Hearing loss affects relationships dramatically. So how do you keep your partner, and your relationship, healthy? We’ve got some steps you can take.
Hearing loss affects 25 percent of people over the age of 60, and 50 percent of those over 75. But hearing loss isn’t just for seniors, and the connection between hearing loss and relationships spans all ages. For those who have partners with hearing loss, it can be disheartening trying to keep the relationship strong when everyday conversations cause stress and anger.
But hearing loss doesn’t have to mean the end of a strong relationship. With the right knowledge and insight, you and your partner can reconnect and find ways to grow closer again. We’ll explore some of the early symptoms of hearing loss, how it affects relationships, and ways to talk with your partner about finding a treatment that works for them.
The earliest signs of hearing loss aren’t always obvious. Many are easy to mask early on. Asking someone to repeat what they say and occasionally misunderstanding a person are both easy to cover up by blaming background noise.
But as symptoms grow more severe, your partner may be frequently confused during conversations. It may take more time to respond to a question or statement because they need extra time to process what they heard. Your partner may also interrupt conversations or speak at inappropriate times.
This loss of conversational flow, our temporality in communication, becomes more pronounced as hearing loss increases. You may see responses that seem unrelated to the conversation, even though your partner appears to be listening. But the flow of natural conversation deteriorates, resulting in less frequent and less meaningful communication between you and your partner.
Some people accuse their partners of mumbling or speaking too softly. People experiencing hearing loss will also frequently avoid noisy environments and situations (social gatherings, busy restaurants, places with large crowds). Eventually, they may even avoid planning any social interactions for fear of being frustrated or embarrassed. This is where the intersection between hearing loss and relationships starts to become painful.
Relationships rely on emotional support and communication. And hearing loss has far-reaching effects on both communication and emotions. Hearing loss affects nearly every aspect of a relationship, and it affects more than just the person experiencing it.
As communication becomes more difficult, people with untreated hearing loss start to lose the connection they have with their friends, families, and loved ones. It can also hinder work productivity and success.
In one study, hearing loss and relationships declined in tandem due to the confusion that stems from not being able to participate in daily conversations. Those with hearing loss expressed frustrations with losing track of what their partners were saying, having to ask for their partner to repeat things, and not being able to connect as readily for intimate and casual communication.
Partners of people with hearing loss also expressed frustration, often stating that they grew tired of the constant repeating and translating, having to yell to be heard, and experiencing resentment for unfulfilled needs.
As one study participant put it, “You have to concentrate on hearing all the time, you have to listen. And normal people don’t listen, they just hear, it is automatic.” It’s an extra strain on both the person with hearing loss and their partner to hold a deep and meaningful conversation. The result is emotional stress that can lead to more painful issues.
The emotional effects of hearing loss are also significant. Having trouble holding conversations or always having to ask for someone to say something more than once can cause frustration and anger for both parties. And when communication becomes difficult, people with hearing loss often start to feel isolated or lonely. Many people with hearing loss, especially those who struggle to keep strong relationships, experience depression and anxiety more frequently than those with healthy hearing.
But these emotional struggles aren’t exclusive to those with hearing loss. Partners often experience loneliness and isolation due to their hearing-impaired loved ones as they slowly withdraw from social settings and events. They also report a growing resentment for constantly acting as their partner’s “ears” to help them cope with their hearing loss. And, more than anything, partners experience a loss of companionship with the person they love most.
As we’ve mentioned above, relationships suffer greatly from hearing loss. The slow deterioration of little moments of connection can lead to great stress. And the constant stress of misunderstanding and loneliness can put a strain on marriages that isn’t always repairable.
One of the most common complaints we encounter is “selective hearing”. Many spouses feel like their partner has been ignoring them or tuning them out. But in many cases, it isn’t some conscious—or even subconscious—decision. It’s hearing loss that hasn’t been diagnosed. That doesn’t change the damage it can do, though. When you feel like your spouse is ignoring you, it’s hard not to feel bitterness or resentment within that relationship.
Hearing loss is a contributing factor to increased arguments and misunderstandings between married couples. And divorce rates are four times higher than that of couples who both had healthy hearing. When one spouse loses their hearing and refuses to seek treatment, the couple risks losing their relationship altogether.
Of course, convincing an unaware or stubborn partner to seek help for their hearing loss isn’t easy. Some individuals don’t even recognize that they have trouble hearing. After years of compensating for their hearing loss, they may simply think that what they’re experiencing is normal.
