A Word to the Wives

Survival strategies for the wives of ADHD men who seem to ignore, forget, and disregard... but maybe don't mean to.


Filed Under: ADHD and Relationships, ADHD and Marriage

A Word to the Wives, Part 2

The Non-Goal Directed Behavior Scenario

Imagine it's Saturday and you have seven tasks to accomplish. They have to be done by six because the movie starts at 7:30 and you'll want to grab a quick bite at a nearby restaurant first. You know that the dog needs to be walked by nine and the lawn needs be mowed by 11:30 in order to make it to Johnny's soccer game by noon. You'll have to do the groceries by three, have the kids' dinner prepared and ready for the sitter to heat by five, and be showered and ready to leave the house at six.

Got that straight? Not if you've got ADHD.

People with ADHD have a different clock system, and it doesn't tick to standard time. "People with ADHD live in the process," says Lynn Weiss. "The task defines the time."

If that concept is hard to imagine, here's an example. Your husband walked the dog, alright, but now it's time to mow the lawn. About halfway through the task, the mower runs out of gas. Off he goes in the car to the gas station.

While there, he sees an old MG much like the one he had in college. The station owner comes out and the two chew the fat over how much better cars used to be. The MG owner shows up and joins the conversation, then asks your husband if he'd like to take a ride. When your husband turns up at home nearly four hours later, the lawn isn't mowed, the groceries aren't done, and he forgot to get the gas.

The critic might berate him with: "You don't have your priorities straight," but scolding would be pointless. People with ADHD have little sense of time and limited ability to prioritize. To function according to everyone else's watch, they need your compassion, assistance and practice, practice, practice.

"Without scolding, they need to be aware together that time and prioritizing are a problem," says Weiss. That means he has to ask for your help.

Here are some strategies you can try.

  • Agree to check in with each other periodically. For instance, say, at 2 o'clock and 5 o'clock in the scenario described above. This arrangement helps the ADHD spouse break down a lengthy time period into smaller, more manageable components.
  • Prioritize mid-stream. If by 2 o'clock only one task is completed, or by five only three tasks are done, the ADHD spouse needs to take responsibility and work with the non-ADHD spouse to change and prioritize the remaining list of tasks.
  • Don't get angry. Get busy. Your ADHD spouse is doing the best he can, and you can help him do better by working with him as a team. At first it may seem like a lot of work on your part, but once he becomes habituated to the routine he will train himself to better plan and carry out his tasks.
  • Reinforce the routine. Routines are not natural and need to be reinforced periodically. Once habituated, your spouse may lapse back into old patterns. Agree at the outset to re-establish your routine of checking in and re-prioritizing if this happens.
  • Take responsibility for yourself, not your spouse. If you remain detached, objective, and accepting, you'll be less angry in the end, Weiss believes.

Indeed, Lynn Weiss has walked the walk. Not only does she have ADHD. She married a man who has it.

In fact, she's especially proud of the way she learned to deal with her husband's chronic lateness, which used to drive her up a wall. "He'd show up late to leave the house for our son's football game, and then we'd have to stop on the way because he'd forgotten to eat and want to stop for food along the way."

Her solution: "I learned to go places separately " she says. "I disconnected myself from his inability to be on time by going places myself and arranging to meet him there. I found I disliked him a lot less if I didn't have to be late too."

The lesson: if she couldn't have an affect on him, she could at least minimize his ADHD's impact on herself and their relationship. "ADHD couples are most successful when the husband works on himself, and the wife works on herself. It helps them work better together."

Jessica, now expecting the couple's first child in a matter of weeks, couldn't agree more. "Rather than try to keep up with his frenetic pace, I've learned to do my own thing," she says. "He's beginning to understand that he overestimates what he can accomplish in a given day. And we've agreed that when we drive somewhere together, I'm the one who drives because he's a nervous, aggressive driver."

In short, Josh has begun to own his behavior, and Jessica to accept his ADHD. "It's all about acceptance, compromise and negotiation," she says. "But it's mostly about clear and honest communication. If we don't let the little things build up, then the negative feelings don't persist."

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