How to Improve Communication When One Partner Is Hard of Hearing


Let’s see if this scenario sounds familiar to you. You are at home, reading a book. You’re relaxed. When your partner mumbles something from the other room and you’re like: “What did you say?” She does repeat, but you still can’t understand: “What? Can you repeat?” And so over and over again.

Bye bye to your relaxed fuzzy feeling.

What’s even more frustrating is that even though you asked your partner to face you when she speaks, she doesn’t really get it. She may do it for a short time, but quickly forgets.

The problem is we all communicate our own way. And we have been our whole lives.

Politely asking people to change is probably not going to work. Not for long. And not because they don’t want to help. Behavior change takes time and practice.

So if you spend a lot of time with someone, it may be worthwhile to invest in some training. Here’s how my girlfriend Elise and I survived the communication struggle.

When we moved to Bali four months ago, we were both working from home and spending almost every hour of the day together. The times I didn’t hear her multiplied exponentially. Even though she tried to speak loudly and clearly, I felt frustrated and she did, too.

Determined to making things better between us — and being the nerd I am — I decided that every time I couldn’t hear Elise, I would speak up. “I’m sorry. I couldn’t hear you because I couldn’t see your face.” And so I did — many, many, many times.

My brilliant strategy turned out to be a really bad idea. Every conversation we had, every time she moved her head, I interrupted. That didn’t help communication — or anything else in the household. A day or two of that and nobody wanted to brainstorm ways to improve communication. Nobody wanted to pass the butter.

Fear not. Elise and I lived happily ever after.

This is what we did. We set a micro-date: once every other day for 10 minutes. We agreed that was the only time we’d discuss the topic. Elise would usually open this little meeting by asking me: “How did it go today? Could you hear better?”

We’d delve into what had gone well, what had gone without hearing, and what we could do to improve. Together we came up with strategies to try.

It was so much easier to talk things over when we were both relaxed. After a couple of meetings, we agreed that to communicate effectively:

We would speak in the same room. Always. No exceptions.

Elise would always speak while facing me.

Elise would call for my attention before speaking.

When Elise called for my attention, I would stop what I was doing and give her my attention.

After only a couple of weeks, Elise developed a few tricks, and our communication improved dramatically. We had less “what’s that?” and more harmony all around.

Here is what she did:

Began with filler words. Using my name repeatedly to call my attention first was awkward. So Elise started using words such as “By the way,” “You know what?” or a simple “Ehmm.” This gave me time to tune in without missing anything important.

Moved to my room: a simple tactic, yet powerful. When she realizes she’s speaking to me from another room, she stops, walks to where I am, faces me and repeats it all over again. Nirvana for me.

And I knew that she was trying hard, so I didn’t mind when I missed a word or two.

Lessons learned:

If you’re struggling to communicate with someone you care about and spend a lot of time with, take a step back and think of what’s creating the struggle. The best results come when partners come up with solutions themselves, and it will be easier for them to adopt the new behaviors. So begin with an open conversation, and work together to find better ways to communicate.

Your turn:

Do you currently struggle with communication with someone close to you?

Have you had a conversation with your partner or close family member on how to improve communication? How did it go?

Share your experience in the comments; you’ll help others realize they’re not alone and you’ll learn from others, too.

Follow this journey on Get Superhuman Hearing.

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