How Hearing Loss Strains Relationships

Elderly couple at beach

When people are told they are starting to lose their hearing (or if they notice it themselves), the first person they worry about is themselves, and understandably so. However, if you think hearing loss only affects the person who is losing their hearing, you would be wrong. Hearing loss can cause problems in various relationships.

But why is this? It’s because the inability to hear or to hear clearly makes communication between couples and even family and friends very difficult, and the strain can lead to breakdowns in relationships. Hearing loss puts a particularly difficult strain on close relationships, such as romantic partners, but also negatively affects interactions and relationships with friends and family, and even strangers. However, you can reduce the impact hearing loss has on your relationships with some simple changes. 

Why Does It Hurt Relationships?

But why does hearing loss strain relationships? Untreated hearing loss can be a big stressor, according to research, and even more so among couples. Two researchers, who conducted a study on couples where one partner had hearing loss, reported that the other partner often felt feelings of frustration, embarrassment, and distress, not only for themselves but for the relationship, making maintaining the relationship that much more difficult. The researchers also found that both partners in almost every couple were upset because of a loss of spontaneity, difficulty communicating, and the inability to share small but meaningful moments clearly. Day-to-day communication is especially important among couples, even if the only things they have to talk about are trivial, but being unable to communicate with clarity takes away the keystone of a healthy relationship, and many meaningful and important interactions can and will be lost. And when communication starts to fail, frustration starts to build, and the building frustration can quickly lead to resentment, which will ultimately breakdown intimacy and further communication, resulting in intense loneliness and the sense of isolation for both people in the couple.  

Several experts say that 9 times out of 10, one partner tends to blame the other’s ability to listen, when the true issue lying at the base of their communication troubles are hearing impairment. 

There was also a report done by Action on Hearing Loss with the goal to figure out how partners and their families responded to hearing loss, and found that, out of 23 interviews that were conducted with couples where one partner had hearing loss, almost all couples agreed that there was a significant change in both how they communicated and the content of their communication because of hearing loss. While the review also found positives, such as those with hearing loss viewing their partners as their most valuable supporter and advocate, most of the couples reported that even the most supportive partners had difficulty truly understanding hearing loss, especially when it came to various factors, such as listening fatigue and background noise interfering with how much the hard-of-hearing person could hear at any one time. 

All of the research done confirms that hearing loss impacts even the most minute of communications, even trivial ones, which normally contribute to building intimacy and connection in couples. Small things such as jokes or humor actually bring a lot of shared companionship and reflection to relationships, meaning that most relationships, even marriages, suffer greatly as a result of losing even the most trivial communication. 

Negative Emotions and Hearing Loss

Hearing loss also causes a buildup of negative emotions that can lead to detrimental effects. Some of these include frustration, resentment due to frequently have to compensate for a partner’s hearing loss, loneliness, withdrawal from social interaction and the cut down on social activities, the decrease in intimate talk, shared communication difficulties, a decrease in shared activities (like watching TV together), the loss of companionship, and of course, a decrease in communication. 

Broaching the Subject

So how do you tell your partner you think they are losing their hearing? How do you go about talking about it with them? When do you need to talk with them about it? If they’re unaware of the problem, asking you to repeat yourself constantly, having trouble hearing noises they previously had no trouble hearing before (such as the microwave or the doorbell chime), then it’s probably time to talk. Make sure to pick a quiet time when you are both in a good mood and there isn’t background noise or distractions.

You have options when talking to them. One is to tell them it’s affecting your relationship, and be honest. Hearing affects communication, the cornerstone of all relationships, and having to be constantly asked “what?” all the time creates a big issue. Even if your partner is afraid of the stigma of wearing hearing aids, it might be the thing that could save your relationship. The second option is to tell them you’re concerned about their health. Hearing loss, when left untreated, can cause certain areas of the brain to deteriorate, causing speech and language difficulties as well as auditory deprivation. Left untreated for long periods of time, the person with hearing loss can be in extreme risk of cognitive decline. You can also tell them you are worried about your own health, especially if you already have mental health issues. The additional stress worrying about your partner and their safety can take a huge toll, in addition to noise damage to your own ears from having to shout constantly or listen to the TV with the volume on max. 

