Sunday, March 26, 2023
HomeRelationship AdviceI (29M) can’t hear my wife (28F), and it’s ruining our relationship.

I (29M) can’t hear my wife (28F), and it’s ruining our relationship.

Just for some quick background on us:

My wife and I have been together for over 8 years, and married for slightly over 1. I’d say we have a pretty strong but standard relationship when it comes to mutual respect, general communication, and just being on the same page about life. We match each other really well. I definitely know that I’ve made the best decision to marry this amazing woman.

The issue at hand:

I cannot hear my wife talk in certain situations and environments. Her voice becomes this blur of sound and mumbles. Idk exactly what it is, it could be a health problem that I have (please no medical advice), but this is something that is driving a wedge between us and I’m honestly feeling like I’m at wits end. It’s embarrassing to talk about to other people, and every time we discuss the issue with each other, it’s a HUGE argument with disproportionately high emotions. It sucks, and it hurts.

To explain further, if there’s even a little bit of background noise (wind, chatter, cars driving by), I have to strain to hear her even if she’s close by. She already has a naturally soft voice, so she can’t change that. I try my best, but I can’t catch it all. I also think I have some issue where it’s hard to separate her voice out from other overlapping noises. To be fair, this is where I might have a health issue that interferes. I am going to get it checked out, but for the most part, I think I’ve been doing fine. I am not hard of hearing in general (I can hear soft sounds that sometimes other people don’t even notice), so I’m not sure. Anyway, here’s the problem – I struggle to hear her, which I can’t change, and she can’t change her voice. However, she does things like face away from me and then proceed to talk to me over 10 feet away while facing the opposite direction. Or, she’ll refuse to speak over a low “church” tone, even if we’re at a loud restaurant. These are just examples of behavior that I feel like could change. I’ve reacted to these things by simply pointing them out, and asking her if she could face me while she speaks or raise her volume when she’s trying to reach me from another room or in a loud environment. I might seem rigid, but I’m really not. I just make the request, and leave it be, because I genuinely want to hear what she’s saying!

Nothing changes. I think she feels criticized, and gets REALLY defensive to the point where claims are made about how it’s “never been an issue with anyone else” or “it’s not normal to have to stop what she’s doing to face in my direction”. Or, she’s feels uncomfortable raising her voice because she “shouldn’t have to”. It’s come to the point where I’m almost constantly saying that I can’t hear her, especially when I’m mid-task, and I have to keep pointing it out to the point where one or both of us loses patience and blows up. I feel like we spend so much energy on a daily basis arguing about me not hearing her and her having to repeat something 3+ times. I feel like this is going to take a toll on our marriage as the decades roll on (I know it’s not the worst problem to have, to put into perspective, but still). And I get this sense like I’m being blamed for the issue, almost as if I’m the one with a hearing problem so therefore I need to get it fixed. But, I don’t think I’m asking for a lot?

Any advice on a new approach I can take? Behaviorally, I don’t know what to change, and it’s making me feel a little hopeless.

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  1. I think you and your wife need to have a serious discussion about this.

    I’m glad you’re going to seek medical advice on this issue.

    You’re right, she can’t really change her voice without voice coaching, and it may not be fair to ask her to do that.

    I would suggest sitting down with her in a quiet setting and explain that you are feeling frustrated and concerned because you can’t always hear her clearly. Tell her that you are going to be checked for any medical issues, and that you want to address any medical issues right away. Emphasize that this situation is frustrating to you, and you know it is for her as well.

    Then, tell her that you understand her frustrations as well, but that you need her help to address the issue as well. Try phrasing it in terms of “I need” statements and avoid saying things like “You need to” – because those statements often feel like orders and not requests. Say things like “In order to hear you clearly, I need you to face me when speaking to me.” Or “I need you to come to me when you need to talk to me because I can’t hear you clearly when you talk to me from another room, and that’s frustrating and upsetting to us both.” Asking her for her help in working through this is the better approach.

    Please think about the way you have approached her in the past, and think about what you have said. Your wife may be feeling attacked by how you have approached her previously.

