Your Relationships

Melissa Orlov solves your problems with spouses and friends.

Man & woman on bench have relationship problems
Man & woman on bench have relationship problems

From Romantic to Platonic

My long-distance boyfriend, who was recently diagnosed with attention deficit (ADD/ADHD), phoned to let me know he would like to “step back and just be friends.” I love him, and I don’t want to lose him. What should I do?

Your boyfriend is probably confused, overwhelmed, and/or relieved by his new attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD) diagnosis, but the change in your status isn’t an ADHD-related issue. The bottom line is that you need to respect his wishes. If he’s being honest with you, he’s indicated he doesn’t want to be pursued. You should make it clear that everything can’t remain the same. Going from girlfriend/boyfriend” to “just friends” changes your relationship. Tell him that you still care about him, but that there are new “friends only” ground rules.

Then, think about opening yourself up to other friendships and experiences, instead of waiting around for him. If he decides to get serious again, you can assess whether that works for you at that point.

My Wife, the Child?

My partner, who has ADD/ADHD, isn’t good at getting projects done on time, particularly if they are big or difficult. Can I help her without feeling like I’m parenting her?

Maybe. Spouses often fall into parenting mode when they instruct their attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD) partner about how to do something, or take responsibility for the project that doesn’t get done fast enough. Your partner needs to find strategies and a reminder system that works for her. There are many resources to help her get through tough projects, such as Ari Tuckman’s More Attention, Less Deficit and Nancy Ratey’s The Disorganized Mind. Encourage her to read them, and offer your support only when she asks for it.

The key is to help her get projects done without making her feel like a child. Sit down with her regularly, and make sure you both agree on the most important tasks to accomplish for the week. Brainstorming is another useful approach. If — and only if — your partner consents to it, share your ideas about how to tackle a tough task. She can choose to use them or not. Finally, offer to take on tasks that are particularly difficult for her — exchanging them for some of your tasks, so the workload doesn’t fall on your shoulders.

My Partner Won’t Share the Blame

How do I get my partner to admit that ADHD is ruining our relationship?

There are many reasons your partner may deny that attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD) is hurting your relationship. He might be ashamed of having the condition, fearful that treatment will turn him into a different person, or concerned that you’ll blame him for your marital problems. Such fears can be exacerbated by frustration in the non-ADHD partner. On the other hand, he may like himself as he is, and believe that the problems are caused by you. Try these strategies:

  • Tell your partner that your reaction to his ADD/ADHD symptoms are not meant to be mean-spirited. Many non-ADHD partners respond in the same way to distraction and impulsivity.
  • Tell him that you don’t blame him for the problems in the marriage, but sometimes you find it hard to deal with his ADD/ADHD symptoms. You don’t want to change him — you want him to manage his ADD/ADHD symptoms.
  • Suggest that he learn more about treatment if he fears treatment will change him. Delivered from Distraction, by Ned Hallowell, is a reassuring resource for this.
  • Acknowledge that you play a role in your marital problems. If you show your partner that you are working to resolve your problems, it will be harder for him to resent you for butting into his life.