The Nature of Selective Hearing

Wife is annoyed by husband who appears to have selective hearing.

You asked for help with one basic task: take the trash out. But, regrettably, it never got done. When you ask why they didn’t do it, your partner says “I never heard you ask me”. Funny how that works, how your partner didn’t hear the one thing you requested from them. This “selective hearing” is a common sign that communication is failing.

We tend to view selective hearing as a negative, sort of like it’s a character defect. It’s like you’re accusing someone of deliberately not listening. But it’s possible that the real culprit behind your selective hearing might not be a short attention span, it may be the early phases of hearing loss.

What is selective hearing?

You’ve likely had at least one or more situations in your life where someone has accused you of not listening, even if no one specifically used the phrase “selective hearing”. When you miss all the stuff you don’t want to hear but hear everything else, that’s selective hearing. You hear the bit about the chocolate ice cream, but you miss the part about the calories. That sort of thing.

It’s extremely common for people to have selective hearing behavior. However, most research points to males failing to hear their partners more frequently than women.

It might be tempting to draw some social conclusions from that (and the way that individuals are socialized definitely does play into how this behavior is contextualized). But the other part of the equation might have something to do with hearing health. If your “selective hearing” begins to become more common, it might be a hint that you may have undiagnosed hearing loss.

Communication can be impacted by hearing loss

Undiagnosed hearing loss can indeed make communication much more challenging. You’re most likely not surprised by that.

But here’s the thing: in many cases, communication issues are an indication of hearing loss.

Symptoms can be very difficult to notice when hearing loss is in the early phases. Perhaps you start turning the volume up on your tv. You can’t quite hear what your friend is saying when you stop for a drink at your local bar. You probably just presume it’s because of the loud music. And so, besides that, you could go through most of your everyday life without giving much notice to the volume of the world around you. Your hearing can slowly decline because of this. Up to the time you’re having trouble following along with daily conversations, you almost don’t notice.

Your partner is becoming concerned about the health of your hearing

The people close to you will probably be worried. Your family and friends will probably be irritated when they think you’re purposely ignoring what they say. But that frustration often becomes concern when they realize that hearing loss may be the real culprit.

And your partner may want you to find out what’s going on by having you schedule a hearing test.

Your partner’s worry is significant and it’s essential for you to acknowledge that. Have an open discussion with them and accept their help because they care about your well-being and aren’t just irritated with you.

Early hearing loss has a few other indicators

You should watch out for some of the other early warning signs of hearing loss if your selective hearing seems to be getting worse. Some of those signs include:

  • Hearing in crowds is difficult
  • Turning up the volume on your devices
  • Consonants are hard to distinguish
  • When people talk it sounds distant or muffled
  • Requesting that people speak slower and speak up

If you have any of these symptoms, you should call us for a hearing test.

Use ear protection

Protecting your hearing is so essential to preventing hearing loss. Reduce your exposure to noisy settings (or at least wear earmuffs or earplugs when you have to be around noise). Any feathers that you may have ruffled with your selective hearing can be smoothed over by wearing hearing aids to communicate more successfully.

A diminishing attention span will be to blame for the majority of selective hearing incidents in your life. But when you (or somebody around you) observes your selective hearing becoming worse, you might want to take that as an indication that it’s time to have your hearing tested.

The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.