How Can Hearing Loss Impact Your Relationships?

The Problem

The number of Americans suffering from hearing loss continues to grow at a record pace – nearly 48 million at last count. The ways in which hearing loss affects an individual varies from person to person and includes both physical and cognitive health risks, decreased job performance, decreased quality of life and more. While the perception is that hearing loss only affects the person who actually can’t hear well, studies show that untreated hearing loss can negatively impact relationships with family and friends as well, particularly with those closest to us, i.e. our romantic partners.

Despite the large number of people with hearing loss, those that actually wear hearing aids to treat it remains relatively low – reportedly only approximately 1 out of 4. This means that the vast majority of those with hearing loss are potentially putting their relationships at risk. According to a recent study with 1,500 people who had hearing loss, nearly half of them (44 %) reported that their inability to hear properly had caused their relationships to suffer. Furthermore, 34 percent reported losing touch with friends and in some cases had their marriages fall apart entirely due in large part to a breakdown in communication.

Emotional intimacy in a relationship comes from expressing our feelings to each other both verbally and non-verbally. When those needs are met, the relationship grows stronger – when they are not, the relationship suffers. Effective meaningful communication plays an integral role in establishing this intimacy and therefore is key to the success of most relationships. When it is missing, the toll it takes on the parties involved is costly.

Communication in the best of circumstances is a complicated matter for any couple and differences may exist based on gender, personality styles, or what they learned growing up in different families. When hearing loss is involved it can get even more difficult by causing those small but important moments where contact is needed to be lost. Once communication starts to break down then anger, frustration and resentment begin to creep in. Partners will often blame each other’s ability to listen for their miscommunication, when in fact it might truly be a hearing problem. This can lead to reduced emotional and physical intimacy, which can easily destroy any marriage or intimate relationship.

How it Impacts You

Here are a few ways that decreased communication caused by hearing loss can cause a negative effect on relationships;

  • Loneliness, i.e. the hearing partners feel that they are missing out on companionship
  • Decrease in common activities such as attending concerts or watching TV
  • Anger
  • Bitterness and holding grudges
  • Disengaging from social activities
  • Decrease in sense of humor and intimate talk
  • Loss of companionship

In terms of partnership when it comes to hearing loss, there are both positives and negatives. For example, those with hearing loss generally appreciate the support and encouragement of their partner. However, they also feel that even the most supportive partners have difficulty truly understanding how tiredness and background noise play a role in their ability to hear. Therefore, even in the best of circumstances, for a relationship involving hearing loss to succeed, a significant change in the nature and content of the communication between partners is essential.

The Solution

So what does this all mean? Clearly, all forms of communication - even those small, seemingly insignificant moments that pass by quickly, are actually very important to helping build intimacy and connection between partners. Collectively, they are actually quite significant and contribute to shared companionship and intimacy. In the absence of that communication, relationships generally experience a significant loss and oftentimes fail as a result.

Hearing aids are the most effective way to treat hearing loss. When people use them to address their hearing loss, their quality of life almost always goes up. This includes improved communication and social functioning, leading to increased relationship satisfaction. People often report life changing results and wish they would have bought hearing aids sooner. In fact, at least a quarter of the people who get hearing aids say the stress that their hearing difficulty was putting on a relationship was a key trigger for their decision to act. Being able to enjoy intimate conversations and shared social moments with their partners has helped people who get hearing aids find that they are once again able to enjoy life. And more importantly, they are able to do so again as a part of a couple.

So take a moment to think about the relationships that are most important in your life. Have they suffered due to poor communication caused by hearing loss? If you are experiencing communication issues due to hearing loss, now is the time to address them with hearing aids and start enjoying those special moments and people that mean the most to you.