Ask the Experts

Dear Organizing Coach: How Can I Stop Nagging My ADD Spouse About His Mess?

Spouses without ADHD dread feeling like a parent to their ADHD spouse — but sometimes, it can seem impossible to get through to them without resorting to nagging. Here’s how you can become partners with your spouse on issues of organization, time management, and symptom control.

Q: “My husband has ADD treated with medication. His home office is a mess with piles of paper everywhere. He procrastinates on addressing issues until the problem has magnified to a crisis. He gets upset at me if I remind him of something we need to discuss or address. Then he shuts down and leaves me to deal with the crisis. How can I help him without nagging or parenting him? He knows the tools that can help him, but he does not use them. I love my husband very much. He is funny and also very intelligent, but I feel like our life is a hot mess!” —NonADD Wife


Hi NonADD Wife:

Let me say this question truly resonated with me. I’m also a “nonADD wife” living with an ADD husband. And years ago, when our lives were a “hot mess,” I vowed I would figure out ways to make it work. I changed a lot of things (too many to detail in this short column), but here are two I recommend at the outset.

  1. Ask if it is a good time to talk. Sounds simple, right? But it worked! Once I stopped “parenting” and started “partnering,” my whole dynamic with my spouse shifted. I needed my husband actively engaged, and to achieve that I needed to cede control and ask what worked for him. This included taking into consideration how he best communicates. For example, he prefers receiving emails that list what he needs to take care of, and I needed to respect that. In our conversations, I stopped saying, “I need you to…” and instead asked “Would you be able to….” I also had luck moving these conversations outside (fewer distractions!). For us, breakfast on Sunday morning at our local diner or walking the dog did the trick!
  2. Play to your strengths. I am the detail girl in my husband’s big-picture world. Simply put, we each excel at different things, which we generally take care of with very little input from the other person. How does that look in my house? Automobiles, technology, and home improvements are his domain. Bill paying, health insurance, and trip planning are mine. Whoever is in charge of a category is not only fully responsible for making it happen, but also gets final decision-making power. And although this sounds more boardroom than bedroom, when we need to discuss topics that cross both our domains, we keep it simple, short, and direct.

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Organization guru Leslie Josel, of Order Out of Chaos, will answer questions from ADDitude readers about everything from paper clutter to disaster-zone bedrooms and from mastering to-do lists to arriving on time every time.

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