ADHD & Marriage: When Doing "Well Enough" Can Help

ADHD Marriage: 

What happens when an ADHD partner takes responsibility for ADHD issues, but still struggles to make things go smoothly?  Here's a good example of the process that couples go through to find a balance that can work for them.

In this couple, the husband has ADHD and the wife does not.  He admits his ADHD is an issue in their relationship, and is willing to experiment to try to get their lives to flow more smoothly.  His wife is also willing to work hard, though she is discouraged by how slowly (if at all) things change.  He is experimenting with lists, maps, alarms and the like, but they have not yet developed an overall system that helps them both relax a bit.  They'll get there, I'm convinced, but it takes time.

One common area of conflict for them has to do with his ability to do things as she asks him to.  She's great at explaining what she wants, and even giving him specific directions.  He's willing to take her directions in good humor.  He's put some coping strategies in place to try to make things go more smoothly (and on time) but still doesn't always "get it right".  Here's the most recent example - she sent him to the grocery store to pick up some supplies she needed for holiday cooking.  He willingly agreed, reviewed her written list with her and went to the store.  As part of her list review, she made sure to point out that she needed regular jam, not sugar-free.  But he came home with sugar-free jam rather than regular jam, and somewhere between the checkout and home misplaced the lemon juice.  She couldn't use the sugar-free (aspartame breaks down in cooking, so it would have tasted sour) and she needed the lemon juice to complete the recipe.

When he got home they both realized that she still didn't have exactly what she needed.  He knew he had done it wrong and was mad at himself, so he went back to the store and exchanged the jam and picked up the lemon juice again.  But she was disappointed at his inability to do it right the first time even though she had expended extra effort to help him succeed (list, review).  She complained about it for a while afterwards, even after he had exchanged the jam and gotten the lemon juice and the second run.

I watch out for interactions like these.  Over time, they need to become "neutral".  In this case, they weren't.  The husband took responsibility for doing the project and making things right - albeit not in the optimally efficient way.  Yet in spite of this, his wife was still upset.  To her, it was just another example of how he can't do things right.  His ADHD got in the way of his completing the task optimally.  Her response to his ADHD meant neither of them derived any satisfaction from all of his effort.  And he did expend a lot of effort!

There are lots of examples of issues like this - where a non-ADHD spouse complains that a chore isn't done right because it wasn't done a certain way, in a certain order, or at a certain time.  Sometimes doing things "just right" is really important.  But many times, it's not as important as one might think.  Doing them "well enough" can be fine.

The long-term problem with this shopping interaction and others like it is that over time, the husband in this couple will finally decide that he "can't ever satisfy her" and stop trying so hard.  Just like his wife, he doesn't really understand why he gets it wrong so often, but he is trying to compensate.  He takes a list and checks items off the list.  He reviews the list with his wife to make sure he understands exactly what she's looking for.  He sometimes calls her from the store with questions.  And when he gets it wrong, he goes back again.  He's doing the best he can to do it right, and is open to any other ideas people might give him to do it even better.

Yes, he messed up, but a neutral or positive response from his wife would really help here.  The husband doesn't need to be told he messed up.  He's perfectly aware that he messed up - the evidence that it is so is right in front of him.  In fact, he's just as distressed as she is (he doesn't want to go back to that store again - it's a pain in the neck to do so!)  So complaining focuses on the negative - his mess up - rather than the positive - his willingness to assume full responsibility for this task until it's done.  And complaining also takes away his accomplishment - he didn't do it right the first time, but he did persevere and eventually he did complete the task...well enough.

"Well enough" is an important concept in ADHD relationships.  Would it be easier in this instance if the husband didn't have ADHD?  Sure!  But this man is never going to be "non-ADHD", no matter how much either of them might wish he were.  She can accept - even appreciate - his continued attempts to do better (and encourage experimentation) even while she mourns that he has to jump through these hoops in the first place and that life for her (and him) isn't as smooth as it could be.  He comes as a whole package - the things she appreciates about him, as well as the fact that he can't find the right jar of jam at the store.  Patience and good humor, even in the face of a cooking deadline, can go a long way towards supporting him as he continues to find ways to improve how their lives go.

Another approach for this couple would be to sometimes change roles.  He happens to cook, too.  Sometimes she can't leave the kitchen for some reason.  But sometimes it might work to have him do the dicing and prepping work while she goes to the store for supplies.  Is it optimal for her to change chores midstream?  Probably not, but it might be one way to improve their overall success rate on these types of interactions.  I would suggest that she consider going to the store on those occasions when it's critically important that she get the right ingredients the very first time.

In this case, the husband is going to continue to experiment with ways to be more successful on these types of errands.  I've encouraged the wife to try to be more neutral in her responses when she can.  I've also suggested some ways she can start to think of her glass as "half full" rather than "half empty".  (Her husband suggests that ¾ full might be better!)  He is taking responsibility, after all, and making a real effort to get past these hard-to-understand lapses.  For that, she can be thankful.

While I'm on the topic of "well enough", here's another example:  My daughter left the ice cream on the counter last night and it started to melt.  I found it just before it got to the completely runny and gross stage and put it back in the freezer, saying to her nicely "Hey, you left the ice cream out...I'm putting it back."  She apologized, and I vowed to myself not to eat that ice cream again (it would taste bad).  I could have nagged her about it, but it wouldn't have made a difference, really, for the next time.  So, instead, I will work around her inattention to details.  If I want ice cream soon I'll just have to open a new container, which I will then put at the back of the fridge where she'll be less likely to use it.  Ideal?  No, but it's "good enough".

