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by Abigail Van Buren

Wife's Mumbling Causes Failure to Communicate

DEAR ABBY: My wife of 25 years has an annoying habit that drives me crazy. When she starts a conversation with me, she'll speak in a very low voice and mumble without looking at me. I truly cannot hear or understand what she's saying and have to respond with, "Excuse me?" "Pardon me?" or "What?"

When I speak to her, I make sure I talk clearly and in a loud enough voice, but she always throws the same remarks back at me -- "Excuse me?" etc. She doesn't do this with anyone else. I have pointed out to her that what she is doing is annoying, disrespectful and rude, and asked her to please not do it, but she continues.

Why does she do this to me, and what can we do to change it? There's nothing wrong with her hearing. She's always telling me to turn down the TV. -- MARRIED TO A MUMBLER IN SAN DIEGO

DEAR MARRIED TO A MUMBLER: Allow me to offer a suggestion that may improve the situation: Have your hearing checked. If you can't hear your wife when she speaks softly and isn't looking directly at you, and she "always" tells you to turn down the TV, it could indicate that you are suffering from a hearing loss.

DEAR ABBY: My mother, whom I love very much, is a terrible gift-giver. At Christmas and on birthdays she gives me ridiculous gifts -- clothing that doesn't fit, jewelry I would never wear, electronics I haven't asked for and don't need. Last year, she removed the tags from everything and didn't include receipts so the items could be returned. (Some were very costly.)

I have created online wish lists, offered Mom "suggestions" and even told her not to worry about gifts. She'll take none of my suggestions. I try to be polite. But Mom's feelings are always hurt when I'm not "thrilled" with the unwanted gifts, and it puts a damper on events that should be happy ones. I hate her wasting money on things that will not be appreciated or used. How do I handle this? -- UNFORTUNATELY UNGRATEFUL

DEAR UNGRATEFUL: Because you have tried being logical, helpful and frank, and nothing has worked, thank your mother for her gifts and then put them on eBay or donate them. That way someone can appreciate them, or you may get enough money back to buy yourself something you will enjoy.

DEAR ABBY: We have close friends and alternate having dinner at each other's homes. The wife has a couple of habits I find annoying.

She'll run her fingers around the outside of a serving dish and then lick her finger. After dinner, I always have a dish of candy on the table for everyone's enjoyment. But before this woman leaves, she'll say she's taking some of it home to eat later.

Am I being petty to be annoyed by her behavior? -- WILLING TO SHARE, BUT ...

DEAR WILLING: I can see how a dinner guest running her finger around a serving dish, then licking her finger could gross you out, and we both know that rather than telling you she's taking some of your candy home with her, she should wait until you offer it.

However, you say you are close friends. Therefore I assume that on some level her positives outweigh her negatives, or you would have expressed how her behavior makes you feel -- which would have solved your problem because you'd be seeing a lot less of her.

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