“I’m an ADHD Support Specialist. So, Why Do I Find It So Hard to Help My ADD Partner?”
“I know that I’ve used many strategies very successfully over the years to help my ADHD clients. But I also know that it can be almost impossible to use those same techniques with the person you are intimately and emotionally bound to.”
As a learning support teacher and mentor for young people with ADHD, I’ve often wondered why the strategies I use to successfully help my clients often fall flat when I try and apply them to help my own partner – who has ADD.
Therapists are often warned against a conflict of interest when it comes to counseling close friends, family, and loved ones, but only recently have I come to understand the wisdom of that advice.
When I met my partner eight years ago, he told me he had ADHD – inattentive type (i.e. ADD). Although I’d heard of ADHD, I’d always associated it (to my subsequent shame) with hyperactive little boys wriggling around in their chairs.
I have since discovered that this stereotype is quite far from the ADHD reality for many. And as my partner recounted his own painful childhood experiences, I felt my heart go out to him.
“You know, you should consider becoming an ADHD coach”, he said. “You’d be really good at it.”
I decided to follow his advice and have spent almost the last decade providing support to students with ADHD, as well as coaching parents and training teachers.
So, why then, when it comes to helping him, do I sometimes feel like finding the nearest wall and banging my head against it?
Don’t misunderstand me – some strategies have genuinely helped. The most successful one has been “body doubling” – quite a simplistic yet enormously effective practice. It follows the premise that many people with ADHD can find it hard to start and complete a task. Having someone physically near them offers company, helps with encouragement, and provides a degree of accountability.
I am my partner’s body double, and it has helped him enormously. He manages to get through tasks, like chores, that would otherwise render him immobile.
Yet, there are many other situations when my own frustrations override all of the help I’ve given him. Time management is one major culprit.
Say we need to be at his parents’ house at 1 pm. I know that he can often completely lose awareness of time, so it’s often up to me to manage our timeline. Here’s what happens:
I prepare as much as I can in the hours leading up to leaving, followed by time reminders every 10 minutes. I even implement the well-worn trick of telling him that we need to be somewhere an hour earlier than we really need to.
Before we know it, time has moved deceptively fast, and it’s time to leave. But we can’t – because keys have been lost, a game on his phone has somehow taken on the importance of life-saving brain surgery, my son needs to go to the toilet, and the dog ran off past the open front door down the street.
When we finally manage to get everyone into the car, my partner declares that he “just needs to get some gas” – at the exact moment that we are zooming past a gas station and turning onto a highway that doesn’t have an exit for another 10 miles…
I want to cry and shout. But I can’t. I’m the “expert,” and this is life with ADD. I descend into an angry silence. How ironic that I am allowing my emotions to take over all logic.
When these moments happen, I freely admit to feeling like an abject failure. Here I am, bursting with tools to help every ADHD situation, but unable to help him. What a fraud!
I know that many strategies can work. I’ve tried many very successfully over the years with my ADHD clients. But I also know that it can be almost impossible to use those same techniques with the person you are intimately and emotionally bound to.
In much the same way, a child with ADHD will often respond brilliantly to help from a teacher or mentor. But when their own well-meaning mother or father tries to apply a similar strategy, all hell breaks loose.
That’s why I advise anyone with ADHD to seek outside expert help. It’s effective because the person supporting you can do so in a completely dispassionate manner.
If a strategy doesn’t work, you can simply move on and try another approach. Eventually, you will work it out together. I know from first-hand experience that it’s easier doing this with someone with whom you share neither a child, a mortgage, or a bathrobe.
There’s no shame in admitting sometimes that you’re just too close to apply an objective eye to the people you love the most. It may very well be that the best “strategy” you can use to help is patience, kindness, and the phone number of a great ADHD coach.
Living with an ADHD Spouse: Next Steps
- Read: Loving Someone with ADHD Is Easy…
- Blog: Keys to Successful ADHD Marriage? Patience and Empathy
- Download: Manage ADHD’s Impact on Your Relationship
Thank you for reading ADDitude. To support our mission of providing ADHD education and support, please consider subscribing. Your readership and support help make our content and outreach possible. Thank you.
Updated on February 12, 2021