Marriage Heading into Separation before Diagnosed with ADHD

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    • #183467

      I am 37 years old and been married for 3 years and we have 2 amazing little boys with my wife. (2) (9months).

      Needless to say my undiagnosed ADHD has torn our marriage apart as I look back as I could never understand why I couldn’t stay on that high. AS I continue to educate myself and my marriage. I read and listen to the ADHD information and this is me in every book and podcast of how the ADHD spouse acts. Its embarrassing it has taken this long for me to have been diagnosed and feel the shame of letting the women I truly have loved and asked to marry me down.

      I am in the early stages of trying to save what I have ruined without knowing why.. trying to explain I think differently and stimulation is different. I get met with “everything in this whole relationship has been on your time I’m done” “what’s not stimulating about marriage and me” “you have caused me so much hurt””I try to get you help” “you never fought for us” I also lost my job bc of the actions due to this undiagnosed ADHD which I kept hidden from my wife for awhile.

      Any help/advice is appreciated to help me but more importantly my wife to continue to understand who I am and understand what this is. As we have 2 Children and I know I can become a better person father/husband in everyday life as she and the boys deserve that. I never meant to put her and our family where we are today although in her mind In fairness I have. I live with that everyday

      Thanks for listening I’m new to this.


    • #183468
      It’s A New Day

      I hope it helps to know, you are not alone. I am 58 and have been married 32yrs, barely. I knew it marriage was in trouble, but I never expected her to personally hand me divorce papers. I once again begged and pleaded with her for ANOTHER chance. After countless tears, we decided to remain married for financial and insurance reasons as long as I moved out. I began to seek out a therapist for me, as I had always promised to but never did. Just as I was about to put a binder on a house, I was diagnosed with ADHD. I think you know the feeling. I couldn’t wait to share this with my wife. After years of pain I put her through, she was not as excited. Fast forward, I never moved out, I have a wonderful therapist who is not afraid to tell it to me straight, and I work at being a better husband and person. It’s not always easy. I do not take medication due to work regulations, but take my therapy very seriously. I feel truly blessed that my wife has given me ANOTHER chance.
      As far as advice, own it,100 percent, and seek a therapist. I spent many years hurting my wife and marriage. I wish I had discovered it at year 3 instead of 30. I wish you both the best of luck. Make sure you read posts from spouses. It is an eye opener. Also share all of this with your wife. Keep posting.

    • #183469

      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!!

      • #183486


        Thank you so much for your post back, your insight and knowledge will help me more than you know. I look forward to sharing your exact post with my wife as I feel this will be helpful.

      • #183498

        I’m glad it didn’t come off the wrong way and I hope it helps! The fact that you’re open to hearing from non-ADHD spouses and can accept and apply feedback is really great. I think it’ll help you make some real changes for everyone’s benefit.

    • #183485
      It’s A New Day

      Thank you! You nailed it.

    • #183491
      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.

      • #183495

        Dr Sarah.
        Thank you for this insight, I came to this community forum in search of great responses like yours. I don’t want to use this ADHD as an excuse and I feel I was heading down that path trying to explain it to her. And your 100 percent right, I need to focus on understanding her and feel the pain she felt.. and show my commitment to change, where the first time in my life I feel in control of that and the ability to have follow through on all levels. So thank you for you respond to me.

    • #183659
      Penny Williams

      It’s tough for both parties to be in a relationship where neither feels understood or appreciated. Getting help with your ADHD and good communication is the only way forward.

      10 Ways to Save Your Relationship

      ADDitude Community Moderator, Parenting ADHD Coach, Podcaster & Author, Mom to teen w/ ADHD, LDs, and autism

    • #183727

      Hello there!

      I’m a 20-something single gal who was diagnosed with ADHD at 12 years old, so I can’t imagine being your age and just now finding out; that has to be hard. The only reason I’ve been able to manage it (more or less) is because I knew what it was so I could just google “how to _____ when you have ADHD” or anything else I wanted to know about how to function in this society that was designed for neuro-typicals.

      I couldn’t tell from your original post if you’ve been professionally diagnosed or self-diagnosed. If you’re really seeking support, my first piece of advice would be to get medically diagnosed if you haven’t yet. If you get medically diagnosed with the condition, you can then get prescription medication or referred to a specialized therapist/counselor.

