Living with a dyslexic partner

There is a common misconception that dyslexia just affects the ability to read and write. In reality, dyslexia can affect many other areas of brain function such as memory, organisation, time-keeping, concentration, multi-tasking and communication, all of which impact on everyday life.

If you're in a relationship with someone whose brain works in a different way to yours it can be confusing and frustrating, especially if you have the responsibility of running a household and family together.

The most important step is to find out as much as you can about dyslexia. Remember that different brains can complement each other. By looking at both of your strengths and weaknesses, you can discover how your differences can best work together and explore strategies you can both employ to find out what works for you both.

  • Difficulties and Strategies

    All dyslexic people experience dyslexia differently, and will have different strengths and weaknesses. 

    Some things to consider:

    • Organisation

    Your partner may find it difficult to remember appointments or meetings, and to judge how long a particular task will take. Although they may know where things are, their work space may be chaotic looking.

    However, some dyslexic individuals do use effective strategies and become highly organised.

    Set mobile phone reminders for important dates or appointments, or use a calendar in a prominent place. Check whether your doctor, dentist or hospital will send mobile phone text reminders for appointments.
    Explain to your partner if you find their untidiness overwhelming. They can help by agreeing to put their stuff behind closed doors (e.g. in cupboards/drawers) in such a way that they can still 'lay hands' on it, but you can't see it.

    • Tiredness

    Dyslexic people have to work harder than others, and often work extra hours, to overcome daily challenges. When they are tired their dyslexic 'symptoms' can be more pronounced as they don't have the energy to employ their usual coping strategies. 

    Be aware that your partner's dyslexic 'symptoms' may be more obvious when they are tired, and be patient.

    • Reading and/or writing

    Your partner may rely on you to proofread things they have written, or avoid writing as much as possible. Tasks that involve reading or writing can also be tricky such as: making a shopping list, taking a telephone message or buying all the items on a shopping list.

    These difficulties often mean that the non-dyslexic partner takes on more of the household and school administrative duties.

    Some dyslexics love literature and some are brilliant authors. Many dyslexic individuals however, will only read essential information and not for pleasure at all.

    Some dyslexics experience a visual stress effect when reading, especially if there is glare from black print and a bright white background. This can make the words unclear, distorted or appear to move and can be very tiring. Changing the background colour can help, using a dyslexia-friendly font, or a larger print.  Some dyslexics prefer to print off text rather than read directly from a screen.
    Be prepared to work to your strengths, so if the non-dyslexic partner is taking on more of the 'administrative duties' make sure that other tasks are shared.

    • Self-esteem

    Many people with dyslexia have struggled with other people's misconceptions at some point. They might be apprehensive about revealing that they are dyslexic and build a protective barrier around them which can perceived as being aloof.   If they haven't been adequately supported during education or in the workplace, they may have been left feeling 'stupid' or embarrassed by their dyslexia. 

    Reassure your partner and remind them of all their strengths. Make the effort to see things through your partner's eyes rather than expecting them to conform to your way of thinking.

    • Information

    Too much information, such as a list of instructions or directions, will be hard for the dyslexic brain to process and remember.

    Ask one question at a time, or break information like directions down into smaller chunks (e.g. 1 or 2 at a time). You could also try drawing a map, or writing a numbered list to help your partner remember information.

    • Time-keeping

    Poor short-term memory and difficulty with concentration can mean that your partner is easily distracted. They may spend time every morning looking for their misplaced keys or phone, which can make it difficult to leave the house on time. Dyslexic people who find reading text really difficult won’t be able to rely on prompts and reminders such as calendars and 'to do' lists, but for other dyslexic individuals these may be effective strategies.

    Some dyslexic people set their watches fast to give them a better chance of being on time, and put reminders on their phone or computer. If you have to be somewhere together at a certain time, then factor in this difficulty and allow extra time.

    • Sense of direction

    Dyslexic people can struggle with direction: they may often get lost or feel nervous about going to unfamiliar places. They may also find 'left' or 'right' instructions difficult to follow, or give.

    Technology is a great support for a poor sense of direction. Many phones have a free map app, or they can be downloaded for a minimal cost. Sat Navs are available for use in cars and rather than verbal instructions you or your partner could draw a map to help with directions. If giving verbal instructions don't use 'left' or 'right' instructions, try verbal hints such as 'follow the yellow car', or indicate with your hand which way to turn.

    • Daily routines

    A set routine can be a good coping strategy. However, a reliance on routine can mean that it's difficult to adapt when that routine is interrupted. 

