Pity the Partner of a Person with Hearing Loss

Do you live in a mixed marriage or relationship – where one person has typical hearing and the other has hearing loss?

How’s that working out for you?

For years, I have been writing about my Hearing Husband. (His given name is Doug, but he responds reasonably well to “Hearing Husband”.)

The man has supported and cheered me through years of hearing loss ups and downs. He’s my #1 fan and chokes up when someone asks him how he feels about my work, my cochlear implant, my struggles with tinnitus, and my advocacy.

It also drives him nuts. Not my struggles – me – but he’s absolutely brilliant at keeping his frustration to himself. He knows if he were to get testy with me, he would unleash my own frustrations in a withering but eloquent tirade that benefits nobody and turns the rest of our daily interactions very frosty.  

But I’m keenly aware of what he goes through, as a ‘hearing’ person living with a someone like me. He has to communicate purposefully in a way that runs contrary to his natural, easy-going communication style. And when he deviates from what I need, or makes a mistake once too often – well, we have been known to have words.

Another issue is his distinctive way of clearing his throat. Probably not distinctive enough because I frequently mis-hear the sound and say, pardon? He says, “I cleared my throat”. Then I may ask him what he just said, to which he has to respond, “I said that I cleared my throat”. This shows how attentive I am to every sound he makes, don’t you think? But really, life would be easier if he’d find a way to clear his throat more quietly.

Some hearing loss incidents involve more emotion. He still gets hot under the collar remembering the most frustrating incident ever! We were renting a condo, and one night he went down to the lobby for some reason. I closed the door after him and went back to watching a movie, which was loud. I may have vaguely wondered why he was so slow in getting back, but I was engrossed in the movie. At a momentary break in the movie’s noise, the phone rang beside me.

“Hello?”

“IT’S ME!”

“Hi, honey! Where are you?”

“In the LOBBY! Using the entrance phone!”

“But what…OMG…did I lock you out?”

“YES…YOU…DID! I’ve been back and forth between the apartment, pounding on the door, and back down here, and calling up for a whole bloody half hour!”

When I finally let him back in the condo, he needed time and wine to calm down – but c’mon, don’t you think this was funny? 

Another duty of a hearing spouse, or anyone who lives with you, is to identify a sound that we can’t quite make out, or tell what direction it’s coming from or, such as after I got a cochlear implant, sounds that I had forgotten or never heard before.

The poor hearing soul must put up with an unrelenting stream of “what’s that sound”, “is that a bird”, “is that coming from inside or outside”, and “is that a body noise?!” What’s worse is that we expect them to drop whatever they’re doing – immediately – and tell us what we want to know, because the sound is happening right now!

Then there’s the matter of the phone. I hear better on certain phones. I use two hearing aids for my left ear (not at the same time); one of them works best with our landline phone and if the phone rings and I’m not wearing the right hearing aid, I make the Hearing Husband answer it. He’s an excellent phone communicator, so why not reward his talent? I reward him by allowing him to make most of the phone calls.

We ask much of the hearing people in our lives – and we have to help them rise to the challenge. We let them know what we need and, as much as possible, forgive them when they are not perfect communicators. (Although there’s one transgression we can’t accept and that’s if they say ‘never mind’ to a requested repeat. This is usually the last straw before marriage counseling.)

If I were married to another person with hearing loss, he might have a deeper, more instinctive understanding of my needs. But then I wouldn’t have my tall and handsome Hearing Husband, who is extremely speechread-able with a deep clear voice, and who can identify the quietest of sounds.

I am grateful and happy to have this hearing person in my life. He is happy, too, and definitely not to be pitied.

About Gael Hannan

Gael Hannan is a writer, speaker and advocate on hearing loss issues. In addition to her weekly blog for HearingHealthMatters.org, which has an international following, Gael wrote the acclaimed book "The Way I Hear It: A Life with Hearing Loss". She is regularly invited to present her uniquely humorous and insightful work to appreciative audiences around the world. Gael has received many awards for her work, which includes advocacy for a more inclusive society for people with hearing loss. She lives with her husband on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada.

9 Comments

  1. What a heartwarming essay . It’s so wonderful to have hearing allies! Most people are pretty lackluster or inconsistent at being supportive even when they love you so I treasure the few who really try

  2. Ages ago, my partner and I had just moved into a new condo on the second floor We didn’t have the key situation straightend out yet. He went to see the manager for something and got locked out. I fell asleep in the meantime. He tried calling, knocking and throwing things at the window. Finally, he went back to the office and told the story of how he couldn’t get in.He returned w the manager, and in the interim, I woke up, heard them at the door, and opened it. The manager thought he was crazy. He was doubly frustrated

  3. Such a wonderful description of the tribulations of a husband to a person with hearing loss! Fantastic article- Gael! You bring so much humor and honesty to your work!

  4. Special hugs to Doug aka the HH. MISS Both of You!! Lots of love Xoxoxo Cousin mip. Bob sends the same.

  5. Well, I have never read about a couple where the wife is deaf and the husband hearing – I never thought of feeling sorry for my husband – or that anyone else did either – mind you he had all kinds of jokes about me and my deafness – but he was the kinda guy who could tell jokes until the cows came home or sell ice to the indigenous lol. Will have to read your book now!

    1. Sarah, I think that’s a great idea. My book spends a lot of time (and humour) on this relationship!

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