How Does Hearing Loss Affect Relationships?
Hearing loss can sometimes be an obstacle for effortless communication in our close relationships. Ida Institute Senior Anthropologist Hans Henrik Philipsen has been working in this area for over nine years and has spoken to many couples where hearing loss is an issue. He shared with us his thoughts about the challenges that these couples meet.
“Interaction with our loved ones can be complicated by hearing loss. Many partners of people with hearing loss may need to repeat what they say several times, speak louder, or over-enunciate in order for their partner to understand what they say. Imagine — if you have to repeat to your spouse ‘I love you,’ perhaps at a progressively louder volume each time, the emotion in that message changes. The message that is received is one of irritation, not the heartfelt sentiment that was originally intended.”
“Humor and being able to laugh together is another important part of relationships. If you have hearing loss, you may miss out on your partner’s funny remarks altogether, or the punch line of a joke may fall flat because you didn’t catch what was said in its original timing,” he explains.
“Being together as a couple at parties or other social gathering can also be difficult, both for the person with hearing loss and the hearing partner, as roles tend to change. A partner with normal hearing may assume the role of interpreter for their partner with hearing loss. This can be a very positive thing, but it can also affect the nature of their relationship and lead to frustrations on both parts.”
“Simple conversation is based on social conventions which require that the person on the listening end will continuously make subtle sounds, such as ‘uh huh,’ ‘okay,’ ‘mhmm’ and gestures, like head nodding, to show that he or she has heard and understood the conversation. When someone has hearing loss, these reactions can be delayed, which also makes conversations more difficult,” he explains.
So, what can you do to make that romantic date with your partner a success, despite his or her hearing loss?:
- Avoid crowded venues and choose a restaurant without too much noise. Ask friends for recommendations and use phone apps that rate loudness of venues to find a place near you where background noise is minimal. Places with sound-absorbing décor like acoustic tiles, curtains, carpet, and cushioned chairs are a good choice.
- Call ahead and ask to reserve a table in a quieter spot. The perimeter of a room will usually be quieter, and booths block background noise better than tables.
- If one of you uses a hearing aid, make sure to sit with your back to the loudest part of the restaurant, and sit directly across from each other. Hearing aids are often designed to prioritize sound that is coming from in front of you, and diminish sound that comes from behind.
“What’s important is for people with hearing loss and their partners to be open, patient, and keep exploring what communication strategies work best for them as a couple,” says Hans Henrik.
Visit our video library to hear from couples and families discussing the impact of hearing loss on their relationships.