Posted on Friday, June 01, 2012

Hearing Loss and Relationship Stress

Having overcome relationship stress, couple hugs on beach.

The stress of hearing loss includes the fear of not being able to react or respond appropriately in a given situation. This worry plays a role in how an individual views themselves and sometimes can cause anxiety based reactions that increase tension between loved ones. Complicating this tension is the common denial and depression associated with untreated hearing loss. A member of the People Hearing Better community, Barbara Reese, knows exactly how stressful hearing loss can be on a relationship and the difference understanding and treatment can make in both partner's lives.

The expectation of unconditional acceptance in a relationship can actually cause stress between a couple faced with hearing loss. Though the partner of a hard of hearing person wishes to accept and support them, the continued stress of miscommunications can cause a rift to develop. The more a person without hearing loss feels they are compensating or being put out by the person with hearing loss the greater the resentment.

It happened by degree, my husband seemed to have stopped listening to me, uncaring of what I happened to be trying to communicate, regardless of how importantly. Barbara Reese

Couples with long term relationships, like Barbara Reese, are affected heavily by the onset of hearing loss, because it involves adjusting to a new relationship dynamic. One spouse can begin making assumptions about the person with hearing loss, assigning them characteristics that seem purposefully angry and judgmental and uncooperative. Likewise the person with hearing loss can feel bullied and defensive about their condition, retreating even more into themselves and the silent barrier hearing loss creates.

Mostly my husband would guess at the possibilities, choosing the most contradictory, arguing incessantly about how loud he spoke or how high to turn the volume on the T.V. Barbara Reese

An increase in the feelings of shame often accompanies the onset of hearing loss in older adults. As Dr. Dewane points out in her article, Hearing Loss in Older Adults — Its Effect on Mental Health, "A sense of belonging is important to mental health, yet individuals who are hard of hearing don’t belong entirely in the hearing world or in the deaf culture. This new stressor often causes what Dr. Dewane calls, "a psychological solitary confinement." Inattention, destructiveness, and seeming boredom is sometimes how partners will interpret this new found distance, adding to relationship stress.

It became embarrassing. My husband was unwilling to face his hearing loss, determinedly. Barbara Reese

Neither partner is to blame for the complicated emotions that take place during this change in the relationship dynamic. Hearing loss requires adjustments to stresses and changes in the way problems and communication are dealt with between individuals. One of the most important things someone with hearing loss can do to help the relationship and relieve some of the stress, is to accept their condition and seek treatment and assistance from listening devices.

Finally, he came to terms independently, about how much of life and liberty, he was missing. Barbara Reese

This first step in helping to correct hearing loss, treatment, can aid tremendously in bridging the gap between couples. A global study reported on by Hear-the-World showed 69.7% of hearing aid users said their relationship had improved since wearing a hearing aid. Not only does treating hearing loss lessen the shame associated with miscommunication that a hearing impaired person feels, but from the point of view of the other member in a relationship, it seems a significant step in reaching out. This reaching out often produces a similar response, helping couples to find a place where respect and love can begin to overcome anger and assumptions. Once this gap has been bridged, both partners in the relationship can begin to become more familiar with the new rules for communication, including being patient, keeping a sense of humor, and for the partner without hearing loss--remember to look at the person with hearing loss when you are speaking.

It was a true gift, receiving the benefit of something so entirely in the realm of availability, a miracle of science and sound achieved so easily! Barbara Reese

Helping a loved one to see hearing loss as manageable can also be an important step in dealing with the stress and denial that accompany this condition. Remember to be patient as you or your loved one mourns the loss of this sense, and seek help from others who have been through this same experience. There are a wide array of support groups available online and in local communities for people with hearing loss and their families. Below is a brief list.

Additional Resources

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association
Association of Late Deafened Adults
My Baby's Hearing
Listen Up Web
Center for Hearing Loss Help
Speak Up Librarian

If you'd like to learn more, see your hearing health provider. If you need help finding a hearing health provider click HERE to be connected with the largest network of trusted hearing health professionals in the nation!

*Personal stories may have been edited for tone and content

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