My husband's sighs are driving me up the wall!

Every time he takes a sip of anything, he emits this deep, mournful exhalation. It is spooky and weird and I want him to stop.

Published July 1, 2008 10:56AM (EDT)

Dear Reader,

Missed you while I was on vacation.

Judging from some of your letters, I guess you missed me too. It's nice to be missed. It's nice to be back.

I've got lots of news, but let's get to that tomorrow.

It might take a few days to get fully back in the swing of things, so let's begin with a subject on the lighter side, what do you say? There are many problems a marriage can have, and this is one of the better ones:

Dear Cary,

I've lived with my husband for 10 years, and we're still really good together. Key to our harmony is letting go of small things and being wise about what to turn into big things. It works. But as much as I try, one small thing is driving me crazy and I'm not sure what to do about it.

My husband, "Victor," has for the past year begun sighing after he takes a sip of his drink. He used to only do this with hot drinks, and I can understand the sigh if you need to release some of the heat. But now, he's doing the sigh after every sip. Of everything. Coffee, water, beer, milk, whatever.

And I don't mean sigh as in a depressed, I'm-so-sad exhale. It's more like a whispered "aaahhh," the kind of noise an actor makes in a commercial after drinking a delicious Diet Coke. It sounds like such a small thing, I know. But if you lived with this every day, it would be more irritating than a dripping faucet. My 18-month-old son has learned to do this for comic effect, and now I hear the sound in stereo during meals.

So my question is, should I find a way to let this go or should I tell "Victor" to stop? I feel pretty silly saying, "Can you stop aaahhh-ing after every sip?" On the other hand, he's probably not showing the best manners and maybe I should correct that.

A bigger worry: I read recently that couples find each other more irritating the longer they've been together. Is this where I'm headed?

Searching for Earplugs

Dear Searching for Earplugs,

Maybe there is a third way here between just ignoring it or telling him to stop. Maybe you can just talk about it. Maybe you could say something like, "Victor, not that there's anything wrong with it, but I've noticed that for the past year, every time you took a sip of a liquid, you have emitted a deep sigh. Could we talk about that?"

Give that a try. Just see how it goes. Watch what he does. Do you think he'll get defensive? If you are concerned that he'll get defensive, you may be interpreting the sigh to mean something it doesn't really mean. When Al Gore sighs, we think we know what it means. But we really don't. He could have just been working out a lot. Sometimes when I work out a lot I find myself sighing. I think maybe it's a respiratory adjustment. On the other hand, sometimes I feel like life is utterly hopeless and everybody should just shoot themselves, and I might sigh a deep sigh then, too. It's hard to tell -- have I just been working out too hard, or do I really think everybody should just shoot themselves?

Can't tell. That's why you have to talk about it. So you might ask him, "Are you just making a respiratory adjustment, or do you really think all humanity is a pestilence and suicide is the only rational solution?"

Maybe if you said that, instead of sighing he'd do a spit take. Wouldn't that be strange? Wouldn't it be strange, and rather upsetting, if he stopped sighing and started doing spit takes all the time?

Now, we all like to try to make a situation better, don't we? But there's always the danger that we'll make the situation worse. What if now every time he takes a sip of something he does a spit take? Then, in about a year, you would be in the position of saying, "Victor, not that there's anything wrong with it, but I've noticed that for the past year, every time you take a sip of something you do a spit take. Could we talk about that?" And then he would do a spit take and you'd say, "See! That's what I mean!"

And he'd say, "Gee, so that's why my shirts always need cleaning!"

The more you learn about sighing, the more interesting it becomes. It may be a sign of something he is not aware of.

Look at these sites concerned with sighing. Their discussions and articles are fascinating:

Here was a really good forum-type discussion on Metafilter.

And this article on offers fascinating insight into the physiology and the poetry of sighing.

Here is a sort-of related article on about, er, child sighing or grunting.

So, take a look at those things, and think about sighing both as an expression of possible emotion, as a sign of stress, and as a purely physiological habit. And then your best bet may be to open a dialogue with your husband about sighing. Just ask, "What's up with the sighing?"

And hope he doesn't do a spit take.

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