A guide to recognizing hearing loss Symptoms and having supportive conversations
Reviewed by Michal Luntz, M.D., on January 30th 2023
The possibility that your partner has a hearing loss is usually raised due to an increase in the number of misunderstandings or what we can call ‘communication challenges’ between you and your partner. These communication ’frictions’ include for example complaints from your partner that you are not talking clearly or loud enough, that you think you said something but did not, or that the TV volume is too soft. The possibility that your partner has hearing loss may also be suspected when the partner tries to avoid activities you two used to enjoy together, such as meeting friends or going to the theater. They might say “it’s boring” or “ it makes me tired”, this is often a result of their hearing loss.
If you suspect your partner has hearing loss it’s important to help them find out if they do in fact have hearing loss, and how to take care of it early on. It’s also important to remember that the person who develops hearing loss needs to go through their own process of accepting it and becoming active in looking for solutions.
In this article
How to approach your partner's potential hearing loss: key principles and tips
It’s important to approach the situation with empathy, thoughtfulness, and care. Through my own experience of losing my hearing and my experience working with thousands of patients, I suggest a few basic and important principles, or tips, for how to approach the situation:
Tip 1. Avoid Negative Connotations. When addressing the issue, refrain from incorporating negative language. Approach the discussion with sensitivity and avoid any statements that could be perceived as negative, offensive, blaming, mocking, or despairing. Refrain from attempting to “test” or “asses” your partner for hearing loss. Instead, try to convince them to self-assess or seek a professional hearing test. Testing their hearing is the first step towards understanding their needs and implementing effective strategies and solutions to improve their daily life.
Tip 2. Assume that it is possible you also have hearing loss. Hearing loss is very common, 15% of American adults experience some level of hearing loss. Moreover, hearing loss usually develops with age, about half of Americans over the age of 60 experience hearing loss. So, the older you are the more likely it is that you have a degree of hearing loss. If you also have hearing loss, you may be speaking too softly, making it difficult for your partner to understand you (the notion that hard-of-hearing individuals speak loudly is not always true). The only way to be sure is to get tested yourself.
Tip 3. Talk in private. Make sure you always talk with your partner about their hearing in private. For many people, any issue with their health, or their communication abilities is a private and sensitive matter. Also, be careful not to make jokes about your partner’s hearing or communication in front of others.
Tip 4. Face-to-face communication. If you suspect that your partner has hearing loss it’s important you always talk to your partner when your partner can see your face. It helps your partner read your lips and understand the emotions accompanying the content of the speech. In this way, they are more likely to be able to understand what you are saying. It will help reduce misunderstandings. Avoid things like talking to your partner when their back is facing you, calling your partner from another room, or speaking to your partner while you open the trash can or while they wash the dishes.
Tip 5. Support your partner in social events. If you suspect your partner has hearing loss you should assume that communication in a group environment or noisy environment is going to be challenging for your partner. There are things you can do to help your partner in those situations. Be mindful that anything you do has to be done with extra care, to avoid insulting or embarrassing your partner. The first thing I recommend is to help make sure people in your group speak one at a time. It is universally considered the more polite way to converse and improves the overall interaction for everyone. A second common situation is when going to a restaurant. It’s important to choose a less noisy restaurant, to ask for a quieter place within the restaurant when making the reservation, and to let your partner choose where to sit so that they can hear best. There are many more things you can do, please read more about this in our article “My partner has hearing loss, how can I support them in a social event”.
Tip 6. Don’t assume your partner received verbal information. If your partner is experiencing hearing loss, they are likely missing pieces of information that are verbally shared with them. You should assume that spoken information that is not expressed in eloquent wording and loud enough may be missed. This is important to consider for your communication with your partner, and also for any important information they may need to hear, such as a doctor’s appointment, or a bank appointment.
What are signs that your partner has hearing loss?
There are many signs of hearing loss in a partner, some of the most common signs you might observe in your partner are:
They complain that you are not talking clearly or loud enough
They seem to have a hard time understanding what others are saying, especially in a noisy environment
They struggle to understand the words of songs on TV/smartphone apps
They find it harder to converse in a restaurant setting compared to others
They seem to dominate conversations, interrupt too frequently, and often finish or guess what other people are going to say, or the other way round, they seem to lose interest in the conversation
They miss information that others in the same social interaction pick up on
They have a hard time hearing whispers
They have a hard time hearing the voices of young children
They often give up in arguments and debates
They can’t hear the TV and say that the TV volume is not loud enough
They have a hard time having a conversation when there is background noise, such as a TV
They might seem less "sharp" than they used to be
They often miss the initial part of what someone said when they are in a group setting, such as a family dinner
How to talk to your partner about their hearing loss: a guide to open and supportive communication
Talking to your partner about hearing loss can be difficult, but it's important to communicate openly and honestly to maintain a healthy and fulfilling relationship. It’s important to help your partner become active in looking for solutions early on, however, that must be balanced with empathy and patience. Remember that they have to process and accept their hearing loss. In your conversation with your partner make sure to follow the key principles and tips from the beginning of this article.
Establish a supportive approach to help your partner deal with the discovery and management of hearing loss: It’s important to understand that discovering that one has hearing loss does not create the issue; the hearing loss was already present. Diagnosing it is a positive step, as it allows for the identification of strategies to manage and minimize the impact of hearing loss if it exists.
Emphasize that getting a hearing test is simple and can provide an immediate answer: Undergoing a hearing test and knowing whether hearing loss is present will allow your partner to eliminate unnecessary concerns, and begin on a path of finding solutions. Not clarifying the question - do I have hearing loss - amplifies the negative consequences of hearing loss as well as the related anxiety, and can become a barrier between you two.
Offer to go get tested together. The initial action your partner should take is a hearing test. The most reliable method to identify hearing loss is through a hearing evaluation conducted by an audiologist. The hearing test doesn’t hurt, has no side effects, is very safe, and is often covered by insurance (make sure to check with your insurance plan and doctor), and many places offer it free of charge. Getting your own hearing tested is generally a good idea. Moreover, that can motivate your partner to go with you and have their hearing tested as well. Sometimes we just need a small nudge. But be transparent and refrain from making your partner feel “manipulated”, those feelings can linger for a while.
Talk to your partner about the negative impact of an unaddressed hearing loss on overall health and well-being. Hearing loss can lead to social isolation and depression, as well as difficulties with communication and interpersonal relationships. Hearing loss can also increase the risk of falling, cognitive decline, and dementia. In addition, it can negatively affect job performance and earning potential. Regular hearing screenings and prompt treatment can help mitigate the effects of hearing loss and improve quality of life.
Have an honest conversation with your partner about the communication challenges you are having. Communication is a key part of daily life. When hearing loss goes undiagnosed and/or untreated it can negatively impact your communication and your relationship. Multiple misunderstandings or ‘communication challenges’ are tiring, and frustrating, and consume emotional reserves from both of you.
“Quick Statistics About Hearing”. The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD). https://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/statistics/quick-statistics-hearing