© Neil Alexander-Passe, 2013
Email at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Dyslexia and Marriage
Excerpts from Dyslexia; Dating, Marriage and Parenthood
The Dyslexic’s perspective
‘Last week my counsellor picked up on my dyslexia and asked if this was a third person in our marriage’ (Ash, 2011)
‘I felt she was doing too much so I asked her to leave me notes of jobs that would help and this would only work if she put them on the front door, so I saw it every time I went out’ (Kevinx41, 2011).
‘My routines worked well for me, but I think it got on her nerves and changed her for the worse, and eventually we got divorced’ (Kevinx41, 2011).
‘My wife tries to keep reminding me to do tasks and stuff but I struggle to remember’ (Lomo, 2011).
‘My husband gets very frustrated at times with my dyslexia’ (Dizzydyslexic, 2011).
I’m not going to say being married to a dyslexic is easy, but any marriage is challenging. Each brings different things to a relationship, and this section tries to identify the elements related to dyslexia that could cause possible problems and divorce.
Ash above notes a counsellor thought dyslexia was a third person in their relationship, I think this describes how much dyslexia can impact on a relationship. Kevin41 notes that whilst he put in place strategies and routines to minimise the effects of the dyslexia, these were a problem with his partner. Most individuals do not reply on numerous strategies to cope, although driving is one of the most common ones (most drive in an automatic state, where they do not realise all the checks they make and they forget the things they see).
‘I friend told me recently that I would always shout about me and my dyslexia and "ram it down" other peoples throats. I think this stems from my own basic insecurities about communication and the fact that I cannot process very well written or verbal communication despite my high level of intelligence. I think I fear that other people would think I am an idiot for some of the things that I say which is why I pre-empt the subject so that other know I have a problem. My friend says that if I say something stupid I should apologise after. The point is I don't know if I have or if I haven't. These are just words that I use and if they come out wrong I do not know it unless someone else tells me’ (Ash, 2011).
‘My problem is I just sound either arrogant or ignorant and oblivious to other people’s sensitivities. I do not mean this to be the case and have told people in the past that this is a problem so that they understand that I have difficulties. However having said that even telling them about the condition does not stop them thinking that I am ignorant or arrogant so what is the point!’ (Ash, 2011).
As noted earlier, communication problems in dyslexics are factors that can affect relationships, in that dyslexic partners, due to their dyslexia have problems being coherent in conversations with others, at times they can come out with some very strange ideas based on their alternative wiring, making them find divergent thoughts and then lacking the sense to check if such thoughts are suitable for the conversation they are taking part in. In some ways this is similar to those with Aspergers or Autism, they are unaware of unwritten social rules and therefore can come across at times as weird or insecure to those who are unaware of how dyslexia can affect individuals. Ash above tells of telling people about his dyslexia to pre-empt them thinking he is weird of different, but in doing so he is accused of ramming dyslexia down everyone’s throats – which is better?
Marrying a Dyslexic – the other side of the coin
‘We have been married just over a year now, I knew he was dyslexic when I met him, but I have to confess I was totally ignorant as to what that meant. I honestly thought he would just have a bit of trouble playing scrabble with me – obviously I know better now. It’s so complicated and I don’t know what to do to help’ (Wubblywubb, 2011).
‘When I met my husband I was taken away by this charm, confidence and determination’ (Sue, 2011).
The evidence above suggests that many non-dyslexic partners of dyslexics are blown away with the quirky charming nature of dyslexics, with their wit and personable character, but in a marriage things can change. Living with a dyslexic on a daily basis one begins to see patterns and how strong their routines are; in some cases they can seem compulsive. Wubblywubb was in his own words ‘totally ignorant as to what [dyslexia] meant’ and how it affects all aspects of an individual’s life. To some dyslexics it can be more than a lifestyle choice; it’s a lifestyle curse.
‘I’ve tried posting notes to remind him of chores as well as having everything organised and in a routine for him. I’m finding it extremely draining to do everything for us, remembering everything for both of us!!! ‘I'm struggling to encourage him to take the initiative to try strategies, but we always end up in arguments where he tells me that this is the way he does things. He’s lost his confidence. I’m emotionally and physically drained with trying to constantly organise and keep everything on track from sorting out the finances, to remembering the shopping, to managing his university work etc…the list is endless. Help!!!’ (Sue, 2011)
‘We manage to cope with the day to day responsibilities pretty much now. I have leaned to accept that when he doesn’t do something, it’s not because he doesn’t care, it’s simply because he forgot, and I don’t get angry now. We tend to get around it by giving him one task at a time to focus on’ (Wubblywubb, 2011).
