The Impact of Hearing Loss and Tinnitus on Relationships

While hearing loss can make you feel alone in the world, many people understand exactly what you’re going through – about 20 percent of Americans report some degree of hearing loss. Although you experience it alone, your hearing loss can affect all of your relationships. At Sound Relief we have found that when someone in […]

While hearing loss can make you feel alone in the world, many people understand exactly what you’re going through – about 20 percent of Americans report some degree of hearing loss. Although you experience it alone, your hearing loss can affect all of your relationships. At Sound Relief we have found that when someone in the family has hearing loss, the whole family has a hearing problem. Don’t underestimate the impact of hearing loss on your spouse or partner. Oftentimes, both halves of a couple will report frustration, a sense of isolation, and resentment toward their partner when hearing loss is left untreated. These negative ramifications can also occur when one half of a couple suffers from tinnitus or ringing in the ears.

However, you don’t have to let a hearing loss or tinnitus damage your relationships. If you and your partner support one another, keep the lines of communication open, and seek out treatment from an experienced audiologist, you can preserve and perhaps even strengthen your relationship despite the impact of hearing loss.

According to a 2009 British study that surveyed 1,500 people with hearing loss, 44 percent reported that their hearing loss had caused their relationships with friends, family, and romantic partners to suffer. Hearing loss may affect your relationships in one or all of the following ways:

  • Decrease in quality communication
  • Provoke arguments between partners
  • Reduce the couple’s ability to enjoy favorite pastimes
  • Strain a couple financially
  • Cause the caretaker to resent their partner
  • Give rise to loneliness
  • Cause the couple to withdraw socially
  • Decrease intimate conversations and casual humor

In “Hearing Loss Is the Silent Killer of Relationships,” Ann Brenoff describes the impact of hearing loss on her relationship with her late husband: “My recently deceased husband wore hearing aids in both ears. I’m serious when I say they likely saved our marriage.” She goes on to describe what it was like to be married to someone who couldn’t hear well and refused to seek help: conversation deteriorated, communication consisted of shouting, parties were no longer fun, the volume of the TV became a major source of discord. Many seemingly small things add up quickly in these situations, creating a wall in a previously harmonious relationship.

Hearing loss isn’t alone in its ability to threaten happy couples; tinnitus can hurt relationships in a variety of ways as well. This shouldn’t come as a surprise when you consider how drastically tinnitus can affect your life. Tinnitus can increase your stress levels, reduce your ability to concentrate, drain your energy, lower your libido, and make it difficult to enjoy the things you once loved – including your romantic partner. Some believe that tinnitus-related stress is most detrimental to their relationships, while others cite their partner’s lack of understanding and compassion. It doesn’t help that tinnitus (like hearing loss) is not a visible health condition, so it doesn’t naturally spark an empathetic response in the same way that a wheelchair or a crutch might.

What You Can Do

The number of American adults (ages 20 or older) with hearing loss is expected to increase by 30 million (8 percent) from 2020 to 2060. So if you aren’t currently experiencing the impact of hearing loss in one way or another, you likely will be soon – if not through personal experience than through a friend or family member. To mitigate the adverse effects of hearing loss on your relationships, focus on communication, compassion, independence, and treatment. To learn more about how tinnitus is affecting your life, take our tinnitus impact survey.

Treasure Your Ability to Communicate

Communication is the cornerstone of a solid relationship. If you and your partner cannot openly discuss how hearing loss affects your relationship, your silence may breed frustration and anger. Without a solid bridge of communication, both you and your partner may feel lonely, isolated, unsupported, and unheard. So instead of bottling up your worries and frustrations, share them with one another. Reflect on your experience with hearing loss as a couple, listening to one another and acknowledging the difficulties.

Don’t underestimate relatively brief communication either. While intimate discussions are important in a relationship, so are little jokes and brief updates. The little things mean a lot in the long run and can help strengthen a couple’s connection.

Exercise Compassion

Whether you or your loved one live with hearing loss or tinnitus, develop compassion to better understand your partner and acknowledge their frustrations.

Take a moment to think about how your health condition affects the people around you. It may feel as if you’re the only one struggling, but your struggle rubs off on everyone around you. And if you refuse to seek treatment, you are putting your relationships at risk. Consider how your battle with hearing loss has rubbed off on your partner, friends, and family members. Have you limited the quality time you spend with them? Have you grown reliant on your partner’s help? Do you annoy your partner by turning up the volume too loud on the radio? Instead of viewing hearing loss as something thatyou’redealing with, think of it as something you’re both working through together.

