In our life BC (before children) my husband and I used to read the Sunday paper together. We stretched out on either end of our sectional sofa and chose the pieces of the paper we liked to read. Then, while drinking our coffee, we would quietly read to ourselves. Every few minutes, one of us would say, “Listen to this” and interrupt the other person to share an interesting or funny part of the paper. It didn’t matter that the other person would be reading that same section in a few minutes. It was too good for it to wait.

After our kids were born, we somehow got away from our quiet Sunday mornings. The paper is only used for the ads, coupons and as stuffing in a box we are shipping.

I thought we had lost that art of listening to the interruption until last night. My husband turned on the TV at 6:00 to watch the election results and stayed there for hours. I made dinner, did laundry and then sat down to work on a genealogy project that I am doing for a Christmas gift (blog post for another day). We were both pretty involved in what we were doing.

As the night went on and we each discovered something new, we would stop what we were doing and share it with the other person. He would say, “Did you hear that?” although he knew I was not listening. I would stop what I was doing and look up to wait for him to rewind some commentator’s take on the results. I would nod my head in agreement and go back to my research. A few minutes later, I would say “Oh my God! You won’t believe what I found.” He would pause the election results to listen as I explained my relationship to someone who has been dead for 150 years. He would give an enthusiastic “wow” or “cool” and then go back to watching TV. This went on for the rest of the night.

I think we both knew that the other person was only mildly interested in what we were telling them. We made an effort to stop, look and listen, if only for a few minutes because we knew our attention was important to our spouse. When you hear something, be it a story, news report or if something happens to you, who is the first person you want to tell? For me, it is my husband and vice versa.

We have worked out a system over the years that allows us to listen and hear only the enthusiasm in our spouse’s voice, but maybe not the actual information. Conversely, we also know when we hear anger, frustration, fear, etc. and when they need our undivided attention. As crazy as it might sound to someone else, it has worked for us for the last 20 years. It is one of those secrets of a good marriage that no one tells you about. However, I think that leaves us both open to surprise when the other person says, “I told you that the other day” (when you were on the phone, computer, helping the kids with their homework). I guess every system can use some work.