“You want me to WHAT?” he asked.
I tried again. “For this week’s blog, I would like you to answer some questions about what it’s really like being married to a woman with hearing loss.”
“ANY woman with hearing loss – or just YOU with hearing loss?”
“Well, since you’re married only to me, and I’m hard of hearing, feel free to take your pick.”
He thinks a moment. “No.”
“Because my gut tells me this may not go well. When people say what they really think, about anything, sometimes shit hits the fan.”
“Well, the fact that you just said that, tells me there are issues that need to be aired. C’mon, it will be fine – we’ve talked about this stuff before.”
“Can’t you write about something else?”
“OK, what if I promise, that no matter what you say, I won’t punch you in the face or move to separate beds.”
He sighs, which is as close to a ‘yes’ as I’m going to get.
“OK, thanks honey. Here’s a list of questions that you can think about and then give me the answers on paper. That way you can be a cowardly lion and not have to look me in the eye when you say stuff you think might upset me. Which it won’t, I promise.”
Before heading off with the questions, the Hearing Husband looks at me as if for the last time – as if our relationship is about to take a sharp turn to the right, over a road of hot coals or cold thumbtacks.
When you first met me, did my hearing loss give you any concerns about going forward with our relationship? (Give examples and don’t mention that we worked together.)
On the contrary, that was part of who you were. I thought that someone who had developed such a fun personality and did well in spite of her hearing loss was going to handle life’s other inevitable challenges too, and therefore be a great partner going forward. And boy, did I get that right! But I can imagine that it would be hard for couples when hearing loss occurs later in their relationship.
You proposed to me when I wasn’t quite awake and didn’t have my hearing aids in. Did you:
a. Plan this as a practice round, hoping that I wouldn’t open my eyes when I did?
b. Forget that I was hard of hearing?
c. Hope that I wouldn’t speechread you correctly and would answer ‘no’, thereby letting you off the hook?
None of those quite fit. You’re an excellent speechreader, so if I pronounce something well, you usually get it right. I’d wanted to ask you the night before and now I was running out of opportunities and nerve. I remember looking at you for 15 minutes or so, saying it over and over; it was a relief when you finally opened your eyes and could see what I was saying!
What are the major challenges in a this relationship with hearing loss?
Losing sight of the puck when the captioning covers it during a TV hockey game. (And this is not a minor thing, I really love watching hockey!) Truthfully, the biggest challenge is making sure our time with friends and family is accessible for you, because of your great love for conversation. Sometimes I just leave it up too much to you, to ensure the environment is right.
[Me: “C’mon, what about having to repeat what other people are saying all the time? What about when I get huffy based on what I thought I heard you say?”
Him: “Minor stuff.”]
After 25 years, would you say that you are more, or less, patient with my hearing loss?
More patient. 25 years mellows you a lot.
How would you rate yourself as a hearing partner? (Give examples to back up your claims.)
This question is a setup! I will say only that how you score me is what counts. We’re still together after 25 years – you want more backup than that?
If you could change anything about me, with respect to our relationship with hearing loss, what would it be?
Not a thing about you.
If you could change anything about yourself with respect to our relationship with hearing loss, what would it be?
That I had taken up sign so I could have participated in some of your conversations with others, rather than being on the outside.
[Me: “But, Doug, I don’t really sign, so you couldn’t have been on the outside for long.”
Him: “Long enough.”]
Any additional comments?
I think our health system does not give nearly enough informational and financial support to the hearing loss field. It needs to start with those directly affected, including family and friends, who need to ask for change from government and industry, but I know not everyone is capable of this type of advocacy.
And if that’s what the Hearing Husband really thinks – what was he worried about? Hearing loss touches every family differently; some couples crack under the strain, but we are lucky, partly because we have our priorities more or less in sync.
Although he won’t say it here (or anywhere), he and I do have our moments of frustration. If he communicates in a less than stellar manner – say, asking a question as he walks away – I’m liable to pounce on him, hissing, claws out. And there’s something else he won’t tell you – but I will. When he is driven temporarily insane by my hearing loss, he spends a few seconds over-enunciating, deliberately, which makes me equally nuts. He’s a big guy, over 6’6”, so we’re talking seriously big lip movements!
But he will tell you, I think, that these are just nano-moments in time – they happen and then they pass. Life goes on, because our identities as the Hearing Loss Woman and the Hearing Husband are only two of the names we go by….