Driven to Distraction: What to Do When Your Spouse Doesn’t Listen

One of the most frustrating issues to face in marriage is having a spouse who doesn’t seem to listen to you. And it’s a common problem; many spouses complain that their husband or wife just doesn’t retain important information–even to the point of not remembering it was discussed in the first place.

If this sounds like your marriage, don’t worry; there are several mindset shifts and strategies you can use to improve the situation and get yourself heard when it’s most critical. Want to know more? Read on.

Remember that your spouse probably isn’t tuning you out on purpose

Chances are, your spouse doesn’t really mean to let the things you say slip. In today’s busy culture, it’s very likely that he or she is often multitasking. Trying to get multiple things done at once can make it incredibly difficult to retain the things we hear. It’s just like adding one more plate to the dozen your spouse is already spinning.

It’s also true that spouses tend to listen differently; it just depends on each of your personalities and can be influenced by everyday stressors. Sometimes it’s just a matter of giving your spouse time to hear what you’re saying, process it, and absorb the information. It might seem to you like they’re distracted or only half-listening (if they appear to be listening at all), but maybe their brain is just processing the information.

Some couples who face communication difficulties are dealing with a gender issue (but not always). Stereotypically (and physiologically) speaking, men tend to have a harder time retaining things they’ve been told–but stereotypes don’t always hold true. Depending on your unique situation, your wife might actually have a harder time honing in than you do.

While there will be some cases where a spouse makes a conscious decision not to listen, most of the time, there are outside factors influencing their ability to focus or retain what you’ve said. Keeping this in mind can help you keep your responses to it in check.

Evaluate your approach and make any needed adjustments

Naturally, we get frustrated and even angry when we feel like someone isn’t listening to us–particularly someone as intimate as our spouse. This can color the way we respond to their seeming inability to hear or remember things we’ve said. But even though we may be justifiably upset, it’s still important to tread carefully.

If you’re feeling upset with your spouse, give yourself time to cool down before you approach them about the issue. Making angry demands will be counterproductive; it could actually cause your spouse to tune you out. If you’ve approached them this way in the past, it’s time to try a different avenue.

Putting your important communication in writing can be helpful if your spouse has trouble retaining things sometimes. If you’re particularly worried he or she might not get the message if you verbalize it, write it down. You can choose to put the details on paper, or you can drop a note somewhere where they’ll find it easily simply asking them to talk when they have a free moment (like on their work desk, by the computer, taped to the bathroom mirror, or something similar).

Be careful not to use notes as a way to avoid other forms of communication. Instead, think of them as a safety net. Your spouse might simply retain information better by reading than listening, and that’s okay. But you still might need to have discussions surrounding the items on your notes.

Another thing to consider is your individual communication styles. If your spouse is straightforward and to-the-point verbally, but you tend to ramble and talk around topics, your spouse’s mind might wander. Let’s say this is the case; if it is, you might have to actively adjust your communication style in certain situations when you need your spouse to hear and retain something important.

Carefully frame the moments when you need their undivided attention

Framing the crucial moments when you need your spouse to be fully present with you when you’re speaking can help you feel heard. Don’t be afraid to ask for their full attention at times like these.

You can say something like, “I have an important question for you, and I need to know you’ve heard me.” You could also ask for them to weigh in: “I need your input on something. Is this a good time to talk?”

If your spouse is highly task-oriented and you find it challenging to get their attention, you could say, “Hey, when you’re ready to talk, there’s something I need to focus on.” Rather than springing something important on them when they’re in the middle of a task, you’ll give them the opportunity to get into the right mindset to truly listen.

Does your spouse have a hard time listening or retaining important things you tell them? What are some constructive ways you use to approach the situation? We’d love to hear from you in the comments section.


  • Maud Makoni says:


  • Shauntel says:

    I have a hard time remembering things all the time. Me and my husband have our own business. A business that demands all of my time more than his. He gets frustrated with me because he remembers every detail of romance and love he gives and I don’t. So when I say he’s hasn’t done something he tends to argue with me and reminds me. It’s not that I don’t love and cherish him because I do. How do I remember so that I don’t make him feel like what he is doing doesn’t go unnoticed.

    • Laura Lea says:

      You could try keeping a journal and writing down the date and the things he does before you go to bed. And then if you forget one thing, you can tell him, I’m sorry I forgot that! But you know, I do remember this and this and this. And then you can express your heart toward him in a way you know he can receive, like taking his hand or rubbing his shoulder, or looking him in the eyes, or offering to do something for him.

  • Stephen Chu says:

    Thanks, you guys are great, and help lots of people. I am your reader and bought your books. However, since Theology and Science divorce since 5th century, Seminary don’t teach and talk about science anymore, pastors, Christians don’t or rarely learn, or apply physical’s scientific knowledge to their Biblical learning. We missed a lot of God’s creation knowledge.

    Psychology and counseling too, most of them based on phychological studies only. It’s alas for all of them.

    Left and right brain function differently is the 1981 Nobel prize winner by Rober Sperry.

    Physically difference is not stereotype only, it is the most basic differences.

