Married to ADHD? (My ADHD Spouse)

By Rick GreenAva and Rick Green

Perhaps it’s Valentine’s Day.

And the warm feelings that it engenders, that deep desire, the overwhelming passion… for chocolate.

Oh, and yes, my wife.

She loves chocolate even more than me.

But I have been thinking about marriages, relationships, and ADHD.

A while back Ava and I presented a workshop in Seattle.  It was called, “You, Me, and We With ADHD.” A play on Gina Pera’s brilliant book title, ‘Is It You, Me, or Adult ADD?

The workshop was interesting.  I suspect Ava and I got as much out of it as the people attending.

We talked about the impact of this mindset on the person who has ADHD, the people around them, in this case the spouse, and on the relationship. The ‘We’.  In this case, Ava and I.  But also on the partner. In this case, Ava.

A number of books reveal the myriad ways that ADHD can rot a relationship from the inside out.  Especially when it’s undiagnosed.  There’s also some very specific strategies that can make a difference.  If reading a book seems intimidating, check out our video, Living With ADHD.  It’s on special as part of a 3 video series.  A great place to start.  (Yes, especially if you’re not the one with the ADHD. Or if you have ADHD, are single, and relationships have been problematic.)

THE DAMAGE DONE

Whenever I give a talk, or we host a webinar a surprising number of the questions are about ‘relationship issues’.  The clinical term for lovey-dovey-ness.  Especially when that lovey-dovey feeling is in short supply.

Having ADHD kids adds to the stress.  According to a number of studies the parental divorce or separation is 3 to 5 times higher when there’s ‘untreated or undertreated ADHD’ in the household. (Barkley et al. 1991; Brown & Pacini, 1989.)

Look at the most common ‘symptoms’ of ADHD and you’ll see a dozen ways they can demolish the strongest marriages.  Ava and I are pretty clear that had I not gotten the diagnosis our marriage would have ended.  As my first marriage did.

Hardly surprising that adults with ADHD have given up trying and have chosen to stay single.  One woman told me that before she heard me on a radio program she had no idea what was ‘wrong’ with her.  What she did know for sure, or believe, was that she was unreliable.  So she had decided not to have kids.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  Choosing not to having children is fine.  The world isn’t short of people.  But assuming that you’re unreliable and can’t be trusted to raise and child, and then finding out that you have ADHD, too late in life to reverse that decision?  That’s tough.  Very tough.

“SHE LOVES ME.  BUT WHO AM I?”

Like you, I found that much of what I ‘knew’ about myself was in fact merely a result of my undiagnosed and untreated ADHD.  Once I had a reliable diagnosis and I started making changes, I was somewhat unsure of who I really was.

Clumsy?  Goofy?  Hopeless?  Unreliable?  Maybe not.

Changing my self-image remains a huge part of the process of dealing with this disorder.  And let me warn you, it means everyone around you has to change their image of you, their beliefs, their story that you are a certain way.

It seems that many of us who are have ADHD are seeking ways to get organized, manage time, prioritize, and stop procrastinating.  Because when we screw up, forget, lose something, or fail to deliver what we promise other people are affected.  After a while, it wears a bit thin.

WHAT MATTERS MOST? OR RATHER, WHO MATTERS MOST?

For a long time ‘managing life’ was my top priority.  Because it was my most obvious ‘problem’.   It was the one area where I was clearly failing.  The Urgent letters from the Tax Department gave visible proof to where I was falling short.

It’s not that ‘managing the day-to-day’ But I’m starting to realize that having everything up to date, tidy, sorted, and accessible won’t mean much if I don’t have Ava with me, if my kids don’t know that I love them, if I’m not close to my family, if I don’t have friends.

If it’s a choice between having everything handled, and having a great relationship with my wife, and yes, with my kids, family, and friends, well, it’s a no-brainer.

It would be a bit like having a lovely, fully-stocked RV, a motorhome, but never going anywhere.

Do you know what I mean?  Or is that too weird an analogy?

PRIORITIES AREN’T JUST TASKS AND TO-DOS

Knowing exactly where the keys to the motorhome are?  Great.  Having the gas tank full of gas?  Terrific.

Traveling around in the RV with loved ones, seeing wonderful places together?  Priceless.