If your partner suffers from hearing loss, try wearing earplugs for a day to put yourself in his or her shoes. You might think you know how hearing loss affects many aspects of day-to-day life, but do you really? Not only is it difficult to hear another person speak, but you won’t be able to enjoy sounds in the same way and you may feel unsafe because you can’t fully hear important sound cues. Especially in conversation, hearing loss doesn’t just muffle volume; it also dampens details. When you lose the nuances of a conversation (tone, intonation, subtle vocalizations), it’s difficult to carry on a pleasant and engaging discussion.

In addition, remember that there is a lot more to hearing loss than simply struggling to hear sounds. The impact of hearing loss can cause the person to feel frustrated, embarrassed, depressed, or even angry. Imagine constantly feeling the need to turn up the volume on the TV, to ask people to repeat themselves, and to pretend that everything is okay. If you struggle with the experiment of wearing ear plugs for one day (or perhaps even a few hours), just imagine what it’s like to have hearing loss 24/7.

Foster Independence

If your partner suffers from hearing loss, you may have been tempted at one time or another to “help” them by giving into their demands. Or when your hard-of-hearing partner encounters a problem, you might step in and attempt to cover it up. Against your better judgment, you might find yourself doing the following:

  • Repeating yourself constantly
  • Interpreting missed messages
  • “Filling in the gaps” that your partner doesn’t hear
  • Making phone calls for your partner
  • Allowing your partner to turn up the volume on the TV until it’s blaring
  • Agreeing to avoid social situations that cause your partner distress
  • Agreeing that you mumble or speak softly when you know that isn’t true
  • Reassuring your partner that he or she doesn’t need treatment
  • Refusing to acknowledge that your partner suffers from hearing loss

While these may seem like innocent favors, over time they can cause your partner to rely on you. In your quest to help the person you love, you may actually be hurting them by promoting co-dependence. Although it can be hard to deny your loved one something they want, remember that encouraging co-dependence will not fix the underlying problem. In fact, it may cause your loved one to delay seeking out much-needed treatment.

Finally, by giving in to your partner’s demands, you may experience resentment and anger toward your partner. It’s exhausting to be someone else’s ears. By breaking the cycle of co-dependence, you can help your loved one confront and treat the core issue. Change isn’t easy, but it will be worth it.

For more information on dealing with codependency and the impact of hearing loss on relationships, check out “How Hearing Loss Impacts Relationships: Whose Problem Is It?

Seek Professional Help

Luckily, there is hope for couples dealing with the impact of hearing loss. Professional medical interventions (namely, hearing aids) can often drastically improve both partners’ quality of life. This is also true of tinnitus, which can often be effectively treated through a combination of technology and therapy.

According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), only 25 percent of people who need hearing aids actually use them. Don’t let the stigma of hearing loss or tinnitus hold you back. Following treatment, your relationship could blossom again. You could enhance your communication, your social engagement, and your relationship satisfaction in one fell swoop. Overnight, your lives could change. After months or perhaps even years of frustration, you may be able to enjoy things you previously found exasperating – movie theaters, parties, loud restaurants, concerts, and more.

So if you are experiencing hearing loss, tinnitus, hyperacusis, or another auditory issue, please contact a Sound Relief Hearing Center in Arizona or Colorado. With our unparalleled excellence in the hearing industry, our dedication to patient satisfaction, and our commitment to helping people control and conquer their hearing health issues, you can count on Sound Relief Hearing Center for support and assistance. To learn more about us, please browse our website, visit our Youtube channel, or give us a call at 720-344-7600. You can also schedule an appointment online to meet with one of our audiologists. We look forward to hearing from you!

At Sound Relief Tinnitus & Hearing Center, we provide hope and help to those living with tinnitus and other hearing health issues. Our patients are at the center of everything we do, and we strive to guide them to overcome their challenges by delivering innovative and compassionate healthcare.

Dr. Julie Prutsman, owner of this family-owned practice, has expanded to 9 locations across Colorado and Arizona. In 2012, she founded Sound Relief in her hometown of Highlands Ranch, Colorado and continues to foster their mission through mentorship of the brightest minds in the field of Audiology.