Marriage

13 Resolutions That Saved My Marriage

There is no use denying the role of ADHD in your relationships. It is not an excuse. Or a lost cause. For me, ADHD was the organizing principle around which I built systems and resolutions that have actually strengthened my marriage over time.

A burning fire, representing the passion and tumult of an adhd relationship
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Love Bites

Love, especially when brand new, is a beautiful frenzy of phone calls, flowers, and emotional somersaults.

The thrill of coming together is exhilarating. Until, of course, you begin to drive each other crazy. Until the magic fades, and the work comes into sharp focus. Until you both begin to unpack the baggage of your family histories, traumas, and dramas. Until that invisible but undeniable attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD) begins to unravel even your very best intentions.

What then, when marriage feels like a battlefield? How do you move forward when you fear that each next step might cause an emotional explosion? How do you fortify your relationship against the forgetfulness, impulsivity, time blindness, and clutter?

A couple hold hands while bicycling at sunset, represent an adhd couple resolving to work as a team
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What Comes Next

In short, you start with hope. And you proceed with empathy.

In my opinion, the secret to a long lasting, stable relationship is (learning how) to accept each other’s flaws and benefit from each other’s strengths. Here is a look at how ADHD has made my marriage more complicated — and more fulfilling, as we’ve learned to manage its symptoms together:

A storm blowing in, represent the intense adhd emotions that can lead to relationship problems
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1. Intense Emotions Are Not Personal

Our challenge: My ADHD-fueled emotions come on fast and fierce. It takes a deliberate, vigorous effort to catch them before they fly out of control. When my vigilance slips, small things might trigger an inappropriate reaction; I am hard to handle.

Our resolve: To this day, I still practice how to pause, how to breathe, and how to walk away to regain my composure. I’m training myself not to react, but to pause and process — and then proceed with clear thoughts and measured words.

[Self-Test: Could You Have Emotional Hyperarousal?]

knitting and a book representing self care as a relationship goal for adhd marriages
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2. Self-Care Is Not Debatable

Our challenge: I'm high maintenance. That’s not a put down; it’s a fact. I know how I operate — and what I need to keep my mental machines functioning smoothly. Self-care is the oil for the engine in my brain. I need a lot of quiet time alone without any responsibility, which my partner is working hard to acknowledge and respect.

Our resolve: My husband understands that self-care is my oxygen. Without it, I cannot function. I can’t take care of my marriage if I don’t take care of myself first. So he encourages me to take the nature walks that soothe my soul. And he supports the creative projects such as knitting, beading, and writing that slow down my hyperactive thoughts.

a dog with perky ears represents the marriage goal of helping a partner listen
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3. Listening Is Aided

Our challenge: It's hard for me to listen. I hear the first four words, then nothing seems to sink in. When I'm feeling emotional, stressed, or worried, my mind doesn't register what I’m hearing.

Our resolve: My husband knows that, if a topic isn’t inherently interesting to me, I need to stand up and shake off the dust to keep myself focused and present. I might fade in and out of a conversation, but I’m pretty good at figuring out what was said. My husband knows not to tell me anything important before 11 a.m., to write down important instructions, and to text me reminders. It’s amazing what we can accomplish when we work as a team.

plates with elaborate patterns next to plates with simple concentric decorations represent the multisensory nature of adhd communication
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4. Communication Is Multi-Sensory

Our challenge: My mind overflows with thoughts, ideas, worries, and options. I don’t have any compartments to separate all that's going on in my head. Isn’t that what other people have — neat little cubby holes where they store their thoughts? Like in a kindergarten classroom, I picture them stacked neatly on top of each other and extracted as needed. This is appealing, but it’s not how I function.

Our resolve: I now know that I'm a multi-sensory learner. I'm visual and kinesthetic. When I communicate, I write down what I want to say. Either I rehearse it in advance or I keep my notes with me when I speak. Images help to remind me and keep me on a steady course, not scrambling around in a conversation like a loose chicken in a coop. For important conversations with my husband, I take the time to write out my thoughts and we both agree to talk only when both of us are ready and open to hearing each other out.

dishes crash to the floor, representing the oppositional defiance disorder that can accompany adhd and cause marriage problems
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5. Oppositional Defiance Is Real

Our challenge: Opposition is my go-to response. This knee-jerk behavior made my childhood harder than it should have been. I thought rules were made to be broken, black was white, and my way was always the better way.

Our resolve: In my creative endeavors, seeing things differently has advanced my careers. But in a marriage, I have to very deliberately fight this urge. Every day, I make a choice to either cause a verbal tug-of-war or make the choice not to express every opinion I have. I am learning to respect my husband’s opinion — and realize that it doesn't devalue mine even if they are at odds.

[Free Handout: Get a Grip on Tough Emotions]

long exposure of headlights passing a stationary man, representing an adhd couple where one partner has hyperfocus
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6. Hyperfocus Necessitates External Breaks

Our challenge: I never know when to stop. When I’m enthusiastic about a project, nothing else matters. If I’m reading a compelling book, I’ll stay up all night. If I’m enjoying a lunch date with friends, I’ll ignore the time and miss my next appointment. I dive head-first down rabbit holes and lose hours of my life Googling facts, or trying out a new recipe, or writing into the wee hours of the morning. And, at times, this can harm my marriage.

