ADHD, also known as attention deficit disorder(ADD), has grave effects on marriages. The divorce rates are nearly twice as high for people with ADHD as it is for other couples, which affects roughly 4 percent of adults, says marriage consultant Melissa Orlov, author of The ADHD Effect on Marriage. Facing ADHD in a relationship may be costly and challenging but worth every penny and effort. In fact, any proactive treatment to help the symptoms of ADD that may save a marriage will also be an investment, as divorces are really expensive and stressful. It seems to me, that the way to a healthy relationship with a partner, or even a child, with ADHD, is to Understand, Accept and Treat the ADD together.
Understand how ADD affects relationships
Here are some examples of how Attention Deficit has an affect on the bond of marriage:
My husband is consistently inconsistent. He only follows through on projects or tasks that he finds interesting. If it doesn’t interest him, it is half finished until we argue about it, then he follows through begrudgingly. Usually, we avoid confrontation and I will end up doing it myself while resenting him. It seems that he just wants to do the “fun” part of a project, then resigns once things get tough.
Effect: I find my husband to be selfish about his time and not mindful about our shared commitments. I don’t trust him and double check him on almost everything. He doesn’t like that I parent him and shuts down when I nag/remind him that a task needs to be done.
What is happening in the ADHD mind: Impulse control, executive dysfunction, time blindness, parent/child relationship
Why it is happening: While the ADD mind is like watching 10 TV’s at the same time, only the loudest, most interesting and relevant will win. Flashy, catchy, luxurious, thrilling, shiny, novel, dangerous and funny are all stimulating enough to keep the attention of our dear partners. This may be why the argument turns to a prominent communication that catalyzes the action for the ADHD partner. The trick is to be the most engaging channel because being the loudest causes headaches!
So, how does the partner with ADHD choose a channel? And why do they have control only sometimes? Well, “With ADHD, Passion triumphs over importance”, according to Dr. Mark Katz of Learning Development Services. It is pretty common that they start with the best intention, but lose their way during a long span of time. Since a low attention span is our actual adversary in this relationship, let us talk about the symptoms that cause the person’s behavior.
Our first step is looking at the Science. When someone has Attention Deficit Disorder, the prefrontal lobe receives less blood flow and use. This part of your head affects the skill sets commonly known as the Executive Functioning center. (EF is the “secretary” of the mind. It is the networking hub and its job is to control the execution of tasks that are needed to regulate time, alertness, emotion, as well as organize, prioritize and take action)
Asking your partner to take ownership of their ADD is as true as asking a Diabetic to treat their blood sugar. The symptoms are not their fault, the control comes in form of ownership, patience, and forgiveness.
I can’t stand to be in the kitchen with him at the same time. He takes total control and leaves a mess in my way. When I approach him about this, he freaks out and claims that I made him forget what he was doing. We have separated the cooking days so that we aren’t bumping heads, hands, and attitudes. Sometimes when I cook, he walks in and asks me questions or tells me what I should be doing. He assumes that I don’t know what I am doing. It gets so aggravating that I almost threw the wooden spoon at him once while kicking him out!
Effect: I avoid cooking, making meal decisions and planning, and feel anxious when the topic of what to eat comes up. His critique is sometimes harsh and blunt. When I talk to him about it, he is so clueless about his apathetic attitude. It’s as if he was absent even though we were in the same room when this happened. I feel like I am taking crazy pills.
What is happening in the ADHD mind: Black and white thinking, creating a creative but tyrannical atmosphere, short attention span, misrepresentation of the truth, pressure blindness (I made up this last term… it just seems like it fits)
Why it is happening: Many partners see their ADD spouse as self-centered in circumstances when that spouse doesn’t see anything past their own needs. On the flip side, the ADD partner feels focused. It’s challenging for ADDers to see multiple perspectives when they are using a majority of their energy bank to sustain attention. In fact, just like a racehorse, they need blinders to keep them on task. Loud music, self-narration, verbal processing, and hyperactivity are just a few tools to keep oneself on track. These blinders are coping mechanisms that may be used when focusing on projects. Carving out an environment conducive to follow-through may have been a lifelong challenge. They may not even be aware that they do it.
Now, it’s hard to judge from behind this keyboard whether someone is covering up from a mistake or just mistaking the situation from what it is. What I can tell you from here is that pressure and stress can exacerbate some ADDers symptoms such as deficit of short-term memory. On top of that, losing some emotional control while impulsivity acts before thinking. When things get hot in this kitchen, the memory will surely become blurry. Emotionally, the partner faces the fear of being vulnerable, being wrong and not being in control of themselves. It may feel as if the ADD partner is lying. And whether they are lying or they may have an actual misrepresentation of the truth… whichever it is… their intention is to protect themselves. I suggest that both partners discover a safe way to openly discuss the truth.
