Something like a bark collar, except not?
August 13, 2011 9:23 PM   Subscribe

Is there anything I can do to encourage my husband to lower the volume of his voice?

My husband has a naturally loud voice that gets louder easily. When on the phone he booms. When he's talking on Skype, he bellows. Neighbors have commented that they can plainly hear him outside with our door closed.

He will often ramp up his volume in response to the situation. When he gets excited about something (good or bad), he gets loud. He also has a tendency to shout when angry.

This has become a problem because I cannot easily differentiate his 'I am being loud because I am interested in this topic' voice from his 'I am angry with you' voice. I am extremely sensitive to being shouted at (and am working on it in therapy).

This makes it difficult to discuss our relationship issues. I'll say, 'Hey, when you did X, it hurt my feelings', and he'll say 'I DIDN'T MEAN TO HURT YOUR FEELINGS.' And I can't quite tell how to interpret it. He usually wears a quizzical expression during these exchanges, which I cannot read either. He usually denies being angry in these exchanges, but sometimes he is.

Usually what happens when he uses his loud voice in a situation where I'm not expecting to be shouted at, is that I have a fight-or-flight response. Because regardless of whether it's coming from a benign place or not, I still think it's shouting. It's startling and it flusters me. And, I react as such, responding to his voice defensively, angrily, or with tears. And then that means I'm being loud too which only encourages him! It devolves into drama about feeling safe, which doesn't help to address the original issue.

I've told him how his loud voice affects me during arguments and discussions, and have asked him to make it a priority to maintain a quiet voice because it will help me to feel safe and secure in bringing things up to him. He's agreed to try, and has asked me to point out when he's getting too loud. I find myself having to ask him to lower his voice frequently, though, because his volume just creeps back up.

He's getting frustrated that I'm too sensitive about his voice, and I'm getting frustrated at hearing, 'I'M NOT ANGRY AT YOU, NOW LET'S DISCUSS THIS PROBLEM.'

So I'd like to know if anyone has had a similar issue, and how you were able to lower the volume? Is there another way that I can address this? Do I just need to adjust my attitude?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (30 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I think it's perfectly reasonable to say that you don't feel like being hollered at. As for whether there's anything you can do about his behavior, I'm going to have to say probably not. Hopefully he will be considerate enough to measure his tone if you say 'stop yelling' enough.
posted by Gilbert at 9:28 PM on August 13, 2011

I've been guilty of shouting when excited, especially when I was younger. Whenever she wanted me to lower my volume, my mom used to intentionally lower the volume of her own speech (sometimes to the point where it would be difficult for me to hear without focusing and coming in closer and sometimes with a slowed cadence too). It worked for us, but YMMV. Most of the time, I would match her decrease in tone before I really realized what was happening.

Another thought is that your husband might need his hearing checked...?
posted by monkeys with typewriters at 9:28 PM on August 13, 2011 [14 favorites]

When was the last time he had his hearing checked?
posted by ErikaB at 9:30 PM on August 13, 2011 [21 favorites]

yeah I'm with monkeys, the first thing I thought was that his hearing might be off. We tend to speak louder so we can hear ourselves when we talk.

It's worth checking into at the very least.

If not, perhaps a speech therapist might be able to offer some suggestions?
posted by royalsong at 9:31 PM on August 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

Agreed upon hand signal. Seriously. Wave or raise your finger, or something, because it is hard for the other person to know when they have hit your "you're hollering" zone. That easy the conversation can keep going, and you don't have to repeat " why are you hollering" all day.
posted by anitanita at 9:51 PM on August 13, 2011 [3 favorites]

"way" not "easy"'.....oh auto correct iPad, do stop helping......
posted by anitanita at 9:53 PM on August 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

The biggest question I see is whether he understands that this is an issue and is willing to work on it. My own husband has a problem with volume regulation (extravert + grew up in a large family + tinnitus from too many rock concerts + gets LOUDER WHEN EXCITED YAY = ow my ears hurt) but after many years of feedback from me — "Psst! Indoor volume, sweetie" or a palm-down shhhh drop the volume! gesture — he's gotten to the point where a lot of the time he's able to self-regulate.

