Caring for a Deaf or Hard of Hearing Partner
Ask anyone the secret to a successful relationship, and they’ll tell you communication is key. What do you do when your partner requires a different form of communication to understand you? Having a hard-of-hearing or deaf partner can be challenging when you have no hearing loss, but these relationships can thrive despite their communication differences. Sometimes a couple develops a certain communication style when a hearing person meets someone who is already deaf or hard of hearing. Occasionally two people will start a relationship, then one of them develops hearing loss and they need to readjust their communication style to accommodate. Hearing loss can happen to anyone, so know that it may occur in the future!
Changes in Communication
The absence of verbal communication can put a relationship to the test. The hearing partner often bears the weight of handing translation in social situations and when no accommodations are available. Small moments of intimacy the couple shares are chipped away: the little jokes, listening to music together, whispering in a crowded room. The best thing a supportive hearing partner can do is never make their other half feel like a burden by being dismissive. The foundation of intimacy is built from small moments, so telling them it’s “not that important” when they ask you to translate or repeat yourself puts a dent in the security of the relationship. People need to feel tended to and like they are a priority; that doesn’t happen when they aren’t included in the communication.
A Need for Understanding
Even the most supportive and empathetic partners genuinely struggle to understand the difficulties and complexities of hearing loss. There is fatigue that comes from straining to listen to conversations and lip-read. There can also be feelings of shame, frustration, and the urge to isolate the partner experiencing hearing loss. When the individual is in denial about the state of their hearing, it makes tensions even higher, and more problems arise. Normalizing the conversations around hearing loss can prevent this cultural tendency to deny the need for help because of the stigma.
Have the Difficult Conversations
Don’t be afraid to talk about the communication barriers. Like with any issue in a relationship, nothing is solved when it’s kept in the dark. Suggest little ways you think may improve your communication for the better. Stray away from accusatory words and language that places blame, such as “your hearing problems.” Remind them that it is not you versus them, but the two of you working together to solve the communication issues. If they communicate that way, learning some basic sign language is also incredibly helpful and shows you care and put effort into the relationship. Above all, patience is the ultimate virtue.
Bearing the Weight
As much as the hearing partner does not bear most of the stress from their partner’s deafness, it can impact them. Caregiver burnout is very much a real thing, and they may feel a sense of guilt or pressure from the relationship’s codependency. Being aware of how you feel as you navigate your relationship with your deaf or hard-of-hearing partner is vital. Resentment can even build up over time, so checking in with your emotions is essential. The crucial thing to remember is to allow yourself time to decompress and make room for self-care.
Embrace the Process
If your relationship has a solid foundation of positives to focus on, the love you have for each other will always prevail. Know that miscommunication will occur, as it would within any partnership, but that’s okay and can be resolved. Be open, honest, and set healthy boundaries. Coping with hearing loss can be a challenge, but if approached correctly, it can be used as an avenue through which to discuss and improve communication in your relationship. It may put your relationship to the test, but it will also initiate the drive to develop the tools you need to succeed in your relationship. Advocate for your partner by asking for captioning where available – contact us!