How to Stop Misophonia From Ruining Your Relationship

Couple sitting at their breakfast table, having an argumentMisophonia, sometimes called selective sound sensitivity syndrome, is sensitivity to specific sounds. Some common triggers include eating sounds such as chewing, throat sounds, nasal sounds such as a person blowing their nose, and repetitive noises such as tapping or clicking a pen.

While it is a potentially challenging symptom, misophonia is not a mental health diagnosis. A 2015 study of more than 300 people with misophonia found that only 2.2% had a mental health condition.

Misophonia can be extremely distressing both to the person with misophobia and their loved ones. It can cause conflict in relationships and make it difficult for couples to go to certain public places. In addition, sensitivity to the sounds a romantic partner makes may be hurtful and feel overbearing or critical.

How Misophonia Impacts Relationships

People with misophonia may struggle to gain understanding and acceptance from their partner. A partner might dismiss the misophonia, arguing the person is being too sensitive or controlling. The person with misophonia may also be critical of their partner when they make noises perceived to be annoying.

In relationships, misophonia can be a source of conflict, hurt feelings, and criticism on both sides. Some common issues include:

  • Parenting children together. Many children make loud, annoying, or repetitive noises. This can make it difficult to equitably distribute the parenting load and may also cause the person with misophonia to be angry or impatient with the child.
  • Going out in public. Common misophonia triggers include the sounds of people eating, clicking sounds such as pens and clocks, sounds associated with driving and traffic, and other people’s body sounds.
  • Eating together. Many people with misophonia are sensitive to sounds such as chewing and silverware scraping against a plate.
  • Understanding and identifying misophonia. The partner of a person with misophonia may think their partner is exaggerating or being excessively critical. The person with misophonia may not understand that their sensitive reaction to sounds is not typical.

A person with misophonia isn’t just annoyed by certain sounds; they find these sounds intolerable. Some even describe the sensation as physically painful, while others experience revulsion and disgust. In the context of a relationship, both partners may feel they have to plan their lives around misophonia. When a partner of a person with misophonia makes a triggering sound, they may feel judged, shamed, and criticized.

People with misophonia may struggle to gain understanding and acceptance from their partner. A partner might dismiss the misophonia, arguing the person is being too sensitive or controlling.

Misophonia Relationship Tips

People with misophonia may be able to improve their relationships by:

  • Talking openly with their partner about their misophonia.
  • Seeking individual treatment for misophonia. Some research suggests that the way a person emotionally processes sounds can lead to misophonia, and therapy may help with this.
  • Ruling out medical causes. Some studies suggest misophonia occurs in as many as 60% of people with tinnitus (persistent ringing in the ears). Autism, sensory processing disorder, and other diagnoses may also play a role in misophonia.
  • Talking about how certain sounds make you feel rather than blaming or shaming your partner. Expressing disgust at the sound of chewing can be hurtful. Telling your partner that loud chewing makes you feel anxious or overwhelmed, even when you love the other person, is often more productive.
  • Practicing strategies for managing your emotional reactions. Deep breathing, visualization, and positive affirmations, for example, may help with angry reactions to everyday sounds.
  • Identifying your misophonia triggers. The more specific you can get, the better. One strategy for coping with misophonia is to slowly expose yourself to your triggers at low doses and in low-stress situations. This strategy works best with the help of a therapist or doctor.
  • Try carrying earplugs when you go out in public. This may enable you and your partner to enjoy yourselves in public settings that might otherwise prove difficult or overwhelming.

People in relationships with partners who have misophonia can support their relationship and partner by:

  • Taking misophonia seriously. If your partner says they cannot stand a sound, believe them and empathize with their emotions. Your partner may feel panic, rage, or pain in response to sounds that are neutral or only mildly annoying to you.
  • Practicing self-care. If your partner is unable to go to certain places or do activities that you enjoy, do them on your own or recruit a friend.
  • Separating your partner’s reaction to sounds from their feelings about you. It can be hurtful if your partner dislikes a sound you make, such as chewing or clicking a pen. This reaction is about the sound, not their feelings for you.
  • Making reasonable accommodations for your partner’s needs. If you make a sound your partner cannot tolerate—such as chewing with your mouth open—it’s easy to feel defensive. But when this sound is something you can easily change, try to do so. People make many changes, small and large, in relationships. Reminding yourself of this fact can make it easier to change the sounds you make.
  • Helping your partner identify misophonia triggers. Try to narrow to a list of specific triggers. For example, “traffic sounds” is vague and makes numerous public outings difficult. Disliking squealing tires is more specific. Specific information makes it easier to work around your partner’s sound sensitivities.

Little research on misophonia supports specific treatments, and no drug has been approved for the treatment of misophonia. Preliminary evidence, however, suggests that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) may be effective. A 2017 study of 90 people with misophonia found that 48% had a significant reduction in symptoms of misophonia with CBT.

Couples Counseling and Misophonia

Individual counseling may help a person with misophonia better understand their diagnosis and triggers, develop coping skills, and perhaps even overcome their triggers through progressive exposure.

Couples counseling can help partners understand one another’s needs and may empower both partners to stop misophonia from undermining their relationship and quality of life. A compassionate therapist may:

  • Help couples strategize ways to work around the misophonia.
  • Support partners in better balancing family and household labor when misophonia makes certain tasks—such as caring for a crying baby—difficult.
  • Empathize with one another’s emotions. People with misophonia may feel dismissed and poorly understood by their partners, who may feel criticized or judged for their own sounds or resentful that misophonia limits the activities they can do together.
  • Foster productive communication that avoids blame and shame.
  • Teach couples skills to foster intimacy and closeness even when some outings and tasks are impossible.

The right therapist helps both partners feel respected and safe. Therapists offer solutions without judgment in the privacy of a completely confidential session and can help you set goals that align with your values. Find a therapist near you who can help.

