January 12, 2010 1:40 PM   Subscribe


Just like it says on the tin. I work in my home office upstairs with my music on and fifty electronic things going on at once; she is usually bustling around downstairs in the kitchen with the water on or in some other crevice of the house.

We've talked about it, and she won't come all the friggin' way upstairs just to tell me that the phone company robot called and wants its money, and I will never not bristle at having to get up, open the door, and walk halfway down the stairs to figure out what the hell is going on before I find out that oh, yes, I should pay the phone bill tomorrow. Ours is definitely not an absentee marriage, and we do often spend time together. It's just that both of us get very involved in our projects and don't like to be interrupted, and both of us have an abysmally low tolerance for inconvenience. That's where it stands and it ain't moving.

So we need some sort of technical solution, and I'd like to know what kind of solutions have worked best for couples with similar personalities, how you adapted, and what some potential pitfalls/side benefits of any intercom/walkie-talkie/text message/whiteboard thinger we do might be.
posted by saysthis to Human Relations (64 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Um...as silly as it sounds: email?
posted by General Malaise at 1:42 PM on January 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

Before you try a technical solution, which doesn't really sound feasible here, try simple behaviour modification: ignore the bad behaviour and reward good behaviour. When she shouts, do nothing. Don't acknowledge that she's shouting. Don't yell, "I can't hear you!" Don't get angry. Just totally ignore it, and don't act on whatever you do hear (except, "The house is on fire!"). When she takes the time to come up and talk to you, act promptly and happily on whatever it is.
posted by Dasein at 1:42 PM on January 12, 2010 [9 favorites]

Can you IM or text each other?
posted by runningwithscissors at 1:43 PM on January 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

Or IM?

Or you could get some Nabaztags, marry them, and send signals using their ears... that might be a bit much though.
posted by NoraReed at 1:44 PM on January 12, 2010 [4 favorites]

Or why not make lunch or dinner the time when the two of you catch up on these things? It sound like most things aren't immediate concerns, so it can wait. Don't bother make this a pissing match over who communicates in the right way.
posted by runningwithscissors at 1:45 PM on January 12, 2010 [3 favorites]

Instant messaging on your cell phones?
Writing down notes so you don't forget, and not minding if your spouse reads it later (when it's convenient?)
Having a lower sense of urgency so that you can each wait till its convenient to tell each other somethign?
posted by Kololo at 1:45 PM on January 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

Is she online, generally speaking? IM works for most tech-savvy households I know. Have a login that either

- is just for the two of you [i.e. so you stay logged in all the time and other people don't chat you when you're working]
- is set to "away" but you know you can bug the other person.
- is attached to Growl so you can tell when it's a message form your SO

Alternately, text messaging on the phone might work. Develop a plan. For me IM was the totally terrific always awesome answer. If I didn't answer in a few minutes and it was "mission critical" then my SO had permission to holler up the stairs. Otherwise no.
posted by jessamyn at 1:46 PM on January 12, 2010

Don't do what Dasein says. That's what you do to dogs, and to children who you have lost patience with. You do not ignore, without explanation, a person you love and/or respect.
posted by Kololo at 1:47 PM on January 12, 2010 [19 favorites]

Text messaging would drive me nuts under these circumstances, but I have a phone that makes text messaging more difficult than it's worth.

However, if both of you are signed into an IM client, that would be my preference. (Note that if I am on the computer, I am signed into my IM client. Period. I love gchat.) I would want to set a ground rule that it's okay to ignore an IM for X minutes/hours, considering you both dislike being interrupted. If it's important enough that the IM wait time is out of the question, then one of you is making the trek on the stairs. Yelling is not an option.

If that's not a solution, can you setup talk times? Every few hours, meet somewhere in the house and go over some stuff. And if there's nothing to go over, then you should make out.
posted by juliplease at 1:47 PM on January 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oooh! Get an intercom system! One unit upstairs, one unit down. My family had a set of two that we purchased at radio shack. They were not very expensive and they were fun, in a sort of 70's dream home sort of way.
posted by mmmbacon at 1:47 PM on January 12, 2010 [9 favorites]

So do you go downstairs when there's something you want to tell her or is it just that you don't want to be disturbed for her "news"? It sounds to me like a simple intercom system would work well but also some behavior modification is in order.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 1:47 PM on January 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

Intercom. One of the through-the-house-wiring ones.
posted by scruss at 1:48 PM on January 12, 2010

Exactly what Dasein said, pretend you don't hear anything. It is not passive aggressive if you have told her that you cannot hear what she is saying if she yells it up the stairs.

