The View: What It’s Like to Be Married to an ADHD Husband

One woman describes her journey learning to cope with her husband’s ADHD behavior quirks, and the condition’s impact on their family.

Illustration of rollercoaster with ADHD couple in car
Illustration of rollercoaster with ADHD couple in car

My ADHD husband of 31 years is a wilderness first responder. He can climb mountains and hunt like nobody’s business. If I need a tourniquet, he’s the man. If we’re in a shootout, he’s my guy.

However, these skills offer little solace when, with a master’s degree in accounting and being a former employee of Deloitte, I have been instructed to wait patiently for 27 years to see our taxes filed. Or, as a young mother of six struggling to make ends meet, you’re notified of $946 in bad check charges. It’s about this time that you realize that someone is close to needing a first responder!

I had three children with my husband. The two youngest boys, born a little more than a year apart, challenged every parenting skill known to man. By age three, the oldest of the two had arranged all of his plastic furniture on our house roof. This was the beginning of many appointments with a psych doctor, and an evaluation and diagnosis. Tears streaming down my face, I said, “I don’t care which of us leaves here with meds, but I’m not leaving without a prescription!”

[“What I Wish My Partner Knew”]

It was the dawning of the Internet era, so my ability to gather valuable, helpful information on ADHD was limited. Though my first two children were the birth children of a different father, I considered myself proficient at motherhood — until my new husband, with undiagnosed ADHD, passed along his ADHD genes to our kids.

More than three decades have passed. I have been on, at times, a crippling, emotional roller coaster ride. Experts thought at the time that adults grew out of childhood ADHD. Perhaps some do. It wasn’t until last year that I realized that my husband’s reaction to our lives together was a result of his own dysfunctional ADHD vision.

There is little written these days about the person without ADHD. It seems all the information and advice is aimed at the one with ADHD — how to set up a better to-do list, how to manage time better, how to avoid boredom.

Through the years, I have taken various mood-stabilizing medications, including tranquilizers, and spent time in a hospital. While ADHD is covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act, the severe mood disorders it can lead to in a spouse and/or parent is not. Here are some of my perceptions about being married to an ADHD husband:

[How Learning to Listen Might Save Your Marriage]

> Some people with ADHD think they are living a normal life. There is nothing normal about reading 350 action novels in three years while your finances, house, and life fall down around you.

> Some believe that they are telling the truth when they assure you that a one-month kitchen remodeling job (or some other task) will get done. Yet they accuse you of being unreasonable when it is still unfinished after three years.

> Some people with ADHD say, “I’ll do it later,” which often means there’s not much chance in hell that it will get done.

> Some with ADHD call the non-ADHD spouse a nag or an unyielding parent. You are most likely not a nag or an unyielding parent. For those with ADHD, so many people in their life, both past and present, has (or will get) this label.

[An Open Letter to My Husband]

> Many without ADHD turn into screamers. Life with an ADHD spouse is a constant ride on the Matterhorn. It’s thrilling, but you also have weak knees and white knuckles almost every day.

Just remember, non-ADHD spouses, that you are not crazy! Don’t put a pill in your own mouth thinking it will cure your spouse’s ADHD.

8 Comments & Reviews

  1. spock74. I can only guess that your spiteful response to Jane Doe’s heartfelt article above, regarding her experience with her family, is due to your own ADHD. As the long-distance “girlfriend” for five years of a 65 year old man who I now believe to have ADD, as well as being an alcoholic, I can absolutely relate to this poor woman’s comments.
    Martyr she is NOT. What is she supposed to do with her children? We can walk away from a partner who is unreasonable, unpredictable and unreachable due to ADD, but you can NOT do this with your children. You have to hang on in there – day after day – trying to make sense out of chaos. Martyr she is NOT – more like SAINT, I would say. She deserves a medal for what she has to go through – as does every other person on this planet who has to deal with someone – or possibly several members of a family – who have a mental health problem. It must be HELL. She did not ask to be put in this situation. And let us not forget that her distress is borne out of love, not martyrdom.
    I hope she gets to read this comment. She needs ALL the love and support we can give her – not to be criticized and humiliated for what she is doing – and to be thanked for passing on her experience so that we can all take some support, guidance and comfort from it.

    1. You are very kind and I agree with what you said. I am the ADHD partner and losing my boyfriend of almost 7 years has been the most crippling thing I’ve had to deal with in my life. I know my ADHD had an impact on the eventual separation, and only now can I truly see the frustration and concern he had for me all the while thinking he was just picking on me. I am learning a lot about what it’s like to be on the receiving end of my unfortunate mind, and I hope to correct those things so my next boyfriend doesn’t have to suffer the same heartache. When said and done though, it truly takes a strong and open minded person to love someone with ADHD, and even more so to stick it out and commit to staying in the relationship. I wish my ex had been strong enough, but I can’t say I’d have done it any differently if it were me. So, you are right, this woman is truly good and I hope she gets the peace she’s been fighting so hard for!

    2. Thank you for your response, Lorna. I am the non ADHD spouse and I’m struggling very badly. I have severe depression, anxiety and panic attacks. I’m on medication for it all but it can’t help all the way. What breaks my heart the most is, that my children don’t get the best version of their mother that they could have. I do try hard, but in the end my husbands ADHD chaos tears me apart every few days in one way or another, so I’m perpetually trying to paste myself back together, and each time I feel just a little less capable of weathering the next storm.

      I’ve had many suicidal thoughts, but I could never do that to my children. So it is just me, stuck, trying to survive for my kids, and yes, my husband who I somehow still love. Hoping I can stay together long enough to keep everything from falling apart for them. It is not the life I thought I’d have, or the one I’d want for my children and it crushes me to fel so hopeless to chabge any of it.

      So thank you for your kind words. Made me tear up and it was nice to read them.

  2. “There is little written these days about the person without ADHD.”

    Just about every piece of literature and research is written by the people without ADHD. Everything from the name to the diagnosis is about how people without ADHD experience ADHD. This hateful ranting of a poor marriage says more about the author then it represents the ADHD population.

    If you as a spouse can relate to this message, your spouse has more going on than ADHD and your marriage lacks serious communication. You need to evaluate whether the environment you are in supports the way each other’s brains work. ADHD is not a barrier to communication. ADHD is not a barrier to being financially responsible.

    When an author can’t even put their own name on an article, you know it is toxic. I hope none of my patients read this article that perpetuates the narrative that people with ADHD don’t deserve love. Marriages take two people. If you aren’t feeling loved and supported by your spouse, it isn’t their ADHD rejecting you. ADHD might make that household project take longer to accomplish, but poor communication skills make it a fight or make it take forever. If you have ADHD, and things take you longer to accomplish, find a professional that can help you set up a system to keep you on track. You absolutely can accomplish anything and people with ADHD are actually better at single focus tasks than neurotypical people. You also have to find social support that understands what ADHD instead of feeds negative, inaccurate stereotypes.

    If you are the spouse of someone with ADHD that can relate to this, do NOT let them use ADHD as an excuse for poor behavior. Forgetting a task might be due to ADHD. Yelling at your spouse because you forgot a task is something else. Work with your spouse to assign roles based on each of your strengths. Do NOT enable your spouse by taking care of everything because that promotes learned helplessness and then you will get upset that they’re not doing things. DO discuss expectations with your spouse in nonjudgmental ways.

    I honestly can’t believe ADDitude published this.

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