Reply To: Expressing frustrations constructively

Home Welcome to the ADDitude Forums For Spouses & Loved Ones Expressing frustrations constructively Reply To: Expressing frustrations constructively


I’m the partner with ADHD and would like to provide a little insight for you and others that are wondering why your spouse seems to get mad at you for pointing out things that he/she hasn’t done. It sounds like you’re being really patient and doing a great job under challenging circumstances of understanding and empathizing with her. I hope she really appreciates that, since your marriage would not work at all if you didn’t understand that she was suffering too. Like @Donkeylady, we have a couples counselor (with ADHD!) who has been extremely helpful and like @Donkeylady it seems like there are many strategies but that the main thing for your spouse to learn is to be able to take constructive criticism. For someone with ADHD, especially if it was undiagnosed and untreated for a long time, there is a lifetime of ADHD-related-shame that can come rear its head at any time. It’s incredibly frustrating to not feel like you can trust yourself to do the things you want to do, and gut-wrenching when you realize that you’re disappointing the people you love because of it. Plus we’re not so good at emotional self-regulation so when the shame gremlin (as Brene Brown calls it) comes rearing its head, basically you’re going to get tears or anger, sometimes both at the same time. Or alternately, a cool bitterness that means that emotions have been pretty much shut down, with a seemingly cavalier “this is just the way I am, deal with it” attitude. None of this really means that your partner doesn’t understand the impact it’s having on you and doesn’t feel bad about it. In fact, it’s all because she feels bad.

So the first step in making it possible to express frustration is to help her manage these feelings in a way that lets her be more open to critique. The next thing is to make sure you are requesting things of her that she is actually able to provide, and giving as much support as you can without burning yourself out. Support doesn’t mean doing everything for her, but it does mean approaching things as a team. Even if it’s her problem, you have to deal with the consequences, so it’s best for you and best for your marriage if you can both collaborate to help her solve the problems that she involuntarily creates for herself.

Have you read or watched Brene Brown? If not, I highly suggest you and your wife both do. There are two big things in particular that she’s talked about that I think are relevant here. One is for you to consider the possibility or act as if people are truly doing the best they can, even if they are constantly screwing up. I know you are patient and empathetic, probably more than most, but if on some level there is a part of you that thinks “well if she really cared, she could do this”, you need to work on that. Because she really cares, and she really can’t. Not always. I can’t guarantee that she’s always doing the best she can, but if you have a problem (like scheduling the counselor), think to yourself “What would I do if I really accepted that that this is the best she can do right now?” Maybe you would just do the thing yourself. Or maybe you would help her, in a non-judgmental and process-oriented way, to figure out what’s keeping her from doing it and try different strategies for making it happen.

Either way, it’s not fair. You shouldn’t have to do this. You do enough. It would be great if she could just follow through without additional effort on your part, but if that’s not happening, you basically have three choices, (1) keep getting frustrated with her, and seeing her defensively lash out, which may occasionally work but mostly will not and will lead to more frustration for both of you, (2) do the thing yourself, which will work in the short term, but if you do it all the time will likely stoke resentment in you and varied emotions in her (guilt, incompetence, entitled irresponsibility, hopelessness), or (3) work with her. Be her teammate, or sometimes her coach. In most relationships that kind of power dynamic could be bad, and while that could still be true here, I think (and others may disagree) that there are ways in which this could be totally healthy for an ADHD/non-ADHD pair. You want her to be better. She wants to be better. You both have the same goal. If you can get over your resentment about the fact that she can’t just do it without you and she can get over her defensiveness and learned helplessness and actually work with you, you can improve things. She’ll never cure the ADHD, but there are a TON of things that can help – daily practices and supports like medication, meditation, and exercise, and tactical tools like timeblocking, body doubling, checklists, etc.

It’s akin to dealing with a chronic illness or even an injury. If your wife broke her leg, would you resent having to help her with things sometimes? Would you think she’s not trying hard enough when she can’t climb the stairs without assistance? No. But would you just do everything for her and let her feel helpless and not in control of her own life? I hope not. You’d do something in between. Let her fend for herself and see how much she can do on her own, but help her out when you see her struggling, without being angry at her for not being able to do more. You’re allowed to get exhausted, you’re allowed to be mad at the world that she has a broken leg, you’re allowed to express frustration (even to her, but also to others who can listen compassionately without bashing your wife) about how it affects you. But the one thing that’s never going to help is thinking “Damn it, why doesn’t she just walk? I’ve seen her do it before, I’m sure she could do it now. She made it halfway up the staircase, why is she stumbling now? I’ll just watch her, and if she doesn’t finish I’ll go up and tell her how disappointed I am that she didn’t walk up the rest of the staircase.” When you say it that way, it’s ridiculous. Since you’ve struggled with depression, you have a better sense of how mental illness and disabilities can be just as challenging as physical ones. But as someone who has both, I’ll say that the difference is that ADHD NEVER LEAVES. Imagine if you’d struggled with depression since birth and still did, constantly. It can be crushing.

The other thing that Brene Brown talks about that may help your wife is that she has to be willing to really understand her pain and her shame and not run away from it, while also practicing self-compassion. Self-compassion isn’t saying “that’s just how I am, so I’m going to let myself off the hook”, but it means treating yourself with love even when you’re looking at a part of yourself that you don’t like. It means being honest. If you come to your wife with frustration and it brings out her shame gremlin, she’s going to get defensive and maybe even angry at you. But she needs to be able to acknowledge it, and talk about it, and not let it have so much power over her and her response. Ideally she could say something like “I know you’re frustrated with me. I’m frustrated with me too. I don’t know why I can’t seem to call the counselor. Every day I wake up and tell myself I’m going to do it, and every day I fail. When I think about my failure, it’s overwhelming, and I push it away and get distracted by something else. When you bring it up, I can’t push it away, and I have to face it. I feel like I’m failing you, and myself, and our kids. I hate this feeling but I don’t know how to make it stop and so I feel angry at you for making me feel this way. I know that it’s not really your fault, I just don’t understand why I can’t do simple things sometimes. I know I have to do this thing, but I haven’t, and no matter how much I promise I will do it, I don’t have confidence that I can actually follow through since I haven’t so far. Can you help me?”

And then maybe you two can have an honest discussion about either some of the unconscious emotions that are holding her back (does she have some resistance or guilt around her child’s diagnosis?) and/or some strategies and next actions you could try and see if they work better (thinking through everything she’ll need to make the call, when she’ll make it, and what obstacles may keep her from doing so, and what she’ll do if her first effort doesn’t work; or just sitting next to her while she’s making the call). In time, you’ll develop more of a partnership around these things, and you’ll both develop more confidence in her ability to deal with setbacks and stalling and follow through on important things.

Honestly, I don’t understand how you are getting by with three small kids and her being with them all the time. I don’t know how people without ADHD do it, and I sure as heck don’t understand how people with ADHD do it. I don’t know how my own mom (who had undiagnosed ADHD) did it. It was hectic, I’ll tell you that. But if you work with your wife, you’re also modeling for your kids how to deal with conflict with patience and compassion, showing that there are ways to actually address ADHD symptoms constructively, and how to live with a growth mindset, knowing that we are all always capable of improving, but that it takes a lot of hard work (and sometimes another person to support you).

Good luck!

  • This reply was modified 2 years, 9 months ago by sandila.
  • This reply was modified 2 years, 9 months ago by sandila.
  • This reply was modified 2 years, 9 months ago by sandila.
  • This reply was modified 2 years, 9 months ago by sandila.