Marriage Between Deaf and Hearing People

Overcoming the Challenges of a Mixed Marriage

Deaf Caucasian couple signing at dinner table
Disability Images / Getty Images

Good communication is a key to a happy marriage. What happens when a deaf person marries a someone who can hear? There are, of course, unique challenges that couples in a deaf-hearing relationship face. Yet, many are able to overcome these with respect, understanding, and compromise.

The Challenges of a Deaf-Hearing Relationship

A number of couples find that clearly communicating with each other is a long-term endeavor.

The hearing partner often learns sign language, but may not be fluent because they have not signed as long as their partner. Likewise, many deaf people are good lip readers or use written communication, but it's not necessarily fair to ask them to use these methods alone.

To complicate matters, couples are not alone in the world. You will have many interactions with other people throughout your life. You must communicate with family, friends, and other people in your everyday life and this can pose problems.

All of this requires compromise, another hallmark of any healthy marriage or relationship. Let's look at a number of real-life hurdles that a deaf-hearing couple may face.

Understanding Your Deaf Partner's Perspective

If you've been able to hear clearly for your entire life, it can be difficult to understand how your deaf partner feels about daily interactions. Remaining sensitive to this and doing your best to understand them can prevent many frustrations in the relationship.

Your partner may have great lipreading skills or he may not. She may also be able to speak, though pronunciation and clarity may not be optimal. Over years, a hearing partner can often learn to understand their partner's unique dialect.

One of the best things you can do is to learn the type of sign language your partner uses.

Take a class, then put it into practice at home. Quite often, learning to read signs is a bigger obstacle than actually signing. Your ability to use and interpret expressive signing can greatly improve your relationship. It all gets easier over time and with practice.

Understanding Your Hearing Partner's Perspective

On the other side, if you rely on sign language to communicate, it is very natural. Even if you lost your hearing later in life, necessity likely forced you to pick up ASL rather quickly. Things are different for your hearing partner and he may not be as fast to learn.

This is particularly true early in your relationship when you're still learning about each other's habits. A sign language class will help your partner learn the basics, but she'll still need your help. Also, keep in mind that your voice can take some time for them to get used to.

A number of deaf people have found that a mixed strategy helps their partner learn. Some will use their voice less often and push their partner to practice receptive signing. Yet, it's important to not be too forceful because this can lead to deep frustrations in your hearing partner.

Handling Social Situations 

From either partner's perspective, social situations can be the biggest tests.

Whether you're visiting family and friends who can hear or enjoying time within your deaf community, each can isolate the other person.

Social environments can be particularly frustrating if you're the only person in the room who can or cannot hear. There are many lips or signs to read and a lot of back-and-forth conversations. Your friends and family may make efforts to learn how to sign or use their voice. Despite the best intention, it's still easy to miss something or feel left out.

This is where your inner support as a couple is essential. If you're in a deaf environment, help your partner stay in the conversation by using the communication methods you work on at home.

Likewise, ensuring your deaf partner isn't left out of a very audible conversation will make them more comfortable.

It will take some time for either partner to feel at ease in the other environment. Also, your friends and family will learn how to communicate better over time. You can help with your partner's acceptance into either community by playing the interpreter and doing so with kindness and patience.

Mutual Respect and Communication

As with any relationship, it can often be the little things that lead to frustrations for a deaf-hearing couple. For instance, the deaf partner may yell in the house to grab his partner's attention. Yet, the hearing partner cannot answer back without finding her and speaking face to face. This is not necessarily fair to the hearing partner if it becomes a habit.

On the flip side, if you can hear, refusing to learn sign language is not fair to your partner. Their primary form of communication is signing and unlike foreign languages, it is not easy or may be impossible for them to learn how to talk effectively. Asking him to read your lips for years is not a reasonable concession.

Those couples who have found success in a deaf-hearing relationship have an understanding of mutual respect. Of course, it will not be without its challenges, but marriage is rarely an entirely smooth experience. The special circumstances of a deaf-hearing marriage require compromise so that you can clearly communicate. 

One person is not always right or should not make all the concessions. Instead, working as a team, remaining mindful of the other person's needs, and learning to effectively communicate can lead to a very happy relationship in the long-term. Many couples will tell you that, despite the problems they face, they do not regret their decision to marry and would do it again.

Continue Reading