Tips for Couples
Follow these expert guidelines to ensure a happy, fulfilling relationship.
ADHD and Relationships,
ADHD and Marriage
Tips for Couples
- Avoid the pattern of mess maker and cleaner-upper. You don't want the non-ADD partner to "enable" the ADD partner by cleaning up all the time, in the manner that the nonalcoholic spouse may "enable" the alcoholic spouse by covering up all the time. Rather, set up strategies to break this pattern.
- Avoid the pattern of pesterer and tuner-outer. You don't want the non-ADD partner to be forever nagging and kvetching at the ADD partner to pay attention, get his or her act together, come out from behind the newspaper, etc. People with ADD frequently need a certain amount of "down time" every day to recharge their batteries. It is better that this time be negotiated and set aside in advance rather than struggled over each time it comes up.
- Avoid the pattern of victim and victimizer. You don't want the ADD partner to present himself or herself as a helpless victim left at the merciless hand of the all-controlling non-ADD mate. This dynamic can evolve easily if you aren't careful. The ADD person needs support and structure; the non-ADD mate tries to provide these. Unless there is open and clear communication about what is going on, the support and structure can feel like control and nagging.
- Avoid the pattern of master and slave. In a funny way, it can often be the non-ADD partner who feels like the slave to her or his mate's ADD. The non-ADD partner can feel that the symptoms of ADD are ruining the relationship, wrapping around it like tentacles, daily disrupting what could be, and once was, an affectionate bond.
- Avoid the pattern of a sadomasochistic struggle as a routine way of interacting. Prior to diagnosis and intervention, many couples dealing with ADD spend most of their time attacking and counterattacking each other. One hopes to get past that and into the realm of problem-solving. What you have to beware of is the covert pleasure that can be found in the struggle. ADD is exasperating; therefore, you can enjoy punishing your mate by fighting with him or her. Try, rather, to vent your anger at the disorder, not at the person. Say "I hate ADD" instead of "I hate you," or say "ADD drives me crazy," instead of "You drive me crazy."
- In general, watch out for the dynamics of control, dominance, and submission that lurk in the background of most relationships, let alone relationships where ADD is involved. Try to get as clear on this as possible, so that you can work toward cooperation rather than competitive struggle.
- Break the tapes of negativity. Many people who have ADD have long ago taken on a resigned attitude of "There's no hope for me." The same can happen to both partners in the couple. Negative thinking is a most corrosive force in the treatment of ADD. What I call the "tapes of negativity" can play relentlessly, unforgivingly, endlessly in the mind of the person with ADD. It is as if they click on as the sun rises and click off only when the unconsciousness of sleep shuts them down. They play, over and over, grinding noises of "You can't"; "You're bad"; "You're dumb"; "It won't work"; "Look how far behind you are"; "You're just a born loser." The tapes can be playing in the midst of a business deal, in the reverie of a car ride home, of they can take the place of making love. It is hard to be romantic when you are full of negative thoughts. The thoughts seduce you, like a satanic mistress, into "loving" them instead. These tapes are very difficult to break, but with conscious and sustained effort, they can be erased.
- Use praise freely. Encouragement, too. Begin to play positive tapes. Find something positive to say about your mate or about yourself every day. Build each other up consciously, deliberately. Even if it feels hokey at first, over time it will feel good and have a sustaining effect.
- Learn about mood management. Anticipation is a great way to help anyone deal with the highs and lows that come along. This is especially true in ADD. If you know in advance that when you say "Good morning, honey!" the response you get might be "Get off my back, will you!" then it is easier to deal with that response without getting a divorce. And if the other member of the couple has learned something about his or her moods, the response to "Good morning, honey!" might be "I'm in one of my ADD funks," or something like that, instead of an attack on the other person.
- Let the one who is the better organizer take on the job of organization. There's no point in flogging yourself with a job you can't do. If you can't do the checkbook, don't do the checkbook. If you can't do the kids' clothes shopping, then don't do the kids' clothes shopping. That's one of the advantages of being a couple. You have another person to help out. However, the job the other person does instead of you must then be adequately appreciated, noticed, and reciprocated.
- Make time for each other. If the only way you can do this is by scheduling it, then schedule it. This is imperative. Many people with ADD slip away like quicksilver; now you have them, now you don't. Clear communication, the expression of affection, the taking up of problems, playing together and having fun - all these ingredients of a good relationship cannot occur unless you spend time together.
- Don't use ADD as an excuse. Each member of the couple has to take responsibility for his or her actions. On the other hand, while one mustn't use ADD as an excuse, knowledge of the syndrome can add immeasurably to the understanding one brings to the relationship.
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