I’ve been trying to think about whether to write about my mother’s recent death in this blog, and decided I would share some thoughts with my readers, whom I am coming to think of as long-distance friends. Death, of course, makes you think about what is important in life.
I gave a talk last night for ADDclasses.com about overcoming anger and frustration in ADHD relationships. At the end of the session listeners asked two very important questions: how do I get my spouse with ADHD to admit he has ADD and participate in improving our relationship? And, as an ADHD spouse, how do I get my non-ADD spouse to admit I have ADD and start to deal with it?
There is now a wealth of information in the forum and blog posts here about what types of issues are related to ADD. A recent post reminded me that it also makes sense to focus a bit (pun intended) on the fact that not all marital issues can be ascribed to ADD (and the inverse, which I wrote about in my "Ode" post that some wonderful things in a relationship can be directly attributed to ADD characteristics). Here is the post that brought this to mind and my response:
A woman who has been married for 3 years to a man who was diagnosed with ADD after they got married, has taken the time to write to me quite a bit about her situation. It is one that I recognize, as it closely mirrors the situation I had in the beginning of my own marriage. One of the key issues is that she and her husband had a wonderful courtship, during which he “hyperfocused” on her (though neither knew that this was the case as it was happening). Now she is desperate to feel loved and in the kind of relationship her courtship had led her to expect, but she finds her spouse unrecognizable. Not only does he not connect with her, but he dismisses her concerns about their lack of connection, leaving her frequently in tears. She is “in shock because I feel as if the person I fell in love with doesn’t exist”.
We had a long post (and follow-up email) from a woman who is at her wits end about how to resolve the “do I stay or leave?” question. She cares for her husband, but he is driving her crazy and he impacts her life so negatively that she was depressed and on medications for a while. A couple of people have already responded with supportive advice, so check out the comments, but here is the original message and our thoughts:
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.
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.
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.
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?