When late-deafness happens in a marriage, it requires a lot of hard work. Communication is a shared responsibility. I know that sounds pretty obvious but I bet a lot of people who became deaf and struggled with self-esteem issues, felt like I originally felt – I was responsible for not being able to communicate because I was the one who changed. I became deaf. It took a long time for me to shift the responsibility from me being responsible to we, as a couple, are equally responsible to communicate in a way that we can both understand. He has a late-deafened wife and I have a hearing husband! We are both in the same boat!
Our solution was to learn simultaneous communication (sign and voice at the same time) as our shared language for communication. Even though we have learned it as a couple (and as a family), there are still some communication “opportunities” to work on in our hearing/late-deafened marriage (especially when a third person joins the communication). Simply put, it requires us doing more of what works and less of what does not work. Believe me we are well versed with what does not work!
It works when we both slow down communication and focus on clear communication. I know he gets frustrated when I don’t understand his signing and I get frustrated with him when he does what I refer to as “sloppy” signing. The frustration turns to laughter when I start talking to him (“Gees, I wonder why I can’t understand you”) like I have a mouthful of marbles. He gets the point – he can’t understand my marbled talking and I can’t understand his “marbled” signing.
It doesn’t work for us when I do not sign to him yet always expect him to sign to me. Signing while I talk helps me to understand how much effort it takes for my husband to use simultaneous communication. If I really want his signing to improve, then it’s important I take the time to sign to him.
It works to remember that people forget (like I do) to do the things they know they “should” be doing and for me to be patient when that happens. I need to understand that he forgets to sign when he is talking to a person in front of me. It’s not because he is intentionally ignoring me. It’s most likely because he is focusing on what he wants to say and what the other person is saying to him. I really need to watch my self-talk when that happens as I can easily be very aggravated! It’s so easy for me to think about me and forget that he has needs too.
It works when I gently remind him to sign rather than storm away, or worse yet, stand there passively internalizing the anger that would eventually drive a wedge between us. It helps to communicate to him why I feel it is important for him to sign. When he signs and talks at the same time to that person, he is role modeling inclusion in my presence. I notice then that most people will try to include me as well by talking slower and making eye contact. Not signing in my presence is really an invitation for that person to ignore me.
It doesn’t work (at least for us) when we are not realistic about whether or not we should attend events as a couple. That’s especially true of his business events, when his focus needs to be on business and partnerships. Sometimes it is just best for him to go alone. Over the years I have gone to too many of these events and have come home angry and frustrated. In looking back at those times, I don’t think I was being realistic of my expectations of what he can reasonably do and not do. If it is important for me to attend, we plan ahead how we want the evening to go. We decide how long we will stay ahead of time so that we are both in agreement as it is exhausting to speechread for a long period of time. If we don’t reach an agreement on the length of stay then we take two cars. I can leave when I am too tired to read any more lips! It’s respectful of both of us, as two individuals. Sometimes I bring a friend with me who knows sign and is a lot of fun to be around.. That strategy has worked out really well and I usually do that around the holiday business parties. Sometimes I have brought a sign interpreter with me as well when it is important to mingle with others.
It works when we make use of the newest technology to stay in touch during the work day and have those one-on-one conversations. There were many years we did not do that as a couple as neither one of us liked using the telecommunications relay system with a third party listening and relaying our conversation to each other. Now with technology, we can have those intimate conversations by making make use of FaceTime and texting during the day.
It works if we decide ahead of time our game plan on how we want our evening to go when we spend it with hearing friends who do not sign. I generally try not to use my husband as my interpreter unless we decide ahead of time that is the role both of us want him to play in order for the two us to attend without bringing a sign interpreter as a “threesome”. I use my speechreading skills and he signs when he talks. Additionally, he makes use of a lot of communication strategies – summarizing, drawing me into the conversation, and slowing down the conversation. These are just a few of the tricks he uses, to keep me in the loop with conversation.
It works for us when we are in a noisy environment because even the hearing folks are having difficulty communicating and have to work extra hard to do so. I seem to thrive in these kind of environments as I am totally deaf and the background noise is not bothering me at all. My ability to speechread has given me an advantage. For this reason, we usually hang out in a cocktail lounge and dine there rather than take a seat in the dining room. Or we attend sports events where action takes precedence over communication.
It works when we make ourselves aware of situations to avoid. There have been times when a person will approach the two of us and start a conversation with just my husband. Even though my husband will sign and include me in on the conversation, the person will not look at me or acknowledge my presence. It’s almost as if I am invisible and creates a precarious situation for my husband as the person is drawing him in to a one-on-one conversation with me present. We have found as a late-deafened/hearing couple that’s a “toxic” situation for us to be in and we try to remove ourselves as quickly as possible from that situation. We then gravitate to those people who enjoy communicating with both of us.
It works when we have a fun evening out to celebrate and analyze why it worked. It’s important to take time to congratulate our successes and give ourselves a pat on the back! The successes, as one of my professors puts it, are making “deposits” in the relationship “bank account” so when a “withdrawal” happens there are enough “deposits” in the account to handle the “withdrawal”. We both know withdrawals are inevitable and have found that it is a lifelong process of figuring out what works and a commitment to stop repeating the things that don’t work.