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 going on 25 years and based on the above definition, my husband Doug is not the perfect hearing partner (PHP). He’s pretty darn good, though, and to be fair, I’m not the perfect sporting spouse to my golf-loving husband.
We hard of hearing folk moan and groan about the challenges of living with people who are “insensitive to our needs”. Our husbands or wives or partners or beloveds don’t do this and they don’t do that. How can she forget about my hearing loss? She talks to me from the other room! He’s indifferent to my needs! Why does she become irritated just because I ask her to repeat herself?
Whoo, let’s take a breath and think about our long-suffering partners. Our hearing loss has become their hearing loss too, yet do we consider their frustrations? My husband could tell you a million stories about the impact my hearing loss has had 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 experienced, and a good candidate to be a life partner to someone with hearing loss. But even then he did not qualify as perfect, because he proposed to me when my hearing aids were out! And even now, he sometimes drops the communication ball. So do I.
But what about the couple that experiences hearing loss as adults, in their middle years or later? I can only imagine the feelings of a hearing person observing the creeping onset of hearing loss in the person they love. Imagine the journey he or she must take to become the perfect hearing spouse.
Stage 1 – You suspect that your beloved might have some hearing loss:
“Sarah, love, where’s the milk?”
“Where it always is, Josh. In the closet!”
‘What’s in the closet? I asked where the milk is.”
Stage 2 – You are certain that your beloved has hearing loss, but she doesn’t agree. (This stage could last a long time, sometimes years.)
“Sarah, it wouldn’t hurt to get your hearing tested. I’ll go with you, dear.”
“Josh, dar-ling, there is nothing wrong with my hearing that can’t be fixed by you just speaking more clearly!”
Stage 3 – Your beloved finally admits to some hearing difficulties and goes for professional hearing help, ending up with a gorgeous new set of hearing aids. You then share the experience of “getting used to them.”
“Josh, I swear, if you swallow loudly one more time, I’m going to shoot myself. Or you, whoever’s closer.”
“No problem, dear, I’ll just stop swallowing, breathing, using metal utensils, wearing noisy shoes, closing doors or speaking until you’re used to the damn things. Just let me know when that might be. Dear!!”
Stage 4 – The hearing aids are working fine. Beloved is more-or-less happy, due in large part to the fact that she now has a Perfect Hearing Partner with superb communication habits.
”Sarah, my love, I said that you look lovely today.”
“I heard you the first time, Josh!”
“Well, I just wanted to make sure you heard me, because you really do look lovely.”
Face to Face Communication
“Sarah, we’re out of toilet paper.”
“You came all the way down to the laundry room to tell me that?!”
“You wouldn’t understand me if I called down to you from upstairs.”
Adaptive to Technology
“Josh, you don’t turn off the closed captioning when I’m not in the room. That means a lot to me.” “Sarah, what’s good enough for you is good enough for me. Besides, the goofy captioning mistakes are funny. This morning, the BBC captioning identified the Archbishop of Canterbury the Ah Bitch of Canterbury.”
“Psst, Sarah, you are off with the fairies. Are you having trouble following the conversation, hon?”
“Well yes, Josh, I am! We’re sitting at one end of a long table of 15 relatives in a noisy restaurant. Why don’t we leave?”
“No way, Sarah, this is OUR anniversary party! Grab your purse, we’re moving to the middle of the table, we’ll ask the staff to turn down the music and give us 20 candles. Then we’ll set some ground rules for the relatives.”
“I love you, Josh.”
Good communication is a two-way street, and hearing loss is only one communication challenge in an intimate relationship. I sometimes daydream about how my marriage would be different, or better, if I were ‘hearing’. At a fundamental level, probably not much. Doug is not the Perfect Hearing Partner, and I’m not the Perfect Anything Spouse. But it’s working so far.