“I’m the ADHD Spouse. And These 6 Lessons Have Fortified My Marriage.”
“I learned the hard way that my emotional state almost always affects the situation at hand. When I think back to life’s most unpleasant experiences – the runaway feelings, emotions, body sensations, and all – I realize that the trigger event is never as unpleasant as the thoughts that carry me away.”
I have been married for 11 years. During that time, I learned that I have ADHD, which changed things considerably with my spouse – for good.
It was through my daughter’s diagnosis that I learned about my own ADHD. And as I adopted tools and techniques to help her, I picked up my own along the way to improve communication with my partner and ultimately improve our marriage.
Improving Your Marriage: Lessons from an ADHD Spouse
1. Don’t Act on Impulsive Emotions
Most situations we dread and worry about never happen. If they do, the outcome is rarely as bad as we imagined.
In one case, my partner withdrew a large sum of money from our account without informing me first. My mind began to race with negative thoughts when I found out, and I was overwhelmed with anxiety. I even texted him to see what I could find out. He was unavailable at the time, which only fueled my worry. When we finally did speak about the money a few hours later, I found out that the withdrawal was for a perfectly logical reason – not at all what I thought it would be.
I learned the hard way that my emotional state almost always affects the situation at hand. In fact, when I think back to life’s most unpleasant experiences – the runaway feelings, emotions, body sensations, and all – I realize that the trigger event is never as unpleasant as the thoughts that carry me away. Stressing and jumping to conclusions amplifies the problem.
2. Manage Your Attention. Really.
ADHD makes it tough for me to sustain focus, especially when cognitive demands pile up. It also struggle to direct my attention elsewhere if I’m hyperfocusing. Dealing with this side of ADHD means deliberately and carefully managing my attention as best I can.
My spouse and I have learned that, when listening to him, I need to put down anything I am working on so that my focus is on him alone. I have also made it a habit to ask my spouse to repeat himself when I lose focus, instead of pretending that I heard it all. Not everything falls on me, however. My spouse has learned to pause when speaking to me if it looks like I spaced out.
Timers and calendars have also helped me regulate my attention. They help me stay focused on what I need to do at the moment, and relegate what I can devote my attention to later. Without them, I’d work on a task and jump into another one before I was done, or I’d stress about another task, which made me not focus on the work in front of me.
3. Recognize and Track Your Trouble Spots
With ADHD, some symptoms and behaviors do feel out of my control. Even still, I know I could take steps to manage my problem areas and minimize their impact over my relationship.
I started journaling these specific behaviors as a way to keep track of them, and of my progress toward improving them. Through journaling, I’m also able to slow down and keep impulsive behavior in check. I often remind myself in the heat of the moment to STOP – Stop whatever I am doing, Take a few deep breaths, Observe my feelings and needs, Plan then proceed.
If journaling isn’t your thing, a simple chart can be just as helpful to track behaviors that need attention.
4. Use a Joint Calendar System That Works for You
My spouse and I divide family and household tasks evenly. While I always complete my end, it’s never as easy for me as it is for him. I tend to lose track of time or find it difficult to stop what I’m doing and switch to another activity.
It was my turn to make dinner one evening, and we had planned on having homemade pizza. I put the pizza in the oven and was also wrapping up a few work-related tasks in my home office. I knew I had to check the pizza in 30 minutes, and instead of setting an alarm, I figured I would check on the pie when I finished work in 20 minutes or so. Instead, I ended up stressing out about work and doing a last-minute project. By the time I looked at the clock, 45 minutes had passed, and the pizza was burnt.
Nowadays, I rely on a Google calendar that I share with my partner for everything, including household tasks like dinner and other chores. Each morning, I glance at my to-dos for the day and keep checking throughout so I’m not blindsided. I also use notifications and reminders to keep me on track – just because it’s calendared, I’ve learned, doesn’t mean I’ll know when to switch to the task. If I’m hyperfocusing, I can be totally unaware of the time. Five-minute alarms usually provide enough cushion time for me to wrap up and transition.
5. Don’t Rely on Memory Alone
My forgetfulness sometimes causes my spouse to think that I don’t care about what he has to say. In the past, I didn’t know how to explain to him that, even when I do remember, I sometimes still let things slip.
Over time, I’ve learned to stop holding information in my head. Beyond adding every to-do in our calendar, I have developed a good note-taking method and system, and I keep my notes in a visible, easy-to-access place. Today, I take notes on my computer, which syncs with my phone. That way, whether I’m at home or out and about, I am able to reference my notes.
My spouse has also learned that, if he wants to tell me new, important information, I have to get my laptop or my phone before he speaks. If that can’t happen, he’ll add an item to our calendar with a note to talk about it with me at another time. This habit has helped keep us on the same page and stop us from playing the blame game.
6. De-escalate Arguments to Curb Outbursts
While I have learned about managing intense ADHD emotions with my daughter, it was another challenge entirely to manage my own emotions. Sometimes, even with ground rules about “never hitting below the belt” during arguments, my emotions and impulsivity would get the best of me and I’d say something hurtful to my spouse in our fights.
I have since learned that we need to de-escalate when arguments get out of hand. Screams and shouts are never a good combination for me. Instead, I need to be alone for a few minutes to gather my thoughts.
In all, the biggest lessons we have learned is to anticipate difficult situations, and to do our best to discuss rather than blame and put emotions first.
Improve Your Marriage with ADHD: Next Steps
- Download: Manage ADHD’s Impact on Your Relationship
- Read: Loving Someone with ADHD Is Easy…
- Read: It’s Not You. It’s Not Me. It’s ADHD.
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