5 ways hearing loss impacts your relationships – And 5 Solutions
It’s frustrating having a hearing loss – always having to ask for repeats, looking as if you’re not interested (that’s because you didn’t realise you’re being spoken to) and people thinking you’re rude because you’re ignoring them. True – very frustrating. But what about your partner? Have you ever considered how challenging it is for them? Always having to repeat what they’ve said, having to sit with the TV blaring and being constantly interrupted at the movies to explain the plot. Certainly exasperating for them as well. And this frustration, on both sides, can but a strain on a marriage.
Communication is a two-way street. Having a hearing loss is an added difficulty. Both parties need to acknowledge the difficulties and work through them. But there are solutions – along with getting a hearing aid. You and your partner can change your communication habits. Below are five subtle ways a hearing loss can impact on your marriage, along with suggested communication strategies to avoid the strain.
Strain #1: Relationship Frustrations
Your partner thinks you’re ignoring them – and no-one wants to be ignored. When you don’t hear as well as you used to, you not only miss words, but you may also not realise someone is talking to you. Hearing loss causes cognitive overload, so when you’re focused on a specific task, if someone starts a conversation, you may not be aware they’re talking to you.
Have your partner say your name before they begin a conversation with you. Ask them to not speak from another room (speech doesn’t travel well around corners or through walls). You can also get them to touch you lightly on the shoulder to break your focus on what you’re doing, so you’re aware someone is close and wants to communicate.
Strain # 2: Communication Frustrations
You’re getting frustrated asking for repeats, so to hide this frustration, you just nod and agree with your partner. But what have you agreed to? You may have said yes to going on holiday to Iceland – and that’s the last place you want to visit! Agreeing to something, then denying it later, or not doing what you agreed to do, puts subtle stresses on a relationship. This can lead to resentment from your partner.
To avoid frustration for both communication partners, there’s a simple tactic you can use that shows you’re listening but may not have heard everything. If your partner says “Let’s go on a holiday to Iceland,” and all you hear is “Let’s go on a holiday...”, repeat back the part of the conversation you heard, but turn it into a question. “Yes, let’s go on a holiday – where to?” Or perhaps the conversation was about an upcoming visit to a friend. Your partner says: “I’ve organised us to visit Ted next Monday at lunchtime.” Maybe you only heard “Ted” and “lunchtime”. Turn it into a question – “What day are we going to have lunch with Ted?” This way you demonstrate to your partner that you are paying attention, but have just missed part of the sentence. They don’t have the frustration of having to repeat the whole sentence again, and you have the relief of knowing you’ve gained all the pertinent information about your visit to Ted.
Strain #3: Social Isolation
Often people with hearing loss separate themselves from others to take away the burden of difficult communication. Isolation from others, particularly from noisier social situations may lead to your partner also becoming isolated. They may not wish to attend social gatherings without you. On the other hand, they may go alone, leaving you to become more isolated at home in your increasingly shrinking world. Studies have shown that isolation leads to premature death, and hearing loss is a leading cause of isolation.
Work out your strategy for attending noisy situations. Inform the others present that you have a hearing loss and, if possible, have your conversations in a quieter part of the room. Have a wall behind you and make sure there’s plenty of light on the person’s face you’re communicating with. This helps with lip-reading and watching facial expressions. If you’re at a restaurant, ask for a table in the corner, away from the kitchen and any music that might be playing. You may feel a little uncomfortable asking for these things, but people invite you to social occasions because they want to see you and communicate with you. Often they don’t know the best way to help you hear better (and most people, especially family and friends) do want to help. Letting people know the little things they can do to help you hear better will be a relief for them, as well as you. Keeping active and social, for both you and your partner, is important in maintaining a healthy life and relationship.
Strain #4: Auditory Memory Decline
Your memory isn’t what it used to be, so you appear to be forgetting things you did hear (or misheard them so did or said the wrong thing because of not getting all the correct information). When hearing levels deteriorate, so does auditory memory. This puts a hidden strain on your relationship as your partner may begin to doubt your ability to do tasks or remember important appointments. This adds to your reliance on your partner and perhaps a loss of independence on your behalf.
To build up your auditory memory there’s a simple and pleasant exercise you can do with your partner every day. Choose something you like to read – the newspaper, a book or magazine and get your partner to read passages from it. Your job is to listen and repeat back what they’ve read – word for word (without missing a single point!). Start with short phrases or sentences. If you miss a word, get your partner to read the section again until you get it word perfect. You’ll find over time, you’re able to remember longer passages and repeat them back without a mistake. Improving your auditory memory will help your overall cognitive function and perhaps take an added strain away from your partner.
Strain #5: Dominating conversation
Dominating conversation – some people become isolated with their hearing loss, others dominate conversations. Why does this happen? Well if you’re doing all the talking, you don’t have to listen, or mishear and show people you’re hearing isn’t quite what it used to be. If you’re doing all the talking, your partner is doing all the listening, and this isn’t an equal relationship. This can add to feelings of resentment and frustration from your partner.
As noted earlier, communication is a two-way street. In good communication, both parties are involved by asking questions and listening to responses. The other communication party must also ask questions and listen to responses. Working together with your partner to improve your conversation skills will make you both better communicators. This is another simple exercise for you both to try:
- Select a topic of conversation. The topic must be something you’re both interested in – for example, Hiking.
- Get a timer and set it for one minute.
- You start to the conversation on Hiking by making a statement such as: “I’ve been reading about hiking in New Zealand. Would you like to do a hike there?”
- Your partner then makes a comment - “That sounds interesting. I’ve always wanted to hike the Milford Sound track. Have you read about that one?”
- You then respond and continue on in this way for the full sixty seconds.
Not at first. Good communication habits take a bit of practice and if you’ve been a dominator for a while, it may take time for you to learn how to involve others in a conversation. For this exercise to work, you must stick to the topic, not stray off on to something else, and communicate effectively for the entire minute. Once you’ve mastered one minute of chat, increase the time. Pretty soon you and your partner will be demonstrating good communication skills and be able to share equally in the process, taking another strain off your marriage.
Hearing loss is hidden.
The stressors that accompany it are often hidden as well. Understanding and acknowledging these issues will go a long way towards becoming a better communicator. Hearing aids will certainly assist in this area, but you can also make subtle changes to the way you communicate with your partner and others. Your new found conversation skills will not only help you hear better, but hopefully add a new dimension to your marriage, as you and your partner become effective communicators.