Couples dealing with Hearing Loss

Couples dealing with Hearing Loss

By Tami Klink

Editor: It’s great to have family members who are supportive as a person’s hearing becomes progressively worse, and we all know folks who do a great job of this. Now that cochlear implants are becoming increasingly common, we have lots of situations in which family members have to deal with a person’s hearing getting BETTER! How hard an adjustment is that?

Here with one family’s experience is Tami Klink, who writes an amazing blog with hundreds of interesting posts. Read more of her work at http://www.livinglakecountry.com/blogs/communityblogs/100616414.html

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August 2010

I’ve been getting a recurring question lately from quite a few people. How is a relationship impacted when a person who has a hearing loss gets a hearing aid or cochlear implant? It’s a good question from the perspective of those that live with someone that has hearing loss.

In trying to find some numbers on this, there is not much information or data on the number of couples that this affects or the outcomes of the relationship once the person with hearing loss suddenly becomes part of the hearing world.

There are many couples that deal with hearing loss as they age. There are also many couples that (like in my case) have hearing loss all of their life and marry a normal hearing person. In my case, my husband has known me since High School and realized early on that there would be challenges and frustrations living with someone that can’t hear unless my hearing aid is in and on. Even with the HA’s, I still miss things. So, he becomes my ears when I am in situations where the acoustics in a room are not good. He took on the role of being my ears and keeping watch on how conversations were going in case I started answering things wrong or in some cases, not even being on the topic that was being discussed.

He backs me up and I had to learn to be positive about any comments coming from him when I was putting myself in a situation where I looked just plain silly. My 4 kids grew up with a Mom that didn’t always hear what they were saying and adjusted to having to repeat themselves or even get me back on track days later when I thought I had heard something that hadn’t been said the way that I thought.

It causes conflict and in some cases (when I was still in denial) interesting scenarios. I used to stubbornly refuse to admit that I had heard something wrong. In the last few years, I’ve come to realize that it’s better for me to admit I had no clue in some conversations so that all of them could get me straightened out. Nothing like showing up early for something only to find out that you heard the date wrong.

You need to take responsibility for your errors and admit that you goofed up. Otherwise, the situation continues to escalate and it gets to the point where you are starting to find Post It notes everywhere reminding you of where something is and who needs to be picked up at what time. The Post It company loves us.

Once technology caught up with my loss, I was able to become much more independent and handle most social interactions quite well. This led to another problem for the 5 people in my family suddenly not having to be my ears. This can lead to some feeling that they are no longer needed. While the person with hearing loss is having a great time hearing things on their own, the people that spent all that time watching out for you are suddenly wondering what their new role is.

With the advent of Cochlear Implants, there are now a lot of people doing what I am now doing. But, their spouses and families are in bewilderment as to what their job now is. This can lead to a lot of problems in relationships. The hearing spouse feels left out. They no longer feel as important in your life and see that they are not needed as much. Talk about a confusing situation!

Just when the spouse got used to their role in your life, you turned the tables on them. While they are happy that you can now hear much better, they feel like a used doormat when it comes to being able to participate in your life. All of a sudden you are doing things that they used to have to help you with. They are confused and you are having the time of your life.

There are 2 ways that this can go. Some go down the road of anger. This is the big one to watch out for. You, as the one with hearing loss need to be aware of how you are treating them and the emotions that they are now feeling. If this is not done, the resentment and anger will build to the point where all of a sudden the relationship could be in trouble. Unfortunately, there is not a support system in place for those that join the hearing world. You are given your HA’s or Cochlear Implant and pretty much sent on your way. I have yet to learn of a support group or program for couples as well as their children to participate in that will help everyone adjust to this new hearing person. With insurance not paying for hearing aids and limited numbers of people being eligible for medicare to pay for the CI’s, those without a cadillac insurance plan or the funds to expend have a hard time affording the technology that will improve their hearing. So, if you have friends with hearing loss and no resources to get it improved, you will also be dealing with these relationships taking on a different flavor. Some will see their friendships wane, while others will try and assume their previous role of not being able to hear well with those around them in order to alleviate any feelings of resentment from the friends with hearing loss. It’s a complex situation.

The other way I’ve seen this go is for all involved to be open and communicate their feelings or perceived sense of not being needed in your life. This takes a lot of work, thought and effort on everyones’ part. You almost need to be thinking about all of this before you get your HA or CI. You need to have a plan that involves everyone so that you can avoid the pitfalls of high emotions and wrecked relationships.

Talk about how things may change. Do trial runs with your HA or CI (once you have gotten comfortable with the new hearing abilities) and see how things are now different. Let your spouse or family member know of the new things that you are now able to hear and how your social interactions are changing. Continue to let them know how much you appreciate their patience and more importantly, how much they mean to you in your new hearing life. Take the time to try and explain the difference you are now seeing vs. when you needed to have them by your side all of the time. Encourage them to cut the cord in a way that keeps them just as involved in your world as they were before you got the HA or CI.

And, most importantly, don’t forget to laugh. We all know of the many humorous situations we get ourselves into when it comes to hearing. Remind them of all of the times that they saved you from an embarassing situation. After all, if they had not taken the time to watch out for you, you probably never would have gotten the confidence to take the steps to better hearing.

Have a great week!