    Women have the interesting and ability to talk (details, details, details that drive men crazy, sometimes, most of the times), men are not interesting and no ability to listen. If any one who knows women talk with both brain, and men only left brain functioning (males right brain is not functioning while talking).

    Besides, male’s right brain “shrink”, and communication cells were killed during 8-18 weeks of pregnancy, which including “relationship” function, these all cause males problem in communication.

    However, bain is plastic, and males right brain is not totally damaged, if they want, they can learn to change. If they had known the reason why the way they were, wouldn’t they want to learn to change more?

  • Vernon Brant says:

    Thanks for the solid advice. I recently listened to some teaching by Tim Downs (CommGuys) on communication styles and listening styles. We need to know our style as well as our spouses if we are to be good communicators

  • Merry says:

    I was having this exact problem of feeling like my spouse was never listening to me. He would ask me a question and I would answer. Then a few minutes later he would ask me the same question. It made me feel like he didn’t love me enough to listen and care. But I read a book called Is It You, Me ,or Adult ADD. It talked about this and many more problems that we were experiencing. It was an eye opener. When I realized that it was really a brain issue, it changed my perspective.

    • Stephen Chu says:

      a couple of books will help you understand yourself and your man: The Female Brain, the Male Brain both by Luann Brizendine; Brain Sex; and The Essential Difference, Simon Baron-Cohen. After you read all of them, you’ll totally know your husband the way he is.

      • Corey says:

        There is no significant difference between “male and female brains” and there is far more variety among each sex than between them. This is confirmed over and over again by scientists and study notes/scientific journals are easily found online if you look for them. Stop implying to these women that their husbands are not responsible for their disrespectful and flippant behavior “because our brains are just different,” it’s pseudoscience and it’s lies.

        The lie of “brain sex” has been used to argue that women are less competent and less suited to valuable roles than men for centuries. It’s all made up, sexist, and lazy. Educate yourself.

        • Polly Styrene says:

          Thank you Corey. So much is due to poor listening skills, and laziness in my view – or possibly some sort of pathology, if your spouse persistently fails on certain tasks. I encounter the situation often where I take the time to explain a task or specific and get brushed off -with irritation/annoyance- as if I am implying incompetence by providing instructions, and then he fails in the task. It is no partnership. So much wasted effort and frustration that could so easily be avoided. He may be irritated by the instructions that he fails at, but I am irritated enough to just not want to deal with it anymore. Either do it myself or enjoy peace as a single.

  • Tom Day, MA, LPC-S says:

    One day in 1952 when I was taking my first psychology class at Norwalk (OH) Bible Institute, my Professor came in one day all excited! He read to the class a new journal article defining many biological differences between male and female brains. This intrigued me, so in many courses since, I have kept abreast with the latest research of the day.. My newest course on the bio / psycho / social/ spiritual issues will be this week at Ashland (OH) Theological Seminary’s Summer Institute. Keep reading, there is increasing new information .

  • Carol Ann Buchanan says:

    Great information everyone! Thank you for sharing! We highly recommend Les and Leslie Parrott’s book Love Talk and their Deep Love Assessment. They are couple communication game-changers! We are using this material in a small group setting as there’s a dvd and workbooks.

  • Great adbvice! Communication takes skill and intentionality but pays off in blessings!

  • Troy says:

    Wow. This really hits home. My wife walked out on me a year ago. We are in contact and still married. However, it seems near impossible to get her to communicate openly and effectively. I’m sharing this with her in hopes that it will give her some insight as it has me. Thank you so much

  • M says:

    My partner and I have a great relationship. He seems to be listening, but yesterday he put my life at risk but not listing to my very clear, verbal commands on how this event needed to talk place so no one was hurt. Up until the time we hoped out of the car I STRESSED we MUST stick to this plan. Well he did his own thing as soon as we started and it ended terribly. These issues of not listing are becoming worse. Should I have him checked for a mental issue or is he truly, not flat out listing? Please Help

  • Linda says:

    Corey, above, is right. There is no difference between male & female brains. This myth has long been promulgated by (mostly) male ‘authorities’, therapists, etc. seeking to further enable men for their actions or lack therof. Males, by and large, (and specifically husbands) are too easily distracted, have short attention spans and distinct memory problems. All dismissed by aforementioned enablers as “typical, genetic male behavior”. BS! It is simply a way for husbands to zone out and tune out the voice of their partners which, to them, is nothing more than white noise. All of which is infuriating, hurtful, dismissive and humiliating to their partners. Plus it promotes a very real feeling of insecurity on their partners’ part; never truly being certain if their words or instructions or expression of fears and anxieties have been heard, processed, retained and understood. As evidence of my initial statement, note that in the article all means of ‘dealing with this problem and fixing it’ are directed toward the partner. It is the partner who is advised to change THEIR behavior. Not surprising.

    • David says:

      The partner can be male or female…
      Your anger is coloring your judgement.
      If you are verbally attacking your spouse, tuning you out is probably the only way he (women do respond differently to such abuse than men) can cope with the assault.
      Thanks for the article and all the replies.

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