Reply To: I suspect my husband might have ADHD

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Spaceboy 99
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Hey there 🙂

First off, well done for reaching out! It’s AWESOME that you’re trying to figure out what’s going on, and you’re an amazing person for trying everything you can to make your marriage workable, rather than just up and leaving at the first (or fiftieth) hurdle, and I respect you immensely for that.

Now, a lot of what you say is ridiculously common in adhd/non-adhd relationships. I’m the one with ADHD with me and my fiancee, and from my own perspective, your husband seems to fit the same kind of bill.

The ‘not seeing things that need to be done’ is a VERY real thing. We can literally walk past a pile of garbage bags that need to be taken outside and not make that cognitive link between ‘garbage bags’, ‘in the wrong place’, ‘need to be taken out’. We may not even see the garbage bags. In the past, I’ve had to actually WEAVE between laundry drying racks to get to our kitchen (we live in a one-floor open-plan apartment), and not only not realised I should put the laundry away, but actually not really even noticed that the laundry was there. The problem lies in routine. If things do not SUFFICIENTLY disrupt our routines, we tend not to notice them if we’re focussed on something else. And even if we DO notice them, very often there’s an element of ‘OK, I know that’s there, I’ll get to it later’, and then we forget. Again. And again. And again. We also avoid doing things that we dislike, that cause stress, and that we’re unconfident about doing. This doesn’t mean it’s RIGHT that we do so, but we often do it WITHOUT realising what cognitive processes are going on. It’s quite insidious in a lot of ways.

Now, my situation is quite ‘fortunate’ in this regard. My fiancee has a disability, and as a result I HAVE to take up most of the burden of housework. This wasn’t a problem with the tasks that I’m accustomed to doing, washing clothes, doing dishes, filling/emptying the dishwasher, cooking, shopping, etc., but I had much more difficulty with things that I never did before, or avoided doing, or DIDN’T REALISE NEEDED DOING. I’m so poorly motivated to dust and vacuum that we’ve actually had to buy a robotic vacuum cleaner to take care of the floors, and we have a cordless vacuum cleaner that hangs in the entrance to our apartment for spot vaccing and dusting. My SO HAS to tell me when the bathroom needs cleaning, or when the rubbish needs to be taken out, or the fridge needs to be cleaned, because I just DON’T see it. And sometimes, even when she does, I forget because I was thinking about playing the piano, or planning meals for the next week, or a brightly coloured bird flew past the window and I got distracted while she was talking and didn’t hear.

Now, I’m not just ranting about my situation for the sake of bragging rights. Even if your husband isn’t willing to talk to a specialist and look into an ADHD diagnosis (bear in mind that he really, truly does sound like he could benefit from the process), there are still things that you can do to make things easier for yourself. The first question is, how many of these things could be handled by a purchase, or a third party? It sounds very much like a cop-out, but a dishwasher and a robot vacuum, or a cleaning service, while pricey, can save you from arguments and resentment. My SO and I actually funnelled money AWAY from our wedding last year to make purchases like this that would reduce the load on us, and remove the source of the attendant arguments, and we’ve been a lot happier since (and the house has been cleaner).

For the things that money can’t buy, is there any way you could arrange things so that you start doing these tasks TOGETHER? Or are there any tasks that you do that you KNOW your husband can do well which you do yourself, and others that you ask him to do because you hate them, but then wind up having to do them anyway? If the latter, trade some jobs. If he puts dishes and laundry away like a pro, have him do that, while you tidy up the kids’ toys, because you know he’ll leave half the toys behind the couch. If the former, as long as he actually engages while you do tasks together, then in addition to getting the work done in half the time, you get to spend a little more time together.

A good way to bring this up with him would perhaps be to sit down with him and ask for a list of the things he does around the house on at least a weekly basis. He can write it down if that helps. Then, give him a list of the things he actually does, and then a list of the things that YOU do around the house on a weekly or DAILY basis. Explain that this imbalance is NOT good, and that you’re really struggling with it. Then you can segue into his saying that he forgets, or doesn’t see it, which is when you respond with ‘I know. I’ve looked into that, and it actually sounds a lot like there’s a chance you have ADHD.’ Then you explain that there’s a whole online community of people walking around not realising that they’ve got dirty plates piled to the ceiling and feeling like they’re the only one doing anything in the world, when in reality all they do is maybe clear the tables once or twice a week. It’s not his fault, he’s not somehow flawed, but this situation is becoming hard for you.

If it helps, you can even explain to him what ADHD is, and how it works. Loads of people think it’s just bad child-rearing, but actually, it’s the result of chemical imbalance in the brain. In ADHD brains, there is insufficient production of dopamine, the reward chemical. This deficiency causes our brains to seek stimulation anywhere and everywhere we can find it. It makes us impulsive, hyperactive, and distractible (though not always all three of these). Stimulant medication causes our brains to produce a ‘normal’ level of dopamine, which then helps us regulate our impulses and attention. It suddenly makes you notice the towers of dishes, and the toys everywhere, and lets you sit down and fill out that tax return you keep leaving until tomorrow. You can ONLY get these meds through a doctor, and they are the ONLY way to increase dopamine levels in the brain, though some people claim to have success with herbal supplements. There are also coping mechanisms for ADHD that HELP manage symptoms, but don’t FIX them, if you get me. It’s putting out the fires rather than turning off the flamethrower.

I personally started looking into ADHD as a result of the Netflix documentary ‘Take Your Pills’, where they focus on adderall abuse in the US. I remember seeing myself in several of the people, and just thinking “Wow, pills that make you do the dishes when you get home instead of bombing out on the couch? These sound AWESOME! What would need to be wrong with me before I got those?”, and because that’s what I do, I started to read up on ADHD, and suddenly my ENTIRE LIFE was being explained before my eyes. Things I’d been doing for years that I didn’t even realise were problems were suddenly explained. Elements of my outlook on life, the fact that I got bullied mercilessly, the reasons for that bullying, relationships that have crashed and burned, EVERYTHING made sense. But if someone had just walked up to me and said ‘Hey, I think you have ADHD’, I may not have even bothered to look into it. Actually, that’s a lie, I might have, but I would only have done so in a cursory sense, and may not have really taken it on-board.

I’ve started rambling now, so I’m going to cut myself off before I keep going. If you see anything useful here that you’d like more information or advice on, please let me know, and I’ll be happy to get back to you. If you have any questions, or would like further explanation, same thing. I can’t promise I’ll respond immediately, but I’ll respond as soon as I can 🙂

Best of luck!