If she gets upset, then suggest the workarounds others have suggested like IM/text/emails or notes for later perusal.
posted by soelo at 1:48 PM on January 12, 2010

On non-preview: Kololo, I don't think it is ignoring without explanation because the OP says "We have talked about it".
posted by soelo at 1:50 PM on January 12, 2010

In this situation, if I were her, I'd stop answering the phone and let it all go to voicemail.

Then she can pick up if it's important to her and leave it for you if it's not.

For people coming to the door... well, neither my spouse nor I answer the door.

But really, it sounds like the two of you need an intercom system.
posted by muddgirl at 1:50 PM on January 12, 2010

Do you have a need/desire to buy new home phones? My wife and I currently rent a HUGE house and constantly ran into the problem you described until we spent $100 and bought some used business phones off of eBay that have a "page" function.

When she's downstairs, she just has to walk as far as one of the nearest phones and push one button which alerts my phone upstairs and instantly puts them into "walkie-talkie" mode. The initial alert/flashes almost always get my attention, no matter what I'm doing.

The wireless intercoms never really worked for us, for some reason.
posted by siclik at 1:52 PM on January 12, 2010 [4 favorites]

Is there a cultural thing going on here? Based on what you've written before, it sounds like your live in China with a Chinese-born wife so I'm just wondering if there's some cultural disconnect about how husbands and wives interact that I'm missing but it sounds like you need to allow her to have ample opportunity to communicate with her while ensuring quite time for work. Pre-arranged times to chat like lunch and dinner and scheduled breaks would be good but I still think an intercom might be good, unless it'll mean that her commentary will drive you nuts all day.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 1:53 PM on January 12, 2010

You do not ignore, without explanation, a person you love and/or respect.

It sounds like she's ignoring his requests to "not shout up the stairs at me". Now what?

I'd say email/IM as well. With the compromise that you grandfather in the shouting up the stairs for occasions when logging on to text you a message would be truly impractical, like telling you 'the house is on fire' or 'this turkey I'm trying to take out of the oven is heavier than I thought and I don't want to drop it oh god i need help'. Because sometimes, yeah, you NEED an out like that (mine and my old roommate's "write me a note when I'm on the phone with my fiance" went out the window when we had a small kitchen fire and I needed to find where she'd hid the extinguisher).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:53 PM on January 12, 2010

You need to find a way to be available to her in-coming message. She needs to find a way to send that message without yelling up the stairs. If you had an IM account open or a cell phone nearby, she could easily text or call you.

Alternatively, why not set up a whiteboard/chalkboard/corkboard downstairs so she can write or tack up messages for you while you're in your office? The phone company calls, she scribbles "pay phone bill!" and you make a point to check the board when you come downstairs. She shouldn't be disrupting your work time with non-urgent messages, anyway.
posted by Meg_Murry at 1:53 PM on January 12, 2010

(And by "she shouldn't disrupt your work time..." I don't mean the little lady should know her place, I mean work time is work time, for anyone. If she's working, you shouldn't be telling her to pay whatever bill.)
posted by Meg_Murry at 1:55 PM on January 12, 2010

My parents got an intercom, but after a few weeks went back to yelling. I also yell. It's a hard habit to break.

Mr. Arkham and I dream of installing a pneumatic tube network, but that's probably not practical.
posted by JoanArkham at 1:56 PM on January 12, 2010

We stay online and IM via computer sporadically throughout the day. It's perfect for this.
posted by moira at 1:56 PM on January 12, 2010

Whiteboard for her in the kitchen/living room/foyer so she can jot down notes as she thinks of them and leave them there for you to see? If she has to talk, intercom?

