Reader dilemma: My partner is deaf but won’t admit it

"She may be terrified of old age and everything that goes with it. And have you asked her if anyone in her family was ever deaf?"

Virginia Ironside
Monday 06 October 2014 17:05 BST

Dear Virginia,

My partner is deaf but won’t admit it. The TV is on so loud that the neighbours complain, and no one can hear what she’s saying and she accuses them of being deaf. Doorbells are accused of being faulty, and she says that phones don’t ring for long enough. We don’t start conversations, because everything has to be repeated. Friends find it odd when they don’t get a response from her. The children tactfully raised the matter, and offered to pay for an aid, but she has dismissed it outright. Any suggestions?

Yours sincerely, Anthony

Virginia says...

Your natural reaction, I’m sure, is to want to shake your partner till her teeth drop out, and yell at her that she’s a selfish old idiot, so consumed with pride and selfishness that she never thinks of anyone else. She’s deaf, for God’s sake. Get over it! Get a hearing aid! Nearly everyone over the age of 50 has got someone wrong with them, and the vast majority of them buckle down and either do something about it or come to terms with it. They don’t sit there in a heap of denial, driving the rest of us nuts. Shape up!

You may wonder why I am concentrating on all this negative stuff. It’s because unless you acknowledge to yourself how bonkers it’s making you and how much, at some level, you really resent your partner for not being more cooperative about her ailment, and the more support you get for your understandably negative feelings, the easier it is, then, to take a step back and realise that, be that as it may, this kind of rage, although it exists, will not get you anywhere if it is expressed.

What do your want? You want her to get a hearing aid. How will you achieve this? Not be yelling and ranting at her. What you have to do is to try to understand her. I imagine that, at some unconscious level, she’s perfectly aware that she can’t hear as well as she used to. Something is preventing her from admitting this to herself. The number one reason is fear – fear that she may eventually lose her hearing completely, fear that soon it won’t just be her hearing, it will be her eyes, then her joints, her memory and then, finally her heart. And she’ll die. Inside herself, she is doing what cognitive behaviour therapists call “catastrophising”. We all do it. Recently, my email broke down and before I knew it I was imagining I’d become a social outcast with no option except to slit my throat.

She may also be suffering from shame. She may be terrified of old age and everything that goes with it. And have you asked her if anyone in her family was ever deaf? Perhaps she had an old aunt who terrorised the family by shouting and muttering – and she’s so frightened of becoming like this that she can’t think straight.

Perhaps she imagines that there have been no advances in hearing aids since the days of the ear trumpet – not realising that there are now invisible microchips that you can pop into your ears, which no one will notice.

Do you have any friends who are deaf and whose lives have been transformed by hearing aids? Couldn’t you ask them to have a word with her? If not, then you probably had best approach her together, as the whole family. Faced with the truth, kindly told, but by a large group of people, it would be difficult for her to continue to deny the situation.

Readers say...

Use gentle persuasion

Your partner must have huge hang-ups about accepting her hearing loss, but it isn’t fair for the rest of the family to have to tip-toe round it and have their lives affected, when it could be dealt with medically.

My best friend has hearing difficulties, which run in her family, and she used to be massively hung up about it, I think she felt that wearing glasses and a hearing aid meant that she was on the scrap heap. We, too, had disjointed conversations, and she needed subtitles on her TV, and appeared to ignore people in conversation.

The pointlessness of it drove me nuts, and I ended up writing her an email (the subject was untouchable, verbally) saying that, while it was obviously no picnic, it was fixable, and it was a crying shame that she wouldn’t fix it, particularly when I had family members with a serious chronic illness that couldn’t be so easily “fixed”. Her new husband also put gentle pressure on her and she eventually went and fitted herself with a hearing aid. It makes such a difference!

Claire Warren

by email

This is not only her problem

You sound angry about your partner’s deafness and show no empathy for her experience. Are you missing the easy conversations you once had, and perhaps blaming her for this? You talk about “we” as if this no longer included her, and you seem to have separated yourself emotionally from her, so it isn’t surprising that she has responded by rejecting the family’s pressure. It seems as if she has become isolated within the family unit.

You are not unusual in this. Hearing loss is a loss for all people in a family or community, and managing it as a family is the best way to tackle it. You may find that talking to her about your difficulties and feelings, and the good communication you miss, is a better approach than concentrating on her shortcomings. She may be the person who has part of the solution, by starting the process for managing her deafness, and hearing aids may well improve communication for you all, but you will still need to adjust your behaviour to meet her needs. Make sure that she does not feel alone in this and go with her to the necessary appointments, so that you understand her condition and have realistic expectations of the help available.

Frances Dewhurst

Director, Cambridgeshire Hearing Help

Get a third party to help

I think that what would help would be intervention by a third party, either a trusted friend or, if necessary, a GP, who would have the ability to convince your partner of her malady. I suspect the root cause of the problem is one of misplaced pride.

PJ Hill

by email

Next week's dilemma

My husband and I live in a tiny, dark cottage in the country. Now that the children have gone, it gets me down, as I’m gregarious but can’t drive. I was brought up in a large, airy house in Northern Ireland where I could walk to the shops and the sea in minutes. We could easily afford to move there. My husband’s keen, but we would leave all our established life and friends – and I no longer know people over there. I remember hearing a programme about Jamaicans returning home and everyone hating them, saying they had been disloyal in going away. Do any other readers have experience of returning home like this?

Yours sincerely, Sheila

What would you advise Sheila to do? To answer this dilemma, or to share your own problem, write to

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