Marriage

My Husband Refused ADHD Treatment and Our Marriage Fell Apart

“ADHD is not what destroys marriages. The damage is done by a person who won’t face his diagnosis and take responsibility for himself.” Read one woman’s journey to this difficult realization about her husband with ADD, and life after divorce.

Close up of hand of person with ADHD signing divorce papers with ring near by
Close up of hand of person with ADHD signing divorce papers with ring near by

The Story of My ADHD Marriage

I was married to Adam, a man with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD or ADD), for 16 years, and all three of our children have the condition, as well. It took one of those children to show me that 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 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 ADHD Husband Change?

By the time we sought professional help, I was a weepy 30-something with a kindergartner with ADHD 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.

[Free Resource: Manage ADHD’s Impact on Your Relationship]

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 ADHD 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.

[Can This Marriage Be Saved?]

The Take-Away

A friend tried to change my mind. I told her to look at my kids. They have ADHD, too. But, unlike their dad, who chose to fall on his face, they did what it took to become responsible adults.

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 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.

[13 Resolutions That Saved My Marriage]

Updated on January 3, 2019

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  1. This article is spot on . Untreated ADHD is the death knell for relationships . I just left a man who refuses to grow up and has serious substance abuse issues related to a love of a sport which is his hyperfocus. The blaming, refusal to accept responsibility , and lack of ability to organize a treatment plan …..are hall marks
    Of serious ADHD. There are some people who have ADHD who take medication and get therapy and can have successful relationships (somewhat ) but others you just can’t . At the end of the day it is a mental disorder that is highly co morbid with other forms of mental illness . Take it seriously no if you are thinking of starting a relationship w someone who has it and is not actively engaged in a treatment program . I wish I knew sooner.

  2. This article is spot on . Untreated ADHD is the death knell for relationships . I just left a man who refuses to grow up and has serious substance abuse issues related to a love of a sport which is his hyperfocus. The blaming, refusal to accept responsibility , and lack of ability to organize a treatment plan …..are hall marks
    Of serious ADHD. There are some people who have ADHD who take medication and get therapy and can have successful relationships (somewhat ) but others you just can’t . At the end of the day it is a mental disorder that is highly co morbid with other forms of mental illness . Take it seriously no if you are thinking of starting a relationship w someone who has it and is not actively engaged in a treatment program . I wish I knew sooner. I wouldn’t ever wish what I went through on my worst enemy .

    1. I completely agree with you. I am going through a divorce with a man whom was diagnosed as a child. I didn’t put much thought in it until we started to have problems in our marriage around the 5 year mark. He would start projects and not finishes them, unless I nagged him repeatedly. He was an erratic driver to the point where I would close my eyes and pray we wouldn’t have a car accident. He left jobs or was let go. I tried to be supportive through the whole process ,however he would take his frustration out on me. I know this person has a good heart, he would be anything for anybody. I just feel sad for him that he hasn’t sought treatment for himself. I am afraid he will continue to exhibit the same patterns and behaviors in jobs and relationships unless he accepts help.

  3. As an ADHD counselor and physician, I’ve seen many relationships fall apart. Usually, the worst cases occur when the ADHD-spouse refuses to acknowledge and/or treat the ADHD, leaving the non-ADHD spouse with an unfair choice: continue to live with the consequences of untreated ADHD or leave.

    Here’s the hard part: the diagnosis of ADHD “belongs” to the spouse diagnosed with it. It’s his (or her) decision to treat it. No one can force him to take medication; go to counseling; learn about his condition. Only he can decide that. Like anyone diagnosed with psychiatric disorder, however, the ADHD-spouse cannot make treatment choices (or lack thereof) in isolation. The choice to treat ADHD – or ignore it – has overwhelming consequences for the non-ADHD spouse.

    Therefore, I tell the non-ADHD spouse she (or he) has every right to take action based on her partner’s decision. If the partner opts to treat the ADHD, great. If not, a decision must be made: stay and do what you can alone to change things, or make the decision to leave. The thing is, even if a spouse’s actions are caused by a psychiatric issue (ADHD, depression, Bipolar, etc.), the non-ADHD spouse still has the right to live happily.

    1. I made the decision to move on with my life. After 20 years of a good mostly happy marriage my husband’s ADHD devastated me within a short period of mood swings and I believe other comobidities. I could not believe what was suddenly happening to my dear sweet husband who I loved so dearly. He refused help refused to accept his diagnosis etc. Things got progressively worse. Within a few months his anger was the worst Id ever seen. He was driving me crazy he had to go. Two years later I’m devastated with financial problems he created. However I am happy and healthie. I still tried to convince him to get help for an entire year after separation. I love him but must move on. I desire and deserve to be happy. Even so For many years it was a wonderful life with a good man. I’ve found myself and am happy again.

