The ‘Record and Repeat’ Phenomenon

My husband Ryan and I have been together for a very long time. Since we were fourteen years old, to be exact. Although September 29th will be our fourth wedding anniversary, November 4th will be the 15th anniversary of our very first date. We are also expecting our second child any day now. In light of these upcoming events, we came to a startling realization: We’ve been together more than half of our lives!

I’ll save you the “mushy” stuff about Ryan being my best friend and love of my life. The sudden epiphany that we’ve spent most of our lives together (longer than we’ve existed without each other) inevitably opened a dialog about our relationship. I asked what Ryan felt was the key to our successful co-existence and, without flinching, he said “Record and repeat”.

“Record and repeat” is a label that I gave to a phenomenon that tends to occur when we are on the verge of an argument. I consider it to be my husband’s sixth sense. Or maybe it’s some kind of husband survival instinct that he developed when that white gold and meteorite wedding band was first slid onto his finger. Regardless, I’ll demonstrate how the phenomenon works:

Usually the situation begins with me. I’ll be “going off” in a typical female-style tangent about something so important that I feel it deserves my husband’s full and undivided attention (e.g. infant formula recalls or foot moisturizer).

At some point in the conversation I would inevitably turn away from the activity at hand (e.g. driving, shopping, changing a diaper) and glance over at Ryan, only to find him immersed in his iPod or staring into the distance with a glassy-eyed expression on his face.

Finding him obviously distracted, I would react by blurting out my husband’s second-least-favorite statement (after “Not tonight honey, I’m tired…”):

“You aren’t even listening to me!”

(…Yes, I know. A shameless invitation for an argument!!) But this is where the phenomenon typically occurs.

To my shock and horror, Ryan almost ALWAYS replies, “Yes I was…” then continues to repeat my entire speech back to me, word-for-word, without missing a beat.

The first time this happened, my jaw literally hit the floor. Had he actually been listening?!  He remembered every little word of what I had said! He was even able to recite it back to me, including my dramatic pauses! I would then declare my defeat:

“Oh. Sorry honey. You just looked distracted. I didn’t mean to accuse…”

Of course I assume that every husband who is reading this right now is probably giving my husband a mental pat on the back. He won that argument fair-and-square, before it could even evolve into an actual argument… but it was a short-lived victory.

One particularly lengthy demonstration of “the phenomenon” occurred at the grocery store and we inevitably wandered into the baby formula (or was it foot moisturizer?) isle. Upon pressing him for his opinion on the subject at hand, the glassy-eyed expression returned.

“I don’t know. Why are you asking me?!” he said.

And THAT was when I first identified my husband’s unusual skill: “You WEREN’T listening to me! You just… I don’t know… You just recorded and repeated it, without acknowledging anything that I said!”

And thus the phenomenon was born. Ryan initially disputed it’s existence, insisting that he had indeed been listening. At first he was even irritated that I had given it a name. Over time he came to accept and embrace it though. What had once irked him is now seen as a painless way to prevent (or end) an argument. I’ll ask him about his opinion on a subject that we had discussed previously and he’ll blame the phenomenon.


Unfortunately, he does it a little too well:
“Sorry honey. When you were telling me about the weird noise the dishwasher was making, I was thinking of how exciting it’ll be to have a new baby in the house and what a great mommy you are. I think I did ‘Record and repeat’ again.”

“…Wha-? But! Wait, you were supposed to be listening- ugh…never mind.”

So what’s the secret to our success as a couple? I’m not 100% sure, but I do recognize that we seem to have a successful system for avoiding little unwanted arguments. I won’t insist that every husband learn Ryan’s technique (although it obviously doesn’t hurt!) but I will say that he has obviously adapted to my needs as a wife. And although I recognize the “escape mechanism” involved, I don’t dispute it. “Record and repeat” has become a code word for us. It’s almost like he’s saying “I love you and I don’t want to argue with you about this.” That’s when I realize that I don’t want to argue either.

It’s true what they say about not arguing “the little things”. It’s just not worth it. Somewhere between the ages of 14 and 29, my husband and I inadvertently developed a system to detect and (most of the time) prevent it. Every person is different, and every couple has it’s own dynamic. All I can suggest is to communicate with each other and stay open-minded. You never know what might lead to your own secret language, code-word or (like us) a “phenomenon”.

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About the Author: Ann Milligan started dating her husband when they were only fourteen years old. After spending a full decade effectively preventing him from escaping, he eventually surrendered, proposed, and they tied the knot in 2007. Ann now spends her free time caring for their two-year-old son and anticipating the arrival of their second child any day now. She believes the key to a successful relationship is communication, negotiation, humor ...and allowing her husband to proof-read and approve her writing before airing her family's dirty laundry online for the world to read.

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  1. Ken Jamaca says:

    I am a MASTER of record and repeat…although I didn’t learn it as part of being a husband…I learned it (and perfected it) by “listening” to my mother. 🙂 

  2. Rjhammer78 says:

    That was pretty awesome. You guys are still one of my amazing couples. Yes I have a top 5 and want more to add to it. It seems like now a days people are having a harder time finding that middle ground of understanding that a relationship takes some effort. Knowing the codes and hand signals for understanding each other is extremely helpful!

  3. Colleen says:

    My husband, Cliff, can do this. I have no idea how, but he can do this and sometimes, he doesn’t even realize what it is I’ve said until he’s repeating it back to me.

  4. Rachael R says:

    Ohhh that’s awesome!! Grats you guys 😀 😀 also, Ann, I envy your writing ability. My writing is either doctoral thesis dry or slang extraordinaire. This is a beautiful article on all accounts!!!!

  5. Mom says:

    Yes Ken, you are a MASTER!  Love, Mom

  6. […] It was thoughtful (filled a void in her life that I knew about because I listened…and didn’t just ‘record and repeat’). […]