(It's kind of sweet: "SO ANYWAY THEN HE—" *expression of realization* *clears throat* "then he handed me the phone — see, I'm learning!" *grin*)
posted by Lexica at 9:57 PM on August 13, 2011 [3 favorites]

Here's an off-the-wall idea... I don't even know if this product exists but whatever...

Purchase a small decibel meter. Make sure it has an 'alert' feature that chimes when a preset level is exceeded (65 dB might be a good place to start [40-60 dB is normal conversation at 1 m]). If no such meter exists, it shouldn't be impossible to find a technician that can wave a Soldering Iron-Wand and cast a Silicon Spell (I have no clue what I'm talking about). Attach it to a necklace. Make him wear it.

This displaces the policing dynamic from you to an inanimate referee, which speaks (chimes) in your stead. As long as Hubby makes a good-faith effort to modify his volume when the meter beeps, you never have to say another word. He'll quickly notice how often he exceeds normal (objective!) speaking volume. Silently reward him with a smile and a kiss when he properly responds, and you have a good old fashioned case of classical conditioning!

You're no longer too sensitive. He's no longer bemused.

Something like a bark collar, except not? indeed.

Just don't call it a bark collar!
posted by troll at 10:38 PM on August 13, 2011 [6 favorites]

I was thinking the same thing as troll: if he has trouble understanding/believing the fact that he is actually louder than other people, an objective visual indication could be useful. I also don't know whether such a thing exists, but if it does it could help take some pressure off the situation.

But before that I'd agree with the hearing check and the lowering-your-own-voice response.
posted by alms at 10:45 PM on August 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

I understand that this is an emotional issue for you, but perhaps that's why he's blocking on it - he might be feeling blamed or guilty for hurting you. You could try making it a non-emotional point, just a "honey, you've got your loud voice on," or, "Down boy, I'm closer than a mile!" or whatever suits your normal happy conversational style.
Mr. Fruit tends to get loud when he's been online with headphones chatting for a while. He'll forget and holler at me, and I just say "woah honey, loud voice," and he oopses and we carry on.
Also nthing get his hearing checked.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 11:03 PM on August 13, 2011

In my experience no. Its almost impossible to get your husband to shut up.

Seriously though, I have been in relationship with a girl who was loud talker
and it was impossible to get her to change in any permanent way.
If I said something she would be conscious about it for a while but would forget
so easily, and be back to yelling into my ear.

In my experience when I brought it up more often she would just get offended,
and when she got offended she got even louder. When she got excited I could
be 3 rooms over and still hear her.

She got a job working with the elderly though, and they loved her booming voice.

Getting his hearing checked is a good idea, but even if they find something
and he gets a correcting device, he is still used to talking at a certain volume
and will continue to do so.
posted by digividal at 11:38 PM on August 13, 2011

I am one of these loud talkers, except I don't tend to talk that much when I'm angry. I can't speak on your husband's behalf, but I will say that as a loud talker I do not notice when I'm being loud. I don't believe I have any hearing problems, my voice just tends to project regardless of where I am. I can whisper, but my whisper is probably what the typical person's voice sounds like during a regular conversation. I also talk very loudly when I get excited. It hasn't been a true problem for me because of the expression on my face which is usually a smile. As a result, I can talk loudly but people rarely perceive me as someone that is angry at them. In your own situation, I recommend talking quietly so that your husband tries to talk quietly too (as someone else mentioned). The thing is, if you just mention that a loud talker is talking loudly then they will most likely try to change that during the next few vocal responses, but it doesn't last for a long period of time. If your husband constantly talks loudly and you have the fight or flight response, then I truly recommend becoming conscious of your own volume and trying to decrease your volume as an attempt to have him decrease his volume. However, if he is just excited then either let him express his excitement in a loud and booming voice, or politely find a way to tell him to lower his volume.
posted by sincerely-s at 12:36 AM on August 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