In all relationships there is a share of responsibilities, all vary, but in a marriage with a dyslexic, the non-dyslexic partner can take on a huge percentage of the chores that dyslexics find challenging/difficult. These can include making shopping lists, doing shopping, taking telephone calls, taking messages, making social plans, making sure birthday cards are written/sent on time, dealing with any sort of forms, dealing with payments (mortgage, credit cards, bank accounts, utility bills), taxation, all things to do with school e.g. dealing with teachers, lunch money, play dates etc. The list is endless and this is why some non-dyslexics partners (including my own wife) calls me her ‘other child’. In some ways, the partner takes on all major responsibilities and this burden can be frustrating and exhausting, ‘I’m emotionally and physically drained with trying to constantly organise and keep everything on track’.
One could argue that its not fair on a non-dyslexic partner to take on such a burden, but as most dyslexics are successfully married, there must be enough reasons to suggest there is a quid-pro-quo and the burden is either manageable or most dyslexics learn to do many of these tasks themselves. As BubblewrapPrincess noted earlier, if a partner takes on all the burden/tasks, why should a dyslexic offer to do them themselves? An alternative argument could be the dyslexic actually managed before marriage to some degree, so they should empower themselves by continuing in this manner, and hopefully improve with practice.
‘After a few months of marriage I knew he was dyslexic, but it has been a long road for him to accept it (his diagnosis) and I try and be supportive in any way possible’ (Sue, 2011).
‘He also needs a lot of acknowledgement and positive reinforcement I find, because he generally is unjustly hard on himself’ (Wubblywubb, 2011).
‘I would also look at what has changed in your wife, there are well known changes that happen in middle age that can drastically affect the relationship. I am speaking from personal experience here, it was a few years of "rough patch" before we realised. It also coincided with me finding out I was dyslexic’ (Pete, 2011).
‘I fell to bits when I found out I was dyslexic last year’ (Bogbrushhair2007, 2011).
Partners of dyslexics soon see that dyslexia affects more than just reading, writing and numeracy. They see that past failure at school, university and the workplace can cause dyslexics to self-doubt their own abilities in a huge way. When partners find out about their own dyslexia, they then need to deal with a huge repositioning of themselves in the world. It’s a huge thing to deal with, thinking all your life you were thick and stupid, then find out your are not, which then leads to blaming parents and teachers.
‘To my mind, discovering he was dyslexic started the process that is very similar to a grief cycle (these are the states that you go through when you had a traumatic experience, such as the death of a close relative). The stages are: denial, anger, bargaining, Depression, acceptance. Whilst the stages may not accurately fit every dyslexic, you may find there is more in common than you think.
For many dyslexics once they have been diagnosed, they realise that they have displayed clear symptoms and behaviours related to dyslexia but have chosen not to notice them. Most if not all dyslexics have great skills at avoiding "those awkward tasks".
The anger phase comes in at a point when you ask, why did no one notice this earlier, why did my school not pick this up? The bargaining phase this begins as you start to make trade-offs, recognising the skills that you have, which bid to find difficult and how you can work around.
The depression phase, this is when you realise that things you have always found difficult when others have found it easy, is down to dyslexia. It's a bit like realising that for your whole life you have been playing football on a pitch which goes uphill, and you have always been on the far side of the pitch.
The acceptance phase, this is when you finally achieve a balance, you become happier with yourself, more confident in your areas of success and more able to explain to others the areas you find difficult.
The cycle is not one that is simply gone through once, you may go through it many times, each time you suffer a knock you could take another trip around the circle, gradually putting your life into order. The good news is you do get to acceptance.’ (Nick, 2011).
Nick, whose partner found out she was dyslexic notes in a very logical way the stages of dealing with the news of the diagnosis. He recognises the importance of the diagnosis, but also the pain their partner went through to come to terms with it and its implications for life.
‘Our marriage is nearing breaking point and one of the main problems is communication. My husband of 7 years is 43 years old and only recently diagnosed as Dyslexic’ (Tracy, 2011).
‘I make the situation so much worse by my frustration and even anger at lack of clarification, conversations going in different tangents etc, etc.....We have both agreed that I may as well be speaking Japanese and Peter Italian. It is no wonder neither one of us feels heard within our relationship’ (Tracy, 2011).
‘I too was just married, well a year and a half ago. And it is the same, when we were dating the communication problem did not exist but now it is on the verge of breaking us up. He swears he told me something and in reality what he said does not even closely resemble what he meant. And he is constantly telling me "You never told me....." and I know perfectly well that I did or he totally misunderstands what I say. Unfortunately he does not recognize that the problem is because of his dyslexia. I don't know what to do any more.’ (AmmM, 2011).
