Every week, I write a column for Deaf-Insight.com called Ask Lipreading Mom. Readers submit questions related to hearing loss or deafness, and I seek out the answers. Then I share the information in my column. This week’s column concerned how to talk to a loved one if you suspect he has hearing loss.
Dear Lipreading Mom,
I just realized that my husband may have difficulties hearing me. At home, I will stand behind him to discuss something. After five minutes of me talking, he’ll interrupt and ask who I was talking to. He also has become increasingly isolated from social events. We used to go to the movies, and he refuses to go now. The only social outlet he has is golfing, and he plays alone. How do you suggest I approach him about his hearing difficulties?
Silently Suffering Spouse
Dear Silently Suffering,
When my husband and I married 17 years ago, he says he remembers my difficulties with having conversations while driving. He also remembers me slightly turning my head in the car to face him when he spoke. Apparently, I was lipreading him back then—five years before my progressive hearing loss was diagnosed.
Yet my husband never told me what he suspected. Why is that, I ask?
First, there is this other silent companion walking with a newly hard of hearing person. I call it MS. DENIAL. When we lose something dear to us, like our hearing, we often have the mentality, ‘If I don’t acknowledge it, then it doesn’t exist.’ Realize that MS. DENIAL may be walking with your husband. Like you, MS. DENIAL wants your husband’s undivided attention, and she’s a very jealous companion. It may take someone else to come along and get your husband’s attention.
Along comes MR. ANGER. He wants your husband to be mad at the world for his hearing difficulties, something that he still refuses to accept. It may take someone with even more persuasive powers to rein in MR. ANGER.
Say hello to MISS DEPRESSION. She may remind your husband of his great-aunt who lived alone her entire adult life. Just the thought of going to a social event with strangers sends MISS DEPRESSION (and your husband) into a giant hole of self-doubt and pity. Be patient, because it could take your husband weeks, months, or longer to step away from MISS DEPRESSION’S clingy grasp.
Finally, you and your husband are sitting at the dinner table one evening. During a quiet moment of reflection, he announces, ‘I think I may have hearing loss.’
You nod. These are the words you waited a long time to hear. The fact that your husband has finally come to this conclusion on his own makes you realize that the only way anyone can find ACCEPTANCE is on his own.
Here’s the Important Part
Now…in the meantime while you wait for your husband to embrace ACCEPTANCE of his hearing loss, what do you do? Every time you speak with him, make sure you do the following:
1) Gently get his attention before speaking. If needed, pull him to a quiet spot.
2) Breathe deeply in and out before speaking. (You may need the extra breath if you need to repeat yourself a couple of times.)
3) Slowly and distinctly say that you have a question to ask, or a comment to make, etc., before stating the actual question or comment.
4) Say each word to him slowly with a slight pause between words.
5) Be prepared to repeat or rephrase your question or comment as many times as needed.
For your own sanity, seek out resources that can help YOU better understand hearing loss. An organization that literally saved my sanity (and my husband’s) was the Hearing Loss Association of America. Read through this website, and consider joining some of its online forums. Find the support you need so that you can be a support for your husband. It’s the BEST thing you can do for yourself. Just ask my husband.
Readers—Do You Have a Suggestion ‘Silently Suffering Spouse’? Post your advice below.