ADHD & Relationships: Marriage and Friendship Help

Why adults with mild ADHD may flourish at the office but flounder in personal relationships like friendships and marriage.

Domestic Unrest

Meanwhile, Debby desperately wanted to develop a second career as a writer, but she simply could not make the time to sit down to write. Finally, she stopped seeing patients in order to devote herself full-time to her writing. As a mild ADDer, Debby was self-aware enough to know that, unless she removed the demanding stimulus of her patients' dramas, she would not be able to shift the focus of her "attentional apparatus" to her own writing.

Soon after, however, she met and married a man who was himself suffering from a full-blown version of ADD. Although energetic and an enormous amount of fun, he was also unable to see any project through to its end. He always had schemes up his sleeve, but none of his big dreams came to pass. Debby's savings supported them both through six tumultuous years of marriage.

Debby slid into a state of depression. Looking back, after her divorce, Debby says today, "I literally did nothing during my entire marriage." Needless to say, nothing came of her writing, either.

Debby's Surprising Diagnosis

It was Dr. Ratey who first suggested a diagnosis of attention deficit disorder. Debby's previous doctor had attempted to treat her for depression, but neither therapy nor antidepressants worked. Instead of a troubled childhood or her relationship with her mother, Dr. Ratey looked instead at Debby's lifelong inability to complete projects. Instead of setting reasonable goals and meeting them, she would jump into a writing project with both feet, only to abandon it as soon as her initial enthusiasm faded. Dr. Ratey also found that, while Debby was physically calm, she was mentally frenetic. Her brain was churning, continuously searching for a focus. Mentally, she could not sit still for a moment.

Debby took a second look at herself through the lens of her brain's thought processes. She saw how her attention deficit had thwarted her ambition to become a writer, and that she had grown depressed over her difficulty in sustaining focus.

In the years following her diagnosis, since launching a successful writing career, Debby gave a great deal of thought to the changes in her life:

Now, I have a sense of the context. If a bleak feeling is coming upon me, I don't say, "I'm a terrible person." I just say, "It's a gray day," and know that I need more stimulation in order to cheer up.

Adults with full-blown cases of ADD are risk-takers; they are attracted to any situation that shocks the brain, whether it be race-car driving or corporate deal-making or shouting matches with loved ones. Mildly ADD people may self-medicate with milder dramas - the daily micromanagement of a family's needs and troubles or the choosing of difficult people as lovers.

Needless to say, distractibility, restlessness, and impulsivity can wreak havoc in any relationship. But with a genuine understanding of the disorder driving these behaviors, both partners can take a step back - outside the present moment - and decide how to work around it.

Excerpted from Shadow Syndromes, by John J. Ratey, M.D., and Catherine Johnson, Ph.D. (Bantam Books). Reprinted with permission.

This article comes from the April-May 2005 Issue of ADDitude.

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TAGS: ADHD and Marriage, ADHD and Relationships

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