By Barry Keate
Barry Keate, has lived with tinnitus over 40 years and has published 150+ research articles on numerous aspects of tinnitus. He is an expert on the condition and a well-known advocate for those with tinnitus.
If you struggle with tinnitus, you know that the persistent ringing in your ears can affect many areas of your life. What might be less obvious, however, is how tinnitus can affect the people you love the most.
Someone with tinnitus has a disability, meaning they have a physical and/or mental condition that interferes with the tasks of daily living. It isn’t just interfering with their lives, though. Everyone in the household can feel stress as they face new life changes.
The feelings and challenges a spouse or loved one experiences is what is known as a third-person disability because their loved one’s condition negatively impacts their daily activities as well.
Everyone has a story and challenges to overcome. Sometimes the challenge is learning to adapt to another person’s physical and emotional requirements when disabled.
The love between a couple will help them cope with difficult situations and adapt to their partner’s needs. In many cases, they may not even notice the change. They start talking a little louder, get used to a higher volume on the TV, or naturally repeat themselves.
The transition from normal hearing to tinnitus, often accompanied by hearing loss, may happen so gradually that no one in the household notices how they are changing their routines, thus making it a seamless transition or adaptation.
Sadly, a gentle transition is not always the norm.
Problems Partners Face With Tinnitus
Sudden onset or advanced tinnitus can cause substantial changes to household dynamics. Couples who learn to adjust can thrive, while those who struggle with the change may need help in their relationship. Here are some challenges partners face after a tinnitus diagnosis.
When one partner cannot hear the other, communication can start to break down.
- Miscommunications create confusion. If you hear a string of words that obviously don’t go together, you may ask the speaker to repeat themselves. But, if what you hear sounds plausible, you may not think to clarify. Confusing words like Sunday with Monday that sound similar can result in missed appointments and hurt feelings.
- A partner suffering from tinnitus may lose the ability to distinguish nuances of speech such as tone. For example, tone of voice allows us to distinguish between a statement of opinion and a sarcastic remark. While body language, like an eye roll, may bridge the communication gap during a face-to-face conversation. That same conversation over the phone could be misconstrued.
Couples may need to invest extra time and effort to keep lines of communication open and accurate.
Patient Depression and Anger
After a life-altering diagnosis, people often experience the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Family members dealing with a loved one’s diagnosis may experience similar emotions out of empathy. Both reactions are normal and to be expected.
That doesn’t mean there are no repercussions for experiencing these all too human emotions.
- Denial prevents patients or their families from making the necessary adaptations to move on, causing distress for the whole family.
- Anger can cause people to lash out at a handy target, which unfortunately puts those they are closest to on the receiving end. Words and actions hurled in anger cause hurt feelings and can create a rift in the relationship.
- Depression can cause people to withdraw, which is never advisable. As partners withdraw, couples can drift apart.
A person with tinnitus may find specific social settings uncomfortable, which puts a loved one in a difficult position. A loving partner may feel guilty about engaging in activities their spouse can no longer enjoy, such as attending large gatherings where it will be hard for someone with tinnitus to understand the conversation.
Some may stay home but resent the restriction placed on them. Others might go but receive backlash from their partner who couldn’t attend. Another couple that attends together willingly may feel isolated from friends and family.
While difficulties are on the road ahead, that doesn’t mean there isn’t hope. Here are some solutions that will help a couple weather the tinnitus storm.
- Exercise Patience and Compassion. Both the person with tinnitus and their loved one will need time to adjust. Give each other some room to react, and avoid pointing that anger at your partner.
- Exhaust Your Options. Many times alternative treatments for tinnitus can lessen symptoms and improve your quality of life. Different branches of medicine are trained in different ways. If one medical professional runs out of options, another discipline might have a solution.
- Seek Counseling. Whether you want help adjusting to life changes or want to strengthen your relationship despite the new challenges, a trained therapist can help you navigate new territory healthily.
- Adjust Your Diet. Some foods exacerbate tinnitus symptoms, while natural supplements for tinnitus can lessen symptoms. If you create optimal physical conditions, your body can heal some or all of your symptoms.
Adjusting to any significant change can affect your relationship, but it doesn’t have to damage it. Knowing what to expect and how to proceed can alleviate much of the accompanying stress. Working together with your loved ones can help make the transition to life with tinnitus easier and bring you closer together.