Can an ADHD Diagnosis Save a Relationship?

One couple's struggles show how attention deficit can affect stability. Diagnosis and treatment can help, but to what extent?
This Is 40... and Beyond | posted by Linda Roggli, PCC

Relationships that thrive are based on mutual respect ... When one partner 'blames' the other’s ADHD for problems, the balance of power shifts.

Linda Roggli, ADDiva Blogger

Bruce (not his real name) was desperate for help: His wife had demanded he find a doctor to diagnose his attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD) ... or else. He e-mailed me for a recommendation, but I knew there was a lot more going on and going wrong in his marriage than he or his wife realized.

"My wife is becoming less and less tolerant of what appear to be my ADD/ADHD symptoms," he wrote. "They are more noticeable since the births of our precious children, a 2-year-old and an 8-month-old. Sleep deprivation is probably contributing, but right now there is a great strain on our marriage. My wife wants me to find better coping strategies and maybe ADD/ADHD medication so that things will improve."

Red flag alert!

Relationships that thrive are based on mutual respect as well as love. When one partner "blames" the other's ADD/ADHD for problems in their relationship, the balance of power shifts to the non-ADD/ADHD partner. Because the partner with ADD/ADHD tends to miss deadlines, show up late for dates, forget to change the oil, and lose the tickets to the big ball game, the non-ADD/ADHD partner is forced to pick up the slack.

In the early days of their relationship, Bruce’s wife probably didn’t mind going back to the store for the eggs he had forgotten. But with two small children and a full-time job, she needed Bruce to step up to the plate, take on more responsibility, and act like an adult. She had become resentful and demanding, which unfortunately increased Bruce’s ADD/ADHD symptoms.

ADD/ADHD brains are easily overwhelmed. Bruce, like his wife, is coping with the increased delights and demands of living with an infant and a toddler. He too is getting less sleep, and unfortunately, his ADD/ADHD brain is more distractible and less able to focus.

Stress increases ADD/ADHD symptoms. When his wife demands his participation, the extra stress can push him into complete inaction. This further infuriates his beloved, beleaguered, and bewildered wife. Why can't he get it together for the sake of their children, their marriage, for her?

Bruce loves his wife; he loves his children. If he had a magic wand that would transform him into the responsible adult his wife wants, he wouldn't hesitate to use it. Since magic wands are out of stock right now, his best alternative is an accurate diagnosis, treatment for his ADD/ADHD (medication, coaching, support groups, a professional organizer), and immediate intervention for his relationship.

An ADD/ADHD diagnosis won't save his marriage, despite his wife's insistence. Bruce and his wife have established an elaborate pattern that makes Bruce the bad guy when something goes wrong. Until Bruce's wife takes a look at her own part in their marriage woes, there's little hope for longevity.

Bruce is now attending an ADD/ADHD support group. He has an appointment to see a psychologist who can assess ADD/ADHD.

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