You two should probably have a talk about communication triage while you are at work in your office. For maximum productivity, she should only interrupt you when it's really important (kid's carpool got canceled, needs a ride home) but not for a simple phone bill reminder. She should also have a way to interrupt you that really will get your attention if it's important, like IM that takes over your screen, or an intercom, etc. It doesn't matter what the system uses as long as it serves these two different scenarios.
posted by slow graffiti at 1:57 PM on January 12, 2010

SMS and/or IM seems to work for me.
posted by darkshade at 1:59 PM on January 12, 2010

I have/had this problem. Dasein's solution is best. Just ignore and don't get worked up. When the other person does this, they are expressing that your time/space/effort/sanity are not worth as much as their effort to find you or to communicate clearly with you.

If you want a technical solution for asynchronous communication, it's called a notepad. For mostly-synchronous, have her IM you or call you on the phone.
posted by beerbajay at 2:01 PM on January 12, 2010

Speaking tubes!!!. You could get a snazzy steampunky one and improve not just your relationship but your life, and indeed the world in general. Of course you would need some get yourselves some period nicknames and stuff as well.
posted by Erasmouse at 2:03 PM on January 12, 2010 [2 favorites]

Inbox system! It sounds like most of the interruptions are not, "honey, come here now, the thing has caught on fire," they're "honey, don't forget that you need to change the batteries in the thing some time in the next few days." So the need is not for her to get the task into your brain immediately, it's for her to get it out of her brain and into a space where you'll pick up on it in time to deal with it. Inboxes are perfect for this.

Each of you gets an inbox somewhere central in the house. If she needs you to do a task or wants to remind you of something, she writes a note and puts it in your inbox. You do the same for her. You can also sort your mail into them, use them to store things for yourself that you want to remember, and deliver cutesy love notes and presents via them. You each commit to checking your inboxes at least once a day. It's a great way to keep niggling chores from cluttering up either your personal time or your romantic relationship.
posted by decathecting at 2:04 PM on January 12, 2010

'to get yourselves some' I mean.
posted by Erasmouse at 2:04 PM on January 12, 2010

I suspect that the reason The Wife is interrupting The OP is because she, too, is busy and doesn't want to interrupt her train of thought or whatever activity she's performing. Calling up to you to deliver the message immediately is much easier and less disruptive for her than either remembering to tell you later or even going through the process of finding a piece of paper and pen to write you a note.

If The OP truly doesn't want to be interrupted during your work time, you need to give HER a way to defer these messages that won't be so disruptive. That's why I suggested that she screen all her calls, but she may not feel comfortable with that. A white board is an OK idea, but make sure the pen is attached to the board in some way. Even setting up a pad of paper by the phone with a dedicated pencil (attach them to the phone).

If The OP doesn't mind interruptions, but just doesn't want to get up to deal with them, then why not set up an extension in his office with the page function, as mentioned above? Or failing that, an intercom.
posted by muddgirl at 2:04 PM on January 12, 2010

I call my siblings/mother and they call me (on cell phones) when I'm upstairs and they are downstairs. I always have my cell phone with me though. My friend's family does this too. I think it works perfectly as long as the other one answers the phone.
posted by tweedle at 2:05 PM on January 12, 2010

You don't want to go downstairs, she doesn't want to go upstairs. (she's also busy, isn't she?)
I don't think this is a sign of something wrong in your relationship or communication styles, there are houses/apartments that are just annoying this way. I don't think it's something worth an argument.

I'd get an intercom, my boyfriend's family has one and it works pretty well for this kind of household communication. Or get a Chumby for the kitchen and use IM or facebook chat. If she's around the house, maybe a small two-way radio or Nextel phones would be better.
posted by clearlydemon at 2:07 PM on January 12, 2010

Some cordless phone systems these days will allow you to call and/or page another phone in the house. You may even be able to set the in-house ring so you always know that your wife is calling from in the house. My parents use this sort of system for the same reason.
posted by wiskunde at 2:10 PM on January 12, 2010

Before you try a technical solution, which doesn't really sound feasible here

A technical solution sounds extremely feasible here. There's no reason why this couple shouldn't be able to IM, or call, or text, or use an intercom.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:18 PM on January 12, 2010

The problem with a normal intercom is that you still won't hear her if your headphones are on and they interrupt your train of thought.