I am a loud talker and it is a hard habit to break, in many ways is more of an aspect of my personality than a habit. A hearing check, lowering your own voice, or maybe a friendly hand signal or a catch phrase you can use to let him know when he's doing it may help. But I also think you should work on reading cues other than volume to avoid getting upset when it's not necessary. I think my "oops I'm talking too loud because I'm excited" is very easy to distinguish from my "I am angry GRAR!" Pay attention to the content and the context, and don't assume that he's angry when maybe he just found out that his favorite band is putting out a new album or whatever. He does need to adjust his volume, but you also need to give him the benefit of the doubt- stop assuming that he is mad at you. I think you are too sensitive about his voice- it would make me really sad if someone that I loved frequently cringed and got upset for no reason, and it probably would make me feel really self-conscious if it was the mere sound of voice that made them feel this way.
posted by emd3737 at 12:50 AM on August 14, 2011 [5 favorites]

I grew up in a loud family. (In fact, our extended family jokingly refers to us as The Loud Family.) I am, by far, the quietest one. Of my family. When let out into the wild, however, I can be quite loud.

Especially when talking on the phone. Hoo, boy. I hate talking on phones. I have a subconscious, uncontrollable concern that it's hard for me to be heard over the phone (especially if the other person is talking at an unusual volume--loudly or quietly), and have often been told by non-family phone contacts that it sounds like I'm shouting into the phone. Oops.

I also talk loudly when excited, or when I'm in a situation where I want to make sure I'm heard the first time so as not to inconvenience anyone. (Like if I'm lost and need to ask someone for directions, I tend to accost them on a street in a maneuver that embarrasses the hell out of my boyfriend ("you can't shout at them!" "what? I wasn't shouting!").)

Anyway, I realize it's a problem I have, but it's pretty impossible to control. Even when I'm actively thinking "speakquietlyspeakquietlyspeakquietly," my voice crawls back up to LOUD if I'm in a situation my brain decides needs a loud voice. For me, it doesn't matter if the person I'm speaking to is speaking loudly or quietly. If they're loud, well, I need to be loud, too, so they can hear me! If they're speaking quietly, it's harder to hear them, so I unconsciously start talking louder in an effort to make them speak louder. It's a vicious cycle.

I have no hearing problems.

One thing that does work for me (that my boyfriend does, because he's the one who bears the brunt of my loudness most often) is a simple hand gesture. If I'm being loud, he'll take his hand, hold it parallel to the ground in front of him, and move it down about a foot. A clear "lower the volume level" sign. It's an immediate signal, he doesn't have to interrupt me to let me know I'm being loud, and it's very effective. And because it's not a verbal reprimand, it doesn't feel like nagging. In the past, he'd try to get me to be quieter by saying, "you're shouting!" which only makes me defensive because, OMG I AM TOTALLY NOT SHOUTING! I was just born this way.

Importantly, though, you need to realize that this is not about you. I haven't yelled at someone in anger since I was a sullen teenager. The only time I ever intentionally yell at someone, period, is when they're far away and I need to get their attention, keep them from walking into traffic. Discuss using the hand gesture with him at a neutral moment when you're not fighting. Then start using it (sparingly, don't overdo it or it will lose meaning) the next time he gets loud.

But please, don't take it personally. That does no one any good.
posted by phunniemee at 1:35 AM on August 14, 2011 [6 favorites]

My paternal grandfather was deaf and did just this. He had a hearing aid, and so he could somewhat regulate his voice, and also knew he got too loud for us at times.

My grandmother had some tricks for dealing with it. Physical signals work well, yes! She would also often say "TONE IT DOWN, PLEASE" or "I CAN HEAR YOU VERY WELL, DEAR". When my grandfather was clearly angry-loud, she'd just stare at him until the tirade finished, then purposefully talk at a volume he couldn't hear. That usually worked, except when he was really ticked off at something. Then the trick involved us kids as well – she'd whisper funny things to us, we'd laugh, and my grandfather would be like, "?" and naturally tone down (and calm down). But yeah, a lot depends on his personality – if he's generally a good person and doesn't direct his anger at you, but expresses anger conversationally (i.e. he still sees you as an independent participant, not a punching bag), i.e. the "I'M ANGRY AND DAMMIT I WANT TO BE HEARD RAAARRR" type, then this sort of let it vent and then appeal to his gentler side will probably work. The upside is that it also works in non-anger situations, since the silence (or whispers) set a gentle, non-accusatory contrast to what he'll (hopefully) realize was his own HIGHLY RESONANT SPEECH. :)
posted by fraula at 1:44 AM on August 14, 2011