Good communication is vital to any relationship, and the absence of this can make living with someone on a daily basis unbearable to some. When one looks at the classic symptoms of dyslexia, communication problems are not listed, which means no one really recognises it as intrinsic to dyslexia. This means both the dyslexic themselves and their partner is unaware of its impact, which is why books such as this are important to understand the affect dyslexia can have.
Are long-term partners of dyslexics helpful/sympathetic?
She [my partner] is very sympathetic and can identify with it, she is a goddess, I couldn’t cope without her, she does all the organising, puts the bills away, she’s very very understanding, very supportive. (Adrian).
Do you rely on your wife to do paperwork or your diary? I do my own diary, despite today’s mix-up with this interview. With the household budget and bills like that. I would hold the big picture but she would sort out the attention to detail as I might get into minor trouble if it was not for her. I do have the ability to see the big picture but not the day-to-day detail. So yes, she deals with that aspect. We have a shared dining room table, across my half are piles of papers, so I’m quite disorganised and I get frustrated when I can’t lay my hand on something, this frustration comes into everyday things. (Brian).
Do you rely on Katie to do your paperwork and to book in things? No, I am responsible for booking stuff in, if you look at my office I have a board, as she has tried to make things visual for me, the board shows all the jobs and a year planner. I keep that as a back up to what is in my head. She is responsible for answering most of the phone calls, sending out the brochures, everything else like tax, as I am dreadful at that. When I was on my driving test, I had to read back a number plate; he said ‘you are hopeless’. I have a dreadful memory for birthdays. If Kate would offer me £50 for me to tell her the right day of the week, I could not honestly say if it was the 30th or the 31st. Recently I find when I’m taking telephone messages I get numbers, all the letters and numbers right but they are all in the wrong order…If someone tells me a number over the phone, I can repeat it back wrongly five times, I get a six and a nine confused along with a ‘b’ or ‘d’ and I ask myself ‘why doesn’t it make sense’, I have a big problem with that. (Peter).
Is your partner dyslexic? No, he’s not, but he is very supportive. Does it seem sometimes that you are both very different? Yes, I would say that one of the things that happened when he married me was that he had to learn about dyslexia. He does things for me that we have decided between us, as it is difficult for me to do them, that is it better if he does them. Like paperwork? Yes. I mean sometimes he will do a certain amount of it or I will start it and say ‘look I’ve been struggling with it, can you check it as I just unable to cope with it’, especially forms and quite a bit of our financial life, he takes over. (Trixie).
How are you at dealing with bills, forms and paperwork? Not very good at all, I am getting better…well saying that… I have burying your head syndrome. I did a few years ago and got myself into a lot of trouble; it was just before I had my son. I nearly got the house re-possessed; fortunately, my son’s dad sorted that out for me. Today? Oh no, I always get bank charges for paying too late. I do try but it is not a routine. With everything else…, I am hopeless with money. (Rachel).
I use my long suffering wife as a secretary and as ‘reminder’ (sic), so avoiding mundane clerical paperwork. (Jasper).
The above interview evidence suggests that partners of dyslexics are on the face of it, understanding and make allowances. It would be very hard to find out whether they really resented it. My non-dyslexic wife jokes that I’m her fifth child (I have four children) which whilst it sounds funny, it suggests that she resents in some ways my strange ways, that she needs to give me a list of things to work on (e.g. hovering the house, pay xx bill, chase suppliers etc). She says I very good with lists and can methodically work through them and get more done. In all relationships there is a sharing of duties and I know in my case I’m okay with banking and bill paperwork, whereas she hates it and avoids it. So really one should recognise that we are all good at things and that no one is good at everything. It would be interesting to know if many non-dyslexic partners see their dyslexic partners as another child.
A famous dyslexic billionaire (Sir Richard Branson owner of Virgin Atlantic Airways) is severely dyslexic. He relies on a team of helpers to run his private office. This includes reading out his mail to him, dealing with paperwork, writing letters for him etc. He is brilliant at business but lousy at the mundane paperwork, so he delegates. Thomas West, the leading dyslexic author of ‘In the Mind’s Eye’ argues that most jobs with the word ‘operator’ will become redundant soon due to automation and industry will only thinkers and strategists. However his book first came out in 1991, and we are now in 2011/12, so even 20 years later his hypothesis has not been played out yet. So we can now ask, will it ever? Maybe we need to use the Branson model more and just delegate all tasks we are not good at – but if we do that how will we ever get better at it. This is a never-ending argument!
Reiff et al. (1997) argue a supporting adult (e.g. partner/parent/friend to check spelling, read, answer letters/time management) is one of the factors influencing success in dyslexic adults.