This is part one of a three-part series on hearing loss and the relationship of the three primary elements or the Trinity of players involved in facilitating hearing as efficiently as possible. This Trinity includes the family, the hearing-impaired person and the hearing health-care provider. I was asked to repeat this series by some of my QCBN readers.
“I have watched the relationship of my family shift from loving and charismatic to cordial and formal. Every interaction has to be directed and preplanned. The spontaneity is almost totally gone.”
Family support plays a crucial role in maintaining successful relationships, as the emotional strain of hearing loss on the entire family must be treated as aggressively as the hearing loss itself. Hearing loss can cause isolation and depression. It can hurt the emotional and physical health of the spouse. In some cases, it may lead to divorce.
“It happened slowly over time. We seemed to have stopped talking. I feel ignored.”
Couples with long-term relationships are affected heavily by the onset of hearing loss. The roles or responsibilities may change because of the “side effect” of hearing loss. The normal-hearing spouse can begin making assumptions about the person with hearing loss, assigning them characteristics that seem purposefully angry and judgmental or 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. TIP: When you have an important topic to talk about, turn off the TV and sit across from the hearing impaired individual. Tell them you want to have a discussion so they will focus only on you.
“I start to say something to you and then I think: ‘Is it worth the effort?’”
Repeating what you say takes out the feeling part of what you said. When you repeat yourself, you instinctively raise the volume of your voice and sometimes that is heard as frustration and anger. The person with the hearing loss wonders why every time you speak to them you are angry. Can’t people just talk to me and not get all worked up? TIP: Say their name and wait for a head turn before you talk.
“I feel frustrated that our activities have changed so much because of the hearing difficulty. We just can’t enjoy the same functions that we used to.”
Hearing loss may create a psychological solitary confinement. Going out with friends or even family members becomes stressful because of the noise in the room while people are talking. The joy of listening to music or going to a play or movie is gone. TIP: Go to the restaurant at off times; sit across from the hearing impaired person so they can see your face. Review the plot of the play prior to going to the theater. Invite only one other couple or a small part of the family at one time to visit.
“If I tell you that you missed something that was said, or ask if you understood what I just said, you seem to get angry.”
It is embarrassing to misunderstand or completely miss a conversation or comment. 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. TIP: Ask the hearing impaired person if they want you to trigger them if you feel they missed something. Discuss how you want to be helpful but don’t really know how to do it.
“I feel that I am walking on eggshells. Do I repeat myself or do I just let it go?”
You are not alone! What you are feeling is real and surprisingly common. It is important to talk to someone about your feelings, which in turn may help find strategies to facilitate your relationship. Talk to the hearing-impaired person in a quiet room and discuss what you are experiencing. Do not get emotional; just state facts. Do not place blame on the other person. TIP: Speak to an Audiologist or other professional, so that you have the opportunity to view your situation from a new vantage point and possibly help you shift some of your negative feelings towards feelings which are more positive and productive.
Hearing loss is detrimental in relating to the world in general. It affects the relationship to people, hobbies and entertainment. FBN
By Dr. Karon Lynn, Au.D
Trinity Hearing Center is located at 1330 N. Rim Dr., Suite B in Flagstaff. For more information, visit the website at TrinityHearing.net. Karon Lynn is a doctor of audiology with 30 years of experience working with hearing impaired individuals. Dr. Lynn may be reached at 928-522-0500, or at email@example.com.