P.S.  I know that some of you will ask the question "but why should I have to "lower" my standards to "good enough" simply because I live with a person with ADHD?"  I answer that it is a side-effect of living with ADHD that on some things doing it "well enough" is as good as it gets.  You can either rage about that or work around it.  In the meantime, accepting "well enough" when appropriate will go a long way towards encouraging your spouse to continue to seek improvement just as it does with this couple.

And sometimes, even people without ADHD appreciate "well enough".  My daughter pointed out to me (with great hilarity) that she found scotch tape in my refrigerator the other day (yes, I inadvertently put it there!)  Three nights ago I miscalculated the time dinner would be on the table for some guests by two hours!  We made due and played cards until dinner was ready.  If I had ADHD people might have tried to pin the blame for my less than stellar performance on that.  But I don't, I just lapsed.  So be it.  We still ate.  We still had fun.  I did "well enough" even if it wasn't optimal.  And I was thankful that no one gave me a hard time about it.


Excellent reminder!

After reading more about ADD, though, I'm realizing that a lot of things I'm grousing about are things that Tim really can't help. He wants to, tries to. And that has to be enough. Because otherwise he gets discouraged and gives up. It can be tiring to be a cheerleader for someone all the time. (In fights I've complained that if I ever stray into anything other than totally positive, I'm seen as mean and rebuking. He's working on it in the long-term.) But it does make a difference.

I've started getting multiples of things that Tim tends to lose or break. It's made a huge difference. I used to get really annoyed and make Tim feel worse about it because we're on a strict budget and broken things=more money. Now, I get that he's not being careless. He's being himself. And that necessarily means he's going to lose things more often than most people. So now, when he loses things, I don't feel surprised. I just try and think of how we can replace it affordably, preferably with more than one item.

He now has less stress: I'm not going to yell (in fact, I lately have been telling him not to be so hard on himself about a basic personality trait) and he has more at home, so it's not going to create a problem. So far, it seems to be helping -- though it could just be an anomaly. Even if he starts losing things again, I'm just going to try and ask myself if it's really the end of the world.

That question helps me a lot when dealing with his ADD. Is it really the end of the world if I have to repeat myself? (Because I hate it due to my own issues.) Is it really the end of the world to replace a $4 water bottle? (Even though we have to be careful with money?) If he needs a bullet point list to stay on track during a phone call to the credit card company? It's a little aggravating at the moment. And, over time, it can be very frustrating if you let it all build up. But it's not worth risking my husband's already-fragile self-esteem.

I think the hardest thing about living with an ADDer is realizing that a) he's not being maliciously indifferent to your feelings -- he's just forgetful and b) it's okay to feel frustrated, so long as you learn to let it go and don't take it out on the spouse. That's not to say you fix all of his mistakes. He needs to fix it in order to learn to do it right. Just like any learning process. And it can be frustrating to not get what you want immediately. (When it comes to me, this can be especially problematic, since fatigue can set in randomly and end any activities for the day.) But you have to find a way to let it go.

I guess for me it helps that I have so very many obvious flaws too. I don't mean that in a self-deprecating way. It's a fact. I have chronic fatigue and bipolar disorder II, so I'm grumpy and I have severe limitations and all sorts of other things that aren't fun to deal with. But Tim accepts them because he loves me. He puts up with my moods, my snits, my periods of no sex drive while his is as high as ever. Because he understands that people are flawed and their flaws are things to accept along with all the good stuff.

I know there are husbands out who dont' deserve such consideration. I've heard some horror stories about men insisting they're fine, everything is someone else's fault, etc. But for those who do accept their condition and its implications... They are often in a unique position to truly understand and accept others for who they are, warts and all. And when you look at that kind of no-holds-barred acceptance, how can you really hold some sugar-free jam against him?

Good approach

I like your attitude - very positive. If you have a Freecycle group in your area, you might use that as a way to find things you need for free to help you manage your budgets as you are buying extra stuff. This is an internet group you join and people post things that they would like someone else to be able to use. All sorts of stuff gets posted, from very small to very big, weird to wonderful. Anyway, this can help with budgets! Go to to check it out.

I love Freecycle but it can contribute to clutter

I've gotten some great things on Freecycle, including our dog and our cats!

The only problem is that people tend to want you to take all of something that they have, like a whole box of books when there was only one there you needed. (I actually got the cats when I was getting a bed frame.) Then you can build up clutter, which is a big problem for a lot of ADDers and those who live with them.

Be careful that you don't let Freecycle items create clutter in your house. I'm dealing with that now.

What happens when "good enough" isn't good enough

I understand your comment, but what do you do when "good enough" damages the non-ADD spouse's life?

I've had major permanent damage done to my life by my husband's inattention to details. I lost a year of school because of his failure to make a phone call. This means I will practice the profession I'm studying for for one year less, and that will impact my pension and social security. I will have less quality of life for my whole life because he failed to make a phone call. He says he didn't mean to hurt me (and of course he didn't) but am I less damaged because of that?

In your example, suppose my husband making the second trip to the store means he needs to buy gas sooner? And we don't have the money in the account (he never checks before he spends money) and it causes a bounced-check fee?

For people who are running very close to the margin, these small slips can cause major problems. Once I ran out of gas because I couldn't pay for it. Another car hit me while I was on the side of the road and I ended up with permanent damage to my leg, which will ultimately cause my leg to need amputation. You might say, "so you ran out of gas, so what?" but I will suffer constant pain for the rest of my life because of it. (This was before I married my ADD husband, it wasn't his fault, just an example of how details can matter.)

