When I was first introduced to my husband in 2005, I was told, “If he was any sweeter, I would throw up!” Shockingly, this person was correct. Although, to be completely honest, the very first thing they said was, “he’s deaf.”
“He’s deaf.” I heard it as two separate statements that didn’t quite connect at the moment. I didn’t even let it sink in for too long because “he” was right in front of me. He was cute and interesting. I was smitten.
As Matthew spoke, I hung onto every word. He was an accountant. He traveled throughout Europe after graduating from college. His roommate grew up in the town next to mine. He was also single. (I definitely made note of that statement.) We even attended the same church in Homewood. We had the same circle of friends, yet had managed to bypass each other for over a year.
He was super dreamy, and like a dream, our flirtation ended when my friends had to leave and I had to say goodbye.
A month later, we reconnected and became inseparable. We discovered each other when we were 24 and 25 and we didn’t want to miss a moment more of each other. We were young and in love. Communication just came easy for us. Matthew and I would look at each other when we spoke. We would focus on our words- enunciating each word and choosing words with intention. It was bliss.
Fast forward sixteen years, three kids, three houses, and a few gray hairs later….
Born Deaf But Determined
My husband was born with bilateral profound hearing loss. His parents didn’t discover that he was deaf until he was almost three, due to lack of hearing screenings at the time. He was fitted with hearing aids, visited the audiologist every month (sometimes multiple times a month), and received daily speech therapy. His mom was his biggest champion, encouraging him every step of the way and advocating for him all the way to the Governor’s office.
He grew up never learning to sign, but rather reading lips. He received his bachelor’s degree from Samford University, his master’s degree from The University of Alabama, and a few years later, his CPA. His disability has rarely gotten in his way, at least not if he has anything to do about it.
The Person Behind the Hearing Aids
On the night we met, one of the first things he said to me was, “I’m deaf.” After we dated for a year and professed our desire to get married and have children, one of the first things he said to me was, “But, I’m deaf.” My husband was incredibly concerned that he would pass the gene onto our children, and that they would resent him. He was also concerned that he wouldn’t be able to connect with them.
It took many conversations with our doctor and his family to assure him that our children would likely not be born with a hearing disability, and if they were, modern medicine had drastically improved over the past two decades. The most important thing that he could do for our children (aside from loving them unconditionally), would be to talk to them every moment he could. That form of speech therapy would help them adapt to his voice and help him feel comfortable communicating with an infant.
Parenting While Deaf
From the moment we found out that we were going to have a baby, we practiced various names that he would feel comfortable pronouncing. “Harrison Alair! Get downstairs right this instant, young man!” had a ring to it and easily rolled off his tongue. The more we talked about the excitement of having a child, the less apprehensive my husband was. The moment that my husband held our firstborn, conversations about Auburn football easily rolled off his tongue to our son’s ears.
As our son turned one, I realized the greatest challenge of having a spouse with a hearing disability was that he couldn’t hear our child. While our son heard his father with ease, Matthew struggled to hear Harrison’s quiet tone, so it took a lot of repetition and practice to learn how to read our toddler’s lips. The frustration was real. Matthew felt that he was letting our son down, and, to be honest, it was frustrating that I was the only one that heard the crying, pouting, screaming, and incessant requests. The irony was that our son didn’t resent his dad, but that I resented my husband! I was selfish enough to once say, “Gosh! I wish I could simply take off my hearing aids and live in peace!” That was probably the most hurtful thing I have ever said to him.
Communicate With Your Heart. Not Your Ears.
At a point when we were both on the verge of giving up, my husband and I learned to communicate our frustrations and desires—particularly about parenthood—with empathy and grace. It was natural for me to feel frustrated, but if I didn’t communicate my feelings and our child’s needs appropriately, we would all feel hurt in the end. We made a pact with each other to learn how the other effectively communicates and how we best respond to criticism.
This pattern of listening, informing, reflecting, and revising is ongoing and has made us better partners, as well as better parents. Over the years, my husband has become a pro at reading our children’s body language, catching on to the tones of their voices, and quickly looking in my direction for nonverbal assistance. This all helps him to be an equal partner in parenting. Our marriage is not perfect. Our parenting is not perfect. Our communication with each other and others is not perfect. However, we have learned a few things over the course of our courtship, marriage, and throughout parenting.
Effective Communication Tips
- Communicate with Patience. If it is taking time for your partner to articulate their thoughts or process yours, just breathe. Particularly in tense situations, it takes time to listen, process, reflect, and have a dialogue. Be patient!
- Communicate with Empathy. We take communication for granted at times. When we communicate with someone, we are sharing our feelings, our concerns, our thoughts, and our needs. Not only should we listen, but we should listen with an open heart.
- Communicate with an Open-Mind. In addition to an open-heart, we must communicate with an open mind. You do not have to agree with someone, but you should always consider their perspective.
- Communicate with Honesty. While this seems like a no-brainer, a lot of miscommunication comes from dishonesty. It is critical to share your feelings in an honest, respectful way. The truth hurts sometimes, but passiveness and lying can be irreparable.
Communicating Through Change
While these pieces of advice are key to effectively communicating, my husband and I still struggle with them and have to practice them regularly. We have figured out each other’s quirks. Nearly fifteen years of marriage will do that.
Recently, my husband ditched the hearing aids and received a cochlear implant. We had to learn how to communicate all over again. This time, he heard a little too well, and we had to adjust our volume in the house. Ha!
No matter what device my husband has on or doesn’t have on, he is dedicated to being the best spouse, daddy, and friend that he can be. I roll my eyes when I say this now, but he really is super sweet.