You may think your hearing loss only affects you, but the truth is it’s unlikely you spend all your time alone. Hearing loss does not occur in a vacuum and those closest to you are affected. Hearing loss affects every interaction you have with others throughout the day your quick stop at the store, quick conversations with friends, and awkward interactions in the workplace. However, study after study shows that untreated hearing loss particularly has the deepest negative effects on those closest to us, such as our romantic partners.
Hearing loss strains relationships
The cornerstone of a healthy relationship is communication. This means talking about what’s working and learning to communicate what isn’t in a loving way. Can you imagine how difficult this can be when you struggle to hear the majority of conversations during the day? Regular misunderstandings can replace love and connectedness with frustration and resentment.
“Studies show that hearing loss produces feelings of frustration, embarrassment, and distress for the partner and the relationship in general,” explains researchers conducting a study titled a qualitative study of couples in which one partner had hearing loss.
The researchers discovered 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
You may think it’s big ideas and logistics which build intimacy but that’s only part of it. It’s the small things just as much as big ideas. It’s the relaxed and casual banter, ridiculous inside jokes, and sweet nothings which build a sense of closeness. It’s no surprise that as hearing loss slowly comes on over the years that it gradually erodes these tiny and subtle interactions. Hearing loss can lead to isolation, but in cases where you spend every day with your significant other, when hearing loss goes unaddressed it’s common to feel lonely even when in their company- and it’s most likely this goes both ways.
“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, shared the results of 23 interviews conducted with those with hearing loss and their partners. The object 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
From the interviews, it became clear that 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 serious downside: Participants in the interviews explained that even supportive partners struggled to fully understand hearing loss. Overall it became clear that both partners noted a significant change in the nature and content of their communication as a result of hearing loss.
Tips for talking to your partner about hearing loss
If you’ve noticed that your partner is struggling with hearing the best plan of action is to address it. However, it’s important to do this when tensions aren’t so high. Don’t wait till you are completely frustrated, repeating yourself for the umpteenth time. Choose a time when you both feel relaxed and it’s quiet enough for them to hear without interruption. Rather than accusing them of hearing issues, speak more about how their hearing loss is affecting you. Try using “I statements, such as: “ it makes me feel as if you are not listening when I know you struggle to hear”.
In addition, do your research. Let them know the risks of letting hearing loss continue to go unaddressed. This means a risk to cognitive health, a higher risk of falls leading to hospitalization, and of course an impact on emotional and mental health, which most likely is affecting you as well.
Hearing Loss Treatment
Let your loved one know how much hearing aids can help improve communication and allow you both to rebuild your relationship. Suggest scheduling an appointment for a hearing exam and go from there. When you communicate from a place of love, they are much more likely to hear you!