He Said, She Said, They Danced
Who has it tougher? Who works harder? These are the wrong questions to ask. For any marriage to work, particularly one that includes ADHD, you’ve got to replace the comparisons and tallying with conversations and listening. Here’s a snapshot of our start.
Who suffers more? Endures more? Works more? The spouse with ADHD, or the spouse without? It’s easy to believe that your role — whichever one that may be — is the hardest. But when comparison enters a marriage, nobody wins — not even the one who’s “in the right.”
So who has it tougher? That’s really not a valid or helpful question. These are: What’s difficult for you, and what’s difficult for me? And how can we understand each other?
My husband (who has ADHD) and I (who don’t) recently sat down and had a frank conversation about ADHD. No matter how much we think we understand the condition, it still manages to slither in between us, regularly dividing and pitting us against each other.
Could we discuss it without fighting?
Turns out that with a laptop between us, we could be neutralized enough to learn an awful lot about how we each perceive ADHD and its effects on our marriage. Welcome to the He Said (ADHD) / She Said (Neurotypical) edition of this blog. Perhaps you’ll see yourself in here somewhere.
She said: I feel like you only tell me half-truths. You keep things from me — like how the mortgage company was expecting us to pay that fee. We had several conversations about it, but you never mentioned it. Then I got a threatening letter from the bank and was totally blindsided. The whole time, you made it seem like you had things under control.
He said: I don’t lie to you, but if I don’t have the answer you want to hear, I don’t want to tell you it’s not resolved. That’s the thing about ADHD. When I have good news, I can’t wait to tell you. When I have bad news, I don’t want to say it. And then sometimes, I just plain forget. Then it gets tense because you have to drag it out of me.
Not Following Through
He said: I sometimes forget to do something we talked about, and then instead of communicating to you that I didn’t do it, I just let it go and hope you don’t notice. Or I do it quickly, and do a bad job. I’m just tired of always having something I didn’t do right. I’m tired of being that person who doesn’t follow through.
She said: I know I probably make this harder because I get mad when I find out you didn’t do something you promised you would do. I hate being in charge of everything. It’s to the point now where I sometimes wonder if I’m wasting my breath. It’s like: ‘Will he follow through with this decision we’re making?’ I don’t have the brain capacity to discuss an issue, decide on separate tasks, and then follow up on your assignments while also doing mine. So when I find out you didn’t follow through, I get angry and yell.
Frustration at ADHD
He said: The thing I hate about ADHD is it sounds so petty and ridiculous. It doesn’t sound like a real problem when you say it out loud. I feel like a normal person would say, “Why do you have this problem? It’s not that big of a deal.”
It makes me feel like I’m stupid when I can’t get my stuff together. It’s harder for me to do things that other people can do without even thinking about it. I feel like a toddler. When I look at it with your eyes, I think, “What’s wrong with me? Why am I stupid?”
She said: That breaks my heart because that’s not how I see you. Yes, I get frustrated at the problems ADHD causes. But I’m not always mad at YOU. I understand that a lot of the time, it’s the ADHD that’s causing the problem.
It’s hard to talk about any issue because no matter how I phrase it, it hurts you.
I know you aren’t always at fault. But also — where can I aim my frustration? I often end up feeling like I don’t have an outlet. I feel like I’m not allowed to get upset over these things because it hurts you. But they’re really hard to deal with. I know it’s the ADHD. But who can I talk to about it?
He said: It’s not that what you are saying makes me feel stupid. I already feel stupid. All this stuff already weighs on me. I know this isn’t what you’re doing, but when you bring up the issues around ADHD, it feels like somebody just rubbing salt into a wound. I know you just want to talk about it so we can come up with a resolution. But it’s hard.
He said: I like that I can just roll with things. My mind is in all these different places all at once, and so there’s material to be spontaneous and come up with something on the spot. I feel like because of that I can have fun wherever I am and whomever I’m with. I feel like my day just doesn’t get messed up. Whatever flies at me, I’ll take it and go with it.
She said: And that makes you a lot of fun. You break out in spontaneous dances that cheer up the kids when they’re throwing tantrums. You light up a room. You’re flexible and not bothered by extra tasks, so I get to take time to work when I need it. You’re a good partner in parenting.
We need to figure out how to let the positives outweigh the negatives. In the meantime, the negatives are hard — for both of us. Maybe we can reach a truce if we break out in a spontaneous dance.
Updated on May 1, 2021