In trying to ‘manage things’ I can lose sight of what really matters.  The big stuff.

I’m starting to believe that the whole reason to get our lives organized, our ADHD managed, our finances working for us, and our emotions under our control is so that we have a great life.  And a great life isn’t neat drawers and color coded file folders.  That can support a great life… But…

In interviewing adults with ADHD, and experts who have delved into the challenges ADHD puts on relationships, and the strategies that work well for both parties, I’m filled with a strong sense that a partner who understands your ADHD is crucial.

IT’S ABOUT KNOWING

Understanding that this is a neuro-developmental disorder, takes away some of the sting.  Suddenly it’s not about how much he or she cares.  It’s not about love, or wanting to do the right thing.  It’s about being able to follow through, to listen, to be on time, and do what we want to do.

Understanding how ADHD impacts behavior, and what you can do about it, changes the conversation focus from love, commitment, caring, and hurt, to a problem with Executive Function.  That we can deal with.

One warning: this doesn’t mean the person with ADHD gets a free pass.  As the experts make clear in Living With ADHD, the diagnosis is an explanation–not an excuse.

Knowing what’s going on means you now have a much better chance of mastering the symptoms, diminishing their impact, and focusing on strengths.  There’s lots to be done.  But now you have a better chance of doing the right thing. And sticking with it.

With understanding, comes compassion.  Knowing when to makes allowances, and when to hold you to your word.  A partner who understands the extra challenges and quirky pitfalls that this disorder creates is invaluable.  (And not just a romantic partner.  A friend.  Colleagues at work.  Your boss.)

And those kind of people, whether they are your spouse, parent, friend, therapist, or coach who is sharing their thoughts with you in the TotallyADD Forums… well, they are a better gift than chocolate.

Oh, that reminds me, I have to give my wife her Valentine’s present.  If I rearrange the chocolates carefully it won’t be obvious someone ate three of them.

3 Replies to “Married to ADHD? (My ADHD Spouse)”

  1. Happy Valentine’s Day, Rick & Ava!
    Thank you SO MUCH for this very timely advice, Rick. I REALLY needed to hear what you are sharing here. Seeing it expressed in black and white was sobering! And coming from someone who truly understands doubles the impact of the message.
    You verbalized what I know to be true but have struggled with for a few years now. “IF only I could get MY life in order then my hubby and I could really enjoy time together.” I have been so DESPERATE to “master my messes”, to OVERCOME THE PAIN of my disorganization that I have violated the one principle that I have always held dear: “PEOPLE are MORE IMPORTANT than things!” My actions, of late, have not reflected this dearly held value. I struggle to take time to just enjoy doing things with my hubby because I am so focused on conquering my disorganization. It’s a 24/7 job, mentally if not physically. How fun can it be to live with someone so preoccupied?
    Your message was loud and clear and something that I am so thankful that you have reminded me of! My struggle to ‘manage my challenges’ will continue, but it’s time to make time for the person I pledged my love and commitment to 36 years ago this April: my beloved husband. His patience and committed love deserves more than I have been giving.
    Thank you, once again, for this timely and essential message to me, and all who have hyper-focused to the detriment of important relationships which TRULY ARE more important than things.

  2. Thank you for this article!! I am a childless single 49 year old woman. I was diagnosed 3 months ago (ADHD has never been on my radar even though I struggled since age 6!) Now my past makes perfect sense!!

  3. Thanks Rick,
    While I know you’re right the idea of focusing on what matters, my wife, has been a difficult challenge. On one hand I want to focus on my wife and our relationship of 22 years but what is wrong with our relationship is my ADHD. So by not focusing on my ADHD I can’t improve on the things I need to fast enough to make her see that I am changing for the better. But by focusing my effort on just my ADHD in hopes that I can find something to help me improve I lose focus on my wife. So around and around I go. I haven’t been able to focus on any one of them with any kind of consistency or drive. I love my wife dearly and the thought of losing her is unpleasant to think about but I can’t seem to figure out how I can keep my focus on her and improve myself fast enoungh at the same time. I am running out of time and my wife is running out of patience.
    Happy Valentines Day
    Richard
    AKA
    That Guy with ADHD

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