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.

[Help! My Spouse Is Always [Fill In the Blank]]

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.

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.”

[Read This: “I Wish My Wife Understood How Hard I’m Trying”]

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.

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.

[10 Ways to Save Your Relationship]

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.

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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?

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