Our resolve: When I’m hyperfocused on something that has seized my mind, quiet serenity permeates my being. In this Zen space, I'll forget to eat, prepare a meal for my family, or be someplace on time. I’ll also fail to give my husband the attention he needs at times. So I’m training myself to use my cell phone alarm to pull me out of the abyss. Sometimes, I set three when I know one isn't enough to pull me away from the peaceful pleasure of pursuing a passion.

two puffins who seem to be talking represent the need to learn to listen and explain, rather than argue and make excuses
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7. Explanations — Not Excuses

Our challenge: It’s was only 10 am, and already my husband wasn’t speaking to me. Why? Because I said things I shouldn’t have said. The filter between my thoughts and my words is torn open. I say what I think without thinking about what I want to say. This is the simple explanation, which sometimes sounds like an excuse.

Our resolve: When I do this, I wouldn’t blame my husband for thinking, “I know you’ve got ADHD. Does that mean you want my permission to be nasty — and then I’m supposed to forgive you?” Definitely not. Which means I’m working hard to resist the impulse to speak without thinking, and also the impulse to hold back, withdraw, and hide within myself. This is a delicate balance — learning to listen rather than speak, acknowledge my ADHD without making excuses, and realize that we’re both carrying a burden that is lifted with patience.

balloons float away, representing the need to let things go in order to maintain a happy adhd marriage
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8. Choose to Let Things Go

Our challenge: At the beginning of my marriage, I couldn't let go. Everything was a big deal. As the years have gone by, I've learned that there’s only one way to survive an ADHD relationship: learn to let it go.

Our resolve: I try hard not to dissect, analyze, and evaluate every single thing that happens. When you’re in a loving partnership, and you believe in your heart that you are loved unconditionally, every difference of opinion doesn’t have to become a fight.

When you let intense emotions settle, your thoughts become clearer. That's when it's easier to use good judgment and decide how to revisit what is really important in your marriage. But all good unions follow one cardinal rule: Verbal abuse is never acceptable. Never!

masks on a wall stand in for the way the author feels her adhd hides her true self
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9. Living a Masquerade

Our challenge: Sometimes I feel like I’m wearing a mask. The real me is hidden. It’s hard to trust myself, fearful that I won’t say or do the right thing. I have a track record of mess-ups. So I keep my mask (more like a full masquerade costume) on until I’m entirely sure that the person beside me won’t run away if I mess up. It’s easier to withdraw and hide under a shell like a snail when it senses danger. It’s safer — but terrible for long-term relationships.

Our resolve: I yearn to be honest and real. But when I am, I’m often misunderstood. In hiding, I won’t hurt someone I love. But I also end up feeling miserable. So I’m working on finding a little space to find my place, without closing myself off from those who love me.

safes at a bank represent the need to understand a partner's inner life
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10. Show Empathy, Compassion & Patience

Our challenge: The secret to a rock-hard marriage is empathy — understanding what your partner is feeling. It doesn’t matter whether you agree or share the same opinion. The more we understand each other’s struggles, the more compassionate we will be with each other.

Our resolve: Empathy is a two-way street. Both partners need to experience the inner lives of each other. What does it feel like to be you? What do you go through each day? What secrets do you hide? Wouldn’t it be beautiful if we could be our true selves and know that we are loved and accepted in spite of our flaws? These are the questions we try to keep fresh on our lips.

strings of lights over a city street represent working together instead of in opposition
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11. Harness Each Other's Strengths

Our challenge: My way isn’t always the best way. Early on, my gut reaction was resistance to anything my husband suggested. If he had a “better” way for me to finish a task, be on time, or take medication as prescribed, I was oppositional and defiant. But I had to surrender. My method wasn’t working too well. Tasks took too long to complete, I was often late, and I forgot to take my pills. I hated to admit it, but I needed to be nagged. And then I changed my attitude.

Our resolve: I now try to see my husband’s input not as nagging, but as advice from someone who loves me. If I believe he is not criticizing or insulting me, I am able to accept that he wants my life to be easier — and he has a better way of doing some things. In turn, he had to accept the same facts about me — I am better at some things he struggles with. That was our turning point, our AHA moment! Our relationship turned from fighting, bickering, and nagging to teamwork, sharing each other’s strengths, and benefitting from each other’s weaknesses. What followed was a peaceful home.

a dog on a welcome mat represents welcoming adhd intoy our relationship instead of fighting it and allowing it to cause marriage problems
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12. Welcome ADHD Into the Relationship

Our challenge: Whether you’re living with one or more diagnoses, ADHD is an active presence in your relationship. It is a force that cannot be ignored. Denying and avoiding ADHD is impossible. Marriages are stronger when ADHD comes out of hiding and becomes a part of the conversation.

Our resolve: My husband and I have figured out how to make ADHD a part of our relationship. Even though he will never totally understand my quirky ways, he knows there’s a biological reason why I behave the way I do. There’s less conflict. He knows I’m trying my best, and I’ll get the job done, but and in my time frame, not his. Through education, awareness and working together we found a way to stop letting ADHD interfere with our marriage.

a couple camping near the beach represent the relationship goal of changing the atmosphere to remove yourself from a stresful environment
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13. Enjoy Each Other

Our challenge: An ADHD relationship can be intense. Sometimes we get so caught up in fighting to be “right” that we lose sight of what’s really important: our marriage.

Our resolve: The best remedy is to get out of the house together. Change the atmosphere whenever possible. Take a weekend vacation or even an overnight escape. Schedule a date night, or anything to escape the chaos of daily life. Something magical happens when you physically remove yourself from the stressful environment and responsibilities of the home. Changing the atmosphere changes your perspective.

[How to Enjoy a Vacation When You Have ADHD]

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