We have these cordless phones (I think they are Uniden brand) where the satellite units don't need a phone jack and they can be used as intercoms. You have to "call" the person and they pick up and you can have your conversation. You could get those and put it within your range of vision and if you don't pick up then she has to come upstairs.
posted by cabingirl at 2:32 PM on January 12, 2010

Oh! So _that's_ what google wave was invented for!
posted by mce at 2:34 PM on January 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

Actual scene from my childhood:

Dad (yelling from the living room): "Hey. HEY. HEY!!! Come in here a minute."

Me (in the kitchen, frying eggs): "Hold on a sec, the eggs are almost done."


Me (leaving eggs cooking on stove to go to the living room): "Jesus. WHAT?"

Dad: "I just wanted to remind you not to overcook my eggs."


Of the myriad petty problems that arise in one's life, being shouted at across the house by someone who is both ambulatory and not currently on fire is among the most annoying. I never broke my father of this habit. Loved the man to death, but when it came to talking to someone in the same damn house, he had a piano tied to his ass.

My wife and I solve this now by communicating via text, placing reminders on a shared calendar, and being willing to WALK FIFTEEN FEET to communicate. If it's something I know I'll forget (the termite guy called, he'll be here tomorrow at two) I'll drop it into iCal via my phone or desktop. If it's something she needs to know but isn't time-sensitive, I'll text it. If my hair is on fire, I'll run screaming to wherever she is.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 2:40 PM on January 12, 2010 [10 favorites]

Get some walkie talkies. They are fun and mobile.
posted by futz at 2:40 PM on January 12, 2010 [4 favorites]

Wireless doorbell?
posted by chairface at 2:43 PM on January 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

+1 on the walkie-talkies--Dude, don't you remember how cool and awesome walkie-talkies were when you were a kid?? Who wouldn't jump at the chance to use them again? :)
posted by Jinkeez at 2:46 PM on January 12, 2010

Walkie talkies always make me feel like a secret agent for some reason. Copy. Rodger that. 10-4,
over and out!
posted by futz at 2:46 PM on January 12, 2010

I find the low-tech solution to 96% of problems in life is either (a) Duct Tape or (b) Post-Its.

In this case, I suggest Post-Its on the fridge!

(And if the wife doesn't knock off the yelling, duct tape. You know where to put it:))
posted by jbenben at 2:57 PM on January 12, 2010

Ok. This might sound crazy, and it will only work if you have heat vents. When I was a kid my parents would talk into the vent from downstairs and I could hear it easily in my room upstairs. It was just like an intercom, only free.
posted by Kicky at 3:11 PM on January 12, 2010 [2 favorites]

I used to rent a 3-story townhouse with 2 roomates living on the third floor and 1 on the first. Clearly we were not all that into going up and down a couple of flights of stairs for inanity.

We bought walkie-talkies. It was AWESOME.
posted by sickinthehead at 3:23 PM on January 12, 2010

Put a notepad and pencil in easy reach of the phone
Watercolor markers in the bathroom- leave messages on the mirror (I always knew my son would find them there.)
Paint a door or the fridge w/ chalkboard paint, and leave messages.
My friend used to signal his partner in the down-cellar workroom by banging on the metal steampipes, then they'd both pick up a phone extension.

Her behavior is easier to extinguish if you really ignore it And, if you show her similar courtesies, solving some minor complaint she may have. Nor that she would have any complaints about you, of course.
posted by theora55 at 3:30 PM on January 12, 2010

Teenagers rooms upstairs, parents down. We text now since we all have unlimited plans. Previous solutions included individual "cubbies" for notes and paperwork and this wireless intercom system. Walkie talkies sound fun but you'll need to keep replacing batteries. I like the sticky notes or maybe a blackboard/communication center somewhere downstairs.

Husband does this ALL.THE.TIME. I've learned to ignore completely if he's not within hearing distance. Justified by the fact that this is not my problem, it is owned by him. If it's important he'll come find me.
posted by raisingsand at 3:32 PM on January 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

Ok. This might sound crazy, and it will only work if you have heat vents. When I was a kid my parents would talk into the vent from downstairs and I could hear it easily in my room upstairs. It was just like an intercom, only free.

