“The 3 Vital Keys to Our Happy ADHD Marriage”
“Though we both have ADHD and had been diagnosed as adults, our general outlook and ways of functioning are wildly different. We are chalk and cheese; I’m the hyperactive type and he’s the inattentive type, which makes for an interesting union, to say the least. But we continue to make it work after all these years.”
The day before our wedding, the entire city of Sydney became blanketed by heavy red dust. I woke up coughing, I could taste dirt in my mouth, and my bedroom was filled with a rusty glow.“Of course the bloody apocalypse would happen the day before my wedding,” I thought to myself. “I bet my fiancé has been raptured while I was left behind!”
Catastrophizing is normal for me. It’s part anxiety, part comedic coping mechanism. When my fiancé woke to the dust, he just wondered where it came from and thought about washing the car.Though we both have ADHD and had been diagnosed as adults, our general outlook and ways of functioning are wildly different. We are chalk and cheese; I’m the hyperactive type and he’s the inattentive type, which makes for an interesting union, to say the least. But we continue to make it work after all these years (14 and counting at the time of writing). It all comes down to three vital keys.
Key #1: Never Go to Sleep Angry
A lot happens when two adults share a life — and a condition that causes countless frustrations. We’re both forgetful, albeit in different ways. He immediately forgets about his keys if he sets them down. While I can remember where my keys are, I don’t always remember what time it is, even if I’ve just checked, or where I am when I’m driving, even on a familiar route.
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We also struggle in social settings. In our early days especially, my husband — who had lots of trouble reading facial expressions, keeping up with fast-paced conversation, and even stringing a sentence together — would often withdraw from others. While he was unable to tell when people were making fun of him, I was acutely aware of others’ mocking undertones and uncomfortable shifts in the conversation, all of which set my rejection sensitive dysphoria (RSD) and anxiety into overdrive. I felt the need to overcompensate during lulls in conversation and fill the silence with inappropriate babbling and outrageous antics. I’d drink alcohol to try to manage my intense social anxiety, but all it did was make me even more intense, hyperactive, and hypersensitive.
It can be tempting to cast blame when our individual challenges invariably come up and affect both of us. But no matter what our day has been like, we agreed from the very beginning of our marriage that we would never go to sleep angry at each other.
This doesn’t mean that we have long conversations into the night to reach resolve. It simply means that we’ve made the choice to push past shame and blame to say we love each other, no matter what. All hurts and misunderstandings do not change how much we love one another.
Key #2: Always Be Willing to Learn — and to Let Things Go
Learning about our unique ways of functioning has been so helpful in our marriage. We do our best to help each other in our respective trouble spots in day-to-day living. That has meant learning to let the little things go.
[Read: Yeah, We Both Have ADHD — and It’s a Marriage Made in Heaven!?]
There is one clutter-free, easy-access key holder in our home. Sometimes, my husband’s keys don’t make it to the hook and land on a nearby table — where they’re bound to end up under a pile of mail. If I see his keys on the table, I put them in the key hook rather than give him a hard time for forgetting. And life runs a little more smoothly for both of us that day.
In social settings, my husband has worked hard to pick up on signs that my social anxiety is kicking in. He checks in with me and firmly puts his hand on my shoulder or back to ground me. He reminds me to take a walk or remove myself from the stressful situation. More often than not, these strategies ease me back to present. When they don’t work, he doesn’t push it. But later, we reflect on what happened and how we can both try to do things differently next time. Then, we move on.
Key #3: Never Stop Laughing Together
The benefits of laughter and of having a sense of humor are well-known. Somehow, throughout our marriage, we’ve had an innate ability to find joy in the hardest of circumstances. Laughter is our reset button. (That’s why it’s hard for us to go to bed angry at each other.) We have literally laughed in the middle of heated arguments (usually at how ridiculous we are behaving), the result being instant tension and stress relief.
Our Personal Key: Don’t Say The ‘D’ Word
Many Ds have been unearthed in our relationship: diagnosis, depression, deficit, disorder, dysfunction, dysregulation, dyscalculia, and the list goes on. But we decided from the beginning that one particular ‘D’ word was never going to be on the table: Divorce.
That word is not hidden up the back of the junk drawer, waiting to be pulled out and thrown into an argument like a gaslit weapon. Sure, there are painful spaces in our relationship that cause us to withdraw, defend, attack, or drag up the muddy waters of the past. But we vowed until death — not diagnosis — do us part.
With both of us wired as fighters, we are willing to “never say die.” We’ll do everything to fight for our marriage, including holding firm to our keys (the kind we’ll never lose) and even looking for new ones. It’s hard work, but we know that our diagnoses are not a marriage death sentence. They do not define us negatively. They are what make us so strong and loving.
Happy Marriage Rules for ADHD Couples: Next Steps
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