      I take 18 ml of Concerta (just started taking it after 2 years off; financial/insurance issues kept me off it that long), and let me tell you, I feel like I can accomplish just about anything. I get my uni homework done on time, I do chores/tasks when my mom asks me to (or actually remember to do them later if I’m busy), I don’t constantly impulse-eat anymore, and I’m generally more motivated and happy. This is because ADHD affects the amount of dopamine (the happy hormone) our brains get, which affects mood and motivation, and one of the many things meds does is supply the brain with a normal person’s amount of dopamine (YAY FOR HAPPINESS).

      My mom noticed a difference right away too, without me mentioning it to her, so I know it’s not just me. I know a parent/child relationship is very different than a marriage, but as a young adult living in the same house as my parents there are a lot of relational issues I’ve experienced that were associated with my ADHD. Most of those are fixed/better now that I’m medicated.

      If you do look into medication, be sure to ask for the “generic” brands; they do the same thing and cost WAY less (like hundreds less). Also start with a low dose and DON’T make the mistake of thinking that the goal is to be perfectly motivated and capable 100% of the time. I ended up over-medicating in high school because I thought meds were supposed to allow me to be an A student (I thought that other people got A’s all the time and the only reason someone didn’t get A’s was because they either didn’t try or, in my case, they had ADHD and weren’t medicated). So every med check with my doc I would say “you know I think I need a higher dose” and my pediatrician for some reason decided I, a 12-18 year old girl, was competent enough in my understanding of ADHD, education, and controlled prescription drug use to decide how much of a drug I should be taking. So I eventually became dependent on it to function as a normal human. This is also another reason I took 2 years off of meds, besides finances.
      When I went off medication, I had been taking 72 mg of Concerta a day (or two 36 mg pills; the highest single pill they have is 54 mg). Now that I’m back on meds, I’m taking 18 mg a day (which is a good starting dose, but i think you can also start with 9 or 10, depending on the brand). 18 mg a day has literally changed my whole life, and it’s the first time in college I can remember not having a single assignment turned in late in the first 3 weeks of the semester. I don’t think I’ll need to increase my dose unless something drastic happens. So just start small and give yourself grace to not be a perfect human being because even neuro-typical people aren’t always A-students, fantastic spouses, or good at being organized. We’re all human.

      Not everyone “agrees” with medicating for ADHD (in my experience they tend to either disagree with medication for anything OR they think ADHD is a made-up thing or an exaggeration or something you have as a kid that you out-grow..). If medication isn’t something you’d consider, I highly recommend finding a counselor who actually specializes in ADHD.

      In addition to medication/counseling, I have found talking about my experience with friends who also have ADD/ADHD is SUPER helpful as well as encouraging. It allows me to share helpful tips and tricks that have worked for me and get new ideas from things that have worked for them. We can swap resources we’ve found, hold each other accountable for deadlines and tasks we need to get done, etc.

      This last one probably won’t fix your relationship, esp. if it’s the only thing you do, but it has helped me SO much with managing my time and staying on-task:

      ***Get the app “Routinery”.***
      It’s super simple, has a free version, gives you a free 7-day trial of the pro version and then is only $3/month or $21/year (which is SUPER CHEAP for the crazy ways it has saved me time, personally).
      Essentially, you can set up different “routines” (aka, ‘Morning’, ‘Night’, ‘Work’, ‘Chores’, or literally any other kind of routine you want). Each routine can be set for a certain day/days of the week (or you can ignore that feature and just do them whenever), and you can set a reminder alarm for whatever time of day you want, reminding you to start the routine. Within the routine, you can add tasks (pre-programed AND custom options) and assign an icon and a length of time to each. For example, my morning routine starts with 1. MEDS (1 min), 2. Drink Water (1 min), 3. Arrange Bed (1 min), 4. Bathroom (3 min), etc.
      once you “start” the routine each day, your screen shows the task title, icon, and a countdown timer showing how much time you have left to complete that task. If you run out of time and are not done with a given task, you can add 1,5,or 10 minutes to the task and keep going, or skip or complete the taste and move on. It also says how long the entire routine is estimated to take if you don’t add time or finish tasks early, and tells you what time the routine will be done. Honestly changed my life and I’ve had this app for like a week and a half. it’s worth trying the free version, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

      I hope these are helpful! 🙂

    • #183905

      You’re doing good. At least you’re trying to improve it. Keep fighting with ADHD… you can win this and have your marriage on the track.

    • #186405

      I appreciate the responses from all the above, it has been a little over a month since I have posted.

