“This Marriage Can Be Saved!”
How I saved my strained marriage after ADHD caused my husband and I to drift apart.
Before Lori Evans, a stay-at-home mom, found out that she had attention deficit disorder (ADHD), she would spend hours each day drawing and painting, and overlook household chores that needed to be done, like laundry, paying bills, and preparing dinner. Trying to meet the needs of her autistic daughter, Meredith, added to her pressure. Her husband, Doug, spent long hours at his job and wasn’t home much to lend a hand. Disorganized and overwhelmed, Lori took refuge in sketching her masterpieces.
Throughout school, Lori had struggled with schoolwork and tests, while excelling in art and photography. “I had low self-esteem as a child,” says Lori. “I got in trouble in school for talking out of turn and squirming in my seat. My parents thought I was hyper. They thought my problems would go away if I just applied myself.”
Her problems continued after she married Doug, 13 years ago. “Lori couldn’t handle the heavy responsibilities of running a household and raising an autistic child,” says Doug.
Bills went unpaid, appointments were missed, and laundry stayed unwashed. Lori started drinking. Resentment built up between the couple, and they saw a marriage counselor. They separated twice.
The turning point came when Lori was diagnosed with attention deficit, at age 40, and began treatment for ADHD and anxiety. The combination of meds gave her the focus to complete household chores. In addition, she partnered with ADHD coach Dee Crane, who worked with her to banish negative thoughts and develop strategies to structure her day.
“My initial goal was to improve my relationship with Doug,” says Lori. “But I also wanted to be a good mother and a good keeper of the house.” Here’s how she became all three.
Lori: I was diagnosed with ADHD five years ago, around the time my daughter, Meredith, was diagnosed with mild autism. I was reading a pamphlet about women and ADHD while I was waiting for Meredith to finish up with the doctor. I checked off most of the symptoms. When my doctor confirmed the diagnosis, I had mixed feelings: I was relieved to know the source of my problems. I resented the fact that I had struggled for so many years. Above all, I was sad.
Doug: The diagnosis explained why Lori couldn’t keep up with household chores. It explained the years of frustration and problems. I understood why she misinterpreted what I said or didn’t recall chores we’d discussed. It was important for Lori – and me – to know. You can’t make something better if you don’t know what the problem is.
Lori: Soon after the diagnosis, I met with Laura Jensen, a nurse practitioner who worked at the Melmed Center in Scottsdale, where Meredith was diagnosed with autism. We talked about treatment options. If ADHD medication would help me get organized, and save my marriage, I would take it.
Doug: When I married Lori, I didn’t know she had ADHD, but I knew she was different. Her differences attracted me when we first met. She isn’t cynical, as I am. She is spontaneous, and she will give someone the shirt off her back. At the same time, her ADHD made her mind race. We didn’t communicate very well.
Lori: My ADHD has had a big effect on our marriage – not a good one. I still think he resents marrying someone with ADHD.
Doug: Before Lori began taking medication and seeing an ADHD coach, she finished my sentences for me. She couldn’t follow through on anything. I yelled at her a lot. She would cry, and we wouldn’t talk about it.
Lori: We seemed to be living separate lives. Doug would work late, and I avoided him when he came home. I wanted to hide my mistakes. Early in our marriage, I forgot to pay the credit card bill. Managing the finances was one of the tasks we’d agreed I’d take on. So when Doug found out, it wasn’t a happy moment. Getting treatment helped me avoid such mistakes.
Laura: Lori is impulsive. The first time I met with her, she told me how disorganized her life was. We started her on Zoloft to manage her depression. She metabolized the medication quickly, so we adjusted the dosage several times. Now she takes Zoloft and Adderall XR.
Doug: The medication helped Lori focus. Now she stays on topic during a conversation and completes tasks on time. But the meds have drawbacks, too. She hyperfocuses on one task, and forgets about everything else – like preparing dinner.
Dee: Lori is bright and energetic, and she wants an organized life and household. When we met, she was critical of herself because she couldn’t focus on tasks.
Lori’s main motivation for dealing with her ADHD was wanting to improve her relationship with Doug. I explained that Doug would be less critical of her if she managed her symptoms and could be trusted to do what she and Doug had agreed on.
We listed Lori’s priorities – cleaning up the clutter, managing her daily schedule, completing household tasks – and talked about how ADHD prevented her from achieving them. Before we came up with strategies to achieve those priorities, we worked on some positive self-talk. Until then, she saw only what she could not do.
Lori: I wanted to organize my paperwork – everything from the monthly bills to the girls’ report cards. Dee and I figured out how to do that. I sit at a desk in the dining room, lock the door so no one bothers me, and I don’t leave my chair until everything is filed away. I have files for bills, ingoing and outgoing folders, and a work-in-progress file.
Dee: Lori couldn’t get to sleep at night. We worked on helping her organize the day, so that she could maximize her productivity. She found that to-do lists help her, and, because she’s a visual person, we’re working on a strategy where she creates a mental image of, say, the kitchen and pictures herself completing tasks on her list.
Lori: I make a to-do list every day. I write down the steps it’ll take to get each thing done. This helps me get started. In the past, I would put off anything I had trouble starting. Now, I choose an item and make sure I finish it before moving on to another task.
Working with Dee, along with marriage counseling, helped me see why Doug was frustrated. Now when we talk or divvy up chores, I write down what he says – in case I forget. We also meet several times a week, to discuss anything we’re upset about.
Doug: I am more patient with Lori and try to compromise. I know how hard some things are for her. We understand each other better. Lori needs quiet time each day, and that’s when she draws or paints. Lori has talked about selling some of her artwork. I do my best to support her strengths.
Lori: I am more confident now. Doug lends a hand and takes on some tasks that I don’t do well – like paying bills. The house is more organized, and I’m not as stressed. As a result, I spend more time with the girls. I feel that I’m a much better mom now.
Doug: Lori has struggled with ADHD all of her life. Although we have come a long way, we accept the fact that ADHD will always be a part of our marriage. My advice to non-ADHD spouses? Keep a sense of humor.
Lori: Now that I cope with responsibilities better, I concentrate on my dreams. I dream about submitting my artwork to a contest. I dream about going back to school. I dream about working. Although family comes first right now, I know now that I will pursue and realize those dreams.