Ask Ada: Newlywed and Hearing Impaired

Plus: what to do when your roommate starts exhibiting mental health problems.

Welcome to Ask Ada, Folks’ bi-weekly advice column for people impacted by health issues or disability. Want Ada to help you with a problem? Email Ada at or tag @folksstories on Twitter with the #askada hashtag.

Hard-of-Hearing and Lonely In My New Marriage

Dear Ada,

I married my husband last year, and we  just uprooted to live closer to his immediate family and for a better paying job (for him). I work remotely and my family is spread out over the country, so the move was easy for me, and I was happy to be near loved ones. However, I didn’t realize what it would be like to live near my husband’s family.

First, my husband and I come from different cultural backgrounds. English is his second language, though we’ve never had trouble communicating. However, when we are around his family, which is all the time lately, they speak in their native language, which I am learning. The problem is that I am severely hard of hearing. I have hearing aids that I try not to wear out in public, and I can (and always have) mad due on my own, but not when I hardly understand the language and no one puts in the effort to include me. I feel so left out. What can I do to improve this situation? I feel like an outsider even though I just “gained” an entire family.

There’s a few ways to remedy this situation. Let’s start with something you can do right away and without needing anyone else’s help: start wearing your hearing aids. 

You’re learning a new-to-you language, and you need to familiarize yourself with the sounds and the people who are speaking it! It’s great that you don’t usually need to use them when you’re out and about. Being independent is important. But your hearing aids are a tool that can unlock this lonely situation you’ve found yourself in. Wear them when you’re around your husband’s family…and participate in as many conversations that you can understand.

Is there a chance your husband’s family doesn’t understand that they’re excluding you?

Your next approach is to ask the people around you to speak up and slow down. Is there a chance your husband’s family doesn’t understand that they’re excluding you? Do they understand your language? If so, ask them to use it to translate words and phrases you’re having trouble with. They may embrace the opportunity to help you learn their language, especially if they see you trying.

Your husband and his family can — and should — do more to involve you. Start with your husband. As your partner, and the connective tissue to your extended family, he should take the reins to initiate change. Let him know how lonely you feel. Ask him to keep you involved in conversations by staying in close physical proximity as you adjust to your new family and environment. 

Ask him to speak to his family. They must be joyous that he is living close again, and if they hear directly from him that the two of you need their assistance, there’s a good chance they’ll step up and put in more effort to make you feel welcome.

If they don’t, well, that’s another conversation you’ll have with your husband. Know what behavior you’re willing to accept from them and set firm boundaries from that point on.

I Feel Trapped By My Roommate’s Depression

Dear Ada,

My roommate never leaves the house, except for when he goes to work. He’s a friendly guy, but he spends hours in front of the tv in the living room. I mean, he literally walks in and goes straight to the couch to watch television until all hours of the night. I try to talk to him, but he just seems like a zombie with nothing to add to the conversation. When we first moved in together, he was dating frequently and in general, seemed much more upbeat. Heck, he never really even watched tv! Now, I’m seriously worried that he is depressed or that something may have happened to him to make such a stark change. 

And to be honest, it’s a selfish issue too: I’m not too comfortable in my home with him “owning” the living room. I stopped inviting people over and I feel a bit trapped in my bedroom when I’m home as I don’t want to be brought down by his mood (or I don’t know what to say to him). How do I approach him to see if he is okay, and how can I make things go back to normal in my home life?

When does your lease expire? It might be time to find a new apartment.

I’m only partially joking here. But let me back up a bit and start with what you can do this very moment. If you honestly want to help your roommate, speak frankly with him about your concerns. That may mean you’re entering an uncomfortable situation in which you need to turn off the TV, sit down face-to-face, tell him you’re worried, and call him on any excuses he might share with you. He may go on the defense, and this may strain your relationship — and living situation — even more than it is right now.

Lead this conversation with your concerns. Tell him what you told me: that you notice a significant change in him. That you’re worried he is isolating himself, and you’re concerned that maybe he is depressed. If he admits there’s a problem, hop on the computer together to find a counselor and ask him if you can help in any way before his first appointment. Maybe he’d like your company, and you can offer to watch a show together. Choose a comedy. 

If he’s adamant that nothing is wrong, you may want to tell him that in addition to your concern, you’re also feeling a bit trapped in your room. Let him know the living room is community space and you’d like to use it more often. If you want to reclaim co-“ownership” of your apartment, leave your room. Sure, it might be uncomfortable for a while, but isolating yourself in your bedroom doesn’t help your current predicament. It just reinforces to your roommate that you “like” to keep to yourself. Heck — maybe he feels the same way you do. Maybe he’s worried you’re being antisocial!

Not every living situation is the best match. And while it’s good to try to help, you aren’t ultimately responsible for your roommate’s mental health.

That being said, I’d like to circle around to my first comment. 

It may simply be time to find a new place to live. Not every living situation is the best match. And while it’s good to try to help, you aren’t ultimately responsible for your roommate’s mental health. The only thing you can control is your own environment — and right now you’ve jailed yourself in your bedroom.

Break the lease. Sublease your bedroom. Search for a new space you can move when your lease expires. You shouldn’t feel like a prisoner in your own home. Make the change you need to take ownership of your space back.

Are you facing a problem that is being complicated by a health condition or disability? Folks’ advice columnist Erin Ollila wants to help. Email and tell us your problem.