So how does a person like me, who has suffered such out-of-proportion consequences for small mistakes, find peace? How do I feel safe while living with someone with ADD when I know first-hand how small careless mistakes can impact MY life? My husband loves me (and I love him) and wants only the best for me, but that doesn't mitigate the damages this inability to handle details causes me.

good enough damage

There are times when "good enough" isn't "good enough" and each person knows where those boundaries lie. I am a strong believer that each person has to set his or her own "no crossing allowed" boundaries or rules and then live by them. These provide structure and ensure that you get to live the life you deserve to live. Though not explicit in my writing above, you'll note the bolded and italicized word...I do not believe that ADHD is an excuse to run over people...nor do I think it should be something that is the reason everything's not okay. There are also things called accidents. You point out that getting hit by another car when you ran out of gas wasn't due to the ADD - but if you had been married to a person with ADHD and he had forgotten to fill the tank, would you have held that against him forever? Or just considered it a miserable accident, as you do of the situation as it really occured? I ask this question because it's an important one to ask ourselves. When does ADHD become the "reason" for things when it isn't even the real reason, or is just one of many reasons? And along those lines, if that phone call was so important to the rest of your life, why was your husband (whom you must have known by then wasn't great with follow through) in charge of making it? Why weren't you making it yourself? Or sitting in the same room with him while he made it on time? Though I clearly don't know all the details, it strikes me that you share in some of the responsibility for the fact that your call didn't get made. (I don't want to offend you here, and you can't tell that because the written word doesn't convey tone of voice. It's simply a question that should be asked.) Details most certainly can matter, as does fate (what would have happened if you had run out of gas 1 mile earlier or later, or on a different day? Perhaps no accident...) My point is only that patience and respect also matter. We spend a lot of time trying to "correct" ADHD so that the details are right, and perhaps less time finding ways to respect each others' efforts. The details issues cause huge amounts of frustration. The patience and respect can help couples find a way to navigate their details issues so they can be happy together. In the example above, I try to illustrate that respect and patience can help a couple interested in working around ADHD do so.

Good enough-response

I know you aren't attacking me. I am not sure I made my real point clear enough.

My husband was in charge of making the phone call because I didn't know it had to be made. I was at work and had no way to know his week-old car had broken down, and he had abandoned it on the street. I had to pay to get it out of impound as my name was also on the loan and the title. He "couldn't remember his phone number" so he didn't call anyone, or call me at work and let me know what was going on. (I would not have been brought to the phone and he didn't know his number so I could have called him back on my break.)

The accident that crippled me was actually caused by my ex-husband deciding not to pay child support that month, so I couldn't afford gas. And of course, the lady in the Buick that hit me. So I can be mad at them as well as the fact that I had to drive when I knew I shouldn't.

My point is, as a result of these two disasterous consequences to me from small problems, I can't trust my husband. I KNOW he isn't trying to hurt me, but to me, disaster waits around every corner. Every time he gets food out of the refrigerator, I'm afraid he's going to forget to close the door and we're going to lose all our food and starve. (It's happened.) We walk on the edge of the cliff financially all the time, and I'm always afraid his carelessness is going to push us over it. Is there any way to get him to be more careful, to understand that we can't afford for him to make mistakes like not calling a towtruck when the car breaks down, or not to close the refrigerator? Or is all my fault for not being patient enough? After 2 1/2 years of treatment, I don't think he's going to get any better.

Ah, I See

If you didn't know the phone call had to be made, then of course you couldn't have made it or even have asked him to make it. Thanks for understanding the questions I was trying to ask without getting mad. I appreciate that. I don't know what type of treatment he's seeking, but good treatment has two elements - making physical changes and making behavioral changes. The physical changes are things that change him physically such as medication (optimized for best result), exercise (helps with focus), brain training (helps with focus), fish oil (helps with focus). The behavioral changes are habits that help him remember things or do things differently (more successfully). Figuring out exactly what works in that arena is an area for experiementation. There are books that can help, such as Nancy Ratey's book "The Disorganized Mind", though he needs to want to make those changes in order for those sorts of books to help him. If he's just been taking meds for the last 2 1/2 years of treatment, then he hasn't maxed out his options yet. I don't think that his carelessness is your fault, by the way. It's his issue and you suffer the consequences of his issue. What I'm urging is simply that neutrality can help inspire a man who wants to make the changes to continue to pursue the experimentation necessary to be more successful. An idea about your fridge, so you don't have to think about that so often - most fridges have "legs" that can be adjusted in the front. Check to see if you might be able to raise the front of your fridge so that the door closes automatically, even when it's left open. It's a small thing, but one less thing to worry about...!

Love the idea about the fridge

I will sometimes find the fridge in the morning cracked open and all the ice cream soft (I am addicted to ice cream.) He never knows that happened. I'll look into doing what you said.

Mostly, he has just taken meds and he's suffered bad side effects from them. The doctor at the clinic writes the med prescriptions, I pick them up, all he has to do it take them. The doctor doesn't do any therapy, and his coach "fired" him because she saiid his meds weren't right. He is seeing a psychology student at the clinic for therapy, but I don't think she specializes in ADD. She is always reminding him to use his planner, but it doesn't help him to have common sense about things he needs to do, like call a towtruck if his car breaks down. (I do give him credit. When the replacement car broke down, he did call, and it cost us nothing. That shows he can learn from his mistakes, but didn't mitigate the consequences to me of the first failure.) He finally learned his number after about six months.

I just never can relax. It seems like his ADD can always jump out and ruin my plans, or my school year or whatever. I know there's no cure, but how can I ever feel safe?

