Strategies for focusing during a conversation.

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    • #55001
      Stephanie in CA

      My wife and I are having difficulties communicating. She needs lots and lots of focused time, where I’m really listening to her, and my mind tends to wander all over the map. It doesn’t help that she often talks in semi-monologues, where she takes a long time to say everything she wants to say. (She’s a teacher, so maybe it comes from that.) I’ve asked her to perhaps pause more, but she says that she can’t change how she processes her thoughts. So I struggle to keep the thread of what she’s saying. She’s even having me mirror her so that I can prove that I’m paying attention to her and caring about what she says.

      I’ve been taking Strattera, but I think I’ve hit a plateau, and besides I don’t want a drug to do all the focus work for me. How have you all kept from getting distracted during even ordinary conversations? How have you kept your focus during long, intense conversations (or even lectures, if you’re in a classroom)? Any and all advice is very helpful! Thanks.


    • #55027
      Penny Williams

      Unfortunately, the biggest part of ADHD is not always being able to focus and pay attention, especially when something isn’t of interest. Here are a couple articles with expert advice on how to be a good listener when you have ADHD, and other communication strategies:

      How Learning to Listen Might Save Your Marriage

      For Good Communication, Timing Is Everything

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

    • #55227
      Stephanie in CA

      Thank you!

    • #68805

      Stephanie, could not have summed up my marriage issues any more clearly. Not advice, just wanted to say “me too!” 😣

    • #68811

      I personally find this difficult too. Especially when the speaker discusses a subject for a lengthy period of time. Previous significant others frequently told me I needed to let them finish their thought because I would speak before they were finished. This issue carried over to the workplace where bosses would give me instructions in conversation form. I frequently found my mind wandering.

      I find it helpful if I kept a semi-parallel conversation going on in my head. Kind-of like if I were writing bullet points down on a notepad of the conversation but all in my head. This seemed to help keep my mind engaged in the conversation while also satisfying its need to “wander”.

    • #80332

      Doesn’t sound like your wife is being fair. She is asking you to change the core of how you think because she doesn’t want to change a small part of how she thinks. If you have an official (specialist) diagnosis of ADHD then it is safe to say you have a documented PHYSICAL (chemical to be more precise) reason why this is difficult for you. To change this she is asking you to adjust your meds or just willpower your way to change your thinking patterns enough to change neurotransmitters – which takes YEARS (yes, I am a science geek). For her to say she “can’t” do it but you can is hypocritical.

      I didn’t just come up with this. It is part of my decade+ long battle with my teacher wife (who is A SPECIALIST in special needs including ADHD!!). The fact that you are here trying to change is proof that you are working honestly toward helping both of you. Ask her what she is doing to meet you in the middle! For example, she doesn’t need to change her thoughts. She could just “filter” the extra stuff – the stuff that is “thinking out loud”. This way she still has the same process but says less out loud and you can BOTH communicate better. If she is unwilling you should see and counsellor. If she refuses cut your losses. I know I am being harsh but I am in that process myself and have no reservations about it.

      Good luck Stephanie.

    • #86330

      I struggle with this too. A few things help me:

      1.) Having important conversations in a restaurant or coffee shop with lots of background noise and movement (especially in a booth) helps me to hyperfocus on the important thing. Having these conversations in the daylight also helps me focus.

      2.) Fidgets. If I’m hearing something uncomfortable or having to sit for more than 5 minutes, I HAVE to move. Flippy chains and cubes are my favorite.

      3.) This one is weird, but it works the best. I take notes. I have a little notepad at home, and when my SO is talking about something important, I take notes on the key points they are making. They need to know that our bouncy brains have picked up what they’re throwing at us. They are the most important person, and their needs/concerns NEED to be important to us. We have to make them important, make our brains wake up. By paraphrasing what they’re saying in writing, my brain is processing the information in a couple of ways, and I understand and remember it much better. I never need to look at the notebook again. Writing it just helps me input the info better. When my SO comes to a pausing point, I rephrase what the key point of what they’re trying to communicate to make sure that I’ve understood it correctly. The whole thing seems silly, I’m sure, but I’d rather have a happy SO and be a goofball than not look silly and have them frustrated with me.

      4.) Breaks. Every 20 minutes, take a 5-10 minute break. This will help your brain stay engaged, and it’ll give her time to collect her thoughts so that she doesn’t have to process so much verbally. Hopefully her next speech will be shorter, and you can get some air, go to the bathroom, get a snack, take a walk, something to get moving and wake up your brain.

      5.) Feedback. Be honest when you’re getting lost. Saying “Honey, I love you and I want to hear what you’re saying, but my brain is bouncing everywhere right now.” can go a long way. Honestly, we can’t help being distracted and scatterbrained. It doesn’t mean we don’t care. A caring reminder of that helps the other party be patient. If you’re lost in the conversation, ask for a recap, or bullet points, or the ONE big idea she’s trying to get across, or the ONE problem she’s trying to address. If you can hone in on that point, she can be sure that her message has gotten across, and you can be sure that you get the most important point.

      6.) Talk while walking around the neighborhood. Much easier to process all the info while your brain is getting oxygen, and when the walk is over, hopefully, she’ll naturally finish. Plus, the scenery keeps changing, keeping you engaged in the moment.

      7.) Women tend to mirror naturally. If you watch two women talking, they usually make a lot of eye contact, nod, gesture. Men don’t do this as much, so it’s hard for women to tell if men are listening (even if they are). She wants to know that whatever is important to her is important to you because SHE is important to you. Women are good analyzers and interpreters of body language. ADHD men are the hardest to read because they physically shut down when mentally unstimulated. When she starts looking annoyed, look her in the eye and nod. Make little nonverbal comments like, “uh-huh, I see, really”, and ask questions about what she just said. It’ll show her you’re interested, even if you spend most of the conversation looking around the room. 😉

      8.) Schedule. Set an “appointment” with each other for say, 15-20 minutes a day for important conversations. It gives her a chance to have your undivided attention, and it’s a manageable chunk for your brain to digest. It’s a reasonable expectation that you can meet, just make sure it’s at a time when your brain is alert. Right before you go to sleep may not be the best time.

      The wifey has to be understanding that you sincerely care and want to try some new strategies. If she’s expecting you to change your behavior, she has to be willing to change hers to help you. ADHD adults need an IEP for adulting. 🙂 We need scaffolding! She’ll understand that. Seriously, the drugs will NOT do all the work. ADHD is way to complex for that. ADHD is not a light switch, and it doesn’t just go away when we get older. The things we struggle with will ALWAYS be struggles. That doesn’t mean they’re impossible.

      Hope this helps!

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