Again, we see executive functions like short and long-term memory, decision making and planning are being challenged. In this case, energy is being diverted and the sensitive, caring partner is now hyper-focused on their task. It’s no wonder this non-ADD partner is cautious. I mean, would you step in front of a racehorse?
Turn to acceptance, it’s an open road
Acceptance is probably the hardest turn there is. Without making a conscious choice, your future has been altered when realizing that the symptoms of Attention Deficit are factors that affect your relationship. There may have been expectations for your partner or yourself as a parent, a partner and at work. Acceptance is facing those expectations so that you and your partner can feel the desired control you want over your future. Without it, you are setting yourself up for unnecessary disappointments.
Einstein said that if you expect a fish measure its success on how well it climbs a ladder, it will go through life thinking it is inadequate. Reading this, you get a new perspective. Another opportunity to set expectations. Reintroduce yourselves to each other, create different patterns and different expectations for communication. Then, you will be able to read the signs and see the past for what it is.
Once you understand the ADHD diagnosis and deal with the symptoms, you find that the person you love is more than their diagnosis. Sometimes, they can follow through and at other times they will need support, encouragement, and a teammate. So how do we treat each other with respect, show positive intentions, and treat ADD without creating blame or damaging egos?
Here are some tools to focus your energy:
Pushing the positive language
Whether it is a critique or you “give yourself a talk”, both can be a positive influence on challenging situations. Using positive language will serve the purpose and will keep the energy flowing in the right direction and will prevent you from feeling stuck, stupid or silly. Language is so delicate and we tend to forget just how much we say what we don’t mean. We especially forget how very sensitive we are to what we hear. Praise your partner and yourself often. Especially if you think that the task was hard. Remind them of how well they did something and this positive behavior will repeat! Creating shame will have results that end in resentment and low esteem. Here’s an example of an encouraging affirmation after an obstacle: “Thank you for turning it around today. I know you were disappointed at breakfast but you eventually managed to tell me calmly what made you upset.”
Once tempers have flared, it takes more than a moment for anybody to realize they have gone too far. So once someone fires a shot that hurt, be respectful and guide your partner with a reminder of how your feelings have been hurt and that you would like to treat each other with more respect. Once you make a bid for mutual respect, give them the benefit of the doubt while they catch up to calm themselves. An example: “Ouch. Hey Hun. I know I should have followed through better. How about we start with some positive suggestions instead of discussing my mistake for the 10th time.”
What meds may mean
Meds – They are not for everyone and they are definitely not “the easy button” or magic. It’s a tool. And just like a physical tool, it can help build your goals yet it is also sharp, blunt and painful.
Positives – The tasks that an ADDer was not capable of achieving now have a chance. Medication levels the playing field and provides the ability to focus. When they use the tool to fix, tighten and hammer away, many things change in their life. They are able to sit for longer periods of time, pay attention to time management better, their memory retention improves and they are able to contain impulses. Who wouldn’t want that?!
Negatives – The partner with ADD may feel both mentally and physically uncomfortable. The medicine may induce insomnia, anxiety and shorten their temper. Imagine overdosing on coffee. You are tired, irritable, you have jittery hands, and worked so hard you forgot to eat… Now, at your peek of discomfort, your non ADD partner would like to be romantic. Concentration may be difficult after the intensity of the day on medication. Meltdowns are common and can be staved off by a proper diet, exercise and timing the meds.
- Counseling is a great outlet for emotional distress. Ask a counselor about the experience in ADD/ADHD and the number of patients they have. They can help you cope with yours.
- CHADD Meetings (Children and Adults with ADD) are held in every major city and offer group support discussion, resources, and lessons.
- You can visit ADD.org and find your tribe, along with great resources.
- Coaching can both educate and help you overcome any obstacles/goals as a couple or independently. They are your accountability partner, provide resources and assistance all while helping you navigate to hit your goals.
- Psychologist understands how the mind works and can help with diagnosis and counseling.
If you are considering medication
A psychiatrist can help if you are looking for the pharmaceutical route. A psychiatrist can diagnose and prescribe medication. Also, seek someone who understands ADD and the effects of the medication. A Family Doctor may lack the extensive knowledge of other practitioners, but they understand you and it’s easier to get an appointment. They can diagnose and prescribe Meds.
Nurse Practitioners are similar to the Family Doctor. and have specialties such as homeopathy and diet to assist you in your goals.
If you know or suspect you or your partner has ADD, it’s always a good time to learn more. Getting a diagnosis is an important first step. The diagnosis helps you structure and examine the changes you want before any growth can take place. You can erase any potential grand disappointments and learn how to manage these new expectations together. And finally, whether you are veterans to the obstacles of ADD or just emerging in learning, remember that communication is the only way to read someone else’s mind. Let’s open up!
Want to have a happier, healthier marriage?
If you feel disconnected or frustrated about the state of your marriage but want to avoid separation and/or divorce, the marriage.com course meant for married couples is an excellent resource to help you overcome the most challenging aspects of being married.