I Love You. You Drive Me Crazy. Let’s Work On It.
Like any marriage, mine has its challenges. And so I go looking for answers, ideas, and strategies from time to time – often from experts in attention deficit since my husband’s ADHD-fueled behaviors play into just about everything at our house. I go looking, but too often I walk away again totally dissatisfied with advice […]
Like any marriage, mine has its challenges. And so I go looking for answers, ideas, and strategies from time to time – often from experts in attention deficit since my husband’s ADHD-fueled behaviors play into just about everything at our house. I go looking, but too often I walk away again totally dissatisfied with advice that reads a little something like this:
“Pay the bills if your spouse can’t do so on time.”
So add more to my long list of household tasks? What if he also can’t do his portion of the laundry, the dishes, the childcare, the housework, and the yardwork on time? Should I just shut up and handle those, too?
“Talk to your spouse when he isn’t distracted.”
When exactly would that be? And what if something is urgent?
“Make lists for your spouse.”
So make my own lists for myself, follow them, check them off – and make more lists for my spouse on top of that?
If I’m being totally objective (which I’m not; I admit it), the advice is not altogether terrible. If I’m in the right frame of mind and have the energy to pull it off, I can do these things without complaint. But I’m left with this uncomfortable feeling that all the experts are really telling me to treat my husband like a child.
And that doesn’t work – for me or for him.
Everything I’ve read suggests that people with ADHD don’t like it when non-ADHD spouses like me respond with disdain to this advice. And rightfully so. Finally, an expert is detailing how to help make everyday life actually work. Then the neurotypical people waltz in and say we hate it. Not helpful.
Unfortunately, too many people with ADHD have grown up hearing parents, teachers, friends, and colleagues tell them they wiggle too much, they talk too much, they think weird thoughts, they just don’t fit in. They end up feeling deficient… lacking.
So when a spouse complains about the extra work it takes to be married to a person with ADHD, should we be surprised that it hits a raw nerve?
On the flip side, people without ADHD really have no idea what it’s like. We try to understand, to empathize, to put ourselves in our spouses’ shoes. But nothing in our neurotypical experience comes even close to their daily experiences. For us, you do A followed by B, and finish with C; things work out appropriately and in their proper order. When your spouse starts with Z, throws in M and P without warning and never even appears to consider A, it can be disconcerting at best… and infuriating at worst.
Spouses without ADHD assume our way of doing things is the most logical and efficient; we’ve never been told otherwise. And nobody wants to bend their way to fit another person’s. Marriage on its own is ripe with these tricky issues, but it seems as if a marriage with ADHD is FOUNDED on them.
So, where does this leave us? How can we move forward without either dismissing our spouses’ legitimate challenges or just doing everything for them? Where is the middle ground that looks good to everyone? Well, I’ll let you know when I find it. In the meantime, we’ve devised and agreed upon ‘5 Rules for Our ADHD Marriage.’ These help to guide us back to a better place when we get upset and give us a common starting point, a resolution that we agree cannot be broken.
1. Recognize That Your Spouse Is Working Really Hard
My husband doesn’t forget the groceries or lose the phone bill on purpose. In fact, he’s constantly working hard to bend his will to my neurotypical ways. It’s not his fault his brain doesn’t conform, and gosh darn it – if I don’t stop and notice how hard he’s trying, then I’m at fault.
Likewise, I’m going through some pretty intense mental gymnastics myself. It can be exhausting and isolating to try and manage a family and a home and a career with somebody who causes me to step backward without even realizing it.
I’m not familiar with learning a new way of thinking. Learning a new system is difficult enough, and nobody knows that better than my husband. Some empathy for me goes a long way.
2. Say It Out Loud. Talk It Through. Now Do It Again.
Our marriage will not survive if I am to function as a mother to my husband. Even though the marriage experts claim they aren’t telling me that, I can’t see it any other way when the very foundation of the advice is based on me shepherding and guiding my spouse in everything he does.
Instead, we must talk until our ears bleed. It’s exhausting, but it’s the only way to get through this. I MUST understand where my husband is coming from, and he MUST understand my point of view.
The only way to do that? Talking.
3. Practice Forgiveness.
My husband is quick to forgive my shortcomings. I, on the other hand, feel more slighted more often as more things fall to me. I am learning we simply cannot have a happy marriage if I continue to tally the offenses against me.
It honestly isn’t easy for me to forgive (obviously one of my shortcomings), and the only way I can do it is to focus on my spirituality. It’s uncanny how quickly I begin to hold grudges once I’ve let my spirituality slide.
4. Passive Aggression Doesn’t Work. Communicating Your Needs Does.
If my husband returns home late from work without calling first and I feel I am going to be pushed over the edge, I DO NOT HAVE TO DO THE DISHES. Even if he has to run off to a meeting right away, leaving me with a crying baby, grumpy children who just want their dad, and a sink full of dishes after a long day (did I mention that already?), I DO NOT HAVE TO DO THE DISHES.
My needs are important, and I can ask him to take things off my plate.
If he forgets? I still DO NOT HAVE TO DO THEM. I can ask again.
This does require some practice. Those of us who have been managing the home and our spouses with ADHD will have to test this out in a variety of ways until we’re comfortable. It’s unnerving to leave things to someone we consider to be unreliable.
But how will we ever find reliability if we don’t expect it and work toward it?
Some spouses won’t jump on board, but many people with ADHD really want to make their spouses happy and will do what it takes – when they remember.
5. Don’t Forget to Love.
“All you need is love” is false, false, false.
But you do need a lot of it.
I have to admit, it’s so easy to distance myself from this essential ingredient of our marriage. It’s easy to bury the love in all the resentment and self-pity.
But it’s the most important thing.
If I don’t have love, if I forget it, or if I choose to ignore it, what’s the point of working on things?
My husband is the love of my life, and I want to be with him forever.
I have to remember that.
Updated on May 10, 2021