When my hearing friend talked about her challenges living with her hearing loss husband, I encouraged her to share her feelings. After all, hearing loss is a communication disorder and affects both the person with hearing loss and the person they talk with. What follows is a result of our conversations.
I have normal hearing. My husband on the other hand has significant hearing loss. While it’s obvious that there’s an impact on the life of a person with hearing loss, there’s also an unrecognized impact on the partner with good hearing.
I’ve considered writing about this impact for some time but have been reluctant for fear of sounding selfish or appearing to paint myself as a victim. The last thing I want is for any person with hearing loss to think that their partner feels they are burden. I do think it’s important, though, to acknowledge that hearing loss not only affects a couple’s communication, but that it also affects them individually. Understanding the impact can lead to effective and creative strategies to reduce frustration for both parties.
I realized that I was hearing for two when, I became aware that I was usually on “high alert” when I was out with my husband. We manage at home most of the time because we have successful strategies. However, whether at a store, doctor’s office, social gathering, restaurant, museum, checking in at an airport or one of the many other places where hearing is important or critical, I am always poised to intervene and help him know what is being said, or asked of him. There are times when I feel the need to tell a friend or stranger, “He didn’t hear you” because of their puzzled look when he doesn’t respond or appears to ignore them.
The research I’ve done on the effect of hearing loss on the hearing partner has turned up little. Most articles provide tips for the spouse with normal hearing on how to communicate with their partner with hearing loss. The focus, and rightfully so, is on how frustrating and exhausting it is to have hearing loss and how one’s partner can help by communicating clearly. What usually isn’t mentioned is how exhausting it is to hear for two. It’s hard to relax knowing that your partner may be missing important information or that he or she is not feeling included in a social situation. The impulse to step in and help is always there and it’s hard to know when to intervene or wait to be asked.
One of the main challenges for both parties is managing the guilt felt by each. The partner with hearing loss doesn’t want to be a burden or too reliant on the hearing spouse and is reluctant to ask for things to be repeated or interpreted and the hearing spouse feels guilty for the occasional feelings of frustration. Open, caring, honest conversations on the most effective way to navigate hearing loss together, can provide insight into what each person is feeling and experiencing and help find solutions to reduce frustration.
Written by Claudia Sanders.