Clear Up Confusion: Communication Secrets for Spouses with ADHD

Use this simple, effective relationship advice to begin speaking the same language as your partner -- and clear up conflicts in your ADHD marriage.

Expert tips to smooth the waters in an ADHD marriage.

I wish my wife understood how hard I’m trying.

Alan, ADD spouse

ADHD Relationship Advice: He Says, She Says

A successful ADHD marriage depends on honesty. Below are some comments I’ve heard repeatedly from both my ADD clients and their non-ADD spouses. If they ring true to you, use them as relationship advice, or talking points, before your relationship hits a rough patch.

ADD Spouse

  • “I wish you really understood ADD and its impact on my life.”
  • “I’m not lazy or stupid.”
  • “I’m really sorry to have to put you through this.”
  • “It’s difficult for me to plan, organize, and pay attention to details. In fact, those tasks exhaust me!”
  • “Be patient with me. I need support, not criticism.”

Non-ADD Spouse

  • “When you keep me waiting, or don’t follow through, I think you don’t value my time.”
  • “You need other strategies and support for managing your condition. I don’t want to be your only form of support.”
  • “Let me help you. I’m usually better on project management or time-sensitive tasks.”

"I want my husband to understand that I don’t do it on purpose. He thinks that I ‘forget’ to close the cabinets or ‘forget’ to put something away on purpose.” Ginny, a client in my group for adults with attention deficit disorder (ADD ADHD), was sharing her frustrations over living with a non-ADD husband. Her need for ADHD relationship advice is common.

Alan, who nodded in agreement, added, “I wish my wife understood how hard I’m trying. She just doesn’t get how much effort it takes for me to do things that come easily to her.” Those two comments opened the floodgates, spurring a lively discussion about the challenges of marriage and ADD.

When I met with some of my clients’ partners — many of whom don’t have ADD — they had their own frustrations. “Sometimes I think I have another child,” “Why can she focus on things she enjoys?” “If she can do it sometimes, why can’t she do it all the time?” were common remarks.

Although all married couples have to navigate challenges, communicate effectively, and work cooperatively, ADD places strain on a relationship. Many of my ADD clients have partners who are so highly organized that they are jokingly accused of having Attention Surplus Syndrome, or ASS. Over time, it seems, the “opposite” qualities that originally attracted the two to each other lose their appeal.

When a relationship hits a rough patch, I advise couples to focus on each other’s strengths, not their weaknesses. I tell them to think of themselves as a team.

Every winning team needs a variety of skill sets to make it work — players who can execute a detailed game plan in a timely manner, and those who inspire with their high energy and spontaneity. A football team comprised of only quarterbacks won’t win on game day.

Play the Rating Game

Gauging a couple’s responsibilities and needs — both of which may have changed since you walked down the aisle — is a productive way to start. One strategy for doing this is describing—on a scale of 0-10 — how important or exhausting a task is for each of you.

For example, instead of telling your partner it was hard to organize the holiday party, tell him, “It was a 10 — or an 11 — to put that party together.”

Couples are sometimes surprised by the results of this rating game. One couple found that having down time after work was low in the husband’s list of needs, while his wife rated getting help in the kitchen a 10. The result? The husband helped with dinner prep the second he got home from the office.

Ginny and Alan went home and discussed how much energy (once again, 0-10) they had to expend on tasks with their partner. Each was genuinely surprised at the effort required to do some tasks he or she had thought were effortless. They also discussed how important they considered each task. This gave Ginny and Alan a clear sense of what was important to each of them, as well as to their spouses.

Armed with this information, they renegotiated responsibilities. Ginny realized that her husband didn’t care about eating a gourmet dinner (it was a three, according to him) as much as having an uncluttered chair to sit on in the family room (a whopping nine).

Ginny and her husband didn’t diverge on everything. They both gave a 10 to one important area: wanting to be loved and appreciated for themselves.


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This article comes from the Spring issue of ADDitude.
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TAGS: ADHD and Relationships, ADHD Housework Tips, ADHD and Marriage

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