      We are now officially separated as she wanted to move forward with the agreement, while over the last 6 weeks we have been able to communicate on a whole new level, which is has been good especially with 2 young boys.

      Having said that, that pain I have caused over the 3.5 years seems to be too much for her to ever get over, and has mentioned she just isn’t in love with me anymore. I wouldn’t be in love with that person either, now understanding how I shut down and looked to flight during all tough situations. While I only see her, when she drops off the boys, for my time with them during week 2(overnights) per week. The whole relationship has been all about me there is no denying that as I see it clear as day, and has been stated over and over to me recently that “don’t you hear yourself it is still all about you” while it is not my intention to do that my newfound ability to have deeper conversations I guess comes off like this. I am afraid to bring up anything I have learned about ADD and quite frankly I don’t know what to talk to her about or how to handle conversations especially when there so distractions going on (drop off of kids) I have recently mentioned this to her. When I bring them back to her house, she mentions that maybe we can talk tonight 7-9 pm, as many know by that time in the day it can be tough meds have worn off, me second-guessing myself about how to present things bc I don’t want it to come off about myself, I become paralyzed essentially and don’t even know where to start as I feel it’s my only real chance to open up to my wife to help her understand who I am what I struggle with. I have asked her what she struggles with who is she what are her insecurities in herself and life, while I intend to direct it towards her bc that’s what it’s about for me, she feels like I’m trying to question her and “diagnosed her”

      In short, I was ok getting separated during the process of it all I thought it would make me happier. I wanted her to be happier bc deep down I knew I couldn’t because I felt nothing and couldn’t understand why and who I was and why I fail all the time. (until recent diagnosis) I look back and dove deep into my past, I haven’t fought for anything or was always been scared to because the fear of rejection and failure in all aspects of life (RSD) no doubt took over my life. Recently I have been told by my parents about why I was held back in 3rd grade because I wasn’t reading on the necessary level, and that when I was 14 (37 now) I was tested by a psychologist and his findings came back as “I hear Spanish when everyone around me is speaking English” ” He stated its a processing issue and that just more time on a test would be the answer and when I would get into the “real world” I would have time to complete tasks. The learning Disability has def taken a toll throughout.

      .. I have been told you have never fought for us after all this pain. “You didn’t try to win me back” — I fear the inevitable of divorce as when I become frustrated recently I have stated that.

      Which is wrong of me, bc it’s just another flight response. But it seemed to be what she was waiting to hear.

      I have attached a recent email for all to read that I sent in the hope to take baby steps in the process. (I have not heard back yet)

      Thanks for taking the time to read this post, and hope to hear from all who have advice, constructive criticism to help me grow and those who have been in this situation who have gotten through it,


      Just wanted to send you a quick email, in hopes to help understand you better.

      There is no question “maybe we are just too different” that was said on Saturday night as we were talking.

      I believe it is what originally attracted us together as we knowingly saw these things in one another without actually verbally stating them to each other at the time of how different we were.

      However the “different” (minus these last 6 weeks) isn’t what you saw back then I imagine.. the different is all the pain I have caused and the thoughts in your brain and journal you live with each and every day that was placed there by me and you not understanding how and why I didn’t seem care after it being brought up to my attention on multiple occasions. or not follow through on things continued broken promises and trust.
      Not addressing tough situations head-on, shying away from conflict, avoiding. All these things that I dumped on you. I know it’s all you know to date and the pain you feel. I guarantee you it will be different.

      over these last 6 weeks, the ability to know and truly understand what/how/why/when/who …caused this pain to not provide or do the littlest needs for you to the biggest needs in everyday life.

      It’s my hopes as time continues to fly by us and the boys get older by the second, 6 weeks will soon be 6 months to 6 years, and so on..that your belief in me gets stronger with each passing day knowing you’ll never feel those again.

      I also want to continually know more and deeper about who you are how this has changed you from who you were before. how and why you think now what is your vision of life, family happiness… This is my top priority

      A couple of things I was hoping you would be willing to try.

      If you would be up for it because we only see each other now in drop-offs with the kids I was wondering if you would like to try a once a week “video zoom date” during my schedule and the kids napping. It can just be for 20-30 mins. Each week maybe we can throw around different ideas of what you would like to speak about.

      I was also hoping to put some work in together in couples’ therapy via zoom as of now (bc of covid-19) that works well with both our schedules…

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