I came in to recommend exactly what troll and alms wondered about. Yes, it exists, and it's called a limiter. It's often used in downtown pubs and venues which feature live music to keep noise levels down for the neighbors/to comply with municipal ordinances. Mr.likeso (musician) says it registers decibel levels, and when the decibels reach a pre-set value, a flashing light goes off. The band knows if they don't lower the volume within 30 seconds, the amps' power is cut. Of course standard limiters/compressors/gates are hooked into sound system feeds, so you'd have to use a decibel meter with mic and hook it up to a light yourself. It's a bit of a bother, and it's not a natural interpersonal tool, but if you used something like this it would give your husband an objective measurement and take you out of the equation.

(Mr.likeso comes from a large family, and all members learned to speak loudly just to be heard. But as each child left the nest, the volume lowered. They now all speak at a normal volume. However, he also says the members of a neighboring large family never did. The father was - literally - a drill sergeant.)
posted by likeso at 4:37 AM on August 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Remind your husband that he does not have the right to tell you whether you are comfortable. When he is the sole source of your discomfort, it is incumbent upon him to cut it the hell out, regardless of whether he's doing it intentionally. I like the idea others have given of establishing a hand signal, so you're not interrupting him or derailing into an argument. Just don't let him get away with ignoring it, so you're forced to go from a quick touch of the nose to rubbing it like a hack actor to waving like you're trying to land a plane. Give him one warning, and then walk away or do something else to discontinue his talking.
posted by Etrigan at 4:50 AM on August 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

Oh! How about a natural limiter? A cat!
Most will startle at sudden, loud shifts in speech volume.
posted by likeso at 4:58 AM on August 14, 2011

He doesn't see the evidence himself that there's a problem. He's either got to accept that there is and change his habits by looking to external cues that aren't natural for him and get into the habit of speaking at volume lower than what's habitual/instinctive, or he's going to have a partner who feels defensive, startled and frustrated - not to mention disturbing others; this has to be affecting him socially and possibly even professionally. Hopefully he cares enough about that to actually change his behavior.

I think the hearing test is a great idea, as is the delimiter; heck, if you can't afford that, get out a video camera and film a normal evening (with his knowledge, don't do it secretly) to try to capture examples of his volume going up noticeably. Not to record a fight, I don't mean that - I think from your examples it should be pretty clear in regular interaction too.

In your situation - because I have an inborn fear/cringe response to being yelled at too - I've finally learned to ask, as calmly as I can, "Why are you yelling?" They can deny that they're yelling but if you ask it every time, they're going to have to see the pattern.
posted by lemniskate at 5:42 AM on August 14, 2011

There's an app for that!

I mean the decibel meter! (There might be a "husband communicator" app that magically renders your husband receptive to reasonable suggestions, but I've never seen one...) Anyway, try downloading a decibel reader app for your smartphone. I can't recommend an app in particular, and I don't even know if you have a smartphone...

But if you do have a smartphone, there's an app for this. Look for an app with an alarm you can set to go off when sound reaches a certain level.

I'm hoping independent confirmation will help your cause!

Also. Urge your guy to get his hearing check.

Good luck!
posted by jbenben at 5:54 AM on August 14, 2011 [7 favorites]

jbenben, that is completely cool.
And the ultimate tool. OP, if you don't have a smartphone, now is the time to purchase. :)
posted by likeso at 6:08 AM on August 14, 2011

Nthing hand gesture. When no one is upset and the mood is good, bring up the issue in a friendly but serious way and get you to both agree on a single hand gesture which just means "too loud".