  2. I am pretty much the wife in this situation. For a couple years, my husband would tell me tat he was having a hard time hearing me. Sometimes he would get pretty frustrated (both with me and himself). I responded in the same way as your wife, with defensiveness and claims that “I’ve never had this problem with anyone else” and “Everyone else can hear me”, “You’re just not listening to me”. Eventually, we both decided he must have a hearing issue that needed to be addressed (he’s been in a band and around loud music for most of hi life, so makes sense he would have hearing issues). It definitely wasn’t MY fault.

    This past year he actually went to get his hearing tested. Turns out, he has perfect hearing. The doctor asked why he came in to get a hearing check and he told her that he was having a hard time hearing me. She let him know this a very common situation. She also gave some pretty good advice – communication is a two way street. I, like your wife, also have a naturally soft voice and often times feel like I am yelling or speaking too loudly when we are in a busy place. Him actually reaching out to get his hearing checked helped me realize that there are definitely things that I can do to help the situation rather than be so defensive. He put in his effort by actually going to the doctor. Begrudgingly, I admitted that yes, I mumble sometimes, my sentences drift off, I don’t speak in a tone of voice with him that maybe I do elsewhere (at my office for example).

    I made conscious changes in how I communicated with him, like I actively made sure I was trying to face him when speaking, or raised my voice to a level that maybe felt slightly uncomfortable to me, but seems to be the right level for him to clearly understand my words. I also realized that maybe other people never told me they had an issue with this because I don’t speak with them as frequently, or they are just being nice.

    Honestly, his open communication about the whole thing and pro-activeness to fix it is what broke down my defensive barrier. I saw that he actually WANTED to hear what I have to say, and I put in a bit of effort to be a better communicator with him.

    This is just my story about a very similar situation. I would say maybe get your hearing checked just to rule out that possibility, ad then you and your wife might be able to have a more open conversation about the issue.

  3. It sounds like you have high tone hearing loss. As the sound pitch goes higher you lose some nerve function and can’t understand words. While you don’t want medical advice it may be important for her to SEE your hearing test so she knows you can’t help it. She needs to understand that if she is not facing you in a quiet environment that you may not be able to understand her. You Don’t necessarily need to see an MD but see if you can find a reputable audiologist in your area that is not just a hearing aid salesperson but an has their doctorate A.u.D.

  4. Ok, my voice isn’t soft at all, but if I’m outside and facing away from my partner then sometimes he can’t hear me! Same with crowded restaurants. Even with a soft voice, she can face you and she should be able to project.

    It’s probably “never been an issue with anyone else” because she’s talking to you more often and in more situations, so there are more opportunities for it to occur. Probably when it happens to other people they just say “what?” a few times and she repeats whatever she said and they hear it or they just give up. Friends/colleagues/whoever are less likely to bring it up as a pattern of behavior like a partner would.

    Definitely continue working on getting your hearing (and auditory processing) checked out, because there could be a problem there. But for her, does she tend to get really defensive over mild criticisms or is it just this case? I wonder if she has a particular chip on her shoulder regarding her voice and being heard. She either has to work on projecting her voice when there’s background noise and facing you, or she has to accept that there’s going to be a few “what?” rounds.

  5. I have industrial deafness which for me means that when I’m in an environment with more than 2 sounds, everything becomes static. I also have tinnitus. I am very good at lip reading but otherwise I just tell people “I’m kind of deaf, can you say that again?”

    Go get your hearing tested.

  6. Hearing test ASAP and you’re probably looking at some hearing aid of some kind. I know you said no medical advice, but this is a clear medical issue that you need to see you’re PCP for a referral to a specialist for the proper test. Otherwise, it’s just going to get worse and You both are going to get more frustrated. I come from a family of hard-of-hearing people (including me yeah) and Understand it can be scary and frustrating to deal with, but it isn’t something you can work on without medical intervention I’m afraid.

    With the test and hearing aids your wife will know it’s not anyone’s fault (unless you were an idiot when younger and blasted extremely loud music in your ears) and can be fixed relatively easily These days. Good luck.

  7. I know you said no medical advice, but I just can’t help it. Please forgive me.

    You have hearing loss. It is affecting the frequencies that her voices uses while not significantly affecting other sounds. That’s why it seems like she refuses to speak louder: she is speaking louder, but you can’t perceive it. What you call a church tone in the restaurant to her is as loud as she can yell at you without being embarrassed.

    >I struggle to hear her, which I can’t change,

    Yes, you can. With hearing aids.

