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What We Can Learn about Love from The Hum

Have you ever heard of the hum?  I hadn’t either until the triplets and I, on our morning walks, started hearing this humming noise coming from…somewhere.

At first, we tried to locate it.  After all, noises come from somewhere, right?  So, we took different walks, trying to locate the source.  But we couldn’t find the origin.

The odd thing was that it was just as loud in one place as it was in another—we weren’t getting any closer to, or further away from the source.

I then did a bit of Internet research and discovered that we were not alone in hearing the hum.  It is a global phenomenon, and no one knows exactly what it is, or even if it is just one thing.

For the triplets, hearing such a bizarre background noise was a first.  For me, unfortunately, it wasn’t.

Some years back I had taken an anti-malarial medication, Mefloquine, also known as Lariam.  This medication is known for its bizarre side effects, such as hallucinations, depression, and panic attacks.

The side effect I experienced was tinnitus, or ringing in my ears.  I had never had tinnitus before and found it kind of scary.  It actually was hard to sleep—I kept hearing ringing, as though someone pressed a doorbell and forgot ever to let their finger off it.  Except that there was no one at the door.

I saw a number of specialist MDs, none of whom were able to help me but all of whom told me that, if it lasted a year, it probably would be permanent.

It lasted over a year, but eventually it went away.  I’m always hoping it won’t come back!

What does all this have to do with love and close relationships?

If you have a perfect relationship, you need not read any further.

But if you don’t--and does anyone, really?—then you have some kind of hum in the background of your relationship.

This hum is something in your relationship that is an irritant—something that does not quite work.

Karin and I have one in our relationship: I’m a collector.  I accumulate stuff; Karin is a de-accumulator. She likes to get rid of stuff. She wants to make sure the trash collectors have something to do when they visit our house.

Unfortunately for her, our triplets appear to have inherited my collector gene or genes, which I in turn inherited from my father.

Most of the time, the collector/thrower-outer issue remains like a slightly annoying hum to her –an annoying noise in the background.

But then, sometimes, something new comes in the mail for one of my collections, and she is reminded of how annoying my habit is to her.  And I am reminded of how annoying it is to her.  I also am reminded that, sometimes, it is annoying even to me!

I try to moderate my collecting, until that next thing I just really need, usually an old watch that to me looks like a treasured heirloom with an exciting history going back to the early twentieth century, and looks to her like yet another piece of junk that cost money and that will take up space.

The hum in a relationship can be from just about anything.

It may be an annoying habit—does your spouse spend too much time watching ballgames, or forget to pay the bills, or always seem to have one too many drinks, or forget to brush their teeth, or shower just a little too infrequently, or talk too much or too little, or get angry just too quickly?

Over the years, I have come to the conclusion that almost all couples have a hum.  You can try to change the habit in yourself or ask your partner to try to change their habit.

Sometimes you will succeed, but often, you won’t.  What do you do?


Many people learn to habituate to annoyances in their lives.  The triplets and I started to habituate to the hum—just not to notice it was there anymore.

If we focused on it, of course, we could hear it.  But it just became part of the background noise.

Habituation can happen even with louder, more sudden noises.  Have you ever lived or temporarily resided near a construction site? At first, the noise is irritating as hell. After a while, you may find yourself hardly noticing it, placing it into the background along with all the other noises you live with.

If your partner has an annoying habit, can you just learn to live with it and not notice it all so much?

Mutually agreed upon habit modification.

If your partner has an annoying habit, or if you have one, can the habit be changed?

Can you agree on a maximum time per week for watching ballgames, maybe even keeping a log?  Can you have a bill-paying calendar?  Can you have an alarm go off to remind your partner about brushing their teeth?  Or a shower alarm?  Or can one of you learn to count to 10 before getting angry?

Many habits can be changed if one works at it.  I stopped biting my nails just about a year ago, after doing it my whole life.  Now I’m done with it, well, pretty much done!

Cognitive-behavioral therapy.

The doctors, unable to cure my tinnitus, told me that I could learn cognitive-behavioral techniques to get my mind off the ringing in my ears.

The basic idea of cognitive-behavioral therapy is to identify a negative thought about a specific situation and then change that negative and often automatic thought to a more positive and adaptive thought.

The hum of tinnitus—and the hum of whatever problem lies beneath your relationship—can be mitigated by your viewing it in a more positive way.

No, it doesn’t have to destroy your relationship.

No, it does not have to bother you constantly.

Yes, there is more to life than just that.  Don’t succumb: Make the most of your life.


Sometimes, you keep noticing that hum.

But you may be able to distract yourself.

Do you have more important things to think about?  Do you have problems that require your attention far more than that annoying hum?

You may choose to focus on them.


Acceptance is the realization that none of us is perfect; we all have our flaws.  And we can choose either to focus on those flaws, in others or in ourselves, or focus on what is positive in us.

It is the realization that people who live in glass houses should be reluctant to cast stones.

Can you accept the hum, even though you still “hear” it?


With a hum, whether from tinnitus or from some external but unknown source, you have no choice but to accept.

With the hum of behavior, you do have a choice.  It depends on you and on what is causing the hum.

If you can’t figure out the cause, you might want to consult a marital counselor or an individual therapist.

But if you know the cause, and you believe it is serious, you may need to confront your partner and the issue.

It is one thing for someone, say, to snore—there are solutions—another for someone almost never to bathe, or to be an alcoholic or a drug addict, or to spend time on Tinder when you thought you had a committed relationship.

Sometimes, you just have to go for broke—either the behavior changes or the relationship ends.

Tomorrow morning, the triplets and I will hear the hum.  But we will enjoy the walk, nevertheless.  After maybe after 15 minutes of walking, we’ll say, what hum?

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