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My wife doesn't pay attention to anything she's doing or what is happening around her.

For example: she doesn't pay attention to holes, pits, and ledges when we're out and she's pushing our son's stroller. I repaired the front wheels two times each because she doesn't pay attention to where she's pushing the stroller nor the direction of the front wheels when going down a ledge.

She forgets to open the front door after buzzing the gate open for me when I leave my keys inside. She opens the gate and goes back to whatever she's doing despite the intercom being right next to the door. And I have to ring again so she comes and opens the door.

She don't tighten the lids or caps on anything. Medicine, sauce bottles, jars, creams... We've lost numerous bottles of sauce and medicine because the cap is only lightly turned to the point it sticks but when you pull it out it falls and smashes on the floor. 

She trips over any and every thing on the floor. Including my feet, power cords, little tables.... 

If we're walking in the street and I trip and fall or cross the street she doesn't notice I'm not there until I yell to her or she turns around some 10 meters away.  

She doesn't plug in her phone in the charger all the way in and leaves it without checking that it's charging.  

She doesn't put out her cigarette correctly in the ashtray and leave it smoldering and I have to put it out to keep the smoke from getting in my eyes. 

She places the cups down flat on the counter after doing the dishes so they never dry out. 

I have to check everything in the house before going out to check the stove, the clothes iron, water heater, TV... 

She forgot the stove on and put a plastic tray of cutlery after washing them and we got out, we're lucky it didn't start a fire. 

She banged her head on a kitchen shelf knocking it and everything on it smasking on the floor and we lost all our mason jars with all the food that was in them. 

And many many other small things.  

I know all those things are insignificant but alot is alot.  How can I tell her to pay more attention without coming off as an a-hole?

  • Do you know why she is like that? Have you asked her about it? – XtremeBaumer May 17 at 13:52
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    What's actually your goal here? Your question title is about how you can ask her to pay more attention, but in that comment you say you've already done so and it doesn't help. What are you hoping to achieve? – Chris H May 17 at 14:16
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    Maybe you can discard other medical issues first. When you have a chat with her, can she resume the conversation a couple of hours later? Her eyesight is fine? What she says whenever you try to talk to her about any of these issues? She has been like this since you know her? – Santiago May 17 at 16:04
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    If it were as easy as "just paying more attention" it's likely she would have already done it. There's likely some other cause, either mental or emotional, underlying this issue. – Erik May 17 at 17:42
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    In the title, a better verb than "tell" would be "ask". Even better would be "help". – Euchris May 19 at 13:43
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What is your problem?

I'm not insinuating there is no problem, but you need to change how you phrase the thing that's bothering you.

Based on your question and how it is phrased, if I were to ask you to tell me what your problem is, you would likely say something along the lines of:

My wife can be a bit absentminded.

That is not a problem. It is a complaint. You don't get to call someone else's actions a problem, nor can you judge their character and then somehow force them to agree with your assessment and change because you tell them to.

What you can call a problem, is the negative impact something has on you. And this is what I'm trying to get to. You can only address a problem that you encounter in your life.

A better explanation of the problem would be:

It is stressful for me to have to continually check up on my wife because she be making absentminded mistakes.

This is something you can address, because it's a concrete issue. It doesn't judge your wife, it simply states the undeniable fact that you feel uncomfortable having to doublecheck everything.

This is something you can work at together, and find agreeable solutions to. It's not up to me to tell you what that solution is, that's between you and your wife.

But for the sake of example, you could agree that your wife will take more care with avoiding dangerous situations (e.g. fire hazards), and you agree to not sweat the little things (if her phone's not charged, that's her problem).

This will always be a compromise

You cannot expect your wife to live life to your standards. She is an absentminded person, and she cannot (and should not) spend the rest of her life forcing herself to be what you want her to be instead.
Instead, you should focus on how to live with an absentminded person. Look for simple solutions, e.g. post it notes (e.g. next to the intercom, reminding her to open the door).

A practical example

Personally, my soon-to-be wife is similarly absentminded, but maybe not to the same degree. For example, she turns on the lights (and other electrical devices) everywhere but never turns any off. After years of asking her to not leave things on all the time, I've now resorted to checking the lights before I go to bed, and reminding her once in a while. Over time, she has gotten better at it.

For example, I don't get upset that she leaves some lights on, but when she leaves the fridge door open, I do remind her that she left it open. In this case, it's not just a matter of a minor electrical cost but rather the spoilage of a week's worth of groceries, which is a significant financial impact, big enough to prompt her to not make that mistake. I don't need to get upset, because she understands that it's not okay to leave the fridge door open.
She cannot prevent her absentmindedness and there's no point in me getting upset with something that she cannot change.

