Non ADHD Spouse – What can I do?

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    • #180408

      My husband and I recently learned that he has ADHD. He is resistant to seek treatment, and I am trying to learn as much as I can to get us on the right trajectory in our relationship. In the past few years, I have been very hard on my spouse, and I am realizing that I have done some damage to our relationship in response to his actions that I read as narcissism. I am hoping that, by sharing my experience, I can get some input from those with ADHD to help me do what I can to support my spouse, as I am struggling to cope with the excess responsibility. I want to stop yelling and criticizing. I want to understand, and I want to do what I can within the limitations we have.

      My husband and I have fallen, most unintentionally, into a parent-child type dynamic. It was a slow creep starting before we had kids, where I picked up the slack in areas he was very forgetful. We used to playfully joke about his forgetfulness. Then, we had 2 small children, and things got complicated quickly. We regularly discuss parenting goals, which I usually present suggestions and then he agrees. Then, I am the one who implements and am constantly reminding him of the goals we set and intervening when he is getting our day off track. For example, our children cannot handle more than a very small amount of sugar, and only with a belly full of protein. They have what I call “sugar tantrums” where they completely lose control and become extremely violent. If we keep sugar to a bare minimum, they are never violent. We quickly became aware of this with my oldest at age 1, 5 years ago. Still today, I am intervening at least 2 to 3 times every week with my husband offering sugar for breakfast (i.e. sugar on empty bellies) or “forgetting” to feed the kids and then giving them icecream in the afternoon. Sometimes I get to it before they get the sugar, but other times I am walking into him screaming at the kids and punishing them for their tantrums, which, of course, escalates the tantrums. I have to ask him to “tap out,” so I can calm the children down and get them properly fed, so they can stop thrashing. This is one example of many. He is either the fun parent or he is screaming at the kids for not just blindly and immediately obeying, so I am constantly stepping in. I feel like I am parenting him in his parenting as well as just keeping up with our household schedule. It feels belittling, but I also really do not know what to do.

      –> Things I have tried –> setting up calendar notifications in his phone, individual therapy for me, couples therapy for both of us, typing out parenting strategies and posting them on the wall (this was not passive aggressive. he requested it), making notes on a whiteboard in our bedroom, creating reward systems for the kids to remember things, posting reminders in the car and bathroom, letting things “fail” so he could figure it out himself his way, yelling and criticizing (just being honest)

      I sometimes wait weeks to months for my husband to realize we have not had a one-on-one conversation. He does not seem to be aware that we don’t spend time together. IF he is stressed at work, then it feels like he just goes away in his mind. We talk to him, he sometimes responds and sometimes doesn’t. If he does respond, he responds from a place of what is on his mind and not from a place of actually hearing what was said. We have not been on a date in at least 3 years (I lost track. I just know it was before I was pregnant with our 2 year old). He has promised for 2 years to schedule a date but never does. I used to schedule dates, but he stood me up or forgot until last min and was either late or falling asleep. I would get so angry that it just did not seem worth the effort, so I asked him to plan a date when he was prepared to be present. Intimacy is pretty much a thing of the past at this point.

      To be fair, he does show up for family time. He is not always mentally there, but he is fun and he is loving with the kids. He has great ideas for gifts for them and for family activities. He plans wonderful vacations and loves to be active with the kids. It is just that he does not make time for our relationship, and it does not feel to me that he values our relationship separate from the family unit. It almost feels like he takes it as a given, something steady and dependable that will always be there when he needs it but he does not have to care for it.

      I think that work stress, relationship stress, and just the stress of having small children have all played a key role in this lack of mental presence in our relationship. I have certainly contributed to it worsening by getting repeatedly offended and angry. I own it, but WHAT CAN I DO?


    • #180418

      Have you checked out the Website, the ADHD effect on marriage?
      There are some good tips/suggestions for what has worked for other Nons.

      One tip that seems to come from the majority of site members is this…

      Your husband has to develop his own system for remembering/completing tasks, etc. Only he can come up with something that will work.

      Here are some of the comments :
      1) if we make our spouses “our projects” then we have loads more trouble coming, and 2) It’s impossible to change another human, they only change when THEY see the need to…Just like everyone else…..

      Another piece of advice from a man whose wife has ADHD:
      Most areas of life that is dysfunctional, can be helped by placing boundaries, it can limit the chaos and conflict that you may be experiencing now….Warning! It may take a while for the boundary to be respected, my wife was so spoiled (by me) that she was angry when I stopped the enabling, and held her accountable for control and manipulations attempts.

      There are many posts on this website that will show you what worked for others.

    • #180431
      Penny Williams

      Solid insights from @Adeles546. I’ll just add a couple articles that you may find helpful as well.

