By Hanneke Rabe
In practice, I have seen the full spectrum of emotions when a couple sits across my desk. I have seen fights, I have seen laughter, I have seen tears and I have seen the deepest of affection. I have heard the most endearing, tongue in cheek sayings like “Baby have you missed me?” to which the spouse replied “with every gunshot so far…” and I have witnessed relationships grow stronger and adapt to an inevitable problem – communication breakdown.
Back in University we learnt that “The communication model” consists of three components: a talker, the message and the listener. When one of these components is dysfunctional it results in communication breakdown. When we consider hearing loss, there is an unavoidable problem with the listener’s ability to receive the message. Now unless you live in a vacuum you will have been involved in some form of a relationship, whether it be a friendship, colleague or more special and significant other. To make these relationships work we need to communicate effectively. It requires communication of your thoughts, emotions, boundaries and more practical information like picking up milk on your way home from work.
You can imagine when one or even both communication partners start having difficulty receiving the message, we are bound to see a plethora of issues emerging. In fact, a recent study has shown that 44% of couples, that participated in the study, experienced relationship problems related to hearing problems. The study also highlighted that most of the women (72%) were affected more by social isolation compared to the men taking part in that study and that nearly half (49%) of all the participants felt that their hearing loss was the worst part of growing old.
February, being the month of love, made me think long and hard about the impact of hearing loss on relationships. To be honest, many articles online place the onus of hearing loss directly on the person with the hearing loss. Don’t get me wrong, it is absolutely your responsibility to accept and do everything you can to function as optimally as possible if you have a hearing problem. But does the buck stop with you? Absolutely not.
You see, as in “the communication model” there are two people in a relationship. You must have a willing partner (with a hearing loss) who engages in his/her treatment and you need a supportive partner who encourages, assist and adapt his/her behaviour to their partner. It is give and take.
As a spouse, partner, friend or colleague of a person with a hearing loss, you can try the following helpful tips to ease the flow of communication between you two:
- Get their attention – active listening requires your full attention in order to process what you are hearing.
- Speak slower, not louder – the problem is often the clarity of speech and not the volume
- Move in a little closer – even with the best hearing aid in the world, your partner will not be able to comfortably follow a conversation from another room.
- Ensure good lighting and access to your face – even normal hearing people lip-read in noisy situations: let them look at your beautiful face!
- Move somewhere a little quieter – try and find quieter spots for you and your partner to talk in: pick a smaller booth in a busy restaurant or move away from other noise sources like radios.
- Have realistic expectations – if you are struggling to hear in a specific situation, your partner-with-a-hearing-loss is having a far more challenging time than you are.
- Be honest about your feelings – you have just as little control over your partner’s hearing loss as they do. It is okay to be frustrated sometimes. It is never okay to blame.
Take charge of your hearing problem, patiently encourage your friend or partner and let’s focus on the things that really matter in life – building relationships.