Hearing Loss and Relationships
“He thinks I’m yelling, but I’m not. I’m trying to speak louder so he can hear me. But after raising my voice and repeating myself multiple times, he thinks I’m aggressive and mad. Upset, he asks me why I’m being so short with him. I just want to be heard, but, sometimes, saying nothing would be much easier.”
Ahhh, the joys of relationships! Quite often, I see the highs and lows of relationships in our clinic—the agitated spouse bringing in her loved one for a hearing test or the concerned child motivating his parents to finally discuss getting hearing aids.
However, I also see the joys of restored communication. When patients are fit with hearing aids, their perspective changes. They finally understand how impeding their untreated hearing loss was. I witness nervous patients rediscover their independence once they no longer need to rely on family members to repeat themselves.
HEARING LOSS ON THE HOMEFRONT
Communication is a vital part of our everyday lives. We interact with people all day: working, parenting, traveling, gathering with family/friends, and running errands. Hearing loss can present challenges when conversing, particularly with strangers or when the location has poor acoustics. Life does not slow down for someone with hearing loss. Often, we see these individuals attempting compensation strategies to get by, such as lip reading or using their loved ones as mediators.
Researchers have evaluated the relationship dynamic between people with hearing loss and their loved ones. Their studies demonstrate that hearing loss produces feelings of frustration, embarrassment, and distress. Partners of those with hearing loss often feel forced to involve their partners in social gatherings and to avoid embarrassing scenarios by smoothing social interactions. This voluntary responsibility can lead to significant stress and strain in the relationship. While one partner is trying to enjoy himself socially, he must also repeat words and phrases back to his hearing-impaired partner.
I hear stories of patients struggling to have conversations even in their own homes. A spouse wonders why the other can’t hear his question while the dishwasher is rumbling and the TV is blaring. He raises his voice, thinking this will solve the dilemma. However, noticing his tone, his spouse feels attacked and accuses him of “shouting and yelling.”
When communication breakdowns occur, both sides feel annoyed, resentful, and irritated. The good news is that help is available!
DO’S & DON’TS OF COMMUNICATION
Communication strategies can go a LONG way, even for someone without hearing loss! Just because your loved ones are fit with hearing aids doesn’t mean they are now able to communicate from rooms away. To optimize conversation and reduce communication breakdowns, consider some of the following tips for talking with your family:
- Get their attention (say their names) prior to asking a question or talking.
- Communicate face to face (visual cues help everyone!).
- Speak slowly and clearly.
- Try using different words.
- Have patience.
- Shout or scream.
- Speak rapidly.
- Turn your face away or communicate from a different room.
- Repeat the same phrase louder each time.
- Get frustrated and say, “Nevermind! Forget it.”
WHAT CAN YOU DO TO HELP?
“Hearing loss very often is such a gradual phenomenon that the person is in denial. You really have to be patient with them in getting them to come forward to get help.”
— Marion Ross
Communication is key to maintaining a healthy relationship. If you or your loved one is reluctant to apply these tips, consider educating yourself on the influence hearing loss can have. Also, share your feelings with your partner. Hearing loss isn’t “their problem.” It is a roadblock in your relationship that is affecting both of you and one that you must overcome together.
The good news is that there are plenty of tools and technology for individuals with hearing loss to use to improve their communication and quality of life. One of the most important contributors to successful hearing aid use is support from loved ones.
We want you to hear your best for yourself and for the people who mean the most to you. At The Hearing & Dizziness Clinic, our job is to walk you through your hearing loss and provide treatment options. Please contact us if you or your loved ones are experiencing hearing loss. Everyone deserves a chance to hear better.
Morgan-Jones RA. Hearing Differently: The Impact of Hearing Impairment on Family Life. London and Philadelphia: Whurr Publishers: 2001.
Tjørnhøj-Thomsen, Tine, and Hans Henrik Philipsen. “Hearing Loss as A Social Problem: A Study of Hearing-Impaired Spouses and Their Hearing Partners.” The Hearing Review (2019).