Editor's note: This popular article was originally published in 2014. Because the message is timely and relevant, we've updated it with new information and many new helpful links to republish again today.
If your spouse or partner has hearing loss, maybe you've realized that you could do more to help him or her cope and thrive with limited hearing. January, the month of resolutions, isn't over yet, and it's the perfect time to find out how you can support the one you love in the new year.
Learn what it's like
It's well known - and maybe you've experienced it - that hearing loss can put a strain on relationships, causing stress, hurt feelings and frustration over miscommunication. If your partner has a hearing loss and you sometimes get frustrated, one good thing to do is learn more about what hearing loss is like. Having empathy and being able to relate to what your loved one is experiencing with hearing loss may help increase your patience.
Besides having a good conversation with your partner in which you ask questions to better understand their experience, you can use technology to learn even more. There are several smartphone apps that will simulate a hearing loss so you can get a clear picture of what the world sounds like to your loved one. You might be surprised at what you hear!
Practice good communication
When someone has hearing loss, oral communication, a vital function of participating in society and relationships, is negatively affected. But remember, effective communication goes far beyond spoken words. Gestures and facial expressions enhance the meaning of the message.
One of the most important things you can do when talking with your spouse who has hearing loss is to avoid speaking from another room where they cannot see you. Whenever possible, face your partner when talking, keep your mouth uncovered and gently get his or her attention before beginning a conversation. Do not chew gum while talking because it distorts the shape of your mouth making lipreading more difficult. Your partner may have extra difficulty hearing when he or she is stressed, tired, upset or sick. Be flexible in having conversations until there's a better time.
Here are some additional tips:
- Rephrase rather than repeat what you said. Sometimes it will be easier for your spouse to understand if you choose different words that are easier to hear.
- Move to a different environment - one with less background noise or better lighting.
- Use simple sentences rather than complex ones which can be hard to follow.
- Make sure to speak clearly and slowly and at a natural volume. If you raise your voice too much, it might be more difficult for your spouse to hear and understand since the sound can be distorted.
- Try an assistive listening device, like a personal amplifier.
- Provide your spouse with the key word of what you said - write it down or spell it if necessary.
- Don't get frustrated and say, "Never mind, it's not important." That could feel like you're dismissing your partner, as if his or her hearing is not important to you.
Vow to be more patient with your spouse. Do your best to laugh off any miscommunications.
Lend your support by being involved in your spouse's appointments with their hearing healthcare professional whether he or she is getting hearing retested or inquiring about new hearing aids or assistive listening devices. Not only will this show how much you care about their hearing, but it will also give you a chance to ask the hearing care professional questions about your partner's hearing loss. You can help by writing down vital information and sharing your observations about your loved one's hearing loss and its effects with the hearing care professional.
Having empathy and being able to relate to what your loved one is experiencing with hearing loss may help increase your patience.
Try aural rehabilitation
Aural rehabilitation is a series of classes that focuses on improving communication for people adjusting to hearing aids and cochlear implants or just for those who are living with hearing loss. Aural rehab often involves a range of specialists, including physicians, audiologists, vocational counselors, psychologists and speech-language pathologists. Aural rehabilitation can:
- Help people adjust to a family member's hearing loss, including providing communication tips and counseling.
- Assist people with hearing loss in interpreting visual cues and improve lipreading skills.
- Provide people with tips for handling challenging conversations.
- Educate someone with hearing loss on his or her legal rights to accommodations in the workplace and in academic environments.
- Help people learn how to listen again with cochlear implants and hearing aids.
The path forward
Communication is important in any relationship, whether it's a friendship, business relationship or a romantic relationship. Communication can break down when one or both partners has hearing loss. The best thing you can do if your partner or spouse has hearing loss is be a strong support for them and encourage them to seek help.
If you are the one in the partnership with hearing loss, your personal relationship will benefit greatly when you take the first step towards better hearing. Better hearing isn't just a gift you give yourself, but the better communication will bring joy to your spouse or partner, too.