I don't get upset at it, because at the same time, I do things that annoy her, and she quietly works around those annoyances. Living together means making compromises, and working around each other's quirks.
If there are things that you cannot work with, you need to address it together and find a solution that works for the both of you.

But do take note that if you address every little thing you've listed in your question, it's going to become overbearing and you will be less successful than if you only address the most important parts, and learn to forgive and work around the unimportant parts of her absentmindedness.

Improvise. Adapt. Overcome.

Just some ideas that came to mind when reading your question.

She forgets to open the front door after buzzing the gate open for me when I leave my keys inside. She opens the gate and goes back to whatever she's doing despite the intercom being right next to the door. And I have to ring again so she comes and opens the door.

As mentioned before, a post-it note next to the intercom would do wonders. You can also just remind her when she answers the intercom.

She don't tighten the lids or caps on anything. Medicine, sauce bottles, jars, creams... We've lost numerous bottles of sauce and medicine because the cap is only lightly turned to the point it sticks but when you pull it out it falls and smashes on the floor.

If your issue is that things are falling because the lids are loose; you shouldn't be picking things up by the lid to begin with. Hold the bottle, not the lid, and you won't risk having it fall.

This isn't even necessarily always caused by your wife. Thermal variations can cause metal lids to expand and contract, which loosens the lid (also a good tip for when you can't open a jar: hot water on the lid).
I'm not saying that this is what's happening for you; but my point is that even if you didn't have an absentminded wife, it's still possible for lids to be looser than you left them. Don't hold things by their lids.

She trips over any and every thing on the floor. Including my feet, power cords, little tables....

Open spaces and walkways. Don't leave cables lying around.

If we're walking in the street and I trip and fall or cross the street she doesn't notice I'm not there until I yell to her or she turns around some 10 meters away.

Are you tripping and falling often enough that this is a recurring problem? One could argue that you're similarly clumsy since you just mentioned that your wife often trips over things.

Tell her when you cross the street. When I'm out walking with my fiancée, she is blind to non-verbal cues (e.g. me turning towards the street to cross it), even when this means she bumps into me. So I've adapted to telling her "crossing here" when I change direction.
She's used to it now and I can interject it in the middle of conversation and she'll follow suit. She's genuinely blind to non-verbal cues so it makes sense to then use verbal cues.

She doesn't plug in her phone in the charger all the way in and leaves it without checking that it's charging.

That sounds like her problem. If she gets upset that her phone isn't charged, she should've doublechecked the cable.

There are also wireless charging options available which would avoid the same issue. Assuming she puts the phone on the charging pad.

She doesn't put out her cigarette correctly in the ashtray and leave it smoldering and I have to put it out to keep the smoke from getting in my eyes.

Self extinguishing ashtrays exist. For a cheaper solution, put some water in the ashtray so that any butt that lands in it is extinguished.

She places the cups down flat on the counter after doing the dishes so they never dry out.

You can kindly and slowly help her change this habit. If she's willing to relearn it, it's simply a matter of reminding her (without getting upset) that she's forgotten it again.
This is a matter of relearning a habit. It takes time, and you can kindly act as a reminder for her until she's gotten used to it.

If a visual reminder helps, put a dishrack on the counter which reminds her to put the glasses in upside down. Or even a post-it note could do the trick.

I have to check everything in the house before going out to check the stove, the clothes iron, water heater, TV...
She forgot the stove on and put a plastic tray of cutlery after washing them and we got out, we're lucky it didn't start a fire.

I do agree that absentmindedness that causes hazards should be habits that she relearns. But you can't relearn a habit overnight, and if you approach it with a combative tone, you're preventing her from relearning the habit. You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.

Check up after her, and remind her if she's forgotten something. It helps if you get her to go and fix the problem (compared to you doing it for her), because the physical interaction will eventually become muscle memory to her.

Additionally, if it's not already the case: smoke detectors and a small fire extinguisher.

She banged her head on a kitchen shelf knocking it and everything on it smasking on the floor and we lost all our mason jars with all the food that was in them.

First of all, I wouldn't believe that someone would do this on purpose, or willfully negligently, so I'm not keen on attributing blame here. I'm also quite surprised at how seemingly easy your shelf falls down from a nudge.

Secure your shelf. Add a railing to it. If all else fails, don't put your glassware high off the ground.

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Maybe to a lesser degree but I am like the woman described by the OP. I even read it twice to convince myself that it was not about me. The following answer is given for the case in which the woman in the OP has a similar situation like mine.

Truth be told, all that is described in the OP are mere trifles. I don't know what your wife does for her living, or what she cares about, but in my case it is a matter of paying attention to trivialities that my partner could take care of, if he were not so self-absorbed and self-righteous, or if he were paying attention to the greater picture. Anyway, no one is perfect, and we strive to find a good compromise.

