When Your Family Worries More About Disturbing Others Than Helping You Hear

It was a wonderful day on a recent family vacation filled with big adventures, beautiful weather and a great evening meal. It was time to relax on the hotel bar balcony to take in the view while enjoying a drink and dessert. We settled into our spot and suddenly everyone in my family started talking so quietly that I could no longer follow the conversation. There were a few other groups enjoying the balcony but overall, it was a quiet environment. Automatically, my family had dropped the volume of their voices to match the surrounding noise level.

This is a natural reaction, but for people with hearing loss, it doesn’t work. Things must be of a certain loudness in order for me to hear them — especially voices.

I asked them to talk louder, reminding them that even though it is a quiet spot, they still need to talk at a volume that I can hear. I explained that they didn’t need to shout but to continue talking at a normal volume, just like the other people on the balcony were doing. I could understand the group behind us better than I could my own gathering!

My family couldn’t do it. Or wouldn’t do it. They glanced around with embarrassment as they continued to speak and laugh with one another in quiet voices. They seemed more concerned about not disturbing others on the balcony than including me in the conversation.

It had been a long day of listening, so perhaps my hearing loss exhaustion was kicking in making it harder for me to concentrate and understand what they were saying. Or maybe they were tired and speaking quietly for that reason. It didn’t matter to me in the moment. I was angry and wondered to myself, “Why are strangers more important than I am?” I disengaged entirely, reading a brochure for the next day’s activities while they chatted.

Soon enough, the balcony filled up, raising the overall background noise and my family’s voices so I could once again participate. I felt less eager to do so, still angry and hurt at their dismissive behavior. Then I remembered. My family is usually very supportive of me and my hearing loss, so I should probably give them a pass every once in a while. Nobody can expect perfection, but it still doesn’t feel good.

Readers, does your family sometimes worry more about disturbing others than helping you hear?

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19 thoughts on “When Your Family Worries More About Disturbing Others Than Helping You Hear

  1. Thank you for sharing this important story, Shari. For a number of years, I struggled with the very painful, complicated question that you raise. How do I remain emotionally engaged when my requests for changes in the ‘rules of conversation’ can’t be met by people who are close to me? Working with a therapist who is experienced in helping people with hearing loss has made a huge difference in my ability to sort out what’s going on, how to make good decisions about staying connected, and how to move forward. Michael Harvey’s books (Odyssey of Hearing Loss: Tales of Triumph and Listen with The Heart: Relationships and Hearing Loss) have been more helpful than words can say. Hoping you’ll write about this some more.

  2. I’ve just returned from a weekend conference at a Hilton hotel attended by some 350 clergy and laypeople from
    Churches in Northern California, Nevada and Hawaii. An evening banquet was a high point in the gathering. This convention, held every three years, I always looked forward to and relished meeting old friends. As my hearing has worsened, this time I sought refuge from lively table conversations in the large meeting room and was unable to hear/understand the speakers at the podium. The happy din of the banquet was an auditory nightmare and I missed all the jokes. I returned home exhausted and craved some solitude along with my books, my magazines and newspapers and my HD TV Channels with closed captions.

    • I am sorry that the meeting was more challenging than usual. I know that exhausted feeling! Perhaps for the next one you can request some accommodations such as captioning or a portable loop to help you hear the speakers. I bet you are not alone in struggling to hear in this environment. Thank you for sharing your experiences.

  3. Although family and friends are aware of my hearing loss, they test me by either placing hands in front of their mouth while speaking or decrease voice volume. I recently announced I purchased new hearing aids and how much better they are than the old ones. One friend spoke softly behind me while I was walking away. She had the nerve to tell me that my new devices aren’t working because I didn’t hear her low voice behind me. I proceeded to explain that I will Never have normal hearing again. Instead of a verbal response, she silently gave me the most evil look! What to do … especially when I feel I’m functioning well with my moderate hearing loss. Another friend accused me of not being capable of dealing with doctors while my husband was hospitalized! I did just fine,better than anyone could have. Such reactions from others hurt! What would you do?

    • That is so disappointing. I think you need to make it clear how hurtful their behavior is and ask them to stop. If it doesn’t, perhaps these are not priority friends for you going forward. Thank you for your sharing your experience.

  4. On a slightly different note, I have been in situations when we were watching TV and I asked for the captions to be activated. A few people complained that they found the caps “distracting” and asked that they be removed. I was fortunate that I found a few allies in that group who defended me.

  5. The bottom line is that you don’t know what it’s like to have a hearing loss unless you have it. When you look around and you see people talking, their conversations are not meant for us anyway. We have to remind ourselves that just because people are not accommodating us, it simply means that we do not need to hear what they’re saying anyway. We’d go nuts if we thought we were being left out intentionally.

  6. I completely understand the situation you encountered on your family vacation. I’ve spent a good part of my life accepting the fact I wasn’t hearing much, and have done the same thing as you did, by picking up a magazine, brochure or book, and pretended I was more interested in reading. It’s no longer “not important” to repeat what was being said. It was spoken, therefore, no matter how trivial, it is important. During the past few years, I’ve decided to speak up and say out loud that I want to know what everyone’s talking about. While I haven’t thought of this before this blog, I think I may have a solution for future “low” voice conversations….. is to have a pen and pad/notebook ready. Enlist one person to quickly recap the conversation on the pad to share with you. No need to rewrite word for word. Yet, have the gist of the conversation, so you feel like you can participate more. From this day forward, I’ll bring along a little notebook that fits in my purse to have handy. Thanks for sharing your story.

  7. This is easy fix for me.

    I turns up volume to compensate the needed to be quiet place. Its work for me.

    If your aids have VC, do not forget to try it, I almost forget that my aids did have volume controls and its wonderful!

    Just funny note: You may accidentally spied the conversations/gosspies of people nearby! I finds its funny and unitended.

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