I ask myself, “If I had this problem when we dated, would we have ended up together?”
By Shari Eberts, Good Housekeeping
When I got married, I didn’t realize that one day I would no longer be able to hear what my husband was saying — literally.
If my hearing loss happened while we were dating, would we have chosen one another? I hope so, because we have had our fair share of wonderful moments — including the birth of two beloved children — but I can’t say the thought hasn’t crossed my mind once or twice, particularly when we are tired and stressed and his weary mumblings are even harder for me to hear than usual.
My husband and I met right after college. We both worked in the same department at a large company in New York City. He was a year ahead of me in seniority, so we needed to keep it a secret at first, but one night we were discovered at the movies, and so, we went public. It was a lovely romance that blossomed despite job changes, religious differences, and a two-year stint living in different cities. We dated, fell in love, got married, and everything was perfect.
But then I started to lose my hearing. This was not a complete surprise, because hearing loss runs in my family. My father didn’t hear well; neither did his mother. I was hoping that I had escaped this fate, but in my mid-20s in business school, I noticed problems emerging. I was having a hard time following the discussion in class — particularly comments that were made as asides or as jokes.
Given my history, I went to get my hearing tested and was diagnosed with mild hearing loss. The good news was that it was slight, so it had very little impact on our lives at that point. The bad news was that it was going to get worse.
A colleague of mine with hearing loss is deep in the throes of dating. He struggles with selecting good first date locations (quiet and well-lit so he can hear) and he never asks anyone for a second date if he cannot hear them. That may sound harsh, but it’s simply realistic. “People don’t often change the way they speak,” he told me, “so why invest the time in a losing battle?”
I remember one time when my daughter was 8 months old, we were enjoying a quiet family day at the lake, when suddenly she was stung by a bee. She began screaming in pain and shock, while my husband and I — in our panicky brand-new-parent way — tried to figure out what to do.
I would say something. My husband would respond with something unintelligible. “What did you say?” I would shout. He would repeat himself in a maddeningly quiet voice.
“I can’t hear you!” I bellowed in return.
This was not effective. Part of the problem was my hearing loss, and part of it is the actual pitch of his voice. Neither of these elements can be altered. In a crisis, communication had completely broken down. We needed to do better.
My parents did not provide a positive example to follow. My father’s hearing loss was treated as something shameful — never discussed, hidden, and, at times, mocked behind his back. It took a terrible toll on my parents’ relationship as my father isolated himself and developed other health problems. Was this what was in store for my husband and me?
No, I decided.
Communication is hard enough in any marriage, and my hearing loss only adds to that. So we work harder. My husband makes a special effort to always look at me when he speaks, and to enunciate his words so they are easier to see on his lips. I work on keeping my frustration in check and ask for a repeat when I need it.
My children (we now have two) have gotten into the act. They know never to speak to me from another room or turn their back to me when they talk. And we don’t treat hearing loss as shameful, but as a fact of life that needs to be incorporated into the family dynamic.
We are taking a different path from the one my parents took, and I have confidence we will have a much happier ending.