Why Won’t My Husband Listen?

In their book, Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age, authors Maggie Jackson and Bill McKibben do a wonderful job of explaining how attention works. In marriages, there’s a continuing argument that men can only do one thing at a time and women are good multi-taskers. I have heard some women say, “I can watch TV, read a book, vacuum, and cook dinner at the same time all with a baby on my hip.” Well, I haven’t heard that exact thing but pretty close.

What would Jackson and McKibben say? It is impossible to do more than one thing at a time. Can we multi-task? Sure. Particularly if it’s a simple task, but splitting one’s focus between two things demotes both to half a priority each. If a task requires half of your brain and the second tasks requires the other half, then you can’t do a third effectively. You can’t optimally talk, steer your car, and watch for oncoming traffic at the same time. 

What do men like to do? We like to focus and this causes some marital problems. If he’s watching the game, get his attention first. Don’t expect that he will hear every word you say as soon as you begin to speak. He’ll hear something at the second word. He’ll realize it’s you by the sixth. Then, by the tenth word, he knows he can expect an earful about why he’s not listening. 

Biologists say that this is brought up from our hunting years when we had to kill our food. Lots of effort and focus required. So don’t blame men. Blame science.