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Suggestions for Couples Coping with Hearing Difficulties

November 22nd, 2011 by qcurrie

I’m no relationship expert but time after time I see couples in my office with a tremendous amount of tension between them. It can range from simple ‘coolness’ to outright contempt and hostility. Usually they’ve been together for a long time and usually they’re very committed to each other so why then is the relationship so strained? Well, often it’s because one or both of them has a hearing problem that’s gone unnoticed or that they’ve been unwilling to do something about.
You see, relationships are based on communication. As humans we naturally expect that a conversation with someone we care about and with whom we’re on good terms will have a certain natural flow and rhythm. Certainly, if you’ve been with someone a long time you almost know what they’re going to say before they even say it. So what happens when hearing problems enter the picture? Well, we’re naturally conditioned to assume a hostile intent if someone doesn’t respond to us or raises their voice to us or talks over top of us. We assume someone hasn’t been listening carefully to us when they get our message wrong or say ‘What?’ all the time. So when the side effects of a hearing loss bring these seemingly hostile interactions into an otherwise harmonious relationship the results can be quite destructive. Even if the partners consciously remind themselves that the other person means no harm, it still takes a toll.
So, what can be done? Firstly, get your hearing assessed by a qualified professional (no surprise coming from an Audiologist!) and if hearing instruments look like a good idea, give them a try…but make sure you involve your partner in the process. Don’t worry, you’re still the one calling the shots, but making them a part of the solution rather than leaving them in the waiting room will smooth the path to success. Also, your willingness to do something about hearing problems will speak volumes to your partner that you will do what it takes to make things right again (Don’t miss out on an opportunity for some free brownie points). Wearing hearing instruments takes courage, a very attractive trait to a spouse.
Secondly, come up with some small measurable goals together, that you can work toward and write them down. It sounds silly but research tells us that just writing down a solution makes it 25% more likely to be a success. For example, “We’ll try and watch a movie together at a comfortable volume once a week.” It seems small, but small successes lead to big improvements over time. Remember, the problems happened little by little but so will the solution. Try to stay away from large, unmanageable statements like, “We will do more together.” Good intentions but it’s kind of hard to know where to start.
Thirdly, when things work well, examine the reasons why and broaden the lesson learned to other situations. For example, “We always have a great conversation at the breakfast table because we’re both rested, the kids are gone to school so it’s quiet, and I can see your face well in the sun so I can read your lips.” So, maybe you could reserve quiet mornings for just the two of you to catch-up with each other. Or, when you enter a party, give each other a signal to head to a quiet corner all your own every so often to connect and see how your spouse is enjoying the evening. You get the idea.
These and other steps will gradually melt the frost and soon the unity and strength of a connected partnership will return and you’ll be stronger for having weathered this little cold snap together.

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