    This exact scenario has destroyed countless relationships when the solution is just down the road. Don’t let it destroy yours.

  8. My husband has the same issue. He often can’t pick out what someone is saying, usually me, if there is ambient noise. I Will say something, he says “what?” So i say it louder. He gets mad for me yelling. He asks me a question, I answer, he stands there staring at me, I don’t know if he didn’t hear me or what. I start to feel like he is selectively hard of hearing because it’s usually me he can’t hear. I suggested he get his hearing tested. I started speaking more clearly. I stand closer to him if I’m talking. He still can’t hear me. Over time I just gave up, it made me feel so invisible. We have terrible communication issues now, not just because of that, but it’s a factor.

  9. I understand you so bad omg. I have auditory hearing processing disorder (it’s really dificult to me to understand something when there’s background noise or when I’m not looking directly at that person) and my gf has a soft voice and when I didn’t understand and asked her to repeat she just used to say the same thing in the same exact tone so of course I still didn’t understand, when this happened a few times in a short period of time I used to get a bit mad at her bc I only wanted her to talk a bit louder! It was so frustrating couse I felt like it was something really easy to do. We had a big conversation about it (where I apologised for getting mad) and now she always speak louder when this happens, it’s really much better now.

  10. I have ADHD + autism and this is a very common problem for me. I regularly tune out my surroundings; don’t know I’m doing it, have no idea I’m being spoken to, I’m in the zone and I’m not budging.

    It caused issues for my partner until he asked why I was ignoring him one day while he was chattering at me. That was an eye-opener for me! I had no idea. Now if he needs me to hear something he gets my attention before he talks or he repeats himself until I acknowledge him. I can’t cure my inability to listen, it’s just an unfortunate consequence of my disorders, so we work around it. If I’m not looking at him he assumes I didn’t hear what he said.

  11. I don’t think you’re asking for a lot either, but I have the same problem. Although my husband will usually just forget that I can’t hear when he’s not facing me, rather than feeling criticised. It is frustrating for both parties for sure. Definitely talk to her in a private quiet environment outside of the arguments, as per other commenters.

  12. You need to get your hearing checked and your wife needs to speak up and face you when talking to you. My husband has hearing deficits where he can’t hear a particular range of decibels. I know he won’t hear anything I say if we’re not facing each other. It’s frustrating at times but I know it helps a lot if I speak up and face him. If your wife refuses to make simple changes than she’s part of the problem instead of being part of the solution.

  13. Do your part. Get checked out, wear the boomboxes if needed. The rest is up to where she’ll meet you at. I have a gripe with my girl she’ll start saying something as I walk into noise or walk away but she knows I want to hear her. It’s still a little sticky sometimes but we’ve made adjustments. We really like talking to each other though and that helps a ton. There is most likely some resentment for something, that makes a lot of people either deaf or quiet. Best of luck.

  14. I have auditory processing disorder and hearing loss in one of my ears and I struggle to hear many people, including my partner, in loud situations. There’s not anything I can do about it besides turning my good ear towards him but he’s been incredibly gracious and flexible and making sure he’s facing me and speaking clearly. If you can, your wife should come to your Dr’s appt, do some research on types of hearing loss and APD and the mitigation that it requires. It can be really frustrating but showing her that it’s a real problem that many people have could maybe help her empathize with you.

  15. Get a free hearing test. Do you have an iPhone and possibly AirPods? They have an active listening feature where you could wear them almost a hearing aid. Not a long term solution but could work in the short term. She does need to at least face you when talking, she needs to meet you halfway here…

  16. I think the problem is rooted from a situation neither you or she has control. Consider:

    * Sounds have two aspects; amplitude (loudness) and frequency.
    * Your wife’s voice evidently shares frequencies with certain sounds in the background noise.
    * At the same time, the amplitude of these, and other sounds drown out her voice when she’s attempting to talk with you.

    In the short term, explain to her the possible cause, and have her change the frequency of her voice, as singers do. If she speaks in a higher tone than normal, you may find you can hear her better when you both are outside. Or, she may need to both change the frequency and amplitude to be heard. It’s worth a try.

    But, until you have your hearing analyzed by an audiologist, you’re just shooting in the dark. In my younger years, I shot handguns outside with no hearing protection, and drove an 18 wheeler for several years with the window down, as there was no a/c aboard. I now need hearing aids, as I can’t follow conversations when in a noisy environment, and the hearing aids have a setting accessed by my phone that mutes, to some degree, background noise.

