An Old Question: Once again up for debate is the seemingly age-old question: Can Deaf-hearing relationships work? Bloggers, including this one, have been weighing in with their opinions lately. A Deaf-hearing relationship can refer to a number of possible scenarios. It could be a signing, culturally Deaf person partnered with a fluent-signing CODA or hearing interpreter, or the same Deaf person partnered with a moderately fluent hearing person or with a nonsigning hearing person. It might be an oral Deaf person with a nonsigning hearing person, or any other combination of partner backgrounds.
The Communication Factor: Most people will say that the success of a Deaf-hearing relationship comes down to communication, just like it does in any other relationship. Communication, of course, is an extremely complicated matter for any couple. When it comes to listening and talking, couples may have differences based on gender (see Debra Tannen’s You Just Don’t Understand: Men and Women in Conversation or John Gray’s Men Are from Mars, Women Are From Venus), personality styles, or what they learned growing up in different families, each with their own unique communication dynamics. These differences in communication styles are difficult enough for most couples to deal with; when you have two different languages, and perhaps two different cultures, in a relationship, things can get even more complicated. In cases in which one partner is Deaf and the other hearing, what we have observed in our therapy work, is that the more “Deaf-centered” the relationship, the better the relationship seems to work.
Deaf-Centered vs. Hearing-Centered: A Deaf-centered relationship basically means that both partners sign to each other, take equal responsibility for communication issues, and are active members of the Deaf community. Couples with Deaf-centered relationships tend to socialize mostly with other Deaf and signing hearing friends, minimizing the number of social situations in which the hearing partner ends up interpreting for the Deaf partner. Hearing-centered relationships, in contrast, often find the Deaf person dependent upon the hearing partner for communication with nonsigning hearing friends, a situation that can create feelings of stress and frustration for both. A listing of characteristics of Deaf-centered versus hearing-centered relationships clearly shows the differences.