“I Wish My Wife Understood How Hard I’m Trying”

Navigating any relationship means solving roadblocks along the way. But when the rough patch is ADHD, there is simply no way forward without honesty and clear communication.

ADHD couple having serious conversation

“I want my husband to understand that I don’t do it on purpose. He thinks that I ‘forget’ to close the cabinets or ‘forget’ to put something away on purpose.” Ginny, a client in my group for adults with ADHD, was sharing her frustrations over living with a husband without ADHD. Her need for ADHD relationship advice is common.

Alan, who nodded in agreement, added, “I wish my wife understood how hard I’m trying. She just doesn’t get how much effort it takes for me to do things that come easily to her.” Those two comments opened the floodgates, spurring a lively discussion about loving someone with ADHD.

When I met with some of my clients’ partners — many of whom don’t have ADHD — they had their own frustrations. “Sometimes I think I have another child,” “Why can she focus on things she enjoys?” “If she can do it sometimes, why can’t she do it all the time?” were common remarks.

Although all married couples have to navigate challenges, communicate effectively, and work cooperatively, ADHD places strain on any relationship. Many of my ADHD clients have partners who are so highly organized that they are jokingly accused of having Attention Surplus Syndrome, or ASS. Over time, it seems, the “opposite” qualities that originally attracted the two to each other lose their appeal.

When a relationship hits a rough patch, I advise couples to focus on each other’s strengths, not their weaknesses. I tell them to think of themselves as a team.

[Get This Free Handout: 6 Ways ADHD Sabotages Relationships]

Every winning team needs a variety of skill sets to make it work — players who can execute a detailed game plan in a timely manner, and those who inspire with their high energy and spontaneity. A football team comprised of only quarterbacks won’t win on game day.

Play the Rating Game

Gauging a couple’s responsibilities and needs — both of which may have changed since you walked down the aisle — is a productive way to start. One strategy for doing this is describing — on a scale of 0-10 — how important or exhausting a task is for each of you.

For example, instead of telling your partner it was hard to organize the holiday party, tell him, “It was a 10 — or an 11 — to put that party together.”

Couples are sometimes surprised by the results of this rating game. One couple found that having down time after work was low in the husband’s list of needs, while his wife rated getting help in the kitchen a 10. The result? The husband helped with dinner prep the second he got home from the office.

[Read: What I Love Most About You (And Your ADHD, Too)]

Ginny and Alan went home and discussed how much energy (once again, 0-10) they had to expend on tasks with their partner. Each was genuinely surprised at the effort required to do some tasks he or she had thought were effortless. They also discussed how important they considered each task. This gave Ginny and Alan a clear sense of what was important to each of them, as well as to their spouses.

Armed with this information, they renegotiated responsibilities. Ginny realized that her husband didn’t care about eating a gourmet dinner (it was a three, according to him) as much as having an uncluttered chair to sit on in the family room (a whopping nine).

Ginny and her husband didn’t diverge on everything. They both gave a 10 to one important area: wanting to be loved and appreciated for themselves.

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