I have admittedly sensitive hearing and depending on my mood can be really sensitive to certain sounds. My partner is generally quiet but some topics can lead to a ramping up which is painful at times, and the hand gestures solve the problem quickly and without any problem.

I think it's important to cast it not as entirely "you're too loud" but "the loud talking is painful for me" because then you're not accusing your partner of doing something wrong intrinsically, just of doing something that doesn't work really well for you particularly. So if they're not willing to do some adjustments within that "what I'm doing is painful for my partner" paradigm, you can kind of establish that there's a relationship issue that needs some work there.

Interestingly I've found that my hearing sensitivity directly correlates to my mood; when I'm depressive even the sound of people chewing will drive me insane, but when I'm "up" pretty much anything is good.
posted by seanmpuckett at 7:05 AM on August 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Usually what happens when he uses his loud voice in a situation where I'm not expecting to be shouted at, is that I have a fight-or-flight response. Because regardless of whether it's coming from a benign place or not, I still think it's shouting. It's startling and it flusters me. And, I react as such, responding to his voice defensively, angrily, or with tears. And then that means I'm being loud too which only encourages him! It devolves into drama about feeling safe, which doesn't help to address the original issue.

(Assuming your husband doesn't have hearing problems or something) It sounds like the problem is with both of you. You both seem to be waiting on some kind of signed notice from god that you really have to change to accommodate one another. Your husband's loud voice may be a part of him, but if it's affecting his wife in this way, even if he doesn't mean a thing by it, he should be working on it, sincerely and consistently. At the same time, your husband's loud voice is a part of him, and if it's affecting you in this way even when you know he doesn't mean anything by it, you should be working on that sincerely and consistently too. Your fear of loud voices must come from somewhere, and wherever it comes from it's legitimate, but that doesn't make it a nice thing for either of you to deal with. You can get rid of it, and if you need someone to tell you: you should. (To be fair, you say you're working on your sensitivity in therapy, but then you don't mention any further intention or plan to change your end of things, so I'm not sure what that means in practice.)

Your husband's loudness is at least half of the problem, but unlike many other ways one person might frighten another, it's not a moral failing or an act of wrongdoing, and it needs not to be treated as such. Your feelings are not wrong, either. Neither of you is to blame, and so neither of you should bear sole responsibility for making your communication mutually comfortable. I worry that each of you perceives that the power to solve the problem lies with the other one, who could just "not be that way". Which actually is the case, in a way, but that's not what love is about, right? You can only frustrate each other holding back your own energies, not really trying, waiting for the other one to get it done. Put your backs into changing - both of you. I read your post a bunch of times and still couldn't tell whether you needed this advice or not, so I'm saying it anyway, and you can decide if it helps. Good luck to you.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 7:05 AM on August 14, 2011 [5 favorites]

Is there someone other than you that he's close to that can tell him this?
posted by k8t at 7:22 AM on August 14, 2011

With regards to those who mention hearing problems: have a look at this recent askme thread on how to cope with being able to understand people in a crowded place. Bear in mind that there are some people who have clinically normal hearing but still have this problem - King Kopetzky syndrome to give it a technical term. Basically these are the people who, for whatever physiological or psychological reason, are below average at the job of following speech in a noisy environment. If your husband not only talks loudly but sometimes fails to hear what you have said then this could be the problem.

or he could have what my wife calls "typical man syndrome" -sometimes the solution is not so elaborately named.
posted by rongorongo at 7:22 AM on August 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

Oh, hey! We have that problem, too. I'm extremely sensitive to noises, and my boyfriend...well, he's from Ohio.

It sounds as though you have brought it up independently and let him know that it really is a persistent problem for you, and that he's on board, so if that's the case, and he's not emotionally volatile, he'd probably respond well to the hand gestures others have suggested.

Oddly, what ended up working best for us was our dog. She's a real nursemaid type, so whenever anyone's voice gets too much above normal volume or she detects any other type of discord, she comes running and starts throwing calming signals until she's sure everything is OK. She's like a biofeedback machine or something. She has a genuine calming effect, and she doles it out whenever it's needed (also sometimes when it isn't, but that is also OK). And in the long run, it seems to have cut down on the loud talking and the angry recriminations against video games.

