The scenario is always the same: You want to talk, and your husband is watching TV or sitting at the computer. You begin to tell him a story or ask him a question and he mumbles, “Mmmhmm” or worse, doesn’t answer. You feel invisible, and he’s annoyed that you’re interrupting him. It’s the classic “tune out” and we’ve all been there. But how do you get your partner to pay attention and listen to what you have to say? We asked relationship expert and America’s Love Doctor, Terri Orbuch, Ph.D., for advice that really works.
Pick the right time and place
“Timing is everything and you need to ditch the distractions,” says Dr. Terri. “Trying to talk when your husband is watching a football game, or right before you go to bed, is probably not the best idea.” Oftentimes, Dr. Terri says, the conversation is more about us than the other person. We want to talk about something that’s on our mind, so we want to do it right away, when it’s convenient for us. But it might not be convenient for the other person.
Get Listened To: Pick a time and place that is quiet with no other people around. Perhaps it’s at dinnertime. Or maybe it’s on a walk around your neighborhood. Another great strategy; have a conversation when you’re going somewhere in the car together. “Men like to solve problems side by side, like when they’re in the car, while women like to solve them face to face,” she says.
Consider Your Words
“Men and women hear things differently,” says Dr. Terri. “Women like to talk as a way to bond and connect, and like getting everything out. Men can hear the same thing as a problem and immediately think, ‘What did I do?’"
Get Listened To: Before you launch into what you want to talk about, try starting with a positive statement. “Saying something first to your husband like, ‘Your work is going really well,’ or ‘Thanks for helping out yesterday,’ opens the door and helps men relax, which means they’ll be more open to the rest of the conversation,” she says.
Use "I" Statements, Not "You" Statements
Saying things like, “You always ignore me,” or “You never put your clothes away,” puts a person on the defensive—it’s accusatory to them.
Get Listened To: It’s better to say, “I feel stressed when you leave your clothes on the floor,” or “It hurts my feelings when I try to talk and am not listened to.” Using “I” statements lets the other person know how you feel and how their actions are affecting you.
“We all have a tendency once an argument starts, to bring up everything that is wrong in the relationship and dig up the past," says Dr. Terri. This is "kitchensinking". Doing this only pushes the person to ignore you, and then when you want talk next time, they’ll come to expect kitchensinking and not be attentive to what you're saying.”
Get Listened To: Keep the conversation on track. If you find yourself getting annoyed or angry, take a breath or two to relax. If you think you're veering toward kitchensinking, set aside the conversation and come back to it later, when you're less stressed.
Give Advance Warning
“Men don’t like to be surprised,” says Dr. Terri. If you want to talk about something particular or an issue that's bothering you, say something ahead of time.
Get Listened To: Send an email or text saying you’d like to set aside time to talk. Or even call your spouse to set up a specific time to talk. This helps men get mentally prepared, says Dr. Terri.
Lead By Example
Perhaps this is the most important thing you can do. “A great way to get attention is to give attention,” says Dr. Terri. “It’s the law of reciprocity.” She suggests that your giving affirmation or paying attention when your spouse is talking to you, models good behavior, so they will do the same when the situation is reversed.
Get Listened To: The next time your spouse is talking to you, give him your undivided attention. Turn off the TV or turn away from your book or the computer. The more you act the way you’d like to be treated, the more the message will sink in, and he will start changing his behavior. “It works!” she says. “Maybe not in one day or the first week, but over time, you’ll definitely notice his behavior will change.”