    I wish you and your wife well.

  17. My wife is very soft spoken and also has a deeper voice that seems to disappear into any amount of background noise.

    Many years in I still have to frequently ask her to speak up and repeat herself. I’ve explained many times that when we are playing music in the house, or if I’m in a room around the corner, or if I’m watching a video, or if I have my headphones in, or if we are in a crowded restaurant, or she is facing away from me that I can’t hear her normal speaking volume.

    When I’m well rested I can politely and graciously ask her to speak up and repeat; when I’m tired and grumpy or it’s the 10th time that day it’s much harder to be nice about it. Sometimes it just feels like a normal relationship hurdle that requires patience and grace, and sometimes it feels like a personal slight or that she is deliberately ignoring your request (I know she can speak up; she does it frequently) and it’s a simple fact that talking louder is physically possible (and easy) while hearing better is not.

    Hand signals can help a tiny bit; sometimes putting a finger to your ear to signal that you are trying to listen but can’t is a bit less aggressive than interrupting to request a repeat verbally, but the simple matter is that if she is unwilling to change or work with possible solutions there isn’t much you can do.

  18. OMG! I’ve ALWAYS had that problem. Even when my hearing was ultra sensitive (according to the Dr. possibly because it was so sensitive) I’ve always had issues with certain voices, and the tv is really bad when a fan or a/c is on nearby. It’s SO frustrating! It’s even worse now that I’m getting older and my hearing is starting to degenerate.

    I don’t know if it will help her to know that this is not an uncommon issue, and that you honestly aren’t trying to make her life harder, but it might. Apparently there are hearing aids that are really good at blocking out background noise now.

  19. I too have a similar problem. I already have only 20% hearing in one ear – but when I’m in a noisy place (restaurant, party – not even a club) I can look at someone talking to me, but cannot decipher what they are saying. at all. all i hear is the ambient noise. It helps, when it’s one on one, if I can see their mouths/lips but this interference is difficult. My husband has a very soft voice and mumbles.
    this is a brain-hearing thing, and I urge you to get your hearing checked but also this particular problem. Your wife has to understand what this is, it’s not disrespectful of her.

  20. Once you get your hearing test and figure out the exact problem it’ll be easier to find practical everyday solutions (maybe look into at least some basic sign language?), but here’s what concerns me:

    >it’s not normal to have to stop what she’s doing to face in my
    direction”. Or, she’s feels uncomfortable raising her voice because she
    “shouldn’t have to”

    As much as I generally hate this sort of term: That’s some ableist bullshit right there.

    Because no, it’s not normal, but *you have a problem with your hearing*. If your hearing was perfectly fine, she wouldn’t “have to” raise her voice or face you, but the fact is that your hearing is *not* fine and facing you when she speaks is a very simple, very basic accommodation she can do for *her freaking husband*.

    Sometimes people need help. Sometimes people need consideration. If you can’t do that for your *spouse* then you’ve got bigger issues than hearing loss. And I get how frustrating it can be to have to repeat yourself constantly: My dad had bad hearing for most of his life. It got irritating. But we never got mad at *him* for not being able to hear us. He couldn’t help what he could and couldn’t hear. So if we wanted to say something to him, we knew we had to get his attention first and then speak up. It’s not that freaking hard.

    Sorry, this comment isn’t actually all that helpful as far as giving solutions goes, and you definitely shouldn’t approach a conversation with your wife using the tone I’m using. I’m just really, really irritated on your behalf right now.

  21. They sell sound amplifiers that allow you to hear better. Hearing aid(s) May also be an option. Something like ADHD also makes it harder to hear with background noise. I’m not a doctor, I cannot diagnose, but I’m glad you’re willing to get this checked out with an audiologist. Best of luck OP. You are too young to start having this issue already, so glad you’re dealing with it.

  22. I can relate up to certain point with your ussue because I sugfer from hearin loss and sometimes when people talk to me is like the grown ups from charly brown speaking and is very frustrating for my wife to have to repeat herseñf a lot of times because I can’t understand her.

    My advice: Go to a doctor and got a hearing aid, don’t be stubborn, this can be a lige changer for you.

