A number of studies have found that, “intimate relationships are very vulnerable to the effects of hearing impairment.” This finding is not surprising. Communication is an interactive experience, one that must be shared with others. Conclusions of the studies also include:
- The closer the relationship, the greater the impact on the relationship.
- Both intimate partners may experience severe consequences if one has hearing impairment.
- The closer the relationship, the stronger the impact of hearing difficulties in the relationship.
- Acceptance of the hearing loss reduces its impact.
Although acceptance has a positive effect, several factors interfere with accepting and adjusting to hearing loss:
Lack of internal reference. Since hearing loss usually develops very gradually, there is no clear internal reference to judge that one is not hearing as well as previously: we don’t know when an individual finally accepts that he or she may have a hearing loss, it is almost always due to the encouragement or complaints of others (usually family members).
Blame. The person with a hearing loss may talk too loudly, turn TV volume too loud or complain about people not speaking clearly. When people complain or blame (“Are you deaf?”), this may trigger a defensive reaction which makes it more difficult to accept the possibility of hearing loss.
Stigma. The greatest obstacle to successful effective hearing care is the stigma attached to hearing loss. Hearing loss often threatens the individual’s self-image and creates fears of inadequacy and of being prematurely old.
Because of these obstacles, both partners engage in coping strategies before the hearing loss is acknowledged. Television is made louder; the partner may complain or choose another room for television viewing. The person may ask for frequent repetitions; the partner may cooperate until he or she becomes frustrated and refuses to cooperate.
A number of studies have shown that the unimpaired partner also experiences stress, tension, and irritation. The irritation of loud television is compounded by the frustration caused by the hearing impaired partner’s unwillingness to take steps to deal with the hearing loss. The annoyances experienced by the partner can lead to resentment and anger, along with feelings of guilt for having such feelings.
The partner’s relationship is as much an issue as the actual hearing difficulties caused by hearing loss. Moving past “denial” to acceptance is the first step to reducing the negative effects untreated hearing loss can have on an intimate relationship.