References:

  1. Kumar, S., Hancock, O., Cope, T., Sedley, W., Winston, J., & Griffiths, T. D. (2014). Misophonia: A disorder of emotion processing of sounds. Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry, 8(85). Retrieved from https://jnnp.bmj.com/content/85/8/e3.32
  2. Palumbo, D. B., Alsalman, O., Ridder, D. D., Song, J., & Vanneste, S. (2018). Misophonia and potential underlying mechanisms: A Perspective. Frontiers in Psychology, 9. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00953
  3. Schröder, A. E., Vulink, N. C., Loon, A. J., & Denys, D. A. (2017, August 1). Cognitive behavioral therapy is effective in misophonia: An open trial. Journal of Affective Disorders, 217, 289-294. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0165032716321681

© Copyright 2018 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • 10 comments
  • Leave a Comment
  • will

    will

    April 22nd, 2020 at 2:40 AM

    Great article. tiwas a great help in understanding this issue between the two of us. now we feel better that we can make changes to work together in undertanding ths issue. Thanks,

  • Ann

    Ann

    May 11th, 2020 at 8:25 AM

    I wish I have read this years ago. This has caused so much problems between us its almost unbearable. Mainly because Ive felt that he is trying to control me, how I eat, when I make the dishes, how I close cupboards and doors, the list goes on forever. Ive had an attitude of You cant control me I do as I want. From now on I will try to change my behaviour. He on the other hand has not allways been respectful in his way of telling me off.

  • Rebekah

    Rebekah

    September 10th, 2020 at 11:29 AM

    I wish I knew about this about 30 yrs ago!! I just thought I was crazy! I hate loud noises that stand out. If noises blend it doesn’t seem to agitate me. Eating, loud chewing, lip smacking, banging of silverwear when eating, cracking gum, banging cubbord doors, the sound of emptying the diswasher……the list is endless. White noise helps tremendously at night, and I always have the TV or radio on during the day. I can’t stand the silence….makes me nuts! Definitely deal w/anxiety and depression so guess that seems to make you susceptible to something like this. Was a relief to find so much information about this topic.

  • Melissa

    Melissa

    December 17th, 2020 at 9:44 PM

    My jaw dropped when I read your comment Rebekah. I have the same triggers!!!

  • Kellie

    Kellie

    January 15th, 2021 at 10:07 AM

    My husband has misphonia. It took a long time for me to understand the issue. I have changed my habits, but some days I feel like I am walking on eggshells. The hardest part for me was separating his reactions from his feelings about me.

  • Mark

    Mark

    February 6th, 2021 at 10:12 PM

    Thank you all for opening up about this issue. I upset wife and daughter cause I feel rage from triggers mentioned. They can’t understand my feelings so they taunt me by overdoing the chewing noises. Now that I know that this is a recognized condition I can hopefully help me to deal with this.

  • Patricia

    Patricia

    February 15th, 2021 at 2:44 AM

    I have had these issues since I was quite young, probably around 6 or 7 years old and was told not to be so “silly” so I am pleased to know there are others who suffer from this condition. I still have to distance myself from these irritations but now know that i’m not crazy and there is a name for this condition.

  • Chloe

    Chloe

    February 18th, 2021 at 12:17 PM

    I’m 15 years old, and my family tends to tell me to just ‘deal with it’. I’ve been suffering through a lot of triggers at school and at home with my family basically just grounding me and calling me sensitive when I flinch or become distressed since I was around 7 years old. At least, that’s what they did until I moved out and went with my mom. But even she doesn’t even WANT to understand it. My first ever trigger was chewing gum, then it proceeded to a huge list…
    I’m trying to get my mom to research Misophonia but she refuses to do so. I might just send this to her and have her read it. It might change something. Even if it doesn’t though, this was a helpful blog. Thank you for creating this.

  • Lyndsy

    Lyndsy

    March 31st, 2021 at 8:15 AM

    Hi,
    I’m hoping someone can help me . I’ve always had problems when I was a child and would be in school I couldn’t stand the sound of someone chewing gum loud, sniffing, coughing and the list goes on .. I have Learned to avoid my triggers and have been able to for the most part. The problem I’m currently having is I work at a warehouse and I loved working at my job because of the loud noises would over power the noises that I can’t stand, but for some reason just last week the noise of a person honking the horn on the machine they drive in the warehouse has drove me insane and in a state of rage. I actually left work early today because it drove me insane.. why is this noise bothering me when it’s never ever bothered me before ? Now I’m worried on what the hell am I gonna do if I can’t shut that noise out, I will lose my job and I need this job . I’ve worked in warehouses for at least 10 years and it’s never ever drove me crazy, why Is it now? Now, I’ve noticed my bf coughing all the time has also set me over the edge and he doesn’t understand it nor does he care to . I’m hoping their is medicine out their to help . I’ve also read something about oversensitive ADHD IM wondering if thats what I have. I can’t sit still and just relax, I have to be moving around or doing something. Anybody take medicine that helps or what has helped you

  • Carol

    Carol

    April 11th, 2021 at 4:34 PM

    I am going crazy between my daughter and husband she complains he always loud even when quite .My family members told me to let them work it out but my daughter gets nasty . I fell bad because she hurts his feelings she is seeing a therapist but he
    is telling her to make the same noisy around . I don;t know how long i can take this please help us.
    people if she here them like copy them i am just afraid she will do it to the wrong person she had abt 6 sessions. not helping our family

Leave a Comment

By commenting you acknowledge acceptance of GoodTherapy.org's Terms and Conditions of Use.

* Indicates required field.

GoodTherapy uses cookies to personalize content and ads to provide better services for our users and to analyze our traffic. By continuing to use this site you consent to our cookies.