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Marriage and hearing are hard things to separate

Just recently, for the second time in my life, a health care professional brought me back from the ranks of the hearing-impaired.

And all this person had to do was pour some goop in my right ear, which was left to simmer for a few minutes, then blast it out with a fancy medical-type squirt gun full of hot water. In just seconds I went from being Earl in the “Pickles” comic strip to Mister Super Hearing Guy.

This brought on a tremendous sense of deja vu all over again.

Back in the 1970s, when I was a young reporter, I went to an ear, nose and throat specialist in downtown Portland because I thought I was going deaf. The final resolution at that time, though not drastically different than this go-around, was a little more complicated.

A simple ear wash, back then, was not sufficient. The doctor used an assortment of metal gougers and grabbers to pull what appeared to be chunks of wood out of both ears. It was so embarrassing, it’s taken me about three decades to fess up to having ears that plugged up.

But the result of getting the equivalent of two wine corks plucked from my ears was amazing. I still remember the high hiss that rushed into what the other person who lives at our house describes as “those two beautiful tiny shells you call ears.” It was like the finest stereo ever made had been turned on and I was just waiting for the opening sounds of “Dark Side of the Moon” to begin.

Before I reached this brand new state of wellness and euphoria, though, I had indeed entertained thoughts of gloom and doom. After all, those ears are getting old. And TOPWLAOH and I seem to spend a lot of our time asking the other person to repeat whatever it was they’d just said.

It was after that procedure, then, that I rediscovered an old email from last spring that I’d filed in my “might be worth something some day” file. It was a promotional piece about a book called “Five Signs That Your Loved One May Be Suffering From Hearing Loss.” While it didn’t exactly sound like a page-turner, it did seem to deserve a second look. And it was full of Dr. Phil-type relationship stuff.

“If your loved one walked into the room today with a severe limp, right away your concern would grow and you would inquire as to what was wrong.” (I know this is true because we both always ask when we see the other one limping. Sometimes it has to do with a hip, sometimes a knee. Sometimes it’s a lower back thing.) “Or when the flu strikes and a fever flares, again you jump into action to address this physical assault on the person you love,” continues the email. “Coughing, pain, bleeding and other symptoms alert us to the physical danger lurking.” (Maybe — unless the afflicted one is scolded for bleeding on the carpet or asked to go in the other room because the coughing is drowning out “Jeopardy.”

“But not hearing loss. Hearing loss will affect nearly every aspect of its victim, yet it is completely invisible.” What’s more, the email goes on, “Even more devastating are the reactions of those around them. Sometimes anger and frustration.”

I swear, Dr. Phil, I don’t get angry because the other person who lives at our house can’t hear me. I don’t blame her for a natural malady brought on by aging, and I would prefer to be judged with similar sensitivity. It doesn’t always happen, though.

There can be extenuating circumstances, such as when the other person is three rooms away, with her head in a closet, speaking in a normal voice. Or she may just turn her head at the tail end of a sentence and talk to the trees, or out an open car window.

And this — a case where the speaker is sabotaging his or her own message — is not the proper time to criticize the listener. This is improper speaking, and it should at least be listed as a minor misdemeanor in the big book of Common Married People Infractions. You know, right up there with failing to call when you’re going to be late, ogling the spouse of a friend at a party after one of you has consumed too many intoxicating beverages, or making blanket statements about what one’s spouse likes or doesn’t like, even though they’re right there and perfectly capable of speaking for themselves.

Sound, it turns out, figures prominently in many marital disputes. Pretty much every husband I know is accused regularly of playing the stereo (or TV, for that matter) too loud. The reason, I have concluded, is that women would rather converse than bob their heads to a 15-minute Neil Young guitar solo.

Another curious sound-related married-people phenomenon (at our house, at least) is when you’re expected to hear a person calling you (sometimes from far away) when you’re running a leaf blower, lawn mower or vacuum cleaner (often while wearing noise-reducing ear protection).

This is another case where anger and frustration rear their ugly heads — almost as if you are being accused of preferring the noisy drone of machinery to the golden tones of your loved one’s voice, which, of course, is not true!

Pretending to be hard of hearing is a tempting tactic for avoiding uwanted conflict. But it has to be done with great skill if one expects to sidestep the accusation that you’re intentionally trying not to hear. It’s not for the newly married, and it’s best not to attempt it if there’s even the slightest bit of truth to it.

Of course, I don’t have to worry about this for a while — now that my ears are clean and the sounds are flowing again.

Former managing editor of the Beaverton Valley Times, The Times as well as the Lake Oswego Review, Kelly is now chief of the central editing and design desk for Community Newspapers and the Portland Tribune, and he contributes a regular column.