Reply To: Marriage Heading into Separation before Diagnosed with ADHD

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Hi Pat,

I’m a non-ADHD person with an ADHD spouse, so feel free to take my comments with a grain of salt. As someone whose spouse has also done and said very destructive things and has only been diagnosed with ADHD after the birth of our second child, I recognize some things in your post that might not go over well with your wife, if you’re truly interested in becoming a better father and husband. You say in your last paragraph that it’s more important for your wife to understand who you are and what ADHD is. I don’t deny that it’s important, but if you want things to work in your relationship, here’s what I would recommend.

1. Focus on managing your ADHD to minimize the effects on your wife and kids. No matter what your wife chooses to do, it’s in your best interest to develop systems that will help you regulate your emotions, manage your time, and contribute to your family. Also, from your wife’s perspective, she’s probably heard enough talk, and needs to SEE ACTIONS, to show her that you truly can show up for her and for your kids, and that you accept that as your own responsibility as a husband and father. Don’t make ADHD into another project for her, take it on and show her that you will manage it.

2. Try not to use ADHD as an explanation for your past issues. Both partners can easily fall into the trap of using ADHD to explain everything, and while it’s somewhat helpful to know the “why” of hurtful events or aspects of your personality, it doesn’t begin to address the EFFECTS of those behaviours or events. And that’s what your wife is looking at – what has happened to her as a result of your behaviours. Explaining ADHD to a hurt, angry spouse can too often feel like the ADHD partner is trying to justify behaviour that has caused pain and suffering. I put it this way to my spouse – if he hit me, and then found out he had a condition that caused him to do it, I would still be hurt and scared, and his behaviour still wasn’t acceptable. It’s the same with ADHD. Whatever the reason, your actions have caused pain. So instead of explaining, focus on making amends to her for all the hurt she’s experienced, and how much extra stress and responsibility she has likely had to take on. Start making her life less stressful however you can. Change your mindset to focus on understanding what SHE has been through and put the spotlight on her. Especially if she’s already told you that “everything in the relationship has been done on your time”. It’s time to focus on her.

3. Find supports to help you manage your ADHD. Show her that the diagnosis isn’t an excuse, but that it’s put you on the right track to get the right kinds of help. There are tons of ADHD resources and hacks to help with whatever issues are causing you the most trouble. Find a counsellor that knows about ADHD.

I hope this advice doesn’t come off as harsh, but I’ve been in your wife’s shoes and I know I needed to see real changes and responsibility, and to become the focus of the relationship for a while. Be kind to yourself in your diagnosis, but also be kind to your wife, and try to get a better understanding of the pain, stress and chaos she has likely gone through. ADHD can make folks blind to the needs of others and blind to how much the non-ADHD spouse has to take on to make life work. Show her compassion, take some of the responsibilities off her shoulders, and devote yourself to being a support for her. Get help to make it happen. Create a vision of the kind of husband and father you want to be, and keep taking steps that bring you closer to your goal. I wish you luck!!