  23. NTA.

    Dang – how can I not chime in with advice?

    I have otosclerosis and cannot hear people speak when there are other noises around. I am much, much older than you but have learned to read lips.

    My family and friends understand that I have to be face-to-face with them to communicate. Even though you can’t read lips, I would suggest having a conversation with your wife, asking her to please consider doing this until you go to an audiologist.

    Best of luck to you. And like I always say, it could be worse. It’s also super handy when you want to watch a movie late at night – closed captions are BRILLIANT.

  24. “Please no medical advice”. Sir you can’t hear to the point it is affecting your marriage. Go to the goddamn doctor and get your ears checked. I say this as someone who is HoH. Yes, she can be more conscious to face you, but you need to do *your* due diligence here first and go get medically checked out.

  25. I use Airpod Pros in ‘hearing aid’ mode when I have trouble distinguishing voices like that. Works wonders in noisy environments or when people are muffled (by masks, say).

    I don’t particularly think it would be reasonable to expect a person to change their entire way of speaking/communicating because _you_ have hearing loss. On the other hand, the person can learn to be understanding about the fact that you may need things repeated, or to see them while they’re talking, or even just need context… all things that can make the difference between comprehension and non-comprehension.

  26. Others have suggested a lot of great things to consider.

    I’d like to add the idea that parts of her voice is the same pitch as many common noises and is easily lost or overpowered by background noises. Things like mechanical systems and machinery or even things like bells, plates and silverware clinking etc.

    Honey I can’t hear you over the roar of the leaf blower.

  27. ohh this sounds like an auditory processing disorder!! APDs deal with the way your brain processes auditory input and not the way your ears are able to intake sound! this is something I struggled with for a long time as well (especially where others would get annoyed when I couldn’t understand) and I was never was able to explain why despite hearing checks that proved my ears were fine, I still couldn’t understand if there was background noise or sometimes even if it was quiet, it would just turn into a mumble of sounds where I knew that something was being said, but it just sounded like a jumble of English-ish sounds.

    I know it was very frustrating for everyone around me (and for me as well!) when I couldn’t understand and always had to ask whoever was speaking to me to repeat themselves over and over!

    now this is where I’d say proactive communication is very very important!! there’s not much you can do about it from a health standpoint (since auditory processing doesn’t deal with your ability to hear sounds, but instead actually process what those sounds mean), so just having a serious conversation about this might help!

    whenever I am spending time with someone new (or familiar family or friends who just need reminders once in a while) I let them know that I genuinely want to know what they’re saying, but sometimes my brain just doesn’t process it and I need them to say it again (sometimes more than once if my brain is being especially stubborn). this has helped a lot because this lets the other person know that my intention is to listen, that I am I not ignoring them, and that it is not a problem I have any control over. in my experience, anyone who cares about and respects me with understand and honor that!

    also: highly suggest a pair of loop experience earplugs. they help to filter out the background sound but keep the acoustic (meaning you can hear what someone right next to you is saying, but the background sounds are muffled! these are an absolute lifesaver for me in the grocery store!!!!

    sidenote: if you’re interested in any additional resources or information about APD let me know and I can share some links! I feel like my understanding of my brain and communication made so much more sense after doing some research!

  28. i wish i had more to offer in regards to advice, but i just wanted to say that i’m in pretty much the same situation and i understand how frustrating it can get! i have to ask my boyfriend multiple times a day to repeat himself, and sometimes he then has to repeat himself a couple times before i understand him. he doesn’t have anything “weird” about his voice or the way he talks except i think he doesn’t realize how quiet/mumbly he talks a lot of the time. i’m only 28 and haven’t had anything happen that could have caused hearing loss, but i don’t think it’s that anyway since i can hear other people just fine. in my case i’m pretty certain it has to do with sensory processing difficulties since i’m diagnosed with ADHD and that can be a symptom. but it gets super tiring to have to ask him to repeat himself over and over again and basically beg him to just speak louder when talking to me. he gets irritated and defensive about it too like your wife does, but it puts me in a tough place because i can’t do anything to make myself hear him better so i *need* him to speak louder/more clearly. it feels really awful to know you’re annoying someone by asking them to repeat something multiple times but also not being able to do anything about it.

    unfortunately in the 5 years i’ve been with my boyfriend, nothing has changed for us either with that issue. i guess the most i can say as advice is to try not to beat yourself up over it. you aren’t choosing to not be able to hear her and you aren’t just tuning her out or something, so all you can really do it keep kindly reminding her you need accommodation from her when she’s talking to you.

