Reply To: Marriage Heading into Separation before Diagnosed with ADHD

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Dr Sarah

I’m married to someone who treated me badly for years because of underlying issues that did make life more difficult for him, although in his case the problem was not ADHD. I’m going to give you my perspective. I have no idea whether what I’m going to say applies to you as well, but I ask you to think honestly about whether it does. If you truly feel that it doesn’t then, of course, disregard.

When I tried to tell or persuade my husband not to treat me in the ways he was treating me, he would invariably have an excuse and explanation as to why he was angry and hence had acted that way. Over and over and over. Here’s what he never understood: No matter how good his reasons were for being angry, it was still not OK for him to act in the way he was acting. If his underlying problems really made it impossible for him to avoid treating me badly, then he ought to be addressing that in some way that acknowledged that this wasn’t OK. Whether that way was getting therapy, or learning to walk away from a situation instead of losing his temper, or the two of us separating, or whatever… that was what should have been happening. Hell, even if he just sincerely apologised each time it happened then that would have gone a long way.

But instead, what he did was explain and excuse. (That was on the good days, BTW; on the less good days, he’d lose his temper at me for even bringing up that I had a problem.) Do you know what message that sent me? It sent me the message that he believed that if he had a good enough reason to be angry then it was OK for him to treat me any way he liked.

So if, after years of that, he had come to me with a whole new explanation of why he acted the way he did, then my response would not have been ‘Well, in that case everything’s OK, I forgive you for treating me the way you did for all these years, and I’m happy to stick around for years more of it.’ It would have been ‘F*** this. Same old same old. Yes, it’s a new excuse, but he is still making excuses and thinking that makes things OK when it doesn’t.’

So, when I see you say that you’re trying to explain to your wife how you think differently or get her to understand… I’m concerned you might be making the same basic mistake. I’m concerned that you might be focusing on this ‘But look, I had a perfectly good explanation for this all along!’ and not on the ways in which your actions, however understandable in retrospect, have hurt her.

Right now, I don’t think you should be focusing on getting your wife to understand you. I think you need to be focusing on understanding your wife. Make sure that you’re really acknowledging what the past years have been like from *her* perspective, and how you understand that you *do* have to change. It feels great to know that there’s a reason for how you acted, but don’t let that blind you to the fact that she needs your understanding for what your ADHD has put her through, as well as an active action plan for what’s going to be different now.