How do I teach my wife to have a sense of direction?

I wasn’t sure exactly where to post this…

My wife is a very intelligent (identified gifted as a child), college educated woman who knows about as much as a person can know about 95% of the world. However, she absolutely can not learn how to orient herself in a new area. She says that she just can’t visualize a road network or get from one place to another without memorizing, one by one, all the street names and turns she has to make. Even then, if she knows two ways somwhere, and the paths cross, she can’t determine a new route among those roads without seeing a map.

She’s good at map reading, but has a hard time moving that map into a representation of what’s on the ground. What I’m asking is, is there a method of explaining directions and orientation that would help her ‘get’ it? She used to have trouble with advanced math until she found a tutor who could explain it to her the way her mind works. I have to think there’s a method of teaching how to get around a new area that would sink in.

The reason I’m asking is, she just moved over to Germany with me (just recently married), and the only thing she knows after 3 weeks of driving with me is how to get from home to my work. Any suggestions?


This probably won’t work for her, but this is what I do. ( I’m good at directions BTW). I take the map and put myself inside it in my mind, then visualize the area, go down a few streets , etc. I do this in a new area for 20 minutes or so, and then I can’t get lost. I figure all the important routes, keeping in mind the cardinal directions at all times.

I have this problem. I say I’m directionally dyslexic. I also had math problems, but as with your wife, ended up doing very well with a tutor.

Solutions? Yikes. I am better than I used to be, but can’t point to exact reasons why I improved (what direction would I point to, hehe). Some suggestions:

This sounds weird, but she could try sleeping north to south (head north and feet south). Supposedly, by aligning yourself to the earth’s poles you increase your natural sense of direction. Sleeping opposite will distort your natural sense of direction. Screwy? It’s worth a shot (I improved since I started doing this so who knows).

Special tricks/stupid tricks. This could be as silly as referring to your hands as Louie and Ricky (yes, I was once this bad). You can do the same thing as an east/west helper. Then all you need to know is north ( a compass is cool). After awhile the idea kicks in and you’re all set.

Don’t know how the tutor helped her understand, but for me it was visuals (I couldn’t get word problems. So maps are great - if possible, draw your particular route before setting out. It’s comforting.

Walk/drive through it in your mind for practice, using the Louie/Ricky hand prompts (or east/west compass model if preferred). Result: Less panic, more common sense. Natural ability kicks in more and more with each success.

Hope that helps.

Your wife and I would get along rather nicely. Unfortunately, neither of us would know how to GET anywhere.

I’m in the same boat. I simply can’t visualize directions. And now that you mention it, I’m also terrible at math. Hmm.

Sounds like some people are just naturally screwed when it comes to some things.

I saw a Learning Channel show (The XY Factor series, IIRC) discussing the different mental strengths (and weaknesses) of males and females. One of the areas they discussed was spatial relationships; they showed men and women navigating one of those hedge mazes. Men oriented based on distance and direction, whereas women oriented based on landmarks.

Perhaps a liberal use of landmarks would help out…maybe even plotting said landmarks on a map. (Turn left at the statue, right under the bridge, etcetera…)

Or better yet, if money is no object, one of those in-car navigation systems.

I’m another one that has exactly the same problem as your wife! I think of myself as anti-dyslexic – good at languages and reading, but rubbish at the spacial stuff. If dyslexia is extreme maleness, I’ve probably got extreme femaleness. Anyway. This is leading somewhere. I’d like to echo Ellis Dee’s comment. I read that women tend to locate themselves things that have a personal edge – landmarks, roadsigns, etc. So if she gets into the habit of remembering these things and attaching some personal significance, that might work. I’ve never tried it, actually, but what I did do when I was living in a foreign city is to buy a map and go for a long walk all round the city, looking at the map all the time. Driving in a car doesn’t give the same sense of connection between routes and understanding of how they look on a map.

Many American Indians acknowledge seven directions: north, south, east, west, up, down, within. I sense only one direction – around.

Give her a compass and encourage her to experiment in getting lost and then getting back. She won’t really be lost if she doesn’t care where she is. She may never “sense” direction. I’ve never been able to do it.

Recently I bought a nice compass in a watch case that could be engraved on both sides. I laughingly told my husband that on one side I would have engraved “This side up.”. He suggested that on the other side I should have “You are here: X.”

I have read that women tend to have a better sense of time and men have a better sense of direction.

At any rate, doing the driving on my own is the only way that I can orient myself.

I navigate by mental maps, so even if I don’t know exactly how to get some place, I know how to get close enough to find my way.

My hubsand and daughter are hopeless - they need repetition and landmarks and route names or numbers. I can’t even count the number of times they’ve called me to get directions while they were on the road. My husband has been in Baltimore for over a year now, and he still can’t keep the locations of I-95, MD-295 and I-97 relative to each other, and the beltway just baffles him. I haven’t lived there in over 20 years, but when he calls, I can get him headed where he needs to go.

I wish I could help them, but the concept of a mental map is foreign to them. It’s going to be interesting next year when my daughter goes to college (she hopes to be in Orlando) - I won’t be able to help her at all. I think I need to get her a local atlas and hope for the best. Incidentally, she has a very high math aptitude, so I don’t know that there’s a math/map connection.

Get a compass. I have one on my watch, it’s indespensible for being in a strange city, especially if you can’t locate the sun.

Is she synesthetic (numbers or letters have colors or music has shape or words have taste to her)? If she is, you may not have any success trying to help her out with this.

I’m synesthetic and I have no head for math and have no sense of direction. In doing some research I’ve found that nearly all synesthetics have these same shortcomings. I’ve been searching google for the last 10 minutes trying to found where I read this but I’m not having any luck. If I get a few minutes later in the day, I’ll try again.

