by Neil Bauman, Ph.D.
A lady explained,
I am hearing impaired and also have tinnitus. I wear bilateral hearing aids. I work at home. My husband, when he gets home from work, tends to forget I am hearing impaired and will talk to me from various locations in the house. I have no idea what he is saying. In fact it sounds like a foreign language. At this point I get up and try to figure out what room he is in, find him and see what he wants. (I can’t tell the direction sound is coming from.)
Last week we were on vacation. We were walking down a street and he stopped to look in a shop window. I did not know he was not next to me anymore and kept walking. He yelled at me over and over until people were staring. I did not hear him and kept going. He then believed I had heard but was just not interested in coming back. Finally when I noticed he was not next to me I looked back and saw him standing there ½ a block back.
Another issue is when I am in a store and I can’t understand the clerk. I tell him/her I am hearing impaired at which point they laugh. They must think I am just using self-deprecating humor. They don’t seem to believe me.
We need some coping strategies for communicating. Can you point us in the right direction?
You betcha! I’ve been there and done that too. And the good news is that I’ve learned how to cope effectively.
There are a number of coping strategies that you, as a couple, need to implement so communication becomes easier and is less frustrating. Your husband doesn’t realize just how hard of hearing you are so continues to act like you are a hearing person.
Here are some communications rules you both need to follow.
Only talk face to face. This rule is easy to say, but hard to do in practice. This means if your husband wants to say something to you, he has to come to where you are, get your attention and face you. then he can talk—even if it is only to say “Come here, honey.”
Now, fair is fair. Thus, whenever you want to say something to him— even to just call him to come to supper, you must go to wherever he is—not because he can’t hear you, but so you can hear his reply, and see whether he even heard your message.
I’m warning you in advance. To start with, this is going to be hard. You’ll not want to go to him because you know he can hear you. On his part, he’ll keep calling you and expect you to go trotting to wherever he is, because it’s always seemed to work in the past.
You have to sit down together and calmly talk over this rule . In the process you need to tell him that starting from now on you will never respond to him (whether you hear him or not) unless he comes to you. Then do it. He will get mad at you at first, but you need to persevere. And on your part, you need to go to him before you talk to him no matter how you feel about it. As I said, it’s going to be hard changing longstanding habits, but persevere and soon you’ll both notice how much easier communication has become.
There are only two exceptions to this rule of coming to the person, getting his attention and facing him before either one of you starts talking.
The first exception is if it is an emergency. For example, if you’ve fallen and broken a leg, you aren’t going to be able to go to him, but you can scream. If it was the other way around, he can scream and you’ll go to investigate this sound.
The second exception is if you are behind him and you want to ask him a question that can be answered by a yes or no, go ahead and ask it. On your part, you must be looking at him so you can see his reply. On his part, he just nods or shakes his head. It’s that easy.
My wife and I do this quite often. She knows if I am behind her to just nod or shake her head if I ask a yes or no question. I respond verbally so she knows I got the answer correctly. It works for us.
If you can’t determine direction, he has to learn to say, I’m in the back bedroom or the living room or wherever. That way you know where to go. This works well for a person that only has hearing in one ear and thus do not have directionality of sound. However, since you can’t hear well in either ear, this won’t work in your case.
One of the difficult situations is when you are walking away from your husband and he calls after you. When he yells after you and you don’t hear him, he is just embarrassing himself and not solving the problem. Since you can’t hear him, the “face to face” rule applies. This means he has to run after you and catch up before he says anything. I’ve been in situations where I’ve walked away and someone has had to run after me because I couldn’t hear them.
Incidentally, as a hard of hearing person you need to learn to be more aware of what is going on around you. When you do this it will be the rare occurrence when you walk off without him.
I’m curious why clerks laugh at you when you tell them you are hard of hearing. I think your problem is that the clerk doesn’t know exactly what he should do in order to make the communication successful. Perhaps he is laughing to cover up his embarrassment over this.
To prevent this and make the communication successful from the start, you need to tell the clerk exactly what you need him to do so you can understand him. It may be that you need him to look at you, or speak up or write something down. Analyze what the one thing is that will make the communication most successful and tell him to do that. Naturally, it will vary depending on the situation.
Typically all I do is say, “I’m hard of hearing and need you to look at me so I can understand you”—this is because I speechread. As I said, it could be speak up, speak clearly (but if they have an accent they may not be able to do this so you may want them to write it down so you can read it), face you when talking, etc.
I’ve given you some specific coping strategies to the situations you described. There are many other simple but effective hearing loss coping strategies. If you’d like to learn more of them, I suggest you get my short, but invaluable book, “Talking with Hard of Hearing People—Here’s How to Do It Right!“.