I also find it frustrating that he doesn't feel the need to mitigate the consequences to me. In your original scenario, he would probably have said something like, "I already went, if I didn't do it right, do it yourself." He feels no obligation to earn extra money to pay for his ticket for DWI (of ADD mediations!) or help me pay to make up my missed school year.

not well treated

All arrows point to this man needing to stop assuming that "taking medications" is the same as treating ADHD. Your marriage needs better ADHD treatment - a psych who understands ADHD, experimenting with various treatments (medicine or others) until target symptoms get under control. It's certainly in your best interests, but also in his. Does he feel as if he's bound to fail with treatment? That he's tired of pursuing it? That he's tried everything?? Perhaps you can get to the bottom of why he isn't getting better treatment. Even if it is a financial issue, some things don't cost all that much money (organizational books can be gotten from the library or used; exercise can be free if you're not doing it at a health club; brain training disks to work on memory can be had for under $100.)

Better treatment?

All the psychiatrists want to do is push meds! I don't think any of them would recognize him if they ran into him in the supermarket.

We went the Psychology Clinic route because the psychiatrists we were paying for gave him Strattera, which created major and profound depression for him, then wouldn't answer when I called them desperate because he couldn't even get out of bed,and tried it AGAIN with even more disasterous results. We have no way to pay for another psychiatrist, so now, we just sort of take whatever he gets. We can't even afford the co-pays for the insurance. And no one can explain why all the meds have such serious side effects for him. I'm not even sure anyone but me gives a damn.

Psychiatrists pushing meds

I agree with this.  The psychiatrist who medicated my ex refused to even talk to me or even listen when I tried to tell her he was acting dangerous and possibly suicidal or homicidal.  She also continued to give him prescriptions for his pills (which are very much regulated as a controlled substance) even though he had bottles of pills he had never taken.  She insisted he had to approve of her talking to me before she would even listen to what I had to say.  I didn't want to know what they had discussed.  I just wanted to tell her how bad he was becoming.  I finally gave up.

brain training disks


Could you give me more information about the brain training disks?


arwen's picture

not knowing where "good enough" boundaries are

Melissa, I agree with your basic concept here, and we certainly do practice this approach, pretty successfully on the whole.

You say,however,  in one of your responses to this post that "There are times when 'good enough' isn't 'good enough' and each person knows where those boundaries lie.  I'm not sure I would agree that this is always true of the partner with ADD.   This has actually been an issue in the past for my ADD spouse.  His attitude tended to be that his efforts compensated for any errors he'd made -- sometimes true, but not always.  His concept of "good enough" was entirely *subjective*, based on how much of a problem the foul-up caused *him* -- he really didn't recognize accepted social mores or any other objective standard of "good enough".

Misreading labels was very common with my husband as well.  His reaction was invariably "Shoot!  Oh well." Sometimes it was no real problem at all.  Sometimes it was a small deal.  Sometimes it was a big deal.  He seemed to  be incapable of differentiating between them.  To him, it was all just a small problem with reading labels, and he would be momentarily irritated with himself, and then in a blink of an eye he shrugged it off and was past it.  Didn't learn from any of his "big deal" mistakes -- until the day he didn't read the labels on the two yellow plastic containers in the garage and put motor oil in the radiator instead of antifreeze.  I discovered the problem the next day as a result of the odor, which he hadn't noticed.  It cost us a huge amount of money that we didn't have at that time to get the whole cooling system flushed and cleaned.

Having a reasonable idea of what constitutes "good enough" requires a person to have some realistic concept of *consequences*.    Up until the antifreeze/motor oil snafu, my husband wasn't able to see that there could be any non-trivial consequences from his careless label reading.  Actually, for many years, my spouse could barely recognize that *anything* he did away from his office could have non-trivial consequences.  Like Sueann's husband, this made my spouse very dangerous indeed in some situuations.

Unfortunately, my husband is not the only ADDer I know who suffers from an inability to perceive both real and potential consequences well.  These days he does *much* better, and has a better attitude about it, but there was a long period of time when his deficient perception of conscequences and his concomitant view of "good enough" was not merely frustrating but a serious hazard for the rest of the family.

Arwen, did your husband pay the consequences?

The frustrating thing for me is that my husband thinks it's OK if I suffer the consequences of his carelessness.

For example, he got a ticket (he really was driving too fast) and the highway patrol guy thought he was under the influence of an "impairing substance", namely, his ADD meds. Now we are going to have a huge legal bill. He has no problem with the idea of taking the money for that out of next semester's student loan. He feels that *we* are paying the lawyer, not me, even though I will have to pay that loan back if we divorce or he dies. He will not consider a second job in order to pay for it.

Did you husband work extra hours to pay for the car fiasco, or was it at a time when only you were working? Did anything happen to *him* as the result? I am so frustrated with my husband's refusal to take responsibility for this, or indeed, for anything he does.

How did you get your husband to perceive the consequences of his actions? My husband isn't mean, or a spendthrift, or any of the other things wives on this board complain of, but he thinks as long as he doesn't "mean it" he isn't responsible for the consequences of his actions.


suffering consequences

We all suffer the consequences when someone doesn't take us into consideration on important things (ADHD or not), whether it be anti-freeze, financial concerns, educational direction, dealing with family.  Frankly, I think you all have done a good job of defining when "good enough" isn't good enough, so no need to delve further there!

If it helps, George wrote a post to a man with ADHD who was confused because he felt that whatever happened to his wife was okay as long as his intentions were good.  She left him.  You can find George's comments at this link.

