He Says Something, I Hear Something Different

Gael Hannan
January 13, 2020

Some days, hearing loss can drain a lot of our energy. We have to work hard at hearing and understanding.

“Hearing” people don’t put any effort into hearing. It just happens. A sound happens – and they hear it, registering it as a cough, a bell, a voice, whatever.  What they do with that knowledge is something else, but the hearing part is just so darn easy.

The person with hearing loss may hear the same sound but can’t register as something identifiable, or tell what direction it’s coming from. The person might also misinterpret the sound – or not hear the sound at all. Many scenarios, none of them particularly easy.

Theoretically, when hearing loss is present, a conversation should work fairly well if certain ‘musts’ are in place. We must be facing each other. We must have as little background noise as possible. We must have reasonable light for speechreading. We can control these variables in our own home. But when we leave that safety net, we’re out there in the world of communication challenges.

Out there, when the Hearing Husband says something, I may ‘hear’ something different. Even being bimodal, using a hearing aid on one side and a cochlear implant on the other, I still need to speechread much of the time so that I can see what I may be missing with my ears. But here’s the problem: I don’t spend every second of my life gazing at my husband’s face in order to catch the words as they flow from his mouth.

Driving in the car – and we do a lot of traveling in Thor, our small motorhome – is always a fun game of “What-WHAT?” It goes something like this:

(Doug is driving and I’m looking out the window at some amazing scenery. He speaks and by the time I turn to look at him, I catch only a bit of anything that makes sense.)

Doug:  Muh blub mentle this afternoon?

Me: What? What do you want to do this afternoon?

Doug: I don’t want to do anything. I was wondering about the time.

Me: It’s noon.

Doug: No, I said, what time do you want to stop this afternoon?

This conversational snippet might sound like a bad joke, but if you add up all the time we spend trying to get on the same page in conversations, it adds up to a whole lot of wasted, not-funny, breath. Every day.

But the Hearing Husband more frequently does “it” the better way:

Doug: Honey. Honey! (He might have to say it twice, if the scenery is particularly enchanting.)

Me: (He has my attention.) Yes?

Doug: What time do you want to stop for the day?

Me: I dunno…4’ish?

Doug: Sounds good.

See how easily that goes? It might take the same amount of time as the previous example, but there’s way less stress involved. Instead of both of us getting irritated, the only bit of strain is his, in trying to get my attention. This confirms one of the golden rules of hearing loss communication – get the person’s attention before starting to speak.

In our house, spoken exchanges are still fair game for becoming lost in translation. We both speak English, but when his words hit the wall of my deafness, they become something different.

Doug: (calling to me) Gael, why didn’t you clean the cat’s litter this morning?

Me: Me?! What did your last slave die of?

Doug: What are you talking about?

Me: You gotta be kidding me. (I go to the laundry room where the cats do their business. He’s not there.) Where are you?

Doug: In the kitchen!

Me: (arriving there, still feeling indignant) Did you just ask me why I hadn’t done the cat litter this morning?

Doug: (Responding to my tone) No, I didn’t. Because I already did it. I said, the weather is looking better this morning.

Me: Oh, right. Sorry. Yes, it is.

I feel sheepish, because I have the bad habit of responding to what I assumed he said, when there’s actually a strong chance, given my hearing loss and the fact that we weren’t in the same room, that I may have misheard him. However, we both have the bad habit of calling from another room. This is another golden rule of communication: don’t try to speak through walls or around corners.

For the most part, the Hearing Husband and I communicate well. It didn’t happen overnight. It has taken time, commitment, and patience (he has more patience than me) to get to this point. It’s the same with my friends and other family members; overall, it works. With other people I meet, I’ve learned to express my needs. While I expect people to accommodate my needs (when it’s possible, which is most of the time), I’m also grateful when they do.

After all, communication is a two-way street. When he says something, I hope I hear it as intended. If not, we just have another go at it.


In the photo above, you don’t even want to know how badly the conversation was going between the Hearing Husband (aka Captain) and me (aka Crew). 

  1. Hi Gael, I love your blog, I lived a lot of the situation about you write. I want to read tour book, you can send me to mexico city o were can I buy it.

  2. Gee Gael. I’m just now finding out how hard my hubby worked all these years. With a cochlear implant my hearing has improved 90% and as We age Bill is now wearing hearing aids that don’t work well I am repeating myself a lot and now I am the phone answer person as he can’t hear. In the car he really struggles. We must make an appointment with the Audi but she is 1 1/2 hour away and it’s difficult. God grant me patience.

  3. HI, Have you considered having Hearing Hubby wear a mic all of the time? would this work why or why not?

    1. Gael Hannan Author

      Hi – that is very successful in certain situations, but not for all-day use. It would block out other sounds. But thank you for the suggestion!

      1. You might consider getting an assistive listening device, such as a Phonak Roger Pen or Roger Select. If your husband wears one of these, the sound can be channeled directly into any brand of hearing aid (and I assume, CI), if you get the proper (usually extra cost) connectors. I’m lucky because my Roger Select beams directly to my Phonak hearing aid.

        That said, the Roger mics are expensive. But my Roger Select lets me hear well in noisy restaurants, in meetings, and in the car, where my deaf ear is toward my wife.There are other similar devices that aren’t as expensive, though they vary in capability. When I’m using the Roger Select, it does *not* block out other sounds, unless I specifically set it to do so.

  4. Hi Gael,
    brilliantly written ! and sums up every aspect of hearing loss. Since hearing devices also are responsible for progressively worsening, we must tell manufacturers to evolve alternately sound processing techniques to help with cognitive improvements, since that becomes the key issue, after the structural difficulties are stabilized.
    Good job, keep up the excellent work and toil in your efforts to educate the world! You may like to go into HEAL,com and access my discoveries in this field.

  5. Gael, you really nailed it. I have a CI on one side and an aid on the other. And you accurately describe my hearing. So much so that I have printed the article and distributed to my hearing family. Thank you so much

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