ADHD and Marriage Blog

I was reminded the other day of one of the most frustrating things about relationships where one spouse is ADHD and the other is not – that is the feeling that you are experiencing the same problems over and over and over again (and again)!  Breaking out of this cycle – which is very exasperating for all – is critical to building a better relationship.  Attitude, believe it or not, and specific communication skills, are the key to moving forward.

The couple I was speaking with who reminded me about this frustration (I’ll call them Bill and Angie), have been together 5 years.  She has ADHD, he does not.  They run a business together and are having some very significant issues around time management, organization and general frustration.

Dr. Hallowell often states in his speeches that people with ADHD have only two concepts of  time – “now” and “not now”.  How true that is!  If a project or idea is in front of a person with ADHD it gets done now…or, if not now, then perhaps never!  This trait has plusses and minuses in the ADHD marriage.

Starting with the negatives (so that I may end on a positive note!) it means that people with ADHD have trouble planning to do something

Two people have commented that they are in couples where both spouses have ADHD and that they find this very difficult.  I would like to address this a bit here but will start by recounting two comments specific to this topic to make it easier for those of you on a blog feed who aren’t always referring back to the site itself:

From mhmarel:
What about if both spouses have ADHD? I find it much more difficult to set up routines and coping systems, because I know my partner will not help me maintain them, and may even undermine them (example -- I spend an entire day organizing our financial files,

Those who wish to get a broader introduction to Steven Stosny's knowledge about anger can go to his website (at the link in this sentence).  While the purpose of the website is to promote his courses, he writes well about the effect of anger on health and anger at children, among other things.

It may well be that anger management in marriages where one or both spouses has ADHD is THE critical issue that determines whether or not a couple can be happy together.  Anger can develop in both partners, though it often manifests itself differently in the two.  This is a topic that is so large that it needs to be addressed in many different ways, but let me start here with an example of a couple I've written about before, whom I'm calling Anne and Tom.  In this couple, Tom has ADHD and had, for many years, an issue with sudden flashes of anger.  His wife, Anne, who does not have ADHD is

I know no one who loves household chores, but if you have ADHD the chores can move from drudgery to an impossibility.  That is, until you recognize that NOT doing these chores can wreak havoc on your most important adult relationships.

One of the most common issues with couples where one spouse has ADHD and the other doesn't is that the non-ADHD spouse often ends up as the family chore person, while the ADHD spouse does not participate regularly in taking care of daily chores.  For reasons I will explore in a different blog entry, this is particularly complicated when the person with the ADHD is the wife.

In "Delivered from Distraction", Dr. Hallowell provides an overview of what's typical for a couple where one spouse has undiagnosed ADHD.  The first thing he mentions, because it is so common, is this:

The division of labor is wildly uneven.  The non-ADHD member does almost all of the "scut work" - the picking up, the organizing, the reminding, the cleaning, the planning - what psychologists call the executive functions.

He goes on to provide a detailed overview of what the frustrations can be in an ADHD-affected relationship (pp. 318-327 in Delivered from Distraction) and I strongly recommend that anyone reading this blog read that chapter of the book.

Back to household chores and relationships.  "Wildly uneven" is wildly difficult for BOTH spouses.  Here's why it's hard for both spouses and what you can do about it:

Being a person who does not have ADHD married to a person who does have ADHD can be wonderful.  It can also be intensely frustrating.  I am a non-ADHD spouse married to a man who has ADHD.  Dr. Hallowell has the opposite - he has ADHD while his wife does not (part of the reason we are teaming up to write a book on this topic - we balance each other out!)  If you are a spouse without ADHD, you may well recognize much of what I am about to describe in your own marriage, for without a doubt I have experienced the "classic" ADHD-affected marriage.  Before going further, I will also tell you that while my husband and I have had significant struggles - born largely of his ADHD and my response to it, we now have a very strong relationship.  In fact, we are living proof that learning how to manage ADHD in your relationship can improve it immensely.

So, what does it feel like to be married to a person with ADHD when you do not have it yourself?  What are some of the basic patterns?