In essence, he suggests that people with ADHD should not assume it doesn't matter, and tells his version of why.

arwen's picture

sometimes yes, sometimes no

I have worked really hard to find ways for my husband to "suffer the consequences" in as natural a way as possible, when it's been appropriate.  I'm sure you know how hard that can be!  Sometimes there just is no way for the ADDer to get stuck with the consequences of their behaviors and at the same time have nobody else be affected.  For a long long time my husband had the same kind of attitude, that as long as he didn't "mean it", he shouldn't be held responsible.  It took many years of me saying "I don't care what you didn't mean to do, I only care about what you mean to not do -- and they are NOT the same thing."  I explained to my husband a thousand times about the concept of negligence crimes ("if you are driving a car and you're not paying enough attention and you run over a child and kill him/her, is the child any less dead because you didn't mean it??  as a driver, you are expected to pay enough attention to avoid accidents -- if you can't, you shouldn't be behind the wheel, it's immoral to put other people at risk like that.  and it's the same way with the rest of life.")  And then seizing every possible opportunity to highlight cause-and-effect.  It required a lot of persistence, and forethought in order to be ready for those opportunities.  The scorn of our children (they were pre-teens when his ADD behaviors were re-erupting in his late 30's) towards some of his more egregious behaviors also helped to drive some of these lessons home.

I should mention that although we have very carefully set up our various financial accounts so that I have control over the family finances, neither of us has any substantial amount of personal funds.  We live in a community property state, so technically everything is joint, but we have agreed that monies received as personal gifts will be treated as personal rather than community property.  So in any given year we each may have as much as 7 or 8 hundred dollars that's "personal".  Sometimes we've used this as a source of funds to pay for fixing bad results out of bad behaviors (for both of us!  I've done a few really ill-judged things myself, although the price tag on my bad behaviors has been a lot lower than his.)  If there's no money in the "personal" funds when a bad behavior causes a significant problem, the joint account will temporarily "loan" the money until more gift money is received and can be used to pay back the joint account.  I'm sure there have been situations where I have insisted that my husband "pony up" from his personal funds where he didn't necessarily agree that it was warranted.  But I have a very carefully considered but rock-ribbed sense of right and wrong, and an extremely clear and fair system of judgement, I can always back up my decisions with sound reasoning but also keep an open mind, and I think he has learned over time that I'm actually more lenient with him than I am with myself, so he's learned to trust my impartiality and assessments.

In the case of the motor oil in the radiator, even though I was very upset about cost of the label-reading problem that led to the motor oil in the radiator instead of antifreeze, I actually could understand how he could have made this particular mistake.  He not only has ADD, and has SAD which makes his ADD worse November through April, he's also myopic, very slightly dyslexic, he's colorblind, and he has sub-par motor control in his hands and poor sense of smell.  The color of the two fluids looks the same to him, and he couldn't smell the difference.  And the labels on the plastic jugs were both black-on-yellow (he can see yellow and blue, everything else is shades of browny-grey), one saying Prestone and the other Pennzoil (both start with "P", have e's and o's and n's, etc).  So if you're in severe can't-pay-attention mode, as he is in antifreeze season -- well, you get the idea.  So it didn't really seem right to me to make him pay for the repairs, especially since he finally accepted and acknowledged that he really did have a label-reading problem and it obviously could be a very big deal, and did feel quite bad about it.  However, I did make sure that I was not the one who was inconvenienced by the car being in the repair shop for a couple of days.  And I hinted to our mechanic that some good-natured teasing of my husband on this score would not be out of order, to help him remember the lesson better.  And we stopped buying that brand of motor oil and chose something that was packaged quite obviously differently!  To be honest, we laugh about it now, but it wasn't funny at all at the time.

However, there have been plenty of other situations where there was really no excuse for his behaviors -- like the car engine with a very slow oil leak that he totally destroyed through never putting oil in -- despite the fact that I reminded him about it constantly, and there was this flashing red light on the dashboard all the time, and the car made horrible noises when it was very low on oil, and we'd set up special alarms to help him remember to check it.   That happened before the oil-in-the-radiator problem, and cost quite a bit more -- we actually had to replace the car, and I was absolutely furious, as again we had no money to spare and had to ask my parents for a short-term loan (otherwise he would have had no transportation to his job).  The natural consequence here was that I insisted we get the cheapest, junkiest used car that was safe enough for him to drive that we could find anywhere, on the theory that if he wasn't going to take care of his car properly, there was no point in putting any money in it at all -- and it was more than 10 years before he got to drive anything nicer, since he didn't do any better for several more years, before he finally began to turn that situation around -- a very long time in automobile purgatory.

In some situations, he has provided non-monetary compensation.  For example, when he screwed up our bank account by writing overdrafts when I'd specifically told him not to write any checks, he not only paid for the overdraft fees from his "personal" monies, I also required him to do some of the work I'd normally do around the house, as well as his own, to compensate me for the enormous amount of time I'd spent straightening out all the problems that had ensued.  I've rarely gotten flack from him on this -- for some reason he understands impacting my time considerably better than he understands monetary impacts.  (I know he has been very aware that *I* never feel like I have enough time, despite my ability to manage my time well -- maybe that's why???  Or maybe it's because he's seen how hard I've worked to substantively further the elements in our marriage that are important to us both, and doesn't want to get in the way of that???  No clue.)

Will he ever be able to compensate me for all the consequences of his bad behaviors that I've endured and handled?  It's highly doubtful.  But I guess I don't see that as the standard of justice in our situation.  He *has* worked hard to change in recent years -- and succeeded in many ways -- he *does* work earnestly to improve both his attitudes and his behaviors.  He has gradually come to accept quite a bit of responsibility and is working hard to make things better in this area.  Five years ago I was in utter despair that this could ever happen and was ready to call it quits.  For the most part, we are actually doing better than "good enough" over this past year (that wasn't the goal, it has just turned out that way -- we were just aiming for "no significant disasters" and "pleasant vacations", lol!).  It has definitely been a long haul.

