Yesterday my boyfriend and I went to a workshop at the Sanderson Center for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing called How Hearing Loss Affects Relationships. I had the privilege of meeting Rex Waggoner who was the hearing half of Laine Waggoner. Rex and Laine created a workshop on hybrid relationships for people of mixed hearing. Rex has super hearing and Laine was hard of hearing. Laine passed away 3 years ago so Rex was alone and I think this was his first time trying to do it without her. Laine also wrote a lot of articles on being hard of hearing. I signed up with the center to receive a small book compiled of her writings.
So what did I learn yesterday that I didn’t already know? Of course I knew a good relationship is based on good communication. I’ve known for years now that without simple ongoing communication a relationship is doomed. Communication is everything. With one person being hard of hearing, such as me, it gets a little more complicated.
I have always felt bad for the other half who has to repeat often. There are times I simply do not like to wear my hearing aids at home which I knew was a bit unfair. Yesterday I learned it’s quite common to not wear hearing aids at home. If I’m sitting here typing or reading, I don’t need my hearing aids. I don’t even think I need my hearing aids for watching TV because even when they are in I still rely on captions. If I think I’m having a bad day hearing, I will pop in my hearing aids. I’ve always told the other half he has the right to tell me to “go put your hearing aids in” but he has only done it once or twice in a little over two years. Most of the time I recognize the difficulty and go put them in myself. It was a relief to find out others are like this because I hear or read over and over to keep hearing aids in at all times.
At the introduction they asked if we had specific troubles with communication. The only thing I could come up with was talking from other rooms. He constantly yells at me from the other room. He knows I can hear his voice but can’t understand his words. I have to stop whatever I’m doing, get up and walk out to the living room only to find out he wants me to see something on TV, the computer or his email. It irritates the hell out of me most of the times. I read in on the papers handed out that the person who initiates the conversation should be the one to go to the other. So from now one I will sit right here until he comes to me.
On the flip side I think he’s beginning to get a little hearing loss himself. He doesn’t understand me from other rooms half the time either. I yell expecting him to hear me. He is “hearing” after all. Last night he yelled at me from the living room while I was in the kitchen, “You’re talking from another room!” And I did. Did he not hear me? Did he not want to answer me from another room knowing I wouldn’t hear? On the checklist in my mind I put a mark next to him as hard of hearing. He is also A.D.D. which doesn’t make for the best of listening skills anyway. (Sometimes I’m convinced I’m a better listener than he is because I have to focus when someone is talking.)
I have always had hearing partners. The first one couldn’t give a crap about hearing loss except to use it against me to his advantage. Example: He once asked from across the house if he could have a golf membership. I didn’t answer so it that must mean it’s OK!
The second one was more involved with hearing loss. If I forgot to tell people we were with I was hard of hearing he would let them know and tell them to talk a little louder or look at me. Sometimes he would see my face go blank and laugh telling the other person, “She didn’t hear a word you said.” He would sit in on hearing tests with me which was amusing to me. He would try so hard not squinch up his face with the high tones that I could not hear. I knew at that point I was supposed to be hearing something I wasn’t. (He had super hearing too.) This partner liked to use my hearing loss as a handicap. In the end he wanted me to think I was dependent on him and couldn’t do anything on my own. But I could and did.
The next partner in the journey was a nice person who later developed mental issues. Hearing loss was a non-issue here. Maybe all the other problems over shadowed it.
My current partner is patient with my hearing loss. He has only uttered “never mind” a couple of times, a huge pet peeve of mine. If I’m struggling to hear and doing my best only to hear “never mind” it’s a total brush off meaning I’m not worth the effort. I believe I am. In turn, he taught me not to fake it with him because to him it was like “never mind” is to me. My faking it meant to him he wasn’t important.
As mentioned, he is A.D.D. In social situations he gets distracted from me all the time. He’s off talking to someone here… then there and over there next. I’m left to my own devices which includes telling whoever new I’m talking right up front that I’m hard of hearing. My boyfriend often hangs out with a younger crowd (half our age) so I have this younger person looking at me thinking, “Great, an old hard of hearing lady.” I’m sure it’s just who they want to talk to. Conversation doesn’t usually go far. I end up walking away escaping into my own little world.
He has some older friends too (around our age) and for the most part I do better with them. Still I’m left to my own devices because the environments are noisy… a backyard barbecue with the stereo blasting, it’s a techno blaring get together, a bar with music playing… you get the idea. My brain frizzles out after an hour from straining to hear and I’m left on my own again. No wonder I don’t like going out much.
Rex and Laine both supported her hearing loss. In social situations it sounded like he stayed near here and made sure speakers included her. If they weren’t looking at her (because she had her concentration frown going) he would slowly move over to her side to make sure the speaker was again facing her. How nice I thought.
Number 3 on the list: “Be alert to your HOH’s face and eyes to see if she following the subject matter. Be alert to the ‘eyes glazing over’ look… they’re on word discrimination overload. Therefore, ask questions of the speaker to provide more information in order to keep your HOH in the conversation. Don’t make them always be the one to ask “What?” or “Huh?” Be sure to let your HO partner know when there is a change of topic.” Wow! No one has ever done this for me. How wonderful of Rex.
Another neat one, number 4: “If partner innocently interrupts a speaker, touch their arm – this signal alerts them that they’ve interrupted a speaker and to look around, identify the speaker and stop talking.” I do this all the time without knowing. Or I start talking to someone not realizing they are on the phone. I always feel embarrassed when I do this even though it’s unintentional.
The other things mentioned which I really liked were, “It’s not her problem, it’s OUR problem.” Also “Hearing loss is not a solo act! It takes a strong supporting cast.”
To make the case for my hearing partner, I know he used to go to parties often that involved 20 somethings. He hardly goes any more because I feel so awkward. He also used to watch movies at the theater a lot but doesn’t out of respect for me since I can’t watch them without captions. He lets me go without hearing aids often without complaining.
No one is perfect but after yesterday I see more support would be nice. It might make a difference in socializing again.