      My Husband Has ADHD — and It’s Hurting Our Marriage

      Married with ADHD: How Real Couples Make It Work

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

    • #180470

      Thank you AdeleS546 and PennyWilliams for taking the time to share. I have done extensive reading, so most of this stuff I have read in some fashion or another. Reading it again is helpful for understanding though. If you are willing, there are these two areas where I am really stuck on a need for practical guidance:

      I understand that I cannot design a system that works for an ADHD brain. However, is there any guidance out there on how to co-parent with an ADHD spouse? In other areas of our life, I can separate myself from the fall-out of his ADHD symptoms, but in parenting it is very complex, because it is not just he and I. The kids and anyone involved in their schedule (i.e. teachers, caregivers, friends, family) are reaching out to me for help. Practically speaking:

      –What do the boundaries look like that allow him to figure out how to manage his parental responsibilities in a way that works for him?
      –Are there some parental responsibilities that an ADHD person simply cannot handle? For example, I know that he cannot work and care for our kids at the same time, so I hire childcare when I know there is a chance work will reach out to him. He does not know/believe that he cannot handle it. Are there other things that I need to outsource, if it can be afforded?

      I have started to schedule more time with my friends and more time to recharge by myself, but I miss our relationship. The things I have read on this are not particularly helpful. One can only tell oneself so many times that “he isn’t rejecting me,” but if he is not initiating time together and he forgets, is too tired or simply isn’t available when I initiate, there is no way to not feel rejected.

      — How do I stay close with someone who is not mentally present for most of the time?
      — Do I just have to accept that an ADHD husband is no longer capable of a regularly close relationship once kids are involved and careers are stressful?

      Thank you for any thoughts or articles you are willing to take the time to share.

    • #180493

      How do I stay close with someone who is not mentally present for most of the time?

      That is a good question, one that I cannot answer in my current relationship. My fiance and I live in different towns, separately, until my daughter graduates from High School in 2021. Staying close is not a problem at the moment, because we don’t live together. Also, I may have different expectations for relationships, due to past abuse from my ex husband. He mostly ignored me unless he wanted food or sex.
      There is a poster on the ADHD Marriage site ” c ur self “, that said what finally worked for him was not enabling his wife and living like she doesn’t exist. He leaves her to her own devices. He has learned to let go, told her he was done with the marriage, and as a result she is taking more responsibility and comes to him and wants to spend time together. Granted, they have grown children….

      As far as parenting is concerned, I have never parented children with an ADHD partner. My fiance has a 30 year old daughter from a previous relationship, and she has ADHD also. My ex husband didn’t have ADHD.

      • This reply was modified 1 year, 2 months ago by AdeleS546.
    • #181227

      I nearly cried when I read your post and your comment under it, because I’m stuck in a very similar dynamic and feel so ashamed, discouraged and disappointed in the weird reality I find myself in. I’m sorry you’re in the same boat of feeling like you have to parent your spouse and teach him how to parent your kids, but it was also a huge relief to me to discover that I’m not the only one!

      I’ve been asking my H to take a parenting course for years at this point, and like you, I’m the one who has to handle any parenting around rules, routines, being consistent, enforcing consequences, handling tantrums and anything remotely emotional or difficult. It’s exhausting. I feel like my H sets the kids up to fail by being inconsistent, not following routines and breaking rules, but then he gets angry and punishes them. I’m solo parenting most of the time, because when I try to leave it to him, my kids will be screaming/crying within minutes. I’ve told him I think his parenting is bordering on emotionally abusive at this point, and we’ve talked SO many times about what he needs to do (be consistent, stay calm, no surprises, don’t change rules), but he just doesn’t do it. I think he parents according to his mood, which is super destructive and no one knows what to expect or when he’s going to ignore behaviour or freak out and punish it. I think it’s very similar to living with an alcoholic, to be honest.

      I’ve reached the point where I don’t want to be with him, but the thought of him having the kids unsupervised if we got a divorce is terrifying. I hate how he parents, and he says he hates it too, but doesn’t do anything about it. I’m so exhausted, resentful and angry that this is how our relationship is and what he’s like as a father, and mad at myself for giving my kids such a chaotic, unstable home life. I wish my husband would get it together and parent the way our kids deserve, and it’s very hard to accept that I have no control over that. We’re currently fighting because he still hasn’t found time to take an online parenting course, but somehow found time to take up bread making, starting a sourdough and looking for a new mountain bike (he currently never bikes). When I pointed that out to him, he got mad at me. It really makes me feel crazy sometimes.

      I’m so sorry you’re also the primary parent and having to “coach” your husband at parenting. Sometimes I think having an outside person like a counsellor hear all the things my H actually does when parenting might be the only way to shame him into parenting better. He doesn’t seem to be affected by seeing our son cry and scream (which he never does when I’m parenting), and often gets mad at me when I step in, even though what he’s doing is clearly not working.

      Many hugs to you, and I hope you find something that gets through to your husband. I feel like people like us should get help, or be allowed to have another live-in adult to make life manageable!

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