  4. I have ADHD, OCD and depression. Medicine will never make me ‘normal.’ It just helps me cope with being ‘different’ in a world geared for ‘normal’ people. Marriage takes work, and the non-ADHD spouse will still have more than their share of the burden. That’s just a fact, and something you should accept if you are considering or in a relationship with a person with ADHD. Also, medications can lose their effectiveness and need to be adjusted. I did great on the same dose of Ritalin for 15 years. Then, suddenly, it wasn’t working. It took awhile to realize it wasn’t working, and I’ve spent the last 5+ years looking for something as good as it was and not finding it. In the meantime, my marriage suffers because I can’t keep a clean house. But, I keep trying. But, these things should be considered in your relationship.

  5. Our 10-year marriage has been on and off, with more off than on (to be honest). We have no children. I have been married before, thus obviously have had and currently have my own demons I fight. I am a survivor of severe sexual abuse, physical abuse and emotional abuse and this has altered my perspectives, interactions, and reactions. I learned I was co-dependent. Through these difficult times (because I did not want to repeat what I had done in prior relationships) I have prayerfully pulled myself apart, read books, and been blessed with a fantastic Christian marriage counselor, all in in order to put things back together in a more healthy manner. I learned quickly my husband has has very little empathy (to the point of feeling like none), which has hurt immensely. I have learned that he can’t process or relate to the sorrow I have experienced or am experiencing (unless it related to our 3 little dogs). I have also learned that my husband is not the source of my deep abiding joy, God and my faith is. My husband has left 5-6 times (I have lost count, he also half-way moves out and then returns to the house, while never really unpacking, just piles things). He refuses to acknowledge his ADHD (which our counselor identified from the very beginning, 6 years ago). He blows up often, saying the most horrible things attacking me and my past, blaming me for every aspect of our struggles. I know I have contributed, I acknowledge those things that are true and apologize and am actively changing. I learned to set effective personal boundaries, do what needs to be done around the house (90-95% of the work) without resentment, sorrow yes, but no longer resentment. I now make time for me to do my hobbies.
    He behaves in so many ways like addict, though he doesn’t drink or use drugs. The computer/phone is his life. He states often he is lonely, yet doesn’t know how to have deep, intimate, connecting conversations. He will not attend counseling any longer. When he returns from leaving he is hyper-attentive for about 3-4 weeks, then it just disappears. Now the more calm I remain in arguments the more angry he gets. I use to cry uncontrollably, beg to be seen, when further belittled I would crawl under tables or curl up in a ball to get away, but no more. Instead I pray, visualize beautiful things, gently ask if he is saying “these things out of anger or a desire to hurt/degrade me.” I have found he cannot give a connected answer. After these explosions, he literally “crashes/falls asleep” and wakes as if nothing happened. He might apologize, but rarely, since he remembers very little. He tells me how he sets alarms to do things, like take out the trash or spend time with me, yet is unable to complete anything. He states how I leave him out of my life, though I invite him regularly to go to counseling, painting classes, or the civil war reenactment weekends, dancing, and such (I also post the schedule where he can readily access it). I fear we have reached a point that the marriage needs to dissolve to set him free. He states often “Choosing to stay with you or stay here feels like I am choosing to stay trapped.” “I feel trapped” “You keep me trapped”

    1. I forgot to add, that my counselor, who is male, and I both make sure that we phrase our responses so that we are not attacking or nagging. I make sure I don’t coach, just offer suggestions, with genuine sincerity and calmly (i.e. did you try taking ibuprofen? or You said nasal rinses worked before). I have chosen to not nag about things that need done, I simply do what I can and keep an updated list on the fridge, that changes weekly, on what needs done. I have asked for his thoughts, input, ideas, solutions and he usually responds “I don’t have any” or “There are no solutions.” His brother and father both have ADHD, yet he flat out hates any reference to the possibility he has it. Instead, he is always either blaming me or his allergies or another illness he has found on the internet. He will suddenly state I am going gluten-free or dairy-free or sugar-free. I will cook and gladly accommodate, but he will only follow this new diet for 1-2 weeks at the most, usually only for 2-3 days. At some point doesn’t someone become responsible for the destructive choices and actions they keep on making and/or doing?

    2. your comment had me in tears, I feel my case is pretty similar, I am so sorry you had through that too, I am a survivor also and when we first got married i didn’t put too much thought into the fact he told me he had been diagnosed with ADHD as a child. Especially since he had a full monologue about why it was a sort of a government brainwash to get people on pills. I was only 18, he was a musician and I was just mesmerized teen, I am 26 now, but the difference here is that he has a son with an incredibly difficult woman, he also blames me and takes the frustration with me. His hyperfocus is music, and only that, it’s confusing the way he can make me his hyperfocus for few weeks to ignore me and stop having sex altogether, he complains I close down in my world, but I also suggest let’s just do something fun, take a trip, go dancing or museum, and he only tells me, if you want to go so bad, why don’t you go by yourself. I have been humiliated, hurt, cheated on, betrayed though even though he can be a good person inside, the problem is also he doesnt believe anything about him is wrong. I don’t know what to do now, his parents are aging and seems he decides to solely focus on how sad that is. Instead of getting excited about life plus we dont even have kids but he is already saying he’s tired of routine. I used to be a model but I quit after I married cause he is extremely jealous and possessive even though he doesn’t pay attention to me. I hope you are doing better, wishing you the best!!!!

