When your spouse has adult ADHD, it’s easy to misinterpret inattentiveness, disorganization and distractibility as laziness or selfishness. But with empathy and teamwork, you can help your partner improve listening skills and strengthen your marriage. Here are?5 tips to try from psychiatrists, ADHD adults and relationship experts…Melissa Orlov, 51, of Wayland, Mass., and her husband, George, were separated and headed for divorce in 2006. Then they realized his adult attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which had been diagnosed just two years earlier, was at the crux of their problems. “We had poor communication and there was a lot of anger on my part,” Orlov says. “I was sort of the parent figure and he was my child. He was distracted, and I interpreted that as he didn’t love me.” Only after George became acquainted with someone who had ADHD – and saw how difficult it was to communicate with that person – did he realize how much his wife had been struggling in the marriage.They decided to stay together and work on both George’s ADHD and Melissa’s response to it. Today, their marriage is a happy, loving one, and they recently celebrated their 22nd wedding anniversary, says Orlov, who blogs at ADHDMarriage.com and wrote the book The ADHD Effect on Marriage: Understand and Rebuild Your Relationship in Six Steps (Specialty Press). “Although I was miserable, my husband and I had a completely normal relationship when one has ADHD and the other doesn’t – and they’re not dealing with the ADHD,” Orlov says. Typical symptoms of ADHD – distractibility, impulsiveness, disorganization – also impact other family members, especially if they live under the same roof. Here are 5 common symptoms of being married to an ADHD adult and how to solve them.
ADHD Adult Symptom #1: You Can’t Communicate
Not only can it be tough for an ADHD adult to follow a conversation, it also can be difficult for you to follow your spouse’s train of thought.“[My wife and I] will be having a conversation, when suddenly her next sentence will come from a previous conversation we may have had several days or even weeks ago – as if it were still part of the present conversation,” says Kris Girrell of Boston. (Girrell’s wife, who asked to remain anonymous, has ADHD.) “The ADHD adult brain sorts information differently,” Orlov explains. “Your partner experiences the world differently.”For example, it may seem as if your spouse isn’t listening to you, but he’s really just lost track of what you’ve said. Maybe he doesn’t know how to tell you he can’t keep up with the conversation or doesn’t know how to describe the way his brain jumps between topics. Solution: Be empathetic – and clear.
This can help your partner improve listening skills, says psychiatrist Edward Hallowell, M.D. He co-authored Married to Distraction: Restoring Intimacy and Strengthening Your Marriage in an Age of Interruption(Ballantine Books) with his wife, Sue George Hallowell, and Orlov. “Make sure you have his attention before you start talking,” he says. This may be as simple as having him look you in the eye. “Be brief and to the point. Don’t go off on long monologues,” he adds. Create an open dialogue. Let your partner know you won’t judge him if he can’t follow and encourage him to speak up. If you have to repeat yourself often, know inattention is simply one of the symptoms of ADHD, and try not to get angry or frustrated, says Orlov.Girrell and his wife developed some effective communication strategies to improve listening skills between them. When Girrell’s wife jumps rapidly into a new conversation that doesn’t make sense to him, he simply says, “Context?”“What we were discussing last Tuesday about such-and-so,” she’ll say.
ADHD Adult Symptom #2: He Won’t Get Treatment
He denies having ADHD or resists treatment because that could mean making big lifestyle changes. Plus, there’s a negative stigma sometimes associated with ADHD.“People who are undiagnosed, and struggled with ADHD all their lives without knowing it, have absorbed so much negative criticism over the years – from parents, spouses, teachers, bosses, etc. – that their self-image may be in ruins,” says Donald Haupt, M.D., a Philadelphia psychiatrist in private practice and co-author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD(Alpha).“They may have absorbed the idea that their failures are due only to lack of effort or innate stupidity and anything else is just excuses,” he adds.Solution: Encourage, don’t order.
“顿辞苍’迟 tell him he has to see someone,” Dr. Haupt says.“Instead, ask questions before you make suggestions, because it makes him involved in the decision,” he advises. “Get a third party – like a friend or family doctor – to weigh in, or hand him a book on the subject so he can learn himself.”And you should participate in the ADHD treatment process. Besides couple’s therapy, your spouse’s ADHD treatment could also include drugs, solo therapy or both, Dr. Haupt says.“It’s important to know the ADHD adult’s behavior isn’t willful nastiness,” Dr. Hallowell says. “That’s why seeing someone together can really make a difference,” he adds.ADHD Adult Symptom #3: You Feel Neglected
“If you had asked my husband, [he thought] our marriage was great,” says Orlov of their relationship before the diagnosis. “But I felt dejected and lonely.”Because an ADHD adult is so easily distracted, it’s common for him to spend a lot of time doing other highly stimulating things instead of focusing on his partner, Dr. Haupt says.
