I’m sure most people out there are familiar with the term ‘The Art of Listening’ or have at least encountered it at some stage in their lives. For those who have not it refers to the invaluable skill of being able to hear, and not only to hear but to take that information in, allow the brain to process it and sometimes (not always) react to that information. However sometimes it is not necessary to do anything really, just being there to listen and hear someone can be enough. Other times though it is necessary to do something. And yet, this doesn’t always happen. Some people out there have not yet mastered the art of listening. Yes, I have discovered that there is a highly prevalent but less widely recognised alternative to this art form that is frequently found in relationships, which I like to refer to as ‘The Art of Not Listening’. And husbands in particular, I find, are very skilled in this art form.
Let me give you a little insight into how I first encountered this phenomenon. It all began one uneventful Monday evening when I was in the kitchen preparing dinner for everybody. The roast potatoes and chicken were already in the oven and I was getting ready to put my nut loaf in (see recipe) which I had just made from scratch and had put a great deal of love into. I turned to my lovely husband and told him that I was now running out to my sister’s house to pick up the two ducklings who had been out playing with their cousins. Note that it is just turning 6:00 p.m. and I tell him that I am hoping to be back by 6:30 because (a) everything should be ready by then and (b) I was starving!!
So I stressed to him that no matter what, my nut roast would be done by 6:30 so could he please take it out of the oven, even if we were not back in time. He stood there and nodded vigorously as I explained all of this to him, as if he was hanging on my every word. I was completely reassured that he had all of this in hand and therefore ran out the door to go and fetch them, tummy rumbling all the way.
Of course we did get delayed because I had to have the obligatory chat with my sister and then it took at least ten minutes to get shoes and coats on the two duckies. Aside from the ravenous hunger this didn’t bother me too much because inside I thought “well at this stage he will be putting the food on the plates so all we have to do is sit down when we get in”. Oh I was so naïve… Instead when we got back at 6:45 I walked in to the food still in the oven (which had just been turned off) and no sign of plates or cutlery yet. So immediately alarm bells started to go off in my head. Where was my nut roast?? I walked over to the oven and spotted the black crust that was now covering it and my heart sank.
We sat down and ate dinner in silence and a couple of times he turned to ask me what was wrong. I kept muttering ‘nothing’ under my breath, which I’m sure was extremely frustrating for him at the time, but I really wasn’t in the mood to talk yet. It was later on, after we had gotten the girls bathed and put to bed that we sat down to talk about it again. He asked me was my bad mood something to do with the food being overdone. When I nodded yes, a look of realisation came over him. (Isn’t it so annoying that you always have to explain to them what is wrong with you? They never actually know!!) I told him that I had put a lot of effort into that dinner and had been really looking forward to it. And all he had to do was watch it and make sure that nothing burned.
So I explained that really there were two things going on here:
(1) you don’t recognise when something is important to me and
(2) YOU ARE NOT LISTENING TO ME!!
I know that this might look like an over-reaction, but I have come to realise that it really, really isn’t. Of all the things my husband does that annoys me, this is the one that drives me the craziest. And I have caught him out so many times in the past. I have been in the middle of telling him a story before when I can see this glazed look come over his face as I am talking and I can tell that he has stopped listening. I have even asked him to repeat back to me what I have just said and he starts laughing and admits that he can’t. Ok we can smile about it now but I have told him that it drives me so mad at times that I honestly think that this could split us up quicker than if he came home and said that he was having a torrid affair.
I will hold my hand up though and admit that I am a culprit to it at times too, especially when the kids are around. I get so preoccupied with them that I know I am not listening to half of what he is saying at times. So to conclude, my advice to all the husbands out there is listen to your wives or partners (and vice versa!). It might sound like a small detail but it actually is a very significant one and it could save you the hassle of many unnecessary arguments. Because it turns out that the art of listening is quite a difficult one to master. But we’re working on it…