How Hearing Loss Impacts Your Spouse or Partner

When I first experienced hearing loss, I gave little thought to how my partner was faring. After all, I was the one going through the loss. My attention was focused on the numerous appointments with ENT specialists and audiologists and on my own feelings and frustrations. Only later, on reflection, did I realize my partner had experienced emotions like mine during this challenging time, and he continues to do so. My hearing loss affects him, too.

What research says about the impact of hearing loss on a spouse

According to a British survey of 1,500 people with hearing loss, almost 44 percent of people said that relationships with their partner, friends, or family had suffered because of hearing difficulties.

Findings from a study by The Royal National Institute for Deaf People (RNID) entitled, “In it together: The impact of hearing loss on personal relationships,” revealed negative emotions connected to hearing loss. In particular, both those with hearing loss and their partners had experienced feelings of loneliness. For the person with typical hearing, this generally came from communication difficulties, such as a decrease in intimate talk and joking.

A study published in Trends in Hearing highlighted the practical impact of hearing loss on partners. Since those with hearing loss reported difficulties with tasks such as communicating by telephone, the hearing partner generally took over these responsibilities, which sometimes caused irritation. In addition, the person with typical hearing might be annoyed by louder TV and radio volumes than in the past.

The emotional and practical effects of hearing loss on a partner

HearingTracker set out to find out more about the impact of hearing loss on hearing partners and relationships by speaking to members of online hearing loss support groups. Some common themes emerged.

Frustration and upset - It can be painful and frustrating to witness the person you love experience hearing loss.

Andrea Simonson, of Greater Boston, whose husband has a profound hearing loss in his left ear, explained how her husband was “devastated” when he suddenly lost hearing in one ear. “I was also devastated,” she said. “I researched the medical side of it, looking for solutions. I felt helpless as I realized that I couldn’t do anything to make it better.”

Paula Adamson, of Bristol, UK, expressed her frustration in trying to help her partner find a successful treatment option. She told HearingTracker, “My husband has lost his hearing in his left ear, and now it’s happening in his right ear also. It has affected our relationship so much. He doesn’t give his hearing aids a chance to help. I have suggested we look at alternative aids, but I guess you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.”

Another angle on this issue: It must be “exhausting” for a mate with typical hearing to keep repeating themselves, says Louise Bowdery, of Fareham, UK, who has profound bilateral loss hearing loss. “My husband gets really frustrated as he has to say things four or five times [to be understood],” she shared.

Trouble empathizing - Even the most supportive partners had difficulty understanding their spouse’s hearing loss.

Simonson told HearingTracker, “I wanted to understand what it was like for him, but it was upsetting for him to talk about it. I tried not to bring it up in conversation unless he did.”

But there can be a silver lining: “This is going to sound strange, but I think our relationship has gotten stronger,” Bowdery said. “He is more understanding, since my hearing has got so bad. He seems to understand better now I can hardly hear, as opposed to when I had a moderate hearing loss in the past. Then he used to say, ‘How come you can hear that, but you can't understand what I'm saying?’”

Communication issues - Making oneself heard can be hard work for the hearing partner, and they may become discouraged and less inclined to initiate conversation.

“When I raise my voice to a decent volume, I feel like I’m shouting and being aggressive,” explained Adamson. “It changes the mood of the conversation. I don’t share as much with him as I used to as it’s a struggle to be heard. It’s very isolating for the hearing partner.”

Nin Mok, of Adelaide, Australia, has recently experienced hearing loss and feels like she is missing out on small talk with her partner. “If I say, ‘Pardon?’ [because I can’t hear his comment] more than three times, he sometimes says, ‘Don’t worry, it’s not important,’” she said. “He only persists beyond that if it is really important, so you miss out on the more trivial conversations that used to be effortless. It’s the trivial conversations often that strengthen bonds.”

Adapting to the challenge

The impact of hearing loss on relationships ultimately depends on how both partners adjust.

Bowdery shared how finding humor in her communication difficulties helps lighten the burden: “My husband laughs because sometimes I hear things so wrong, it can be hilarious. I laugh too.”

Adamson explained how she is “putting lots of effort into rethinking things” that she and her husband can share. She told HearingTracker, “Watching television in the evening is a struggle so I chose a book we would both like and my husband reads it aloud as I listen. I also set up a Facebook group for just the two of us called ‘Us.’ We drop memes, photos, and jokes into it and communicate that way.”

Don’t let hearing loss harm your relationship

If you are worried that hearing loss is harming your personal life, counseling can help you and your partner work through issues and find the best ways to communicate effectively. And, of course, seeking professional audiological care to ensure you are understanding and optimizing your hearing is a vital step – for your own and your relationship’s sake.