Just to clarify I am involved in several multidisciplinary projects that profoundly affect our community and the region where I live. These projects may have a deeper impact at the national level too, and set standards for many decades to come. To me, forgetting one jar open on the kitchen table is of much less importance than to make a mental note of some detail I may need to check the next day at work.

Based on my experience, before blaming your wife for not being the perfect robot you thought, maybe you could:

  1. enquire if there is any thoughts troubling her;

Is there some thought troubling you?

  1. offer to help with her more pressing concerns, if you have the knowledge and skills to do so;

Can I be of help with the thought that is troubling you?

  1. be pro-active: offer to push the stroller, check that the jars are closed, suggest a road without potholes.

Let me push the stroller today. Let's take this road, a new path will be a good change. All good, my dear.

  1. avoid being taxing: this just adds to the pile of concerns that she may have, and it will end at the bottom of the list, from where she will find a moment to say 'I am sorry', but it will take an eternity to truly and thoroughly process your complaint. The more complaints about trifles, the more stress added, the less they get processed. This is how I found that my mind works. In the end I just ignore them. I am not saying that I am right in doing so, but that it does not help in the long run of finding a healthy compromise.

I am sorry if I complained earlier. I fixed the things. If you need help with something, just let me know. I am here for you.

  1. reconsider your scale of priorities: strollers can be repaired, jars can be closed, mason pottery can be acquired again. Vexing a person to achieve a standard that you impose may have consequences that are beyond your control, and beyond your desire. A life companion is not easily repaired, or replaced.

You are most important to me. If you need my assistance, I am always here for you.

(It would be lovely to hear any of these, any time).


TL;DR: if these 'shortcomings' are important to you, then be pro-active and fix them on your own in your time; be understanding, be helpful; she may have her own more pressing matters in mind, give her a healthy stress-free environment to tackle her thoughts first.

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I'm also someone who can be a bit clumsy and out of it at times. Even though I try to be careful, I still have my moments, it's how I am. My partner has learned to not be as aggravated when it happens, and to pick the moments he decides to bring my forgetfulness to my attention (like inadvertently leaving the fridge's door slightly open for example). No one likes breaking strollers, jars, or hurting themselves by banging their heads. She's probably just clumsy, and busy with other stuff which are taking her valuable attention and will power. She also probably doesn't like it, and you nagging her about it doesn't help.

So if you wish to have a big talk with her and not coming of as a jerk, start with reframing all this in your head from "if she just paid attention" to "she's not doing it on purpose, and it must be hard for her too". Then, have a discussion about how to best live together (instead of putting everything on her).

1. Ask yourself some questions (and her)

Has she always been this clumsy and/or forgetful ? Has anything changed ? For example, I know I'm at my clumsiest when I'm stressed, don't get enough sleep, have my mind busy with too many things,...

Could it be stress at work, or is it home ? Is she the primary caretaker of your child ? Does she have a lot on her plate, and is it possible that she's so busy she isn't paying attention to small stuff anymore ? Or is it sleep deprivation ? Do you help out at home and/or with your child ? Could you do more ?

Also, don't hesitate to check in with her, see if she's stressed or overwhelmed. Ask her if you can help with something, if there's a task that you could take over that would help her. No need to mention her clumsiness then, these are things that everyone seeing their partner struggle should do (and her being this clumsy and forgetful is a clear sign of struggle to me).

Last, think about what you could learn to live with, and what you couldn't. Think about what you can do to avoid those situations (and set her up for success so to speak), and what you wish she truly tries to pay attention to.

2. Have a discussion about how you'll handle things from now on, and follow through

Offer her your support, your understanding, your empathy. Tell her you know she's not doing this stuff on purpose. Depending on how you've reacted in the past, apologize for it. Tell her you don't want to keep nagging at her (or scream, or whatever your default reaction is) and you want to be happy and safe together. Ask her about her own feelings and thoughts about those incidents. Hear her out.

Then you can each say what your expectations are for the other person. For example, you might say you'll make an effort to take your keys and pick up jars by the jar and not the lid, but you wish that she is more alert when out on the street. She might agree but tell you she wants more of your help in other areas and ask of you not to be mad when she is clumsy. I cannot draw the line for you, this should be the conclusion of one or several discussions. The important thing is to approach her with kindness and the belief she is trying, hear her out and find solutions together.

3. Discard any medical issue

The amount of incidents could be an indication of some medical issue, so I would ask her to see someone. Tell her you're worried about her and you want to make sure there's nothing more sinister going on here. Be sure you don't come of as saying "you're so spastic there must be something wrong with you" but more in the spirit of "this has gotten worse lately and I want to make sure you're healthy".

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