Let her drive. I have an awful sense of direction. The only way I can ever find a place is to drive there myself and get a feel for the distance and the landmarks. I could ride someplace a dozen times with my husband driving and have no more then a vague clue how to get there. If I drive it once then I can usually find it again.

Some of us were simply born without a sense of direction. I sit here in my own home with a window to my left. Out the window I can see the lake. The sun sets over the lake. Thus, that way is west. StLouis is 300 miles to the west. (My brain: NO NO NO! St.Louis is to your right.) If west is left, then south is behind me. My friends live 15 miles that way. (Brain: NO NO NO! They live straight ahead.)

The directionally impaired learn to cope – on our own if necessary, but preferably with guidance from someone who for some mysterious reason always seems to know where we are.

On the other hand (ha!), I can set out on a multi-day cross-country trip and without effort or planning, arrive at my destination within minutes of when I said I’d be there.

My car has a built-in digital compass, which makes my life much easier as it allows me to figure out fairly quickly that I have once again gotten back on the highway going the wrong direction or chosen the wrong turn.

I used to be awful with directions. I blamed it all on my kindergarten teacher. She told us, on the first day of school, “The hand you WRITE with, is your RIGHT hand.”

Of course, I was the only left-handed student in the class, and more than twenty years later, people are forced to give me directions in the “driver/passenger” fashion, or in extreme cases, “blinker up/blinker down.”

When I was 21, I went on a cross-country drive with no particular destination in mind. While I didn’t actually get across the country, I happened to find my sense of direction in Florida. I learned that as long as I could pinpoint just ONE cardinal direction, I could get anywhere I chose, usually with or without a map. The ocean is to my left, therefore I am heading south, and Boca Raton is dead ahead.

I have a very visual mind, and landmarks are definitely important to me in both finding my way and giving others directions. I may be the only person in the world whose directions include things like “turn left just after the statue of Jesus looking like he’s refereeing a football game and somebody just scored a touchdown.” (Or, as we refer to him, simply “TDJC”.)

Whenever I move to a new location or start a new job, I spend a couple hours just driving around the area, learning what streets connect, getting myself lost and finding myself again. I highly recommend your wife do this, if only for the fun adventure factor.

And I hope to hell she speaks German. If she doesn’t, that’s where the problem will lie! :slight_smile:

I’m the same - I have no innate sense of direction whatsoever; it baffles me completely. However, ask me the time, and I’ll tell you, to within minutes. So, who knows, maybe teaching her little tricks to tell which way is North and other such things may help.

The compass idea is your best bet. I think direction sense also has a lot to do with how much attention is devoted to the travelling done. I can pretty much drive anywhere I want and I will always know each compass direction since I track it in my mind. If I’m placed in a strange city (after taking a train say) all I need is a single sign telling me any direction and I’ll reestablish my compass map.

When I’m told “North East corner of such and such” I mentally draw the street in relation to what’s north and then decide my best approach.

Her best bet if her memory is really great is to memorize the shape of the map. Use land marks to help “recenter” the map in her head (anything from bridges to parks, or even unusual intersections) and then while driving picture moving the map around as she moves. She might at first want to do this as you’re driving to help focus her concentration.

After 23 years of marriage, I’ve given up with Mrs. Kunilou, whose motto is “the direction I’m facing is North.”

However, I’m not ready to throw in the towel where my daughter is concerned. I’m currently trying something I call “two points.”

Take two points on a map that your wife is absolutely sure she can navigate between – say, your home to the supermarket. They don’t have to be very far apart. Now draw the route she takes on the map. That way, she can identify the points on the map with real life.

From there, my theory is that if she can find a point on the map (for example, the intersection of two streets) she can develop a “feel” that tells her “if I have to go that way to get to the store, then I should go THIS way to get to 4th and Pine.”

This actually expresses much better in writing than in real life, but I think I am making progress with my daughter.

You can make free directional maps:

You can get a nice compass from a Scuba shop to wear on your wrist.

I’ve had some sign language students who were spatial dyslexic. Sign language was easy for them which surprised me.

Get lost.
A lot.

I have no sense of direction… luckily I live in a city that’s kind of sort of based on a few grids, so I can count my way to places every so often… but “east” and “north” mean nothing to me.
(I can read maps, but I usually don’t have any on me)…

I’ve been lost pretty much everywhere in the area. Some places many times. And having spent so much time without the slightest clue as to where I am gives me a sense of comfort about it the next time I get lost. It also means that I have paths constructed in my head from a number of start and end points - and I have a rough idea where many things are (it’s “that way” and then I can continue to take streets turning as necessary in that general direction until I find whatever I was looking for.) So, it might help her to just spend time driving around clueless. Just don’t let it get to you.

I have an appalling sense of direction and have lived in almost the same zip code my whole life. I can not visualize a “mental map”. I can visualize the path I’m taking to whereever, but I have been unable to compile all those discreet paths into a map. I’d love to load that Photoshop softeware into my head and add all the directions I have in my brain as layers of a map. then I would be all set. Give me a map and I can find what I need.

My wife, however, can’t read a map to save her life. But around town, she doesn’t need a map and just points me where I need to go. It works out OK, most of the time.

I’m just going to pop in and say that I have a great sense of direction! I hate using maps, though. I just get places by knowing it is a certain direction, then going that way. If I want to go to Florida, I’ll just start going south on. Of course, it does take a little more than that, for instance, knowing major (and in some cases, minor) roads in the area. So to add to the “south” I have before, I know that the best way is to get to I-95.
I’m also ver keen on roadsigns. I love them. They tell you everything you need to know, why use a map? Many people hate it when I drive on a roadtrip cause they want to ask for directions or something when we are unsure if we are going the right way, and I’m just like, “Well, we’ll keep going until we see a sign for what we need, or don’t.”