For those who know they need help, the feeling of dependence and embarrassment could be keeping them from admitting their hearing loss is affecting them and the ones they love. It might seem easier to them to simply say that they’re “just fine” or that they can “handle” it, but the impact of their hearing loss is far more profound than they may realize.
Start your conversation about hearing loss and relationships with these suggestions to help your partner better understand why it’s so important that they seek treatment for their hearing loss.
Sometimes it only takes letting someone know how their hearing loss is affecting your relationship to get them on board with finding a way to improve their hearing. By starting out with a conversation that isn’t about anger or resentment, you’re more likely to get your partner to respond positively to finding a solution.
Expressing your concern for your partner can help encourage them to seek help. Talk about how mental health decreases when hearing loss is untreated, and make sure it’s clear that you want the best possible quality of life for them.
Your partner may not see the struggles you’re facing as you cope with their hearing loss. In fact, they may be mad at you for being angry, short, or less connected but not understand why. Let them know that you, too, are affected by their hearing loss. Knowing the direct effect they have on your emotional well-being could be the turning point they need.
Be ready to support your partner in a more significant way by scheduling hearing tests together. Being alone can be scary, even for people well beyond their youth. Show them you’ll stand beside them and walk with them in their journey.
If you’ve just been through a painful or frustrating family gathering, it could be an ideal opportunity to shine light on your partner’s hearing loss. Hearing loss and relationships collide with painful results during holidays and get-togethers. Show your partner the frustration and sadness others feel when they can’t communicate well with them.
More than anything, point to the positives of improved hearing: enjoying gatherings, keeping close with loved ones, and giving each other joy again. It’s easy to be angry or resentful when trying to convince someone they have a hearing loss problem, but compassion, communication, and relationship will build better opportunities to seek a solution together.
If your partner tells you that your hearing isn’t what it used to be, you could feel angry or embarrassed. Maybe you don’t think that’s the case, especially if you haven’t noticed any significant changes in how you communicate. But a single point of view is seldom a complete point of view.
Before you get upset or deny any need for help, pause and take a breath. Instead of anger, start with these responses.
You might not think you have a hearing problem, especially if you’ve had hearing troubles for several years and have learned to unconsciously cope with the symptoms. You could also simply be hesitant to admit that your body isn’t as young as it once was.
Either way, stop and honestly reflect on what your partner says. Evaluate some of your own interactions with people you know and love.
Have any of those conversations or relationships become more difficult to maintain? Is your partner bringing up some issues that you thought were unrelated to hearing loss? Take time to carefully consider what your partner tells you about your relationship. Whether or not you’re aware, they might be speaking the truth about your hearing.
Many symptoms of hearing loss are subtle or easily compensated for. Do some research on the most common symptoms and signs of hearing loss. You may be surprised by some of the things you find. And until you know what hearing loss actually looks like, you might not realize just how much it affects your daily activities and routines.
Hearing screening should be a regular part of your wellness routine, especially if you work in a loud environment or are over the age of 60. Get an appointment with a licensed professional. And if your partner offers to get one with you, take them up on that offer. Even minor hearing loss can change how you communicate with people you encounter.
If you find out that you have hearing loss of any sort, don’t make excuses for treating it. The longer you hesitate, the longer you sacrifice your quality of life. Hearing aids and assistive devices make a significant difference for you and your loved ones, and they start making that difference immediately.
You can improve your communication with your partner right away, even if your partner isn’t ready to seek a solution, or if you’re waiting for custom hearing aids to arrive. By adjusting a few subtle nonverbal habits, you can make it easier to carry on conversations, connect with each other, and help each other feel more loved.
Once you have your partner on board, make an appointment with a licensed audiologist for a full hearing screening. Knowing where their hearing loss is most significant will change how it’s addressed. You may also learn that tinnitus is the problem, which requires a different approach than other hearing issues.
But getting started is the most important step. Invest in your and your partner’s hearing health now so that your relationship doesn’t have to suffer unnecessary pain or frustration. When untreated, hearing loss affects relationships in about every way possible. You won’t regret recapturing meaningful conversations, intimate moments, and happy memories instead of suffering in silence.
In the Sioux Falls or Lake Madison area? Contact our offices today to schedule a consultation with our amazing staff! Our expertise isn’t just from helping others—it’s from experiencing firsthand the benefits of better hearing through professional treatment. You can trust us with your hearing!