  29. I have a similar issue. I’m a nurse and a little hard of hearing due to hearing damage. I have one coworker who has a very soft voice I can’t hear a word she says even when it’s silent. She refuses to speak loud enough for me to hear her so I have to keep asking her the same question over and over until I get all the pieces of what she is saying. She gets so frustrated but if I’m taking over her patients then I need this information to do my job.

    Sun Tzu said that the person relaying the information has the burden to make sure they are understood. You can’t change what you can and can’t hear without hearing aids but your wife can speak louder with a little effort.

  30. Hi.

    It’s sad to hear that. We had a situation like this with my gf (communication problems, feeling of “distance” between us). The best option was to get some consultancy but as this wasn’t affordable for us, at some forums we were advised to use an app for couples (check [Tiddle](, as it was gamified which made the communication start smooth. At least you can try. Either way, better try to get consultancy. Hope I could help

  31. I have high tone hearing loss and auditory processing disorder. I wear hearing aids. Other people still need to adjust their communication for me to hear them. Everything you have mentioned sounds painfully familiar.

    You need a calm conversation about hearing loss and it been a disability with your wife. Dont get blaming on her, it will just get her back up, and make her feel awkward about been a quite speaker. However she needs to grasp you are becoming disabled and she needs to account for that disability. Be in the same room and face you to speak. Dont expect to be understood if there is background noise. There are ways of speaking to deaf people that makes it easy to be understood.

    I dont go to loud restaurants or pubs. I straight up say i cant hear someone. I will go to a room if someone attempts to speak to me from another room. I will tell them I need to lipread them and they should be in the same room as me to speak and looking at me.

    I have done lipreading classes and now i am doing sign language. My adult children are also learning sign language.

  32. It sounds like you might have ADHD.

    It also sounds like your wife needs to compromise.

    I also have a hard time raising my voice. I hated it for a long time. Unfortunately life isn’t perfect and situations will arise where you need to raise your voice. Perhaps your partner has trauma in her past that she doesn’t want to repeat. A good therapist can help with that.

  33. You need a hearing exam. And I’m sorry to tell you that the problem may be neurological, where hearing aids won’t really help you. In that case, you’ll need to seek different treatment. And regardless of your diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, or anything, you & your wife need counseling to figure out how you’re going to deal with this. Best of luck to you.

  34. Honestly, it sounds like she might have some trauma to work out. I’m just assuming, but I used to behave similarly (I’m 27M) as your wife. When I would talk to my ex-gf in any situation with some level of background noise (anywhere from a crowded bar to a restaurant to even inside the car), she would have a difficult time hearing me. I would get upset the exact same way your wife would when my gf would ask me to repeat myself.

    It’s apparent looking back, but I suffered from major social anxiety. Over time, I kind of taught myself that I need to just speak louder because it wasn’t just my gf that would ask me to repeat myself–it was friends, coworkers, restaurant staff, etc. At first, it felt unnatural, almost like I was yelling. My throat hurt and I felt awkward, sure, but now, at 27, it feels normal to be “loud”. Well, not *loud*, but audible. The only time people can’t hear me talk is at concerts… but I can’t hear them either haha.

    I was actually diagnosed with social anxiety when I was a young child (10 or 11), but it was something that got pushed under the rug over the years. I’ve been through therapy and worked on a lot of things that were contributing to my overall anxiety (caffeine was a HUGE contributing factor). I’m not saying you don’t have hearing issues, because maybe you do, but I think your wife might have some stuff to work out. It takes one to know one.

  35. If hers is the only voice you have this issue with, and her response is to refuse to face you or speak more loudly, I don’t think this is a beheading issue. Perhaps a marriage counseling issue, because she sounds rather horrid based in this story alone.

  36. Do you have any idea how annoying it is to repeat yourself multiple times? The best is when someone who can’t hear and refuses to get a hearing aide insists you are mumbling and need to enunciate.

    I’m glad to read you are going to a doctor to get your hearing looked at but for however long this was somehow HER problem. Infuriating. I’m on team wife.

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