I have been married for 42 years. I have one daughter and two grandsons.
Lately something has been really bugging me. Every time I start a conversation with my hubby he seems to be in never-never land. I think he is listening because he is looking at me. I can be talking about finances, or anything for that matter, and he'll butt right in and say something that is off topic, like "Guess who I saw today?" Then he'll say "What were you saying?" I find it really rude. I tried talking to him but he tells me that if he doesn't say it right away he'll forget it later." I'm talking about where we should be investing money and he's thinking about who he saw today. And then he says "That's the way I am." What do you think?
Irebel, 61-year-old woman
You are 61. I assume your husband is somewhat older, or about your age. It is therefore possible that he has started sliding into dementia. That does happen to many people. So, if this is the case, he is not rude but has genuinely slipped into a state where your speech is just sound without meaning for him. It is therefore a good idea for him to be appropriately assessed. If he is indeed losing cognitive abilities, nowadays there is quite a bit that can be done to slow this, perhaps to stop it, even to reverse it, so the earlier it's done the better.
How to get him to agree to an assessment? If you have a family doctor, confide your worry to that person, get your husband to make an appointment for some other supposed reason, then let the doctor confront him and recommend testing. If you don't have a connection to a doctor, some other person he respects such as a pastor or a suitable relative may be a good ally. If all else fails, you can record one or two such conversations, then play them back to him, with love and caring. Tell him you are worried he may be losing it, but there is hope of treatment if he urgently does something about it.
Mind you, many men develop the habit of switching off as soon as their wife starts talking in a serious tone of voice, without having lost any of their abilities. This may be because of ongoing stress at work. He comes home, needing to relax for awhile, and is hit with the stresses of home life. When this kind of thing puts stress on a relationship, I teach my client a few tricks.
1. Deliberately schedule time for fun together. For perhaps the past 20 - 30 years, he may have come to associate conversations between the two of you with family business. So, you can weaken this link by establishing new, enjoyable things you will talk about. You know what his interests are, or what new things he may become interested in, and lead him to share them with you.
2. Typically, long-term problems are maintained by the solutions people use to try and fix them. So, whatever you have been doing needs changing. For example, if your habit is to bring up serious business when there seems to be an opportunity for it, now do it by saying something like, "Henry dear, (or whatever his name is), after dinner today I would be grateful for your attention for half an hour. You and I need to make some financial decisions together, and this needs full concentration from both of us." That is, actually schedule a formal meeting.
3. Currently, I am sure there are several sources of tension between the two of you, not only this one. Tell him you are somewhat unhappy, and you can see that his life needs improvement too, and that one session with a psychologist or relationship counselor can clear this up. Again, as with the possible dementia, if he doesn't agree, find some other neutral person to "chair" a meeting; someone he respects. Then, with this person present, offer a trade. You will find some changes you are willing to make that will make his life better in some way. You make the offer, and he then helps you to fine tune it so, insofar as you are successful, his life will indeed improve. You then ask him to be your helper. When you manage to do things the right way, he will show his appreciation. When you slip back into the old way, he is not to react like he used to, but simply give you a gentle, loving reminder that you have slipped back.
Naturally, this works both ways. Next, he needs to make an offer that's about the same level of difficulty, and will improve your life. The two of you fine tune it, then he asks you to be his helper in the same way. This converts two sources of conflict into opportunities for cooperation, mutual kindness, and fun together. It doesn't matter if his initial offer is something other than listening to you when you say something serious, because when the first trade works, people extend it to new issues. It is important not to convert the offer into a demand though. You cannot suggest to him what his offer should be.
4. I have quite a lot of good information at http://bobswriting.com/psych/relationships.html . Read it, and if you can, get him to read it too.
5. Read any of the self-help books by John Gottman.