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The Not-So-Great Wall I’m Really Worried About

When my husband slips into the strong grasp of hyperfocus, a brick wall goes up between him and the outside world. That includes me. When that happens and I feel annoyed or disappointed or lonely, I try to take a breath and remember these things.

“Are you done listening to me?” I snarkily asked my husband as we unpacked the materials to assemble our new trampoline.

He glanced up and looked over in surprise, seeming to just notice me. “Huh? No, no. I’m listening,” he said. “I want to hear what you have to say.”

I know he was telling the truth. But sometimes, particularly when he’s involved in a project, hyperfocus takes over and builds a giant, brick wall between us. Seeing his sincerity helped me recognize that he was not building the wall consciously or maliciously. I was immediately sorry for being annoyed with him.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about ADHD, it’s this: Hyperfocus is real.

It used to hurt my feelings. When we were first married, I tried repeatedly to create some romantic comedy scenario by inviting him to cook a meal with me. We were supposed to flirt, bump into each other, taste each other’s creations, talk about big life things, and draw closer as a couple.

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That didn’t work out. My husband loves to cook, so as soon as the recipe book was opened before him, he entered another world. The food was great, but I was disappointed. I couldn’t have the silly fantasy I had hoped for, and I was offended.

And then I learned about hyperfocus. For my husband, the kitchen is a zone of intense hyperfocus. Simple as that. I can get hurt and angry. I can cause a fight. (And I do, from time to time.)

Or I can cut my losses, and realize that we connect in many other ways. Maybe we can’t cook and flirt together. We also can’t build trampolines and talk together, apparently. But we can hike in the mountains and talk. We can go out to dinner and have amazing conversations. We can take walks around the neighborhood and connect.

Since those early days of our marriage, I’ve learned to recognize when he’s “in the zone” and to step back. If I’m in the right frame of mind (and that’s the key!), I make a mental note to save my conversation for later. If something important comes up first, I look him in the eye and say, “Can I have your attention for a minute?” It works.

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I imagine couples without ADHD have to handle distractedness too, since interruptions in communication are not exclusive to ADHD. And I actually feel lucky being able to name the culprit of our distractedness. I’m lucky I don’t have to take it personally (most of the time). I’m lucky it just takes an arm touch and a simple, “Can I have your attention?”

On the night of the trampoline building, I wanted to talk. I knew my husband could either build the trampoline for our kids, or step away and have a conversation with me. I chose to let him stay in his zone, and I talked to a friend instead.

My husband’s hyperfocus allowed him to work straight through until the job was done. It was a herculean effort, and had I been there to distract, it would have taken several days.

But because of that hyperfocus, the kids woke up to the best surprise of their lives. And if my husband and I couldn’t build the trampoline together, at least we can now jump together.

[How Learning to Listen Might Save Your Marriage]