Ask the Experts

Q: “Marriage Communication is Vital, But My Spouse Won’t Talk!”

My husband refuses to discuss his ADHD symptoms or treatment, which is causing serious family problems. How can I improve communication in our marriage so everyone feels heard?

Q: “My spouse is not a big communicator, even more so when it comes to the topic of ADHD. When we do talk about the ADHD, he barely responds; when he does, he is vague, sometimes stating that things are difficult to explain. In addition, it has been years since he stopped taking his medication as prescribed and our relationship (family) is suffering. As many times as I have tried to explain this to him and have tried to have conversations about this, I usually get the same programmed answer, more excuses (essentially, next month will be better because…), or he lets loose on me on a topic that is totally irrelevant. Also, when he is off his meds, he is tearing into our expenses with impulsive purchases. I am at a loss here. Recently, I started sending him ADDitude articles hoping to spark a conversation. Nothing. Is there anything that I can do to help him and help us work through this and find a way to communicate (and constructively discuss the topic)? Thank you.” — Shell

Hi Shell:

I’m also a wife living with a husband who has ADHD (and has given me permission to disclose this). And many years ago, when the frustration and anger were taking over our lives, I vowed to get busy to figure out ways to make our home life more harmonious. I changed a lot of things, (our division of labor, boundaries, etc.) but the change that reaped the greatest reward was changing the way I communicated with my husband.

Before I offer you my advice, it’s important for you to understand that your husband’s inability to discuss his ADHD may not be because he doesn’t want to. But because he might not know how. So, while you may perceive his unwillingness to talk as defensive or uncooperative, he truly may be unable to put into words how he is feeling. And trust me on this one, the more you push, the harder he will resist.

Many with ADHD, when feeling threatened or attacked, will get defensive, shutdown, or do anything else just to avoid another unpleasant conversation. Don’t we all? It’s a survival strategy. And I would go so far as to say that, when your husband feels that way, he may be using impulse buys to self-sooth and escape. Food for thought.

So how do we get your husband to be receptive to communicating?

[Get This Download: Manage ADHD’s Impact on Your Relationship]

Communication Strategies for ADHD Couples

1. Set up appointments to talk. I know this sounds more “boardroom” than “bedroom,” however asking your husband to identify a good time to talk allows him the time and space to get his thoughts and emotions in order. Once I stopped “springing” my agenda on my husband, our whole communication dynamic shifted.

I needed my husband to be actively engaged, and to achieve that I needed to cede control; I needed to ask HIM what worked for him. This included taking into consideration how he best communicated. For example, he preferred receiving text messages that gave him several times from which to choose. By showing him this respect, I treated him as more of a partner.

2. Venture outside your routine. I had immense luck moving our conversations outside my home. For us, breakfast on Sunday morning at our local diner or walking the dog after dinner helped him be less distracted and kept the tenor of our conversations calm and neutral.

3. Follow your ask with praise. In our conversations, I stopped saying, “I need you to…,” and instead began asking, “Would you be able to….” Our conversations became less one-sided as my husband felt I was demanding (and therefore nagging) less and considering him more. And the more he said yes (and followed through), the more I thanked and praised him for his efforts.

[Read: 11 Rules for Fighting Right and Forgiving Faster]

Please don’t underestimate the power of praise. As an ADHD student and parenting coach, I talk so much about how effective praise is for motivating children, but as adults I feel we need it just as much.

4. Prioritize your own mental health. Since I don’t know why your husband is no longer taking his ADHD medication, I can only offer you this advice: As best you can, try to minimize the effects of his ADHD on you. If he is unwilling to see a mental health professional for himself or with you, then please get help for yourself. A mental health professional can give you the tools and support you need to navigate your situation in a healthy way.

The last bit of advice I can give you is this: Communication is critical. So please keep reaching out to your husband in a loving, we-are-in-this-together way. Give it time. It’s a long road that requires two partners journeying together.

Good Luck.

Marriage Communication with ADHD: Next Steps

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