Another way may be to set up an appointment for your own hearing to be tested, and to ask them to go with you. Everyone should have a hearing test done every year anyway, but this way, maybe getting them to go with you will convince them to schedule a test for themselves. 

You are also able to tell them about how hearing loss effects a lot of things they may not be aware of, such as the risk of cognitive decline. You can also discuss the 10 signs of hearing loss with them.

Dealing with Your Own Hearing Loss

However, what do you do if your partner says you’re the one having trouble with hearing loss? Unfortunately, hearing loss happens to many people, and can happen at any time of life, so the possibility you might be losing your hearing isn’t impossible. So if your partner tells you that they think you are going hard of hearing, we recommend following the below steps.

First, try to be receptive, and try to not get offended or angry if they bring it up. Over 48 million Americans reported hearing loss in the last year, so you aren’t the only one. Second, try to educate yourself about hearing loss (like reading this article!). There are many types of hearing loss, and various reasons as to why you should treat it. You should also agree to have your hearing tested, which is painless and could resolve the argument as to if you’re hard of hearing or not with a single appointment. And if the diagnosis is hearing loss, do your best to accept the diagnosis, and get treatment as soon as possible. There are many different options for hearing loss, so you’ll be able to explore which options are best for you and your situation.

What is the most popular option? The most popular option to treat hearing loss are hearing aids. They improve your hearing, which can open a bigger channel for communication that will allow better understanding in your relationships. A hearing aid can help eliminate a lot of common issues that cause frustration, such as asking your partner to repeat themselves, as well as cutting back on the confusion that you yourself might experience. Cutting back the frustration not only helps you but the people around you as well. They know it’s not your fault, but they still probably get tired of having to repeat things to you or clarify things. It’s even worse when it’s reached the level where they have to answer your phone calls or go with you to the doctor. Significant others feel the brunt of this burden, which can be difficult for them to adapt to, so having hearing aids can help relationships return to what they were before the hearing loss happened. They also make it easier to have a conversation, which can help keep you from withdrawing into yourself or shutting down communication. And while hearing aids can take time to get used to, it does help with conversation and helps you maintain your relationships. The extra communication also allows you to become between in-tune with your partner’s needs, allowing better cohabitation and well as an improved relationship, because when your partner sees you putting in a lot of effort to improve your hearing condition, they’re more likely to work harder as well.

Living with hearing loss can be much more difficult then living without it, but it requires a lot less effort if you work with the available treatment options to improve your situation. It helps relieve the stress you experience every day but also the strain that is put on those around you. 

Dating with Hearing Loss

What if you want to date with hearing loss? How do you go about opening that conversation? Luckily, most dating these days starts online, which can be great for the hard of hearing since you don’t have to worry about speaking at the very start of planning a date. You can talk about it in your profile or in person, but the best method for successful dating and relationships with hearing loss is to be honest about our condition. In doing so, you have to be open, as many people don’t know anyone with hearing loss, and even if they do know someone, it’s very possible their symptoms and struggles are very different from yours, so they may have questions, and if they do, it’s a positive sign.

If you’re up to it, try to explain to your date what the nature of your hearing loss is, and how it affects you, so they know what to expect, if the topic happens to come up. If it doesn’t, you don’t need to tell them anything about your condition other then you’re hard of hearing until you feel comfortable enough to do so. You can also suggest little changes to them in how they communicate with you to make it easier for you both to communicate. Such changes could be maybe asking them to face you when they speak so you can see their lips, or to be careful when speaking so that they don’t mumble.

If you date over a long period of time, those habits will become second nature and the person you’re dating will be able to factor your hearing loss into their daily routine almost subconsciously. 

Keeping Your Everyday Life Normal with Hearing Loss

Your relationships don’t have to suffer just because you or your partner have become hard of hearing. With so many treatment options, it’s easy to improve not you’re your (or their) quality of life but also improve relationship satisfaction, communication, and social activities. Think of the relationships you care about in your every day life. Has communication with those you care about experienced a decline? If you have communication issues due to hearing loss, don’t hesitate to seek treatment, and make an appointment with an audiologist today.