The impact of hearing loss on relationships
"It's not all about you," as they say. This applies to many areas of life, but it is particularly true if your hearing isn't what it used to be. You might think your hearing loss only affects you, but consider this: Is your hearing loss causing problems in your relationship?
Hearing loss does not occur in a vacuum. Studies show that untreated hearing loss can negatively impact our relationships with family and friends and particularly with those closest to us, such as our romantic partners. With some adjustments, though, you can greatly reduce the impact of hearing loss on your relationship.
Hearing loss strains relationships
Research makes it pretty clear that untreated hearing loss can be a major source of stress, especially among couples.
"Studies show that hearing loss produces feelings of frustration, embarrassment, and distress for the partner and for the relationship in general," said two researchers who conducted a qualitative study of couples where one partner had hearing loss.
The researchers found that "both the hearing-impaired participants and their close partners bemoaned the loss of spontaneity and the difficulties of sharing small unexpected incidents, observations and small talk in their everyday interactions."
Communication is key to a healthy relationship
Day-to-day communication among couples, whether about important matters or those that seem trivial, are the cornerstone of a healthy relationship. Hearing loss can cause those small but important interactions to be lost. When communication breaks down, frustration creeps in. That frustration can lead to resentment, which leads to further breakdown in communication and intimacy. The result? A sense of loneliness and isolation for both partners.
“All too often spouses blame each other’s ability to listen when in fact it is truly a hearing problem that is chipping away at their ability to communicate,” said audiologist Patricia Chute, professor and chair of the Division of Health Professions at Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y.
A report titled “In it together: The impact of hearing loss on personal relationships” by Action on Hearing Loss revealed the results of 23 interviews conducted with those with hearing loss and their partners. The goal of the interviews was to answer the basic question, “How do partners and their families respond to hearing loss?”
Even supportive partners struggle to understand
The interviews revealed both the positives and negatives in terms of partnership when it comes to hearing loss. While those with hearing loss viewed their partners as a valuable source of support and as having an important role in creating awareness of the presence of hearing loss and encouraging treatment, there was a downside: Participants in the interviews stated that even the most supportive partners seemed to have difficulty truly understanding hearing loss, for example how listening fatigue and background noise play a role in how much their partner could hear at any given time. And overall, both the hearing partners and those with hearing loss agreed on one thing: There had been a significant change in the nature and content of their communication as a result of hearing loss.
All of this research confirms that even the smallest communications, even those normally deemed as unimportant, actually build intimacy and connection between partners. Those small asides, including jokes and humor, bring about shared companionship and reflection. And relationships, especially marriages, experience a significant loss in the absence of that communication.
Negative emotions connected to hearing loss
Hearing loss can cause a cascade of detrimental effects and negative emotions between partners. Among these:
Tips for talking your partner about hearing loss
If your partner or spouse isn’t hearing well
Living with someone who can’t hear can be frustrating, especially when they are unaware of the problem. If they constantly ask you to repeat yourself, turn up the volume on the television to an uncomfortable level, or have trouble hearing the telephone, microwave or doorbell chime, it might be time to have a heart-to-heart chat. Pick a quiet time when the two of you are in a good mood and you can talk uninterrupted. Use a firm, caring tone that is not judgemental or condescending.
If your partner says you aren’t hearing well
Hearing loss is a equal opportunity offender, so it’s not inconceivable your spouse may gently suggest you have your hearing evaluated one day. If he or she does...
How hearing aids improve relationships
Wearing hearing aids not only improves your hearing, it improves your intimate relationships. Opening up that extra channel of communication can stimulate conversation and reduce frustration, providing better understanding of one another.
They reduce miscommunication
What was that? Did you say “answer the phone” or “Sarah is home?" Hearing loss can result in a lot of confusion for the person experiencing it. Mistakes made from mishearing your partner could result in fighting and a decline in overall happiness. Relationships are enough work as it is without factoring in the added burden of hearing loss. A hearing aid is a simple solution to reducing miscommunication and maximizing your hearing potential.
They lower frustration and tension
Dealing with hearing loss is frustrating not only for you, but for the people around you as well. While they may understand it’s not your fault, it’s still tiring for them to repeat things to you, to answer for you when you miss a question, answer your phone calls and make other adjustments to their daily routine. Significant others are responsible for the bulk of the changes, so it can be hard for them to adapt. Hearing aids would help return the relationship to its pre-hearing loss function.
They make it easier to have a real conversation
People with hearing loss have a tendency to withdraw into themselves because conversation becomes embarrassing and difficult. You may not realize it at first, but you’re putting distance between yourself and your loved one by avoiding conversation, whether that be in person or on the phone. Hearing aids, while they take some getting used to, allow you to engage in conversation and maintain your connection with your partner much better than if you didn’t wear them.
They allow you to tune in to each other
All the extra communication opportunities hearing aids provide you allow you to become better tuned to your partner’s needs. Cohabitation becomes much easier when a couple’s understanding of each other improves. Plus, when your partner sees you making an effort to improve your hearing condition, they’re more likely to put in an effort also.
Living with hearing loss requires extra effort. But it requires a lot less effort if you take the available options to improve your hearing. Doing so will not only relieve the stress you experience every day, but reduce the stress it places on your loved one. Constant communication is necessary in a relationship, and communication comes much easier when you can hear one another.
Dating and hearing loss
Dating these days often starts online. In some ways, this is great for people with hearing loss, since you don't have to worry about spoken conversation at the very start of a planning a date. Whether you choose to talk about your hearing loss in your profile or in person, the key to successful dating and relationships is to own your characteristic traits with honesty and humility.
Many people don’t know anyone with hearing loss. If a person’s experience with hearing loss is limited, they’ll likely have questions. That means they’re interested in learning more about you, always a positive sign. When you're ready, explain to your date the nature of your hearing loss when you’re face to face, if it comes up. Have tinnitus? Suffer from Meniere’s disease? Do you have a cochlear implant? You don't need to disclose any of this until you're comfortable.
Since many people with normal hearing don’t deal with hearing loss in their lives, they might not be aware of all the little things they take for granted. Don’t be afraid to suggest little changes in how they communicate with you, such as turning to look at you when they speak or being mindful of mumbling and enunciating clearly. After some time, these habits will become second nature, and the person you’re dating will develop the ability to subconsciously factor your hearing loss into their daily routine.
Bottom line: Don't let your relationships suffer because of hearing loss
Interventions such as hearing aids can not only improve quality of life, but can improve relationship satisfaction, communication and social functioning. From having intimate conversations with their partners to watching TV together or socializing, people who get hearing aids find that they are once again able to enjoy life. And more importantly, they are able to enjoy life once again as a part of a couple.
So think about the relationships that matter in your life. Has communication with those you love suffered? If you are experiencing communication issues due to hearing loss, don’t wait to seek treatment. Make an appointment with a hearing care professional today.