That's what we did when I was growing up in a 3 story Victorian house.

Communication is about many things, not just information transmission. The combination approach might work:
1. Pick your favourite voice mode (phone, skype, intercom, heat vent, walkie talkie, voice tube, none)
2. Pick your favourite 'I need a response back, but not this second' mode (messaging, email, post it)
3. Pick your favourite 'I need to tell you something, but I don't need to hear back (email, calendar, messaging, post it, etc.)
4. Pick your favourite 'I want to chat with you and feel connected with you' mode (coffee break, lunch, dinner)

Get a first run work through to make sure you're on the same page about what type of info should go to each. And revise it together as you go. And if you work it out together to meet both of your needs then there will be no Skinnerian positive reinforcement rewards model required.
posted by kch at 3:43 PM on January 12, 2010

We do phones and/or text message. If it's something quick, we send a text. If it's something long-winded or complicated, one of us will use our cell phone to call the other person on the house phone. The house phone has multiple handsets and we each keep one within view because the flashing light, which signals that it's ringing, is much less annoying than turning the ringer on.
posted by LuckySeven~ at 3:57 PM on January 12, 2010

Chat through Google. You don't have to enable video or voice, just have it set up on your laptop/computer upstairs and her laptop/computer downstairs and it will alert you with a sound when she needs you or vice versa. Works well with my teenage son when he is listening to his headphones, online with his girlfriend and doing homework all at the same time.
posted by misha at 4:04 PM on January 12, 2010

Phones. It works great.
Honey, dinner is ready. Come on down.

Either cell phones, or house phones on the intercom mode.

Works great at our place.
posted by SLC Mom at 4:44 PM on January 12, 2010

Intercoms are made for this. Walkie-talkies also work. Get an unlimited minutes plan for your cell phones (or a plan that lets you call family members with unlimited minutes.)

Or, at the other extreme (ie fixing the problem without technology): reconfigure your house so that the activities you most typically do apart become activities you do in the same room. I've done this to much greater success than leveraging technology.
posted by davejay at 4:49 PM on January 12, 2010

Technology is made for this, but the easiest solution: She saves up whatever she needs to talk to you about (whiteboard) unless it MUST BE RESPONDED TO NOW, and you walk halfway down the stairs when she does yell, because now only the things that are important RIGHT NOW are being yelled.
posted by lemonade at 4:53 PM on January 12, 2010

You do not ignore, without explanation, a person you love and/or respect.

This is really silly, just BTW. She is ignoring you by ignoring your very reasonable request not to be shouted at when she knows damn well you can't hear what you're saying. You've given her lots of explanation. Rewarding bad behaviour is not an effective way to stop it.

As for the texting thing, that might work, but if you have 50 electronic distractions, you might not hear that. Plus, it seems incredibly strange to me for people to IM each other up and down a flight of stairs, like it's not worth 50 steps to talk to someone. But if you'd notice the cell phone buzzing in your pocket, then go for it.
posted by Dasein at 5:12 PM on January 12, 2010

My wife will keep doing that in our house until I realize that she's really asking for kch's #4. An intercom won't solve that.
posted by ctmf at 5:46 PM on January 12, 2010

Dood, just yell in the vents for your central heat/air.
They all connect, and supply some nice reverb to your voice.

I did this with my brothers growing up. Works from one corner of the house to the other, as it was all one system. Most commonly yelled phrase: "[HERRDOKTORRRR]!! MOM BOUGHT DORITOS!" Then everyone would run and converge upon the two bags of Doritos: one for me, and one for my two brothers. That is, until they figured out that if they raced down fast enough, they could open both bags of Doritos and breathe on them. Then no bags for me (EWW!), two for them.
posted by herrdoktor at 6:59 PM on January 12, 2010

Daesin "Plus, it seems incredibly strange to me for people to IM each other up and down a flight of stairs, like it's not worth 50 steps to talk to someone"

*shrug* dude it's not like the IM crowd grew six heads and tentacles and big scary teefs. It's using SCIENCE! to solve a human relations issue, sure, but it's really not terribly far left on the continuum of antisocial behaviour in my realm of experience.

mr lfr and I will frequently IM each other whilst sitting right next to each other on the couch! In fact, we probably communicate in IM as much as we do out loud, partly because we both feel somewhat more articulate in IM, partly because it avoids the sort of loud-shouty-talk-across-the-house that the OP is trying to mitigate. We're both introverted types who are allergic to loud-shouty-talk in the first place.

