You tell yourself, Listen, listen, just listen, when talking with loved ones.
You try to be patient with a partner who seems to move in slow motion compared to your own faster tempo. You think, "Why do I always have to slow down? Why doesn’t anyone try, just for one day, to keep up with me?"
Your need for action and stimulation isn’t a character defect, it’s just a difference. ADD is not a disorder that has to be hidden. If you can help your partner see the world from your point of view, you’re on your way to a fulfilling relationship.
The Gifts of ADHD
Impatience, inattention, and fidgeting — all symptoms of ADHD — are not crimes.
With these "deficits" come a lively mind and a life of fun and excitement. You have a lot to offer your spouse and children using your own personal style. If you can articulate — to yourself and others — how your ADD is a gift, it won’t rob you of your vitality and life. To build a strong relationship, advocate for your gifts.
You won’t last in a relationship in which your ADD traits are summed up as bad behavior. When someone tells you there’s something wrong with you, it hurts. Your partner calling you a “spaz,” or saying you need to “chill” at every turn, can take a serious toll. Let your partner know that such negativity is harmful. Tell him that it hurts to be told there’s something wrong with who you are. Such an admission can build intimacy between the two of you. If you try to cover up the hurt, it will lead to resentment that will prevent you from connecting with your spouse.
If you believe that you shouldn’t feel hurt — or, worse, that you deserve your partner’s criticisms — it is likely you’ll eventually want to end the relationship. Being stuck in reform school is a recipe for resentment.
Because adults with ADD constantly crave new experiences, maintaining a long-term relationship can be a struggle, even without the burden of criticism. If resentment builds, an ADD adult’s need for stimulation is likely to create the impulse to find another partner. But if you educate your partner about your condition — and its gifts — he won’t be so critical. Try using these statements to advocate for yourself and to show your loved one what you are doing right:
“It’s true I was having trouble listening, but I was keying in to your emotions.” “You’re right: I can’t sit still with the kids, but I can be lots of fun.” “I can’t be as patient as I would like, but I keep our social life hopping.”
Once your spouse understands ADD and appreciates your strengths, it doesn’t mean that you won’t have problems to solve. Working through them, using the strategies below, will dramatically increase your odds of having a loving relationship.
Find Common Interests
Doing things together as a couple sounds easy, but adults with ADD often lack patience for activities that a spouse enjoys. Anything that is slow or requires attention to detail can feel like torture to some ADD adults: For instance, your partner asks you to play backgammon, but you’d rather pluck out your eyelashes than concentrate on its rules. Or your partner asks you to join him to watch a foreign-language film, and you would rather see an action flick. Although such differences seem tough to resolve, there are solutions (see “Bond with Your Spouse,” below).
Instead of letting backgammon or movies separate you and your spouse, show respect for his passion, while honoring your own interests. How? Give your partner a backgammon set, a book on backgammon strategy, or a night off from family duties to play the game with others.
While you may never share your lover’s enjoyment of board games, you can find activities that make you both happy. If you and he enjoy Italian food, say, come up with activities planned around that interest. Try different Italian restaurants, take a trip to Italy, read cookbooks, or collect Italian wines.
If you compromise yourself, chances are, your relationship will fail. This doesn’t mean that your partner should always be ready to meet your needs. It means that you shouldn’t consistently defer to the other person.
Exercise 1: Bond with Your Spouse
Don’t fight with your partner over competing interests. Focus your attention, instead, on interests that you share. Here’s how:
- Each of you should compile a list of 100 interests—intellectual topics, sports events, foods, anything that piques your interest. Nothing is too lowbrow or highbrow to go on your lists.
- Review the lists to identify overlapping interests. Create a new list from these and rank them in order of how much each of you likes them.
- For each of your top five shared interests, come up with activities that the two of you would enjoy. If you both like classical music, you could visit music stores together, attend concerts, go on drives while listening to CDs, share downloads with each other, take singing classes, start a classical music blog, or read books on favorite artists.
- Now slot some of these activities into your weekly schedule.
Listen to Your Spouse
Not being listened to is the major complaint of those in intimate relationships with ADD adults. For many ADDers, listening to others is hard. In some cases, you may actually be listening, but you look so spaced-out that others think you are not.
Although those with ADD can’t stand it when others repeat themselves, you may unwittingly be causing them to do so. If you’re impatient and tend to interrupt, your partner may feel he’s not being heard. So he repeats himself, which causes you to tune out even more. Remember: When others feel they have been heard, they will stop repeating themselves. For people in long-term relationships, good listening can break a dysfunctional pattern that has gone on for years—perhaps for decades.