  6. That is very much my husband….I am blamed for everything wrong in his life and ours. We have 3 children now teens.I have decided to stop walking on eggshells and i say it like it is. He leaves me alone often on weekends full days.As others I do all of the house work while working full time 5 days a week while he hasnt had a job in 15 years. I have spoken to him about adhd but said im the one that should visit a doctor not him…..what to do??

    1. Only you can decide what to do. It sounds like you’re at an impasse with each other. Couples counseling would be the next logical step, but would he agree to that? As long as he’s in denial nothing will change. You can only control yourself and your reactions. You have to ask yourself what you’re willing to live with.

      Penny
      ADDitude Community Moderator, Parenting ADHD Trainer & Author, Mom to teen w/ ADHD, LDs, and autism

  7. My husband of 22 years has ADHD. He took medication for a little while but stopped because his doctor made it so difficult and he couldn’t keep up with renewals. Things were a little better when he took them but I strongly believe he needs counseling to help him see where he is messing up. He is unreliable, irresponsible, hostile, loud and self righteous. He interrupts constantly, asks a million hyper detail questions of everyone, doesn’t pick up on social nuances, doesn’t respect personal space, etc. He is like living with a bully. He was out of town this past weekend (which never happens) and it was like a choker had been taken off my neck. I almost cried it was so freeing. He has strained relationships with our kids because he cannot see how his behavior ruins his interactions – it is always everyone else’s fault. He can be fun, humorous, and enjoyable, but on a daily-living basis he is a nightmare. The crushing responsibility of being married to him is destroying me. I am responsible for everything. Even his parents come to me for things they need from him because they already know he won’t do it. His hyperfocus is religion. It is like being married to a spiritual Hitler. I really don’t know what to do. I asked him to reconsider taking medication again and he refused – said he was the happiest he has ever been. I asked him to consider counseling, again, he refused. Like other ADHD spouses – work has been hard for him to keep. To be honest it is difficult for me to have any respect for someone who refuses to take responsibility for himself. I have no one to talk to, I am completely alone. If I shared with anyone I would be seen as a gossipy wife who talks negatively about her husband. (He is a minister) My teen kids complain constantly to me about him and I understand completely why, but it is hard to know what to say, I want to validate their feelings because they are completely right and valid. There is no recourse for any of us. He is so unbelievably frustrating to live with. I know there are no easy answers. I guess I am just looking to voice my feelings and frustrations…

    1. Wow, I feel like every word you just posted could have come directly from me. My situation is exactly the same in my relationship(although he is not a minister). I have been married 17 years, for at least the past 10-12 years I have wanted to divorce, but then there are very occasional moments as a family that I can see he has a good side somewhere deep down. However lately I am at my worst mentally. I just can’t stand the way my happiness diminishes every time he is home. I also see more and more how he can”t manage really any relationship. He is so mean to my teenage daughter I can’t stand it. More and more I think I should leave just to show the kids that this is not normal. I don’t want her to find a relationship like this one. It’s sad and feels hopeless. I am a good person and feel bad leaving him alone because I know he will never find a happy relationship. He also blames me and my past for all of the issues. He makes me feel like a monster when divorce comes up. I believe his comments are meant to control me and scare me to stay with him, many aspects of our relationship I think are a form of abuse. I need to find the courage to leave.

  8. Jenn and ACF334,
    Your stories sound similar to mine. I feel for both of you. I knew marriage was difficult but it shouldn’t have to be this hard. Jesus does not ask us to put up with abuse from a spouse. I am going round and round in circles with him, we never solve any issues, because he is already on the defense if I ask him to talk with me. Our first marriage counselor ten years ago totally missed the mark with a diagnosis. Finally I think they got it right, Adhd with rejection sensitivity disorder, which totally explains the blaming and rage I am on the receiving end of for everything. Every job change, every car repair, every problem he has with his family, every negative emotion he has- is all my fault. He cant even ride in the same car with me to appts. I think he just goes with me because if we divorce he is afraid of losing time with the kids. His constant negativity has me walking on eggshells in my own home. I cant even take a deep breath or yawn without him thinking I am criticizing him or complaining in some way. This comment section is the only thing I have found so far on the internet that talks about how hard it is for us, the spouses and family. I am grateful you both had the courage to comment. It is nice to know someone out there is dealing with the same things. I wish there was a support group for us…

  9. last week my husband has presented me with divorce papers, It was the greatest shock of my life. I almost lost my life to alcohol… I lost my job, I got sick and was admitted into the hospital emergency ward, Two days later when I opened my eyes I saw my mom and my husband beside me holding my hands, I was shocked again and confused to see my husband.

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