    Be aware that a change of routine may have a knock-on effect to the rest of the day, and plan ahead. For example, you can set reminders on your phone for times and places of appointments, and what you need to take with you.

    • Social situations 

    Your partner may be reserved because they are worried about saying the wrong thing in a social situation, or be very extrovert and put their foot in it. They may not be comfortable with conversations that start with, "Have you read.. ?" as the answer may often be "No". If social situations require reading (like a menu) or writing, some dyslexic individuals may find this awkward and may not always want to say why.

    If possible, try to be open about being dyslexic. There is greater awareness these days and most people have an idea of what dyslexia is, even if only a narrow understanding. If not, then it may be a good topic of conversation.

    • Concentration

    Your partner may find it really hard to process different stimuli at the same time so, for example, having a conversation with the TV on may make it difficult for your partner to really focus on what is being said.

    If you want your partner to focus on something, try to remove any distractions such as a radio or television. Try to choose a time when your partner isn't absorbed in another task, like cooking or working on the computer.

    • Self expression

    Some dyslexic people find that their mind races, and they struggle to find the right words to express themselves or to verbally keep up with the speed of their thoughts. Conversely, they often know the answer but need time to retrieve it from their memory.

    A pause during conversations doesn’t necessarily mean your partner isn't listening (although they may not be!). They may just need more time to process what has been said and to think about what they want to say. Be prepared to give your partner 'thinking time'.

    • Memory

    Dyslexia can affect short term memory, so your partner may forget a conversation, a task they have promised to do, or important dates. They may also struggle to remember the names of people they have met or how to get to places they have visited before.

    Try verbal reminders, calendars, a whiteboard that you can write a 'to do' list or 'don’t forget' list on each day. Encourage your partner to get into the habit of using the calendars and reminders on their phone or computer.

    • Travel

    Travel can involve reading timetables and place names. Parking meters often also involve reading. Dyslexics with severe reading difficulties can find this hard and very stressful.

    Travel companies will generally provide assistance for dyslexic individuals on request. You can also print out or photograph travel plans and timetables. Take the time to explore travel apps that can help with all aspects of travel such as planning, a packing list, voice activated notes, maps and travel times.

    • Good days and bad days

    You may find that some days your partner's dyslexic difficulties will be more pronounced than others.

    If you are aware that this can happen, and it's out of your partner's control then this understanding can make it less frustrating. Encourage your partner to let you know if they are having a 'bad' day.
  • Remember!

    One way of thinking isn't better than another. A dyslexic mindset can bring a completely different understanding to a problem or situation, so it's really important to respect each other's views and ways of working. 

    • Assistive Technology

    Assistive technology can really help, and most people have a phone and/or computer. It's worth taking the time to explore the features that these have such as:

    • reminders
    • an alarm
    • a voice recording facility to take notes
    • a calendar
    • a camera (e.g. to photograph a travel timetable) 
    • screen reader

    All of these can be used to support short-term memory, or difficulty with reading or writing text. Explore the many free and inexpensive apps that are available - they can be really helpful.

    • Try to maintain a sense of humour

    Humour and patience are incredibly important. Work together to accept and understand the differences in the way you both think, and work to both of your strengths.

    • Focus on strengths and ability

    All dyslexic individuals are different, but strengths that have been noted include:

    • creative thinking
    • problem solving
    • 'thinking outside the box'
    • empathy
    • visualisation
    • 3D thinking
    • 'video memory'
    • verbal communication

    Understand that having dyslexic difficulties does not necessarily mean that person lacks abilities or strengths – in fact, often far from it!

  • More information

    British Dyslexia AssociationThe BDA have a wealth of information about dyslexia and also have a Helpline: 0333 405 4567 if you wanted to speak to someone directly. The Helpline is available Tuesday 10am - 1pm, Wednesday and Thursday 10am - 3pm.

    Helen ArkellHelen Arkell are able to offer advice and support for people living with dyslexia or supporting people with dyslexia.

    Self-fulfilment with Dyslexia: A Blueprint for Success by Margaret MalpasThrough her research Margaret Malpas has found the ten key traits which she believes people with dyslexia have harnessed in order to reach success and self-fulfilment. Dyslexia brings both challenges and the potential gift of a unique skill set - through a combination of academic research and case studies, this book shows how you can use all of this to your advantage.

    Living with Dyslexia by Barbara RiddickAlthough the focus of this book is primarily the impact of dyslexia on children, it is illuminating in terms of the social and emotional difficulties encountered by people wth dyslexia.