Life Goes On – in Unexpected Ways
Updated: May 29
For the first time since my divorce 15 years ago, I’m in a serious relationship with a man named Stephen. He has average hearing while I am completely deaf without my two cochlear implants.
Stephen lives in Maine but is from Texas. He has an accent that’s hard for me to understand. He also talks softly and mumbles. Yes – a perfect recipe for communication disaster.
We met at a party where it was noisy. I asked him if we could go to quieter location. We did, but I still had trouble understanding him. This was apparent when I gave him an answer out of context: I thought he said, “I love to sing” when he said, “I love to sail”. You can imagine the puzzled look on his face when I asked him to sing!
Before the pandemic we were able to visit each other. That was the first time I had lived with someone since I had a hearing loss. When I was raising my family, my hearing was relatively good. Stephen, who has no experience communicating with someone like me, talks to me from another room or talks to my back, rather than looking at me. You already know I struggle with his accent, soft voice and mumbling.
Luckily, I know I should ask him not to talk to me from another room, to make direct eye contact with me and to speak clearly. One added problem is he talks to himself, so it’s hard to figure out if he’s talking to himself or just forgetting to look at me. We decided that, if he didn’t look at me, the easiest solution was for me to assume he was talking to himself and I would not respond.
He was fine with these suggestions, because he wants me to hear him. But sometimes, he forgets. After all, I’m asking him to talk a different way than he has his whole life. It’s very challenging for both of us. I don’t want to have to struggle to hear when I’m at home! The child in me is crying “Why can’t he remember?” I can only imagine the frustration he feels.
Now it’s the pandemic and we can’t visit each other. We talk on my Caption Call phone, with captions, but it’s not always convenient to use. So we started texting, which is only good for superficial conversations.
Thankfully, we began using a video conferencing service. I see Stephen’s face so I can lip-read what he’s saying. Initially we used “Zoom” with the “Otter” AI App on my iPhone. Now we use “Google Meet” another video conferencing service that provides on screen AI captions. The captions aren’t perfect but are pretty good and certainly beat the alternatives. (Until recently this was only available with a paid version of Goggle’s G-Suite).
So far, I’ve learned that advocating in an intimate relationship has a much larger emotional impact than advocating in a casual one. The accommodations are the same but if a casual friend forgets, you remind them once or twice. Generally, that’s the end of it. In an intimate relationship, you have the same conversation over and over again before the communication skills are mastered. There will probably be many days of hurt feelings and hard work on both sides before these skills are learned. Of course, they are worth it because we want the relationship to work.
Stay tuned for more hearing loss experiences with Stephen.
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