Marriage

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?

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.

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.”

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