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Yeah, We Both Have ADHD — and It’s a Marriage Made in Heaven!?

Some might say a marriage between two adults with ADHD is a recipe for disaster, but we make it work with special strategies. Here’s how!

When we started dating, we had no idea. In retrospect, the signs were there for both of us: messy cars, messy houses, an inability to stay organized; the propensity to draw or daydream our way through graduate seminars; always doing work at the last minute; always losing things — papers, staplers, child blankies. We were both great with the idea, bad with the follow-through. We should have seen the symptoms in each other, but we didn’t even see them in ourselves.

In 2008, I married Bear. I didn’t know it, but now I do: I have ADHD. And so does he.

I’m sure there are many ADHD marriages out there, but ours is the only one I’ve seen in real life. It makes sense for one person with ADHD to marry another — like attracts like. Most importantly for Bear and me, we didn’t have to hide ourselves. The traits that other people see as lazy or slovenly, we took as one more way we were alike. I remember realizing that Bear is a packrat, and feeling, rather than chagrin, a deep sense of relief. He wouldn’t judge me, then, for my messy house. Bear drew me comics during class. I wrote short stories for him. It worked.

Just as our dating worked, there are a lot of other things that make our ADHD marriage function. It sounds like the potential for disaster: Two people with ADHD who became parents of three children, two of whom have — wait for it — ADHD. But we’ve come up with some coping strategies that make things flow more smoothly.

Have a Place for Keys and Phones

You’re most likely to lose these two items, and their loss is most likely to induce sheer panic. We have a series of hooks next to the door. When my husband or I walk in, we hang our keys off one of them. It’s now second nature, so much so that I rehang keys tossed on tables. Bear takes care of the phones (he’s dubbed himself “Mr. Charger” — he also husbands our iPads and Kindles and Fires). Every night, he rounds up the devices, and plugs them in to charge. If my phone is missing, he finds it. With keys and phones settled, we maintain a semblance of control over our lives.

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Take Time for Each Other

It’s trite but true. When Bear comes home from work, we ditch the kids with babysitter Scooby Doo and head to the bedroom. We both change (Bear into jeans and a T-shirt, me into yoga pants). And then we lay down on the bed and…talk. No, seriously. We cuddle up together and talk about our day. He hears the new ways our ADHD sons have developed to maim each other; I find out that his sophomores-he teaches public high school-have learned to curse in Elizabethan English. Amid the maelstrom of our days, Bear and I get at least 10 minutes to sit, cuddle, connect, and calm down. With our ADHD brains running, running, running, the break keeps us focused. Especially because you need to…

Pay Attention to Each Other

This sounds easy. And it isn’t for neurotypical couples. But if I’m on my phone, there’s a good chance I won’t hear a nuclear apocalypse, let alone my husband. Wrapped up in a good film, Bear won’t notice me dancing naked (OK, maybe he would). And if we’re reading books/electronic book-like devices, no one hears anyone. We have to make a conscious effort to keep each other on the radar, to watch from the corners of our eyes. This helps with our parenting, too: It gives us a fighting chance to hear the baby pouring water all over the floor.

Agree to Let Some Things Go

The ADHD tendency toward disorganization means a constant battle against household chores. Bear and I have let go of laundry (it lives in baskets), dishes (they live on counters), and cars (they are full of Starbucks cups). Our Christmas tree is still lit in February, because we prioritized family time over cleaning. But just as we agreed to let some things go, others need to get done. I insist on a minimum of clutter (which is still a lot of clutter), because toys on the floor make me cranky. Bear doesn’t insist on anything, because he’s more laid back. But he knows that when he’s in charge of the kids, they best pick up after themselves.

Always Have a Backup

Do not rely on your spouse to remember names, dates, times, or appointments. I can’t tell Bear to wake me at 6:30 a.m.; chances are, in the rush to get to school, he’ll forget. When he forgets, I get mad. So instead, I skip the drama and set an alarm. Facebook helps with the calendar issue, at least for big events, but we have to write down (type in) important dates and appointments. We probably forgot your birthday. We’re very sorry. We also forgot the thank-you notes. If we’d have saved this stuff in our calendar, we might have done a better job.

In some ways, two adults with ADHD are a match made in heaven. In other ways, they need to do some hard work, different from neurotypical couples, to keep their marriage, house, and family running smoothly. I’m grateful my husband doesn’t ridicule my scatterbrain tendencies. He’s grateful I don’t harass him for leaving the dishes undone. It’s not for everyone, this ADHD marriage. But it works for us.

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