“I’m Not Trying to Drive You Crazy, Really”
Does your partner struggle to understand your ADHD brain? Here, one couple’s secrets to a happy marriage—and their long journey to acceptance.
My husband, Victor, is a neatnik. He tidies his paperwork so that it lines up with the edge of his desk. The papers are stacked from smallest to largest, each positioned at the exact center of the pile. He arranges his shaving cream, toothpaste, and hair dryer on the bathroom vanity in precisely the same location when he’s done with them every morning. Sometimes I have the insane urge to mess up his papers or move the toothpaste a few inches to the left, but I don’t.
Out in the garden, Victor loves to pick blueberries. Maybe it’s not picking that he loves; he loves to count things. He’ll come into the kitchen with buckets of blueberries, announcing, ‘Three thousand, eight hundred, and twenty-one blueberries.” I roll my eyes and make blueberry cobbler.
We are the perfect example of “opposites attract,” but it hasn’t always been a perfect fit. We struggled for years to find our balance. Marriage counseling, individual therapy, couples retreats—we tried almost everything to make our marriage work. We almost failed, more than once.
We blamed each other for everything that went wrong. “If only he were less rigid, things would be fine.” “If only she’d clean up the house, at least we could have dinner together at the kitchen table.” There were weeks of prideful silence (we are both Tauruses, very stubborn). There were slips and slides and anger and pain.
Our saving grace was the most basic of relationship requirements: commitment. No matter how late I leave for the airport or how many blueberries Victor counts, we are committed to staying together.
We learned a simple phrase that makes all the difference: “We’re on the same team.” When something goes wrong, we look for solutions together, as we did on a harried day in Chicago, after I had forgotten to buy my husband an airline ticket. I arrived, but my husband was left behind at home for a while. Yes, in this case, it was my ADHD that screwed up the flight, but the remedy was a mutual effort and understanding.
I’m sure that my clutter and distractibility are difficult for a man who likes his life well ordered. Amazingly, however, as long as he has his little corner of calm, he can tolerate the chaos of my ADHD, which dominates the rest of the corners of our married life. He can work by putting his very tidy piles on top of my messy piles.
It’s almost as if he can block out the mess and focus only on his work. Clearly, he does not have ADHD. In the same situation, my ADHD brain would see all the piles, be distracted by the messy papers underneath, and have to clear off the entire desk before I started to work.
Immediately after I was diagnosed, Victor got a crash course in ADHD. He read sections of Ned Hallowell’s Driven to Distraction and decided that it would be helpful to point out my ADHD actions. “Uh-oh, there goes your ADHD again!” he would say. That was not a popular decision with me. It took about 48 hours for him to learn to keep his observations to himself.
Victor tried to understand, heaven knows. But unless you’re inside an ADHD brain, it’s hard to fathom how much it dominates your life. The turning point in his ADHD education occurred when he attended a conference specifically for adults with ADHD. He finally “got it” that ADHD was about my brain and not about him. It wasn’t personal. I wasn’t trying to drive him crazy with my messy kitchen. It was my brain that prevented me from being a neatnik like him. He’s been supportive ever since.
If we can come back from the brink of divorce — as a bitter reminder, I still have the letter he wrote advising me to communicate through his lawyer—then every ADHD couple can do the same. It always goes back to commitment. We are committed to each other.
I consider Victor something of a saint for living with me. But he considers me a bright light who brings creativity and spontaneity to his life. He doesn’t love me in spite of my ADHD; my ADHD is one of the things he loves about me. He is in awe of my energy, enthusiasm, and passion. It’s contagious. Now he walks with a lilt in his step and is always ready to tell a (usually awful) joke.
I love waking up in the morning to a smile; it starts my day off beautifully. We have a mutual admiration society, and we keep it that way by emphasizing the positives in our relationship every day.
Excerpted from Confessions of an ADDiva: Midlife in the Non-Linear Lane. Copyright 2011.