When Your Partner’s ADHD Makes Them Act More Like Your Child
When a wife has to “mother” her husband or when one spouse feels ignored and unloved, the impact of ADHD on marriage cannot be overstated. But love is not lost! Rebuild trust in your marriage with these tips.
You fell in love with your partner’s enthusiasm, adventurous spirit, and easy-going charm. Now you are frustrated when they go skiing instead of shoveling the walkway, or forget to take the children to the dentist.
Face it: It is much easier to love someone with ADHD than it is to live with them.
Over the years, your roles have changed. You are less like lovers than like a scolding parent and a naughty child. When your partner’s ADHD leads them to forget something you ask them to do, you do it yourself.
Just the other day, over a cup of tea, you actually heard yourself telling a friend that you think of your spouse as a second child.
Clearly, you can’t go on like this without your marriage falling apart. What to do?
No. 1: Talk It Up — Together
Start with an honest discussion, not a finger-pointing diatribe. It should be directed at fixing the problems that are damaging your relationship, not about “fixing” the other person. Make sure that your partner agrees with the idea of improving the marriage. They might think everything is just fine.
No. 2: Timing is Important
Don’t talk about this when either of you is pressed for time, after an argument, or when you are ready to pull your hair out… or your spouse’s. Choose a safe, neutral location, a venue away from home. Sometimes, just taking a walk opens up communication.
No. 3: Be Clear About Things that Aren’t Working for You
Pick one or two areas to focus on. Avoid accusation and don’t be defensive. Tell your partner how their words and actions (or inaction) make you feel, but try to see things from their perspective. Listen more than you speak. If you think you’ll have trouble finding the right words, practice out loud beforehand.
No. 4: Have Your Partner Explain How ADHD Affects Them
They should realize that ADHD symptoms explain the behavior, but do not excuse it. Don’t harp on past failures or disappointments. The fact that things haven’t worked doesn’t mean they can’t change.
No. 5: Accept Reality — Even If You Don’t Like It
Most people with ADHD put off tasks they find difficult or boring. They lose track of time, and are frequently disorganized. Play to each other’s strengths. You might agree to take on the bill-paying and balance the checkbook while your partner mows the lawn.
When you divide chores, be specific. What does a request to “keep the bathroom in order” mean? Very little to most people, and less to the person with ADHD. Clarify expectations, tasks, and the frequency of doing them.
Put it all in writing, for clarification. That way no one has to rely on memory. Don’t get hung up on splitting chores exactly down the middle. Do some horse-trading: “I’ll do the dishes; can you make the bed?”
No. 6: Anticipate Complications
How will your partner schedule lawn care into their week? How does your partner want to be reminded if they forgets to do something? Your approach should be about wanting things to work, not about getting angry when they don’t.
No. 7: Call in an Expert
If Plan A doesn’t work, go with Plan B: Call in an expert to help your partner achieve agreed-upon goals and free you from having to mother them.
An ADHD coach or a professional organizer can work on strategies and accountability, and leave you out of it. If too much resentment has built up between the two of you, and you can’t remember why you fell in love, consider seeing a therapist or marriage counselor.
No. 8: Let Go of Mothering
During this reconstructive process, let go of “shoulds” and “have-to’s,” which rarely accomplish anything. Focus on the “coulds” and “want-to’s.” People with ADHD usually know what they should do. The problem, for them, is doing it. Create motivation to do a chore, and responsible behavior often follows. Say, “Don’t you love seeing these plants bloom and want them to be healthy” rather than “You have to water the plants today.”
Your initial attraction to your partner didn’t spring from their ability to clean the floors, pay bills, or do lawn work. Do what you can to renew intimacy and the feelings that brought you together.
When I asked one person how she maintains a happy marriage, after 30 years with a partner with ADHD, she replied, “I remind myself that our relationship is more important than whether or not he forgets to take out the garbage.”