Solution: Schedule couple time.
Create a routine that will prompt your spouse – and you – to carve out time for your relationship.“Someone with ADHD will have a much easier time if they have structure,” Dr. Haupt says.Try using a color-coded calendar.If your spouse keeps his work schedule on a smartphone, ask him to start setting dates with you on his phone, too. Use that time to enjoy a meal or do another activity together, even if it’s just sitting and reading in the same room, Orlov says.“Scheduling time with your spouse could help you get around the specific ADHD symptom of distraction, which typically interferes by making it difficult for the couple to find time together,” Orlov adds. “When one is free, the other is distracted. When the distracted partner is finally free, the non-ADHD partner is off doing something else,” she says.Couple time will gradually become routine, and it might get easier for your spouse to remember to show up for it – without having to schedule it.ADHD Adult Symptom #4: Your Home Is Disorganized
“I’ve come home to find ‘crop circles’ of bills and documents on the floor,” Girrell says. “I used to like to keep a somewhat straightened house, but I’ve had to give that up.” It’s common for an ADHD adult to stop a task before finishing or to “keep things lying around,” rather than putting them away. That can create a maddening mess for others.Solution: Find a happy medium.
As with most relationship differences, you’ll have to compromise on this one. “Resist the temptation to swoop in and clean up their disorganization,” Dr. Haupt says.
For an ADHD adult, the mess may make sense. In addition, it’s a lot of pressure on the spouse to clean for two people – and that’s a recipe for resentment.Instead, decide which piles should be organized and which can stay messy.“ADHD shouldn’t be used as an excuse to remain disorganized,” Orlov says. “But that doesn’t mean you’re going to turn your spouse into an organized person,” she adds. “As long as you can get to a place where the disorganization isn’t interfering with the marriage, be OK with it.”Also consider hiring a professional housekeeper, organizer, bill payer or accountant to handle tasks your partner doesn’t excel at – so you’ll feel less pressure. Outsourcing to a third party can prevent it from becoming a sore point. ADHD Adult Symptom #5: Your Partner Seems Lazy
An ADHD adult may have trouble getting up in the morning, getting along with co-workers, finishing projects or doing paperwork, Dr. Haupt says.“My husband couldn’t get up in the morning until his medication kicked in,” says Tawnee Madlen, of San Diego, whose husband has ADHD. “At bedtime, he wouldn’t remember to prepare his medicine for the next morning, so when it was time to get up, he couldn’t,” she says. “Then he’d sleep until noon.”Those things can interfere with success at work – and make you, the partner, feel like a parent, taking responsibility for writing bills, earning money, even making sure he takes his medication.Solution: Create an action plan.
Remind yourself that not being able to complete simple tasks is one of the symptoms of ADHD. It doesn’t mean your partner wants to shirk responsibility. While ADHD treatment with medication can help, it’s not a complete solution. You’ll need to help your spouse learn systems that help him function more effectively and efficiently.“We [made mornings easier by] getting into a routine together,” Madlen says. “Every night, we make sure the pills are ready with a drink on the nightstand for the morning.”
Next, take a close look at your spouse’s abilities. “I cut my husband some slack because he helps out in areas where he can focus better, like taking care of the cars and doing dishes,” Madlen says.If he’s having trouble at work, resist the urge to nag or serve up tough love. “Ask him questions,” Dr. Haupt says. “If he’s not getting along with his boss, say, ‘Tell me how the boss is acting.’ Then ask, ‘Do you have any ideas about how to improve it?’” Encourage your spouse to improve his strengths – and his weaknesses won’t matter so much. He might even consider switching careers to something more suited to his skills. For more expert advice and information, visit our Adult ADHD Health Center.How Much Do You Know About ADHD?
Do you battle inattention and restlessness? You could have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). About 8-9 million adults have ADHD. Many adults are unaware of their disorder, because it was never diagnosed in childhood. Find out how much you know about this common disorder.