Often when I'm working on the computer or watching TV, my wife says something to me and I have no clue what she said.

I remember being a kid and repeating "Dad" 30 times before I got his attention.

I feel like I'm working backwards because I worked so hard in high school to block out distractions and focus on my work.

How can I improve on this?

  • Part of it likely has to do with those electronic devices we pay so much attention too. It is social media but does not lead to social people. This might not have been such a problem in times before television.
    – user3169
    Commented Aug 7, 2017 at 19:54
  • Just to mention it, medical conditions (such as alzheimer's disease or dementia) should be ruled out, especially in older persons.
    – user3169
    Commented Aug 7, 2017 at 19:56
  • 1
    I have exactly the opposite problem...Often I am absorbed solving a complex problem, and my wife breaks my though process frequently. I would almost say it´s on purpose, but I know it is her just calling for attention. I cannot complain because I do not want both to offend her, and send the wrong message. It is a part of living with someone else, I guess Commented Aug 9, 2017 at 17:28

3 Answers 3


I believe this can be explained scientifically: Inattentional Deafness: Visual Load Leads to Time-Specific Suppression of Auditory Evoked Responses

If I understand this correctly, this also the reason we lower the volume on the car radio when searching for an address for instance.

Well, this is what I tell my wife in any case; I suffer from selective hearing.

You should be more concerned when you are actively listening to your wife and still don't hear her.


You will have to work with your wife to 'fix' this.

Actually as you already noticed, this is not a problem but collateral damage of a strong suit that you have: Great ability to focus!

In interaction with others there are two steps:

  1. Get the attention of the other you want to receive your message.
  2. Send the message.

For many many people the two steps are so close&intertwined you hardly or not at all see the difference between the two. After the message is sent, it is received, understood, possibly bounced back to check that understanding is complete. Basic communication.

But it all comes down around your ears when step 1. is not there.

So you will have to explain to your wife about step 1. If she wants to communicate with you, first get your attention. Repeating your name more than once would be awkward, yes? So you can agree upon a smooth, unobtrusive way to do it, possibly just a hand on your arm. Something that works for both of you. Something you can equally smooth and unobtrusive acknowledge so real communication can start.

Once this little 1-2 is in place there should never be any hitch again. Hope this helps.

  • 1
    I'm too. Genetic ? I don't know/care in my case :) Background ? maybe, as I trained myself... I'm more than happy because I can heavily focus on almost anything in almost any environment. Never looked for a way out though, hope OP can... My GF ? repeats twice and then calls me "ol' granpa" :)
    – OldPadawan
    Commented Aug 7, 2017 at 10:17
  • 3
    If the spousal unit is really busy with a very important football game or whatever, I actually have to wave my hand in front of his eyes to get his attention. I imagine if it was a Germany-England game I would have to unplug the television to tell him the house was on fire.
    – RedSonja
    Commented Aug 7, 2017 at 12:09
  • 4
    @RedSonja : hack this in 'spousal unit core': if($house_on_fire == true) { $shut_TV_down(on); $run_out(on); exit(); } else { $watch_game(on); }
    – OldPadawan
    Commented Aug 8, 2017 at 14:38
  • 1
    @Bookeater I also am like this but am pretty sure it has nothing to do with genetics. It's a habbit you got used to when you grew up, and you unconsciously took it as something normal, and added it to your behaviour.
    – Rolexel
    Commented Jan 5, 2018 at 9:31
  • 1
    @Alexandre Audin nature or nurture is an old discussion and I cannot but think it just has to be both. Your remark strengthens that thought for me.
    – Bookeater
    Commented Jan 5, 2018 at 12:33

I would not say that this specifically is genetic - I've noticed that some families share this kind of trait but I'm unsure whether to class it as nature over nurture.

Anyway, it certainly is possible to train yourself out of it to a degree, without losing the ability to focus when you need to. Bear in mind that this is not a fault, and your personal training has not been a waste of time - it's an incredibly useful skill to have and you should not be ashamed of it.

I support what Bookeater suggests and would like to add to this. While the easiest way forward is to introduce a specific trigger or switch to grab your attention, I would say that you can make this better by meeting your wife halfway. Here's a few tips I stand by:

Check in

Make a mental note to 'check in' as frequently as you can: while you're busy, try to keep reminding yourself that your wife may require your attention, and check on her periodically. If this is too hard to do initially, you can set an alarm or something.

While this may seem clunky and ineffective, there are two reasons why it's so useful.

  1. You are training yourself to keep her in your mind and constantly keep some of your attention devoted to her.
  2. It stops you from getting too absorbed in what you're doing if it is constantly broken up with small interactions. Obviously not a good thing when you're trying to maximise productivity, but useful in a home environment where you need to spread your attention.

Distract yourself

This works to the same end as the second reason for the above. Try and set yourself a small task to complete periodically to draw your attention away from what you're doing, keeping you from getting too absorbed. It might be irritating at first, but in addition to keeping you from getting lost in what you're doing it will teach you to multitask over time. After continuing the routine for some time, you will discover that you are able to effectively split your attention between the two tasks. Now, this doesn't mean that you're not paying attention to the smaller task, the case should be that you are multitasking. You should find over time that, while performing the main task, you are subconsciously waiting for the next distraction, and it should apply to more than just the specific task you've assigned.

The task that you decide to do is up to you, but it can't be too simple that you can do it without thinking (at least not initially.) A personal favourite was to write out some song lyrics or do a little algebra equation, usually switching between the two. Those should be tricky enough that you have to think about them but not so difficult as to actually take up a lot of your time.

Separate home and work

If possible, try to mentally abstract your home life away from your work life. Establish in your mind that work is a place to be devoted to a single task and completely focused, and home is a place to be relaxed and aware of more than one thing going on. This is particularly hard if you work from home, but otherwise useful!

Some ways to do this could be to try and mentally connect specific objects around the house to a relaxed attitude. It sounds a bit hokey, but if you glance up at the clock and recall, "Ah yes, I need to divide my attention," and use that as a cue to think about what is going on around you, you will end up doing it subconsciously.

Communicate and take your time

As Bookeater says, you may very well want to discuss this with your wife. I would suggest that you let her know your plans and how you hope to achieve your goal, and constantly get feedback from her about how you are doing. She will be the one mainly noticing the change, so her opinion is absolutely vital. Ask her what she thinks is working and for any of her own suggestions.

All these practices may take a while for any change to be noticeable, so keep at it! In the same way that you spent time training yourself to be focused, you will need to spend time moving in the other direction. If you stick to it, though, it will be worth it, I'm sure.

  • Well said. I think your methods for practicing multitasking are great. I will certainly try it out. Not only will that help me in my marriage but work as well. Thanks :)
    – 4mAstro
    Commented Aug 7, 2017 at 20:59
  • @4mAstro No problem! It is a learning process though, so you may want to adjust these ideas according to what you think works for you. Best of luck! Commented Aug 8, 2017 at 7:35
  • Pretty much no one is actually capable of multitasking. Some people just delude themselves into thinking they are good at it. It's something like 1% of people can do it effectively. Doing multiple things at once is a good way of becoming focused on one task, though.
    – Kat
    Commented Jan 6, 2018 at 1:50
  • @Kat I don't follow your point. Commented Jan 7, 2018 at 15:54

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