How Does Your Hearing Spouse Rate?

Gael Hannan
November 8, 2016

If you have hearing loss, do you wish that your partner did, as well?  Communication would still have its challenges, but at least the frustration wouldn’t include “you don’t understand what I’m going through”. It would be more like, if you can’t hear me through walls, what makes you think I can?”  

I’m in a mixed marriage myself; my husband is a hearing person and I’m a person with hearing loss. When I came home from my first hearing loss conference, excited at finding a whole new world full of people like me, I looked at my husband and thought silently, “Poor man…you can hear.”  I quickly got over that, because the benefits of my husband’s good auditory skills, such as alerting me to unheard sounds, telling me when I’m ‘talking over’ someone, and helping with difficult phone calls, far outweigh my desire for hearing loss as something we can do together.

In reality, it is something we share because my hearing loss affects both him and our marriage. Communication is the glue that connects people, and hearing loss can make the glue less sticky, or dry up completely, if  both partners don’t recognize and address the challenges. For example, when arguing, it’s difficult to maintain a good spat when someone has to keep saying pardon. Even worse is when we respond to what we thought we heard; this can send the argument in a completely different direction. For a successful fight, face each other and don’t yell. And remember that when we frown, we’re not necessarily angry, just intently following your lips.

Low lighting is not good. What’s romantic for the hearing person is torture for the partner with hearing loss, who may resort to just pretending to understand which is always dangerous. Say what you need to say and then turn down the lights; how you communicate after that is up to you. Even in long term relationships, the hearing partner will occasionally forget the rules of good communication – but so does the partner with hearing loss. Straighten out the confusion, forgive, and move on.

This is an excerpt from my blog of November 2011, “Do I Have the Perfect Hearing Partner”.

Perfect hearing partner /purr-fekt/hee-ring/pard-nurr/: noun, 1. acknowledged companion to person with hearing loss, possessing deep understanding and sensitivity to partner’s communication needs. 2. Someone who models optimal communication at all times and in all interactions.

There’s my answer. I have been with the same man for 25 years and based on the above definition, my husband Doug is not the perfect hearing partner. He’s pretty darn good, though, and to be fair, I’m not the perfect sporting spouse to my golf-loving husband.

How well do we consider our partners’ frustrations? My husband could tell you a million stories about the impact my hearing loss on his life. He still has issues about the time I locked him out of the condo by mistake, and I could not hear his desperate attempts – for 45 minutes –  to get back in.  I think it’s a funny story, he doesn’t.

By the time we decided to get married, Doug and I had been communicating for several years; he was now experienced and a good candidate to be a life partner to someone with hearing loss. Yet he proposed to me when my hearing aids were out!  He still sometimes drops the communication ball.  So do I.

Good communication is a two-way street, and hearing loss is only one communication challenge in an intimate relationship.

So, peeps with hearing loss, on a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate your hearing partner?  Zero would be a companion completely insensitive to your needs, who always talks with their mouth full, calls you from another room, and gets red and steamed if asked to repeat themselves more than once per hour. A 5-rating would be the spouse who understands the issues, but has chronic difficulty in remembering and following the communication rules. A 10 would be an empathetic spouse who researches hearing loss, always checks that you have what you need, communication-wise, and has actually changed how they move their lips so you can read them

Don’t tell him this, but I would give my Hearing Husband a 9.5 out of 10. If he knows that I’ve given him such a high rating, he might stop trying.

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  1. I had a humbling experience one time, when my hearing husband asking me to repeat something. I got….really….annoyed. Huh? Me? It’s hard for people to re-learn how to have conversations. If we expect 100% compliance with the “face me, get my attention, etc” rules, we are really expecting too much. Even from ourselves.

  2. No Gael, Doug won’t stop trying. The remaining 0.5 is a challenge he’ll want to meet!

  3. I give my husband an 7.5 . He is trying but often mumbles, talks in the dark or so. But, nobody is perfect … !

  4. My husband rates 5. He does try but often gets frustrated. Most troubles is when he forget about my loss and tries talking to me from another room or when he turns his back while still talking to me.

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