When Your Husband’s ADHD Makes Him 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.

When your ADHD husband acts more like a child

You fell in love with his boyish enthusiasm, adventurous spirit, and easy-going charm. Now you are frustrated when he goes skiing instead of shoveling the walkway, or forgets 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 husband’s ADHD leads him to forget something you ask him 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?

[Free Resource: Manage ADHD’s Impact on Your Relationship]

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. He 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 her words and actions (or inaction) make you feel, but try to see things from her 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 Him

He should realize that ADHD symptoms explain his behavior, but they 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.

[Read This: Can This Marriage Be Saved?]

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, which allows him to be outside moving around.

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 he schedule lawn care into his week? How does he want to be reminded if he 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 husband achieve agreed-upon goals and free you from having to mother him.

Kathy Fitzgerald Sherman wrote a book that may apply to your situation: It’s titled A Housekeeper is Cheaper Than a Divorce. Think about it.

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 husband didn’t spring from his 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 wife how she maintains a happy marriage, after 30 years with a husband with ADHD, she replied, “I remind myself that our relationship is more important than whether or not he forgets to take out the garbage.”

[My Husband Refused ADHD Treatment and Our Marriage Fell Apart]

6 Comments & Reviews

  1. I’m a spouse of a man with ADD. I am tired of this one: “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, which allows him to be outside moving around.” Who seriously wants to pay the bills or balance the checkbook? We have divided tasks in our house based on what he CAN do. This division has everything to do with his strengths and nothing to do with what are my strengths.That’s not playing to “strengths” that’s doing everything the other spouse is incapable of doing. Call it what it is. It’s an insult to non-ADD spouses to pretend we are doing our “strengths.” We are doing what has to be done to get by.

    1. so in other words you are helping where he falls short? that is merely the flipside of “playing to strengths”. when you have ADHD its not a matter of “wanting” to pay bills or balance checkbooks or any chore in particular, some tasks are so overwhelming it feels impossible to complete them at times. sure you may not like that chore either but please understand that your husband has an impairment, your strength is that you do not have the same weakness.

      To be honest your comment really upset me, i have been struggling with getting my fiance to understand that there are some tasks i simply cannot perform on a regular basis. i constantly feel like a burden on others due to this condition, the idea of admitting i cannot do something i know is the norm for others makes me feel pathetic. Then when i ask for help i am constantly told “its easy, you can do it” and no help is given. I just wish others could take a moment to consider why i cannot do the supposed “easy” things…
      i wish i was able to be the perfect partner, it causes me a lot of pain knowing how much i ask of my guy and if he ever felt as much resentment towards me as your comment reads i would never forgive myself.

      1. As the more ‘administrative’ one with ADD I can relate to the both of you I think. I know that life is a struggle for my ADD SO and that I cannot expect him to be able to easily handle certain things, just like I have trouble with certain things. It can save a lot of frustration to do the task the other can’t do yourself in order to make sure they get done, they get done on time, and they get done well, but the division of chores this way in our households leads to me having to do at least 75% of things, if not more, while also checking in to make sure his tasks are completed as well. I have compassion for his struggles, but that compassion is difficult to find when he is done and has time to relax in front of the tv or has time for his hobbies while I am still stuck making sure our household is relatively organized.

        I feel myself resentful sometimes when it is once again clear that someone in our household has to pick up the slack and that someone is always going to be me. The support is always a one way street and while I do understand that inside at times he feels really bad about it all, it’s just difficult to always maintain a supportive and positive attitude when you are so tired and overwhelmed by every extra thing that is on your plate that would not be there if there was a more even division of labor.

  2. I love this website, however did not find this particular article to be helpful. If I said to my husband, “Don’t you want these plants to be healthy?” he would just be reminded of all the ways he fails. And he already has RSD so he would just hear “How could you be letting these plants die?” Obviously this was just one example, but how do I, the non-ADHD spouse, create motivation out of thin air when I know that motivation is the only way to success, but that whatever I come up with is already doomed to cause MORE issues? And once that happens, not only is the task not getting done (or is, but by me of course), but now I’m in the midst of the anger he builds up because he cannot accept his faults. Not exactly what I had in mind for a “solution.” Still, even if he hears zero negativity in my voice, will his ADHD brain even alert him to a request for completing a task if I’m not VERY direct? I doubt it. So I could really use a more tone-neutral and direct way to essentially say, “This just needs to be done.”

  3. I just have to say, I LOVE THE PICTURE. It is literally worth a thousand words. Look at that angelic smile. It’s why I don’t leave. Then look at me. Yes, that’s what I’m thinking. Exactly what I’m thinking. Somewhere between despair and divorce, between furious and flattened. Thank you for that.

  4. ETA: The bottom line of “my husband is like my child” is not “getting him” to do some work, like an irresponsible minimum-wage employee avoiding all interest or initiative in the company. If I’m still designing the life, putting in who knows how many hours of effort to figure it all out and create systems and goals, and then I’m also charged with figuring out ways to wheedle and motivate and reward him for doing some chores, as far as I’m concerned, THAT IS EXACTLY WHAT BEING HIS MOTHER *IS*.

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