Are you constantly repeating yourself or raising your voice so that your spouse can hear you? This can be incredibly frustrating, especially when your spouse doesn’t want to admit that they have a hearing problem or take steps to get help. You may have mentioned their hearing problems to them, only to be met with excuses or blame such as, “I like the TV loud”, “The phone network is bad” or, “You’re mumbling”. Your spouse’s hearing problems may be a touchy subject. Even though hearing loss is a natural part of aging, many people see it as a sign that they’re getting older. The last thing you want to do is bruise your spouse’s ego but it is important to get them the help they need. How do you talk to your spouse about getting hearing aids without offending them?
Talk to your spouse
It’s easy to pass judgment on your spouse when they can’t hear you, but their hearing problem warrants a serious discussion. A supportive environment is important to someone who may be scared of facing the truth. Here are some tips to help you talk through the problem with your spouse:
- Find a good time to talk when you will not be distracted or interrupted.
- Be as specific as possible about their hearing problems. Give them specific examples of times that they couldn’t hear you.
- Tell them how the communication breakdown makes you feel. Use “I” statements. For example, say, “I feel frustrated when you…” instead of saying, “You make me angry when you…”
- Ask your spouse how they feel about the breakdown in communication that you’re experiencing as a couple.
- Ask them what ideas they have for improving it.
- Stay calm, avoid shouting, and becoming too emotional.
- Listen to your spouse. If your spouse interrupts you, minimizes the problem, or makes excuses, they may not be ready to get help. Simply listen to them to better understand their perspective. Tell your spouse that you understand and avoid arguing back.
Ask family members to talk to your spouse
It may not sit well with your spouse if you tell them that the rest of the family is also concerned about their hearing problems. This may come across as you discussing it behind their back, therefore betraying their trust. Instead, ask close family members who have noticed your spouse’s hearing problems to talk to them for their point of view. This may help your spouse realize that their hearing problems are affecting others too.
Reconsider how you communicate
We communicate differently with our spouse at home compared to colleagues or friends who normally have our full attention. At home we tend to be lazy communicators; we speak from different rooms, face away from our spouses or multitask while we speak. Be conscious of these bad habits. It’s important, though, to avoid communicating in a way that makes it easier for your spouse to hear you at your expense. If you are constantly repeating yourself or raising your voice, your spouse may not know how much they are missing and it may take them longer to get help.
Visit a hearing healthcare practitioner yourself
Just as you would go for regular check-ups with your dentist or optometrist, regular hearing checks are also recommended. Arrange an appointment to visit a hearing healthcare practitioner and ask your spouse to join you. That way, your spouse will get an idea of what to expect on the first visit as well as get information about hearing loss. If your spouse doesn’t want to join you, you will be able to give them a first-hand account of what to expect. The hearing healthcare practitioner will also be able to give you tips to help your spouse and give you information leaflets that your spouse may find helpful.
Challenge your spouse’s excuses
Your spouse may be reluctant to get help for their hearing problems because of the many misconceptions about hearing aids. Here is a list of responses to common excuses that your spouse may use:
- “I don’t need hearing aids” – You don’t have to have very poor hearing to benefit from hearing aids. Hearing aids make hearing easier, even for people with mild hearing losses.
- “Hearing aids are too expensive” – Hearing healthcare practitioners discuss your budget with you before recommending hearing aids that won’t break the bank. Remember that hearing aids last for three to seven years. Your medical aid (medical insurance) may cover some or all of the cost of hearing aids. Sometimes payment plans can be arranged.
- “Hearing aids will make me look old” – Today’s hearing aids are hardly visible; they are small, sleek and available in many colors. Many young people without hearing loss walk around with Bluetooth devices in their ears without anyone else being able to see them.
- “I don’t want to worry about hearing aids” – Hearing aids come with a warranty and can be insured.
- “Hearing aids are noisy and whistle” – All of today’s hearing aids reduce background noise and enhance speech, and also have features that prevent whistling (feedback). Some hearing healthcare practitioners allow you to ‘test drive’ hearing aids to make sure you are happy with the sound quality.
Giving your spouse this information may help ease their concerns. Your spouse may feel that you are pushing the idea of hearing aids which, perhaps, they are not ready for. Sometimes it’s best to simply listen and tell them that you understand.
Tell about the risks of not getting hearing aids
Scare tactics don’t usually work well when it comes to convincing people to get help. Think of smokers who continue to smoke despite the risks. It may be useful to tell them about the costs and risks of continuing without hearing aids when they are weighing up the pros and cons of getting help. Here are some of the risks:
- If hearing loss is left untreated for many years, hearing aids may not be able to help you. If the ears are not stimulated with sound, the nerves and parts of the brain that process sound weaken permanently.
- Untreated hearing loss can cause fatigue from constantly straining to hear.
- People with untreated hearing loss may experience anxiety, depression, and social isolation.
- Untreated hearing loss is associated with cognitive problems and a greater risk of developing dementia.
Visit a hearing healthcare practitioner with your spouse
If your spouse is pressured to get help, they may feel resentful and be unwilling to follow a hearing healthcare practitioner’s recommendations. It is important that your spouse get help in their own time, on their own terms. Ask them if they would like you to visit the hearing healthcare practitioner with them. It is often useful to go with them as you may be able to provide valuable information to the hearing healthcare practitioner about their problems. There is also a lot of information given on the first visit and it is helpful when there are two people to remember it. Sometimes though, it is not productive to go with your spouse. In their attempt to prove you wrong about their hearing loss, they may not be upfront about their hearing problem and resist help.
Stages of getting a hearing aid
People with hearing loss go through stages of change before they are ready to get help. It is important to be patient as your spouse goes through the stages:
Precontemplation stage – In this initial stage, your spouse may be surprised if you mention their hearing loss because they are unaware that they have one. They may tell you that they don’t have hearing problems. If you try to convince them to get hearing aids, you won’t have much success as they remain in disbelief. In this stage, you can help them by bringing their attention to sounds in the environment that they can’t hear, for example, distant birdsong or crickets or the ticking of a wristwatch or wall clock. You could ask them to keep track of every time they mishear or ask for repetition, or do so for them.
Contemplation stage – Your spouse may admit to you that they don’t hear as well as they used to. They may recognize that they have hearing problems but are in two minds about whether to do anything about it. In this stage, be supportive of the idea of them getting help but don’t push the issue. To help them decide whether to get help, you could suggest that they write a list of pros and cons of getting hearing aids and not getting hearing aids. Perhaps remind them how wonderful it will be to hear your grandchildren properly. If you manage to get information leaflets about hearing loss, leave them lying around.
Preparation stage– Your spouse may still be unsure about whether to do anything about their hearing problems but is leaning towards getting help. They may admit that they need help with their hearing. You may find them looking up Hearing Health Providers or information on hearing aids. If you have friends or family members who use hearing aids or have spouses who do, ask them about their experiences, and share some of their positive experiences with your spouse.
‘Action’ stage– Your spouse has decided to get help and use hearing aids. It is important to acknowledge their decision and support them. To encourage them, mention the improvements you’ve noticed since they’ve started using hearing aids. A little positive reinforcement will let them know that they have done the right thing.
Accept that your spouse must want to embrace this change
If you’ve tried to convince your spouse to get help with no success, give them some time. Imagine trying to convince your spouse to get up on a cold winter morning to go for a run. If your spouse is not motivated to run, there is no way you will convince them to do so. Unfortunately, no amount of begging, bribery, or bargaining will convince your spouse to purchase and use hearing aids. Your spouse has to be self-motivated and ready. All you can do is provide the support and encouragement they need, and when they’re ready, be there to stand with them through the process.