So maybe, short of getting a voice modulation service dog, you could try to replicate that somehow in a more human form. So maybe instead of licking his face or showing him your belly, you could gently stroke his arm or something when he's getting loud to sort of calm and soften him up a little while providing the necessary feedback. (That might be most effective if limited to times when you know he's not angry. A dog I think can pull off soothing an angry person, but it might backfire if a human did it.)

Your efforts to meet him in the middle by tempering your reactions to loudness are indicative of your sincerity and your good will in trying to work this out for mutual benefit. Do remind him of this if necessary, just to assure him that you're working on it too, and not just expecting him to bend to your will.
posted by ernielundquist at 7:29 AM on August 14, 2011

Talking very loudly and consistently being unable to monitor that without being directly interrupted is on the list of ADHD hyperactive/impulsive traits (if it turns out his hearing is fine.) Since we're collecting potential diagnoses. ;)

Nthing a decibel monitor and a trip to the doctor.
posted by SMPA at 7:36 AM on August 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

I naturally will project from the diaphragm, besides growing up mostly in the loud fast talking northeastern US and having a very shouty family. The way I deal with it is by being aware of it, so I am consciously controlling my volume most of the time. If I forget, I'll get loud and if it is a problem (waking babies, etc.) I might get an "indoor voice" comment or some other such note to make me aware of the fact it is a problem. There are times when being loud is good, during presentations, in crowds, making impassioned speeches, but not when it's confused with being angry.
My father just gets angry at everything and will shout about whatever is bothering him. He doesn't seem to realize he sounds angry and there is always this battle about why he is shouting. He has anger management issues and is intolerant of other people being loud. Dad is low on self awareness.
Your husband needs to know this is an issue and it's surprising that he doesn't seem to know it, that it doesn't come up more often. I think men get away with being loud more than women. Also, he may not be in touch with his feelings and how they are translating into behavior.
It's not easy being quiet all the time, so having a time when he can not worry about being loud periodically may help in adjusting, so he can just be loud and excited about something and you can get kind of use to this aspect of him. If he is just chronically loud, it can be too oppressive an environment for anyone. If you can't tell the difference between his being excited and his being angry, it could be that he doesn't know either and maybe he is use to shouting down other people and this is how he deals with things. It's not a healthy way to communicate.
Maybe he you can arrange a meeting with your therapist so he can be made aware of his problem, since you are already doing what you can on your end.
posted by provoliminal at 7:48 AM on August 14, 2011

My DH was a morning, drive-time DJ for many years and I've always loved his voice. Just in the last couple of years, though, his volume has crept up in ways that I'm also struggling with. I share your "Fight or Flight" response to that quality that men with this type of voice can turn on that is qualitatively different from even being loud. Maybe your husband does this or maybe not. In mine it feels absolutely like a weapon that he can pull out and wield at will. Discussing it about ten times did not stop it. My trying my best to imitate it, though, did seem to make a difference, and he's not done it in about eight months.

We are also going through the sheer volume issue when he gets excited and kind of loses himself in what he's conveying. In our case we think there might be some early-onset Alzheimer's as there are some other symptoms and a strong family history. This does not seem to be your situation, where so much depends on your husband's sensitivity to your response and his level of caring enough to change. Is he sensitive to your needs generally or is there a parallel overbearing quality elsewhere in his behavior? It's written and I've notice that Taureans (my husband) tend to use their voices as tools. This suggests some consciousness and thus ability to modulate. It seems to me that either a man has this ability of self-control or he doesn't, and this will show throughout his character.
posted by R2WeTwo at 9:04 PM on August 14, 2011

In the case of someone I knew, it just took a lot of reminding at first. Now there's just a periodic "I'm right here--I can hear you!" from the listener (said in a nice tone) when the speaker gets loud again.

But the hearing check might not be a bad idea.
posted by wintersweet at 7:53 AM on August 15, 2011

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