“What I Wish My Partner Knew About My ADHD / ADD”
Stress, volatile emotions, and looming deadlines can affect two people in very different ways — and this can strain ADHD-affected relationships. Here, find ideas from spouses with ADHD for bridging this gap and bringing the love back to your partnership.
Do you wonder what your partner with attention deficit disorder is really thinking? Why she suddenly stomps out of the kitchen, or he seems to agree when he really doesn’t? I work with lots of ADHD / ADD -affected partners who share their thoughts with me. Here are a few things they want you to know.
“My Emotions Go from 0 to 1,000 mph in a Flash”
Spouses without ADHD or ADD are often shocked by the intensity of their partners’ responses to “small things.” But partners with ADHD will tell you these things aren’t small, because they add up to something bigger, such as feeling put down, ignored, or critiqued. One said, “The anger response isn’t about the surface of the problem. It’s about feeling ‘disappeared or unseen.’” Another said, “The moment of my failure is the worst time to ask ‘how can we make it so this doesn’t happen again?’ I’m already feeling inadequate due to the failure I just had, so I don’t need anyone else to join the party!”
1. Try to be empathetic to emotional responses, and give your partner time to cool down before discussing how to make things better.
2. Partners with ADHD are particularly sensitive to being told what to do. Make requests, not demands.
“Chores Are More Than You Think”
Chores are a hot-button area for both partners, because they present chances to be overwhelmed by everyday life. The way that couples divide chores is important. The worst choice is to put the partner without ADHD in charge.
“I feel oppressed when I’m being directed by my wife. It’s a trigger for me,” said one man. I’ve heard that many times. Partners with ADHD or ADD have had people telling them how to do things for their entire lives, and they struggle to keep a lid on their emotions when the telling comes from a partner.
1. Set up chore systems that don’t rely on one partner telling the other what to do. Share setting weekly goals.
2. During that meeting, partners with ADHD or ADD should put reminders into a calendar, with notification alarms to improve their follow-through.
“My Mind Goes in Only One Direction”
Most partners without ADD find it hard to get their partner’s attention, and this can be maddening. Distractibility plays a role, but so does directional focus. “Once I get going on something, particularly if it’s interesting, my mind is going all in one direction. So when my partner asks or tells me something, I might answer or look at him, but I’m not really ‘pointed’ toward him. This often happens when I’m at my computer.”
1. Don’t assume your partner is paying attention to you. Let her tell you when she’s fully focused, then begin the conversation.
2. A loving touch on the arm may refocus your partner on you and your words, because it triggers another one of the senses.
“Stress Is Hard with ADHD or ADD”
One of my clients said, “Stress is a big factor for me. Deadlines make me feel I’m up against my attention deficit. There is lots of inner turmoil, and I’m much more on edge. While my partner might see me flailing, and want to help, her offer to aid me is an affirmation of my shortcomings.”
1. Stress exacerbates ADD symptoms. During high-stress periods, go to a different room; save your requests for another time.
2. At a low-stress time, ask your partner how he feels about your offers of assistance. Make your offers only when assistance is needed.
“Please Stop the Constant Critique!”
A client said, “My partner’s nagging and badgering is relentless! I feel defensive as a result, which isn’t good for either of us. I want to be open to my partner, but I’m never in the right frame of mind to explore what has just happened.”
It was an “aha” moment for me when my husband said, “If you dislike me so much, why are you married to me?” I had been badgering him to do more around the house. He saw it as a critique of him. In his mind, I had found him wanting.
1. Don’t critique “transgressions” — focus on patterns of behavior, instead.
2. Set a specific time each week to explore emotional issues together, and share the floor. This allows both partners to relax more during the week, and prepare themselves for conversation at the set time when they are calm.
“I Don’t Agree with You Often”
Men, in particular, tend to give in and agree rather than get into conflict with their partners. This is partly because they are slower than women to recover from the physiological responses to conflict (elevated stress hormones, rapid heartbeat, and so on). One man with ADHD put it this way: “I would rather agree and move on than get into an argument that I know I can’t win. My partner has worn me down.”
1. You may have wildly different opinions from your spouse, but create an environment where it’s OK to disagree. Ask gently if your partner genuinely agrees with you, and accept it with grace if he doesn’t.
2. Creating a negotiated “workaround” is healthier than feeling put down.