Communication is key to a healthy relationship

“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 can lead to a breakdown in day-to-day communication among couples and can strain any 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.

Contributed by Joy Victory, managing editor, Healthy Hearing October 18, 2021

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.

Even supportive partners struggle to understand

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?”

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 humour, 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:

Resentment due to frequently compensating for partner’s hearing loss (as in, serving as a de factor translator and telling them what they didn’t hear)
Loneliness, i.e. the hearing partners feel that they are missing out on companionship
Curtailing of social activities, withdrawal from social interaction
Decrease in intimate talk, joking with family
Shared communication difficulties
Decrease in shared activities such as watching TV
Loss of companionship
Decrease in communication (words are kept to a minimum)

Tips for talking your partner about hearing loss

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.

Tell them it’s affecting your relationship. While your husband or wife may be concerned about the stigma of wearing hearing aids, someone saying “what?” all the time can be relationship buzzkill. Hearing loss affects communication, which is the core of all relationships.
Tell them you’re concerned for their health. When hearing loss is left untreated, the speech and language areas of the brain can atrophy, leading to auditory deprivation and putting a person at increased risk of cognitive decline.
Tell them you’re concerned for your own health. 

The additional stress of worrying about your other half’s health and safety can take a physical and emotional toll on your own health. Plus, it’s no fun to listen to the TV or stereo when it’s cranked up too high, or having to shout or constantly repeat yourself.
Make an appointment to have your own hearing tested and ask them to go with you. First of all, it’s something you should do anyway. Secondly, it’s always good to have another set of ears to hear what the hearing care provider has to say, no matter who the patient is. Who knows? The hearing evaluation process is so simple and easy, they might just agree to have their own test.
Discuss hearing loss’s broad impact. They may not be aware of all the ways that their hearing loss is lowering their quality of life. Discuss the 10 signs of hearing loss with them, including signs like fatigue and feeling frustrated a lot.