Does your spouse have trouble remembering to lock the doors, lose their wallet, can’t find their keys? Does your spouse have more time to dream and think about work than to pay attention to the family and help you accomplish household tasks? Do you say to yourself you “should be a better wife,” or do your friends tell you that you talk more than anyone they know? If so, your marriage may be experiencing the ADHD Effect, where one or both partners have undiagnosed ADHD.
It makes it seem like your spouse doesn’t really care about what’s important to you, often partners may find themselves feeling their spouse is incredibly selfish. The spouse with the ADHD often questions themselves as well as it’s their intention to please those close to them but their brain operates differently. Frustrations for both partners can mount and lead to resentment. The good news is there is a way around this and if both partners begin to acknowledge the issue and work to understand it and then are able to work together more effectively.
What is ADHD? It’s a group of symptoms that a medical professional must diagnose but has its’ origin in the brain. Dr. John Raley has suggested that ADHD is a result of a dysregulation of the reward system in the brain and the brain craves constant stimulation. Negative thinking also comes with ADHD as negative thinking is more stimulating to the brain than positive thinking (positive thinking calms the brain).
ADHD Symptoms inattentive
- Fails to pay close attention to details
- Has difficulty organizing tasks
- Loses things necessary for tasks
- Is easily distracted.
Chronic distraction is the one that is most important for a diagnosis of ADHD
ADHD Symptoms hyperactivity:
- Feels restless
- Has difficulty engaging in leisure quietly
- Talks excessively
- Has difficulty awaiting turn
Other symptoms help paint a broader picture like: a sense of underachievement and insecurity (regardless of accomplishments or successes), difficulty getting organized, procrastination, trouble following through, easily distracted / dreamy or a tendency to drift off. There is also an intense dislike for boredom, along with impatience and a low frustration tolerance. Impulsivity across decision making and daily living is often a problem and can often crop-up in marriages around money issues. There can be physical or mental restlessness, mood swings, a tendency toward addictive behaviors. There is a tendency for a maverick attitude and looking for stimulation, and an inaccurate self-observation.
Depression, anxiety, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, Conduct Disorder, alcohol dependence or abuse may co-exist with ADHD adding to the marital mishaps and bewilderment. If the ADHD goes undiagnosed long enough the spouses can feel hopeless. ADHD is not a trivial issue in marriage and has a real impact on everyone involved in the family. It requires immediate attention and requires very particular approaches.
Symptoms for the Non-ADHD Spouse
There is a tremendous amount of stress, over-functioning and intense anger that comes with being the non-ADHD spouse. You may feel as though you’re doing all the jobs and parenting as a single parent despite having a partner. You may view your spouse as “another child” in your home who is often off-task, forgetting important details or seems more concerned about having fun.
Many non-ADHD spouses feel they are “normal” and try to get their super-speed thinking ADHD spouse to slow down or function as they do – which adds to the complications. The hyper-arousal and emotional instability that can come with and ADHD spouse may cause the non-ADHD spouse to overcompensate and appear controlling as they try to create a peaceful home and work around the pitfalls that happen with an ADHD spouse. Also, both partners can become increasingly angry and irritable: constant nagging from the non-ADHD spouse and constant inconsistency from the ADHD partner doing seemingly selfish things. Many therapists also miss the adult ADHD diagnosis so if this sounds familiar to you, find a therapist with knowledge of the effect it has on couples.
Kids usually adore the ADHD partner as that partner is the “fun parent” —low on discipline and high on playing—leaving the non-ADHD spouse as the “bad guy” disciplinarian partner. If the ADHD partner can also switch quickly to losing their temper and lashing out in anger at whomever is around. Emotions are often one way or the other without any balance.
WHAT CAN BE DONE?
- Educate yourself on ADHD and for the non-ADHD partner find a support group for validation.
- Get a diagnosis from a physician.
- Optimize your medication – follow the protocol:
- Identify goals: where are the challenges and what do you want to improve?
- Chart behavior while taking the medication: Is it getting better or worse? Track irritability – don’t trade focus for irritability. Make sure the physician is treating the full range of symptoms – perhaps there is co-existing anxiety or depression.
- Adjust the attitudes for the ADHD partner:
- Recognize the ADHD has had an adverse effect on your partner.
- Accept responsibility for slip-ups.
- Agree to stop denying and avoiding the issues.
- Learn to accept feedback about problematic behavior.
- Accept your better at some things and not great at others, play to your strengths and accept help where you need it.
- Hire out for chores!
- Adjusting attitudes for the non-ADHD partner
- Learn how to give feedback gently
- Learn to turn blame into empathy.
- Attribute slip-ups to a neurological issue and not mal-intent, don’t take things personally.
- Accept your partner may have trouble accepting responsibility for actions until they know WHY they happen and receive tools for change: meds and tools
- Practice empathy compassion and forgiveness and remember set backs are temporary.
- Hire out Chores whenever you can!!!
- Declutter the home, streamline and label things.
- Have a plan B – for example: take separate cars to events you don’t want to be late to and make copies of important documents when traveling. Fail safe your personal plan so you can roll with the unexpected things that happen with the ADHD spouse.
Accept there will be blunders especially in the beginning before the couple starts to work together around the inevitable mistakes and try to view setbacks as temporary and learn to forgive more quickly and laugh about mishaps.