Great Advice

My wife did something last night that made me feel like I didn't matter at all in the relationship.  And added to that, she did not stop at the store as promised to pick up some things I needed for today.  I explained how I felt and she got it.  She apologized for her actions.  And she said she'd go to the store in the morning before I left for work to get what I needed.  I said she didn't have to do THAT, but she said she would, and I was glad she did.  I didn't expect she would, however - I thought time would get away from her, or something, but in fact she DID go to the store and get what I needed, and also got me a card to say again how sorry she was.  I thanked her for going to the store and for the card, and gave her a big hug.  She ended up feeling better that she had "remedied" things.  I ended up being able to let go of my hurt and anger.  And we both came away feeling loved and understood.

Normal, I love your approach!

Normal, I love your approach! This is the same way my husband and I are handling things with each other. I need to understand that he does not do these things out of neglect or carelessness, and he needs to understand that I need to see some sort of effort from him. It's taken a lot of research and soul-searching on my part to be able to see these actions for what they are: the product of a neruological illness, not my spouse thumbing his nose at me. It was hard at first, for both of us. But we love each other, we've been each other's best friend, and we're committed to making this work, so that has made it easier. We have a reminder system in place (me LOL), and he does show me every day, in little ways like a hug while I'm cooking dinner, or finding a show for us to watch together, or doing the dishes, that he loves me. He shows me every day that he loves our kids. Is it always easy, or pleasant? Well, no, but nothing worth doing is every easy, right?

kad0356, hang in there. I know that's easier said than done. But the fact that your wife tried to make up for her "forgetfulness" shows you she loves you. Sometimes you have to take a deep breath, and remind yourself that ADD/ADHD people have different ways of showing love than we want to accept. But I think with love, patience, and a good head on both of your shoulders, you can make it. Don't forget to praise her when she remembers something on her own, or follows through on her own; those little gestures go a long way toward fostering a sense of confidence in those that have never known it before! Good luck! to ADHD man

Hi: I need help. My "man" has ADD and some depression. He is a doctor. We dated briefly and the hyper focus was intense. 3 hour phone calls, texts galore and a lot of flirting and emailing......that lasted  for about 6 weeks then when I asked him what 'was up' (his intensions) the wall came up and he slammed on the breaks saying his new diagnosis of ADD meant he was not in a 'position' to be in a relationship. (he initiated the whole relationship......) We email every once in a while now as he wanted to keep in touch. I have become super close with his family (mother) that lives thousands of miles away. He and I live 200 miles apart. I see him about every 2-3 months when I show up for work near where he lives. Any advice? I have OCD and I have read a lot of books on ADD & blogs. He claimed he was never "interested" in me during the hyperfocus but is that true? Or is he just unaware because of his ADD? He is super busy as a doctor but has no debt and is responsible. Same with me.


Thanks....I really like him and I want this to work I think I know what I'm in for just not sure how to go about it.....

Long Distance

Long distance relationships are really difficult because you never really know what's going on, and you can't look the person in the eye for any verification.  He may be scared by his diagnosis, or concerned about the combination of OCD and ADD, or he may simply have suddenly woken up one day and said "wow, this isn't what I wanted at all!" and think that using ADD as the excuse makes it "easier" for you.  There is really no way to tell.

I can tell you that getting a diagnosis of ADD makes some people joyous and others terrified (and ditto for the partners of those people).

I find it strange and a bit disconcerting that he is willing to say to you that he was "never interested" while he was talking with you on the phone 3 hours a day.  He clearly WAS interested at the time, for there is no other reason to act that way.  But what he might be saying is that the "high" he got from being romantically so interested (there's a lot of dopamine that comes with romance) was very motivating to him and felt good, and he "glossed over" some things that made him uncomfortable for a while.  This is not at all unusual with romance, in fact, ADHD or not.  You might pursue a better understanding by asking about this, but be forewarned that doing so, while it might clear some things up, might also hurt quite a bit.

ADHD doesn't make you unfit for a relationship in general, so another thing you might talk with him about is why he feels this way.

That's not the problem

My opinion is this has nothing to do with ADD... it sounds pretty much like a narcissistic personality, where it is TEXTBOOK to go through a hot pursuit initiated by the person, and the cycle of idealization (what he's erroneously calling "hyperfocus"), then devaluation, and discard.  Long distance relationships such as you describe are quite typical.  It's very confusing to have this happen.  Please google or read books on NPD and you will find more answers.  ADHD sounds like an excuse he's using.  I've had a past relationship exactly like you are describing with someone narcissistic, and I am married to someone with ADHD.  ADHD can be frustrating but it doesn't make a person love you, then not love you, and then claim they never loved you.

Thanks Melissa!

This has been so helpful! I should also add that I have been widowed for about a year and his hyper-focus happened a few months after I was widowed. We knew each other before so it's not like we just met. Immediately after we got together he told me (1) about his depression then a week later about his (2) ADHD. He asked me to read up on ADHD and recommended "Driven to Distraction" and some others books. (I have read a lot on the topic) I realize ADHD has it's challenges. I know I cannot change him. He does have an ADHD coach and a therapist. He is on meds and was excited to have a diagnosis. He hates his job and his esteem is low...yet he is bringht with dual degrees; MD-MBA. I just feel he is struggling with our 'relationship' and I'm not sure what is good for his ADD. I have been super supportive and he emals me with gratefulness from time to time. Meanwhile his mom and I are getting closer......I feel he deserves to be supported and not discareded just becasue he has ADD. I am older and I was married for over 25 years to a wonderful (non-ADD man ) So, I feel I can bring him the support he needs....just want to do it in a way that is balanced and appropriate. Thanks so much!

This is also typical of a

This is also typical of a person with NPD traits... to pick on someone recently widowed, divorced, or in a bad relationship.  And someone who is obviously quite compassionate and a giver. My feeling is that there is really nothing in this "relationship" for *you*, though there is support and such for *him*.  Red flags that have nothing to do with ADD.  Also, whenever you have to put the word "relationship" in quotation marks, it's not a normal situation, even for ADD.  It sounds like he doesn't want a relationship, he just wants to use you for support.