Different strokes, and all that. For our relationship, we find that IM to be less intrusive than having a spoken conversation while we're, say, also watching a movie and/or both working on photo projects / email / work stuff. And hey, there's also: walkie-talkies, Nextel phones, mobile phones, intercoms, speaking tubes, heater ducts, post-it-notes, whiteboards or a dixie-cup-and-string --> whatever works best, and by all means, run with it! IM works great for some people not so much for others. But honestly, dismissing someone else's legit solution on AskMe just seems... disingenuous and persnickety, I guess.

Not to mention we've found that IM is an ideal way to solve the "*lightbulb* OMG MUST REMEMBER TO PAY THE TRASH BILL" kind of thing when we're on laptops in different rooms.

...or just for sending each other youtube links to cats jumping into boxes and falling over, take your pick.
posted by lonefrontranger at 7:48 PM on January 12, 2010

My grandparents built and lived in a house with a wired intercom system and it was awesome. The Victorians had quite wonderful bell systems for summoning servants - if you ever get a chance to go to The Breakers in Newport, it's vast and worth seeing. But neither solves the problem of a spouse with headphones on, which is a problem we have in our house.

A remote control doorbell that terminates in the office might get the music listener's attention; then you could just pick up the walkie talkie or whatever. I can't help thinking that a remote controlled lighbulb would be more effective, though; currently, I walk to the bottom of the stairs and flick the hall light to get my SO's attention upstairs.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:16 PM on January 12, 2010

I live in a somewhat similar circumstance.

Text, phone, email, or IM is waay preferable to hollering. Maybe your partner needs a laptop in the kitchen so she can bang off quickie emails instead of interrupting you for non-urgent things.

Or have her jot down some notes on a whiteboard for you (and you do your part by reading and checking stuff off on that board).

Or have her put notes for you into the timecave.

But interrupting your workflow for banal messages like "pay a bill tomorrow" has to stop, that would make me insane. And also, never being able to communicate with you or have you respond pleasantly and responsibly to household tasks is probably making her insane, so be sure to keep up your end of whatever solution you come to.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 8:26 PM on January 12, 2010

Get a baby monitor and leave it on so you can hear each other. Once in a while, when you're both sitting down at the same table, reflect on the fact that it is mostly an effective solution because you're both acting like babies.
posted by anildash at 10:08 PM on January 12, 2010 [2 favorites]

I IM my boyfriend from five feet away and have texted him from ten feet away. Technology is really, seriously, definitely your solution. Embrace the future.
posted by timoni at 11:51 PM on January 12, 2010

+8 on walkie-talkies. "Shepherd to lost sheep. Come-in lost sheep"
posted by jasondigitized at 5:05 AM on January 13, 2010

I would try again (and again) to break her of this habit. As BitterOldPunk said, screaming across the house is not a perfectly fine way for families to communicate; it can be very stressful. Has everyone forgotten that going up and down stairs is good exercise?

If behavior modification doesn't work, I would simply start use cell phones. You're probably "in each others' circle" so there shouldn't be any charge for using the global communications network to reach out fifteen feet.

posted by General Tonic at 7:03 AM on January 13, 2010

I'm a delivery driver in pizza place with two floors/kitchens. We have a wireless doorbell like chairface suggested. It works pretty well to prevent the shouting at least.

I like the whiteboard suggestion as well, so that one conversation can "kill" more than one bird with one stone.
posted by schyler523 at 11:06 AM on January 13, 2010

People! Disregarding a request ("please don't yell up the stairs") is different than ignoring a person (stonewalling them no matter what they ask). There's a very significant difference, and i'm shocked that so many people on this thread can't see that.
posted by Kololo at 8:49 AM on January 15, 2010

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