9 Tips for When Non-ADHD Spouses Just Can’t Cope Anymore

Some days you just don’t have the energy to cope with your partner’s ADHD symptoms any more.  What can you do?  Here are nine tips to help you survive…

Keep your cool.  Blowing up will only hurt, compounding your image as a nag or unreasonable spouse.  This is not in your best interest, as it allows your partner to write you off rather than remain respectful.  So, instead of getting angry, let the issue (whatever it was)“slide past” you when you just don’t have the energy to deal with it calmly right then.

Jot it down.  Non-ADHD partners are sometimes slow to let things pass because thy fear their partner will “wander off” and that will be that.  Counteract this by jotting a note about what needs to be addressed so you can deal with it at a later time, perhaps with a counselor.  For example, you might write “late getting kids to school on Tuesday by 30 minutes” or “interrupted multiple times at dinner on Friday.”  After a while, you may see patterns that will help you convince your partner that his or her behavior is more difficult than they originally thought.

Do something nice for yourself / be selfish.  When faced with persistent ADHD symptoms, non-ADHD spouses tend to focus more and more on their ADHD spouse, rather then on themselves…to their detriment.  For example, in my case, the more unhappy I became, the more I started thinking about my husband -  what he wasn’t doing and should have been; how much his actions impacted our family; how inconsiderate he was, how unreliable he was, etc.  This meant I forgot about me – very unhealthy! So when things really get tough, do something for yourself – take a nap, do that project that’s been hanging over your head (unapologetically dump the kids on your spouse), get a massage, read a book in the local park, eat some really healthy food, go to bed early, or exercise.  All will improve your state of mind, the last (exercise) particularly so.  Or, as the ad says, “you deserve it!”

Insist on being heard…later.  When you are exhausted and frustrated is not the time to address difficult issues.  Wait until you are in a better frame of mind, then sit down with your partner and explain what you need - calmly.  You don’t want to give up on your needs, but neither do you wish to sabotage yourself by seeming unreasonable, angry or otherwise difficult to deal with.  (This sabotages you because it gives your partner an excuse to retreat – and nothing gets solved that way!)

Keep a journal.  Sometimes exhaustion is another form of not having any more ideas.  Writing in a journal can help you expose your feelings and explore alternate approaches to your problems.  It also can provide some much-needed quiet, self-focus time.  Writing in our forum is also a good way to get new ideas.

Find a friend.  Go out for dinner or drinks, take a walk together, visit a local museum.  Get a sitter if needed.  Knowing you have support helps you get through.  Too many non-ADHD partners isolate themselves as they struggle to work through their marital problems, maintain control of their lives and the house.

Listen.  When you’ve finally found the energy you need to interact again, make sure to listen.  All too often non-ADHD spouses get used to “ordering” their ADHD spouses around and don’t realize they aren’t really listening to their partner.  Converse, don’t order.  Listen and question.  This will encourage participation in your partner, and that can be enough to re-energize you.

If you can afford it, hire it out.  Get stuff off your plate by hiring it out.  Housework, yardwork, filing, decluttering and organizing, and babysitting can all be effectively hired out.  This type of delegation will help prevent future stress.

Create a plan.  The eight tips above should help you find more energy and new approaches.  Creating a plan about how to get out of your current slump will make you feel better.

For the longer term...

Eventually, it will help a great deal if you can explore and strengthen your boundaries.  Though this is hard work, it will help you stop any rescuing, parenting and enabling you may be doing with your partner.  The process of creating stronger boundaries includes looking at your own values, placing your wants, desires and deal breakers into a hierarchy so that you can determine what you must fight for and what you can let go or negotiate...and then aligning your actions with what you've discovered.  That's the hardest part, of course, because it's easy to get sucked into the chaos of your household and the issues your partner faces.  But, ultimately, you will feel better and be healthier if you are able to keep enough attention on your own behaviors and your own needs.