I was married to Adam, a man with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD), for 16 years, and all three of our children have the condition, as well. It took one of those children to show me that ADD/ADHD isn’t what wrecks a marriage. It’s whether people like my husband choose to work hard to manage their symptoms -- or not.
No one recognized Adam’s ADD/ADHD until our firstborn was diagnosed, at age three. By then, I was overwhelmed. My day job was as demanding as Adam’s, yet when he came home from work, he contributed almost nothing. He didn’t pay bills, make meals, clean up, supervise homework, or get the kids ready for bed.
Could My Husband Change?
By the time we sought professional help, I was a weepy 30-something with an ADD/ADHD kindergartner and a toddler who seemed to have it, too. Even so, the therapist’s words were comforting: Each of our lives is like a busy airport, he explained, and I was managing too much traffic. That’s why our marriage wasn’t working.
He was right. I was managing my own and my kids’ airports, while running my husband’s -- the coming and going, the cleaning, the organizing of his personal and financial life. Our therapist read Adam the riot act: If he didn’t get his life in order, the whole family might crash.
Despite the analogy’s negative inference, I felt hopeful. I loved Adam. If we could follow the therapist’s instructions, a better marriage was within our grasp.
It never happened, though. I wanted things to work out so much that I tried for 10 years. Adam wanted our marriage to succeed, too. He wanted to live up to his responsibilities. What he couldn’t do was change. He didn’t want to have to remember to take his medication, or to keep up with his own prescription renewals. I realized that, deep down, Adam did not want to grow up.
The Tipping Point
Then there was the day I found our nine-year-old son feverishly writing on a pile of Post-Its. “I’m trying to write down everything Dad’s supposed to take care of today. Maybe if I pin these to his shirt, he’ll remember.”
I grieved that night. Like me, my son is loyal. But he deserved the luxury of spending his daydream-time on basketball -- not on keeping his dad on track.
The end came when I asked Adam to drive our six-year-old daughter to and from ballet class three days in one week. To his credit, he managed to drop her off at 6:30. But he forgot to pick her up at 7:30 every single evening, even after I reminded him each morning. Finally, I had to accept the fact that he wasn’t going to change. When I asked for a separation, Adam was devastated and bewildered.
A friend tried to change my mind. I told her to look at my kids. They have ADD/ADHD, too. But, unlike their dad, who chose to fall on his face, they did what it took to become responsible adults.
ADD/ADHD is not what destroys marriages. The damage is done by a person who won’t face his diagnosis, won’t commit to a medication regimen, and won’t take responsibility for himself. If we don’t take charge of our lives, the people closest to us suffer.
Four years ago, I was diagnosed with high blood pressure, and had to take medication to lower it. At the time, I blamed it on the stress caused by Adam’s refusal to acknowledge and manage his ADD/ADHD. He laughed it off.
These days, I’m the one who’s laughing. My blood pressure normalized 10 days after our divorce, and it has been normal ever since. The medication is now in the trash, where it should have been a decade ago.
More ADD/ADHD Relationship Advice
This article appears in the Summer 2010 issue of ADDitude.
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