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8 challenges of being a deaf couple, and how to overcome them

challenges as a deaf couple

Dating, or being married to, another person who has hearing loss can have its difficulties. Some issues arise as they do with any relationship, while others can be specifically attributed to the challenges of being a deaf couple. But don’t fret – there are ways to overcome them! 

My wife Amy is an incredible woman who really brings out the best in me. Her talents as a teacher, actress, dancer and baker really stand out, (she even recently won her first baking competition at a local  hotel, which she wasn’t expecting at all, given that she’s an amateur and went up against professionals who do it for a living!)

Like any relationship, however, ours has challenges – and specifically challenges brought about because of our shared hearing loss. While I have profound hearing loss, Amy’s is moderate to severe. (If you’re also in a relationship with someone with hearing loss, you might already know what I mean.)

Here are 8 challenges my wife and I have faced because of our hearing loss, and how we overcome them. 

1. Who makes the call?

When it comes to emergencies, ordering food from restaurants, or getting in touch with people who apparently don’t know how to text or email, we have to decide which one of us is going to pick up the phone. Most of the time’s Amy, because she has better hearing than I do.

Occasionally we’re able to ask one of our parents to make a call for us, but there are many places, such as banks, that want to speak with you, the client, directly. Accessibility when it comes to communication can still be incredibly frustrating!

Obviously the main workaround for this is to find alternative means of communication. If that’s not possible, I find physically going to establishments and asking for the manager often works. If it doesn’t, I suppose having snarky comments, refusing to answer calls, a scathing voicemail message for those who let the phone ring that long, and beating your head against the wall in frustration will have to cut it!

2. Switching off an argument

When you wear hearing aids, arguments literally have an off switch! In our worse moments, it’s easy to just stop the argument dead in its tracks by turning off our hearing aids. (Hilarious for anyone who might be watching, frustrating as heck for the person you’re arguing with!) 

It’s also a bad move. Look, sometimes you do need to step back from an argument, get rational about it, then come back and apologise (yes, apologise, regardless of who’s at fault or who’s right) then work it out and move on. There are better ways to retreat than by cutting off your hearing though (No, Amy, you can’t call me a hypocrite for writing this. Not allowed).

I strongly advocate retreating to cool down rather than say things you regret in the heat of the moment. Don’t make the problems bigger if you can’t deal with them together in the moment – rather cut them down to size in your own mind, then come back and deal with it together.

3. Talking around the house

This seems to be a staple of virtually ANY relationship. Moving around the house and trying to continue a conversation with another person is NEVER going to work, especially when both of you have hearing loss! It often devolves into:
“Oh, hun, don’t forget we have your mrmfr brmdr r srder…”
“What?”
“Yr mrmfr…”
“WHAT?”
“…”
“OK then…”
*Wife storms back into room*
“WHY AREN’T YOU LISTENING TO ME?!”

Even my wife and I forget this all the time though! Simple fix – make sure that your total attention is on the conversation!

4. Waking up

I sleep like the dead. Hearing aids out, head hits the pillow, and that’s me GONE until I wake up the following morning. If my body clock isn’t in sync with the morning routine needed to get to work on time, waking me up is a Sisyphean task – Amy sleeps more lightly, and thus she’s the one to perform the role of “morning alarm”.

I used to have a Sonic Boom alarm clock, but it caught fire. No, it wasn’t me! Amy was away and I’d set it to wake me up for work the following morning. Instead, I woke up to the smell of burning plastic at around midnight, along with a flickering light next to my head – this time, not-morning-person-me was bolt upright, yanking the damn thing’s plug out of the wall, picking it up using just my fingertips as far as possible from the heat and sprinting into the kitchen in the dark to get the flaming device down on the tiled floor away from anything else that was flammable.

Getting up the next morning was fun…

There are plenty of devices available out there to wake at least one half of a couple up. Check out the wide array of Deaf alarm clocks and fitness watches that vibrate and cellphones that you can get. 

Read more: 7 Night-Time Necessities for the Hard-of-Hearing

5. Shower hour

Showering means silence when you wear hearing aids, aside from the white noise from the running water interfering with what little hearing we do have. Steam misting up the glass panes… ‘nuff said. No fix here, just pick better moments to talk!

6. Coping in noisy environments

For the most part, my wife and I prefer to order-in rather than go out to restaurants.

Both Amy and I struggle with background noise. (Although we can sign to a degree, neither of us are truly fluent.) There are some things we can do to mitigate this, such as finding quieter venues, picking tables away from the crowd, playing with the volume controls on our aids and so on, but it’s not always possible to find a viable solution – so we pick our dates carefully! 

Read more: The do’s and dont’s of dating with hearing loss

7. Dealing with other people 

This happens particularly often with cashiers and doctors. They’ll ask me a question, I won’t hear it, they repeat, I don’t hear it again, Amy jumps in with the answer on my behalf, and they then proceed to ignore me and only talk to her – and she also doesn’t hear sometimes!

I think the key here is to put up a united front and demand proper respect on a case-by-case basis. We’re not lesser people for not having hearing, and often it’s not possible for other people to answer for us. (That said, all the cashiers at our local grocery store love us and have been making an effort to learn a new sign from us every time we shop there. Those girls are awesome!)

8. Assumptions and stereotypes

Sometime people assume that the only reason Amy and I got together is because we’re both hard of hearing. It’s not a huge issue to get upset over in the grand scheme of things, but it does reduce both of us. Instead of acknowledging we are two people with a rich list of interests and passions and past mistakes and glories, down to a one-dimensional caricature of who we really are.

Yes, our hearing loss gives us one more shared experience and point of connection, but the real reason I realised that this was the woman I wanted to be with was actually a mutual love of zombie apocalypse movies. And that was just the tip of a rather large iceberg. There is a rather long list of literature we both love, an interest in hiking, and a shared love for our animals. (The way someone treats animals is such a huge clue to their character, in my opinion!). We also have a shared alma mater. In short, there is a lot of shared interests and experiences with enough differences in our relationship to keep things interesting.

I don’t think there’s much we could do to fix this, and I don’t think it’s up to us, anyway, since we can’t control the thoughts and actions of others. Rather, the only way to have any influence is to control our reactions and educate others after the fact.

“Ultimately, most of the challenges we face are around communication…”

Ultimately, most of the challenges we face are around communication – so finding alternative ways to get the point across is the most important thing to do to keep things working! Marriage is hard work, so it’s said, and I think this is the key part of that work to keep things healthy. Stu Nunnery wrote a great article on this, if you would like to read more!

Are you in relationships with someone who also has hearing loss? Are there any other challenges you face? How do you deal with them? Please feel free to share, as we’d love to know how others deal with these issues!

markbarnard
markbarnard
Mark was discovered to have severe hearing loss - total loss in his left ear, severe in the right - at the age of 3, owing to a Cytomegalovirus infection. He grew up as part of the mainstream community, and only started regularly wearing hearing aids at the age of 15, when his hearing loss dropped to profound levels. Rugby has always been a passion of his, and he's never stopped playing since getting his first opportunity in high school. His greatest claim to fame is playing for the South African Deaf Rugby team, a position he also uses to advocate for the Deaf community. However, he is afflicted with an interest in anything and everything, which manifests in limitless Star Wars puns, comments on the things making up the fabric of society, requests for your favourite banana bread recipes, a predilection for painting 28mm sci-fi models and the inability to fit into any of the proverbial descriptive "boxes" society likes to place people in. He currently lives in Durban with his wife, Amy.