person heard us say. People hear or listen to others based on their filters. A filter in communication is described as the singling out of a trigger word and responding to it based on trauma, abuse, an insecurity, neglect or grief.

An example of this would be, a wife says to her husband, “You never put gas in my car anymore…” Her husband’s response is, “Oh, so you’re saying I’m a bad husband, huh? Well, leave if you’re unhappy.” His filter word is probably “never” and is clearly based on an insecurity. Underneath it all, he somehow believes that he’s a bad husband, although his wife was very specific about him not putting gas in the car, not the marriage.

The best way to handle this is to address the insecurity and make the connection for your spouse that what was said, was very different than what was heard.

While communication should be the easiest thing in the world, it’s the most complicated because we all bring something different to the relationship. Be mindful of your spouse’s learning and communication style. Avoid being judgmental. Who knew that a picture book just might save your marriage.

This post was written to provide insight and improve communication skills in relationships.

Nya B is a licensed mental health clinician, public speaker, professor and author.

To learn more, follow Nya B on IG @author_nya_b or check out her website http://www.nya-b.com

2 thoughts on “Lost in Translation: Why Your Spouse Isn’t Listening to You

  1. I love the breakdown of different reasons why couples are lost in translation. The first thought when the spouse isn’t doing what we want them to do is that the other is selfish or my favorite “ we come from different worlds”. Not that it’s something deeper than that.

    Liked by 1 person

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