It’s confusing and feels hurtful – your partner has many symptoms of ADHD, and you know enough to understand it’s heritable, so having 2 kids with ADHD ups the chances significantly that one of you has it. Yet…he adamantly refuses to get an evaluation, telling you instead that ‘you just need to lighten up’ and ‘if you would just be nicer to me, everything would be fine.’
“I’m Not the Problem…You Are!”
Though you probably don’t see it this way, there is actually good logic to denying that you have ADHD. The most common thinking is ‘if I am diagnosed with ADHD then my partner will blame me for all of our marital problems.’ And, the reality is, marital issues are NEVER just the fault of one partner. But even therapists may be tempted, once that label is given, to focus on what the ADHD partner needs to do better to ‘be a good partner.’ Sadly, this misses one of the ‘biggies’ in why relationships impacted with ADHD struggle so much – parent/child dynamics. And, in that, the non-ADHD or more organized ADHD partner is equally complicit. Particularly when a non-ADHD is emphasizing the failures of the suspected ADHD partner in an attempt to get him to get an evaluation, it’s easy to understand why resistance would make sense, even if it’s not productive in the long run.
“I Do Fine at Work, I Can’t Have ADHD”
Work is often either a highly structured environment (with someone else creating the structure) or highly creative (where no rules seem to apply.) Either way, the person suspected of having ADHD isn’t creating a structure from scratch. Furthermore, many jobs are quite interesting – easily keeping the attention of a person who has ADHD…AND, many have support teams and assistants to fill in where an ADHD partner might be weak (for example, in scheduling or organizing.) Home has none of this – in fact, most tasks are boring or monotonous; you have to create and maintain your own organization; and there is no admin to help you out. Many highly successful business people with ADHD fall on their faces at home until they acknowledge their ADHD.
“I Did Fine in School, I Can’t Have ADHD”
This is a variation on the above. You can be really smart and get through your education with ADHD – not all struggle. That still won’t help you in your relationship, though. Completely different skill sets.
“Your Anger is the Issue”
Non-ADHD partners are often exceptionally angry and frustrated by the time they start suggesting ADHD might be a factor. It’s really easy to see how destructive that anger is, and it is a true statement to say that non-ADHD anger is a big issue in the relationship. It’s just not the only issue. If ADHD is present and your relationship is struggling, then I guarantee ADHD is ALSO an issue. This isn’t either/or…
“I Did Just Fine Before I Met You”
This may well be true, and the logic makes sense. “I can’t be broken, as you as suggesting I am, because I function fine on my own.” The suspected ADHD partner may well have done ‘just fine’ on his or her own. That may be in part because when you are on your own you have no one else to think about but yourself when it comes to what time you leave for the airport; what you eat; what your home looks like; whether or not you take out the trash or clean the bathrooms; and, importantly WHEN you do all this stuff, if you do. But living in relationships are not the same, and doing well before you have to be more accountable to another person is not an indicator – one way or the other – of whether or not ADHD is present.
What to Do
Don’t blame: If you are the non-ADHD partner, understand that the most important step in getting your partner to consider an evaluation is to stop blaming your partner for your relationship troubles. In fact, start working on your own issues and make it clear that you understand that two people create issues – you’re working on your side and are requesting that your partner consider his (or hers.) Take the pressure off, and stop communicating (even inadvertently) that you think ‘fixing the ADHD’ will fix the relationship. This attitude says to your partner loud and clear that you think he is broken.
Get educated: A diagnosis of ADHD is actually great news – it’s one of the singly most manageable conditions you can have. I’ve seen many, many couples move from a place of great anger and dislike to find the love they thought they had lost. My books can help you learn more about how ADHD might impact you both. Even more to the point is my couples seminar. If you take the live version you have access to me for 8 weeks and I promise to answer ALL of your questions (no exaggeration there.) Many who take it only suspect they might have ADHD and wish to find out more - many of those people registered after their partners acknowledged the wariness they felt, asking "I know you aren't excited to learn about ADHD, but this information is really important to me - I'm wondering if you might try it out just for that reason." If your partner isn't sure s/he wants to find out more, rest assured - I have a generous 'you really have nothing to lose' refund policy so you can try out the course at no risk.
Get your own house in order. Particularly if your partner is pointing to your anger as a source of problems in your relationship, it helps to work on lessening that anger so that your partner has more difficulty blaming you rather than looking inward. You can't control your partner's contributions to your relationship problems, but you can control your own.
Stop focusing on the ADHD: If the partner suspected of ADHD just can’t manage to see his way to getting an evaluation, then focus on the issues of the relationship rather than the ADHD label. "Treat" the relationship issues (which you do have, even without the label of ADHD) and symptomatic issues that don't need a prescription. Sleep issues, better eating, exercise all help manage ADHD symptoms as well as have a host of other benefits. So, for example, if anger is pervasive in both parties, diagnose what sort of anger, and start putting strategies in place for you both. What you will find is some things may get better, and some won’t – and if ADHD is truly there, the things that don’t get better will point more clearly to ADHD, which may make it easier to consider an evaluation.
Get that evaluation: Once the pressure and blaming are off the table