Also I would add, that in my marriage to an ADHD person... in the past I have accepted what was downright emotional abuse from someone who managed to chalk up any and all behaviors to ADD.  Because I am also a compassionate and giving person, and someone easily made to feel guilty, I tolerated much more than was healthy or fair.  With a lot of education and counseling, I have come to recognize the difference between ADD traits, emotional immaturity, and selfishness and entitlement.  I no longer accept emotional/verbal abuse, selfishness or entitlement, and have found it much easier to deal with the actual ADD stuff now that our relationship is healthier overall.

Supporting someone you care about is important and valuable, but "saving" them or being used by them is not.

Please be careful.

ADD man is not narcissistic

Hello all: No, I'm not going with the narcissistic label on this one.......but the more I read and spend time with ADHD Psychaitrists, MD's and therapists/specialists he is definitely ADD. It's not an "excuse".......ADD is a real bona fide disorder. My guy has never denied his diagnosis nor used it as an excuse for bad behavior.  He is on meds, has an ADHD coach and a therapsit/psychiatrist. Whether or not I'll still be around when he is ready for a relationship is my choice.

Excuse me?  I didn't say ADD

Excuse me?  I didn't say ADD isn't a real bona fide disorder.  I didn't even say he doesn't have ADD.  I said there are VERY specific red flags that indicate something else as well, as ADHD is OFTEN comorbid with other disorders.  Of course it's your choice to wait around for him, no one said it wasn't, but I'm sorry to say you will probably be very frustrated and very sorry.  Your defensiveness speaks volumes.  Good luck anyway.  The opinion was simply meant as a friendly warning.

(If you read my posts again you would see that I was speaking from my own experience and that of many others; my own husband has admitted to using his real bona fide ADD to excuse his real bona fide selfishness, because he could.... and the N-trait man I know also has real bona fide ADD that does not excuse his narcissism)

Never seen anyone do so well......

Dear JoyRebel: No, since you don't know me it's unlikely that I will be "frustrated and very sorry". All of my dcotors have givem me the highest level of being well adjusted and happy. Best of good fortune with your circumstances. "I've never seen anyone do so well for so long with their plate piled so high" was the latest assessment from my GP. What a nice thing to say, ditto from my other doctors! My comments here are in reply to the comments of many entries. I apologise for not desiring to read any of your earlier posts. Best of good wishes to you, though!

When she is okay with my "well enough", can I be a better me?

I'd have to say this hits a core issue in my marriage. My non-ADHD wife has worked hard at this, but really struggles sometimes when I do something differently than she asked, or have not done something at all a week later when she asks about it. 

My first reaction to your post Melissa, is that if my wife appreciates "well enough" more of the time, perhaps I will be reinforced for my efforts more and I can make more rapid progress with my organization, communication and focus. 

However, now I'm wondering if this would just make me less aware of my 'errors.' I don't want to lose motivation to improve and grow and change... although I am internally motivated and driven, that really ebbs and flows. It sometimes seems that pressure from others is a primary contributor to my motivation. 


Well Enough vs. Not Doing

doing something well enough means that you do it, and do it in a way that might be surprising to others.  That's not the same thing as not doing the thing for a couple of weeks...

It sounds as if you need a system that brings your chores/tasks into the "now" in a real way at a time that is set aside specifically to do tasks.  I sometimes suggest the combination of a list of tasks plus scheduling special task time (just like you schedule meetings for work) AND an obnoxious sounding alarm set to go off at the start of task time.

As for focus - look to your treatment and see what you aren't doing but could.  Are your meds right?  Do you exercise?  (Exercise before your task time and you'll stay much more focused on the tasks).  Do you meditate?  Explore specific approaches that are KNOWN to work for ADHD.

"Errors" are sometimes in the eye of the beholder - you will find that if you get things done in a more timely way, your wife will be more forgiving about how you do them because she'll be less frustrated overall.

When my Wife says she can't live like this anymore...

Carl, and to whom ever reads this... My wife loves me, this I know very much.   She gets very fustrated when I don't seem to follow through with task and I forget to dot things.   Lately, it seems as if she has lost patience and tolerance for my short comings.   She has tied to help me by having me write things down, make checklist, suggesting to give me an allowance, to seeing a counselor, which quite honestly, I do not mind doing any of that.   I do WANT to get better, I am trying, but she insist that I am not trying very hard, when indeed I am (she just doesn't understand how hard it is for me).  She told me that as soon as I learn that this is the way I am and accept it, then I will be able to do better.  I don't believe that I can accept it, because I feel stupid often.   I don't have alot of friends, really none that wants to do anything with me, like spend time, get to know me, etc.   I seem to be paranoid that people talk about me, they don't talk to me much at work, well some people are not shallow and do speak to me, but I'd say, probably 85% of them don't even act like I exist, which makes me depressed.   I keep asking myself, "what is so wrong with me that people don't want to befriend me.   It is hard for me to get motivated because when I do, I feel like I get slammed back down again.    They tell me that getting good exercise helps, but the problem is, my motivation to go to the gym  is lacking the effort to get in the car to go.   When I do go, I feel better after I am done, amazing. LOL!   I have started to make checklist so I don't forget steps of a task that i need to do, which helps.   I know its very difficult for my wife to have to go behind me to fix or redue things.   She is very smart and self-sufficent.   I feel like I am a burdon to her often.  I don't know what to do most of the time to make it where she doesn't have to think for the both of us.   She has alot to deal with at her work, and then she comes home to "deal" with me.   I just need someone to talk to that understands and know exactly what i am going through and what she is going through.   any ideas or suggestions is MOST appreciated.    Thanks, "searching for answers"!  

Nettie's picture

You're Not Stupid!

First, there are different types of intelligence. Even if you really have scored below (what, 60?) on an IQ test, you may be blessed with a different type of smarts (most people with ADHD ARE really smart), so stop telling yourself you are stupid. (BTW, other people don't like being with losers, so don't label yourself one.)

Next, on a related note, it's awesome you credit your wife with so many talents. Now, it's time to do your own inventory of awesomeness. At what do you excel?

You may want to get help with some people/social skills, but just knowing yourself will help gain friends, because you'll know where to connect.

Concerning organization, you can learn those skills also. When I became a single mom, responsible for myself and too precious little ones, it was sink or swim, and I learned FAST. You can too, with patience with yourself and good resources.

Get busy reading ADHD resources and practicing those skills. You don't need your wife to do everything. You can do most things, and it's okay to ask for help for things that aren't your best focus. Good luck and keep in touch on the forums.

When Well Enough Applies to Everything

I've just finished another long weekend with my husband at home.  Over the past couple of years, he's turned almost everything he does into an almost-done job.  He manages to leave the last step off almost all his projects and actions.  Some of them, I can ignore and some have to be finished.  He thinks I nag him all the time and don't see all the good things he does, but he doesn't see that he rarely really completes anything.  He wants his intentions to count for a fully-finished job.  Weekends are long and difficult, partly due to the constant trail of unfinished stuff - open doors, cabinets, things not put away, lights left on, dishes partly done, etc. 

I'm just venting here.  My husband won't acknowledge his ADD except to use it as an excuse.  I'm trying to focus on taking care of myself and my needs.  I know that my husband doesn't want to change anything about himself, so I work to change myself.  I'm really tired of having to carry most of the load in the marriage.

Brain training

Hello Melissa,

I'm pretty new to this site, and finding it very helpful.

But I do have trouble following the threads.  Somewhere in posts subsequent to this blog you mention "brain training" to help focus.  Somewhere else (perhaps as a Search result), I came across a request for more information on "training discs".

I'm trying to get help for my husband, and so far the only possiblities seem (1) getting a very expensive assessment (appx 5-6 hours), mostly by a psychiatrist, psychologist & psychometrist.  The assessment team do not do any treatment, (2) getting a much cheaper 1-hr assessment by a psychiatrist specializing in ADHD who does his own assessment and treatment (meds only), (3) an assessment, then treatment by an ADHD specialist psychologist who does cognitive therapy--difficult for us, as we have very limited insurance coverage for psychologists.  Or a combination of 2 or 3 of these. 

Can you elaborate on what you mean by "brain training"; and what the other poster meant by "training discs".  Thanks.

A small coffee victory.....

This morning, I woke up and came out to the kitchen to discover that my ADD Husband had actually MADE the coffee. Now, please understand: he didn't put enough water in it, didn't put the lid on the container back properly, and the filter was a little askew in the basket, but the point was that he actually MADE THE COFFEE, and it was GOOD ENOUGH. Later, when he's up, I am going to give him a big squeeze, and thank him for making the coffee - I'm NOT going to mention anything else about how it wasn't done correctly.

(Melissa's concept of GOOD ENOUGH has really made sense to me, the exasperated non-ADD spouse. I have really taken that to heart, and it is actually WORKING!)

As I sit here and drink my Husband-made coffee and write this, I can't help but think: One small step for Husband, one GIANT step for wife.


A happy coffee drinking wife


That's so awesome!!!  Little things are the best!!  :)

He continues to

make the coffee every day now since I posted that, and he has even come so far as to ask me recently if it's made the way I like it! I never thought I'd see this day, but it has happened, and now I have faith that all the other bigger things on our plate are going to get solved one thing at a time.

I took the advice of Melissa's book and I have been leaving thank you notes EVERY time he's done something right, and believe me, it is not easy. When the concept of "thanking him every time he did something right" came up, my first thought was "Are you kidding me? I have to thank a grown man, my husband, every time he does a chore?" And the answer for me is YES, and only because I've seen it ACTUALLY WORK. I have to make a conscious effort every day to recognize the things he DOES follow through on (even when they're half done) and LET HIM KNOW that I am thankful that he is making the effort to change. It is working, and I'm going to continue to do it.

One question I had for Melissa was, after all these happy years with her husband, is she still thanking him every day for the things he does? Or have they moved on from that? Am I looking at a lifetime of thank you notes?


Amen, Melissa! :)

Hi Melissa,

I feel like you have followed me to the grocery store!  I can't tell you how many times I have made one mistake despite reading, re-rereading, clarifying, and calling home.  I, too, have been met with anger and disappointment, even though I always go back to the store to rectify my error.  He even gets aggravated when I call home, but I tell him if he could control his wrath, I wouldn't call him to verify quite so often (I'm not generally vindictive, but this Catch-22 makes me grin a bit).  That being said, I am also frustrated with myself in these type of situations.  Regardless of the reaction of others, who wants to make careless errors and waste time they don't have?  It's maddening!  Thank you for vindicating me.  It would be one thing if the ADHD partner refused to take responsibility for it.  If that's the case, be angry!  To rub a spouse's nose in it when they already feel like crap (pun unintended, but I'm going with it) is unnecessarily cruel.  I also like what you said about not all mistakes can be attributed to ADHD and that even those without it can make similar mistakes.  My husband, who has better executive functioning than most humans (not being sarcastic here; he truly is amazing in this regard) has, as of today, forgotten to put the oil cap in his car back for the THIRD TIME!  There is enough oil in the garage to rival the BP oil spill!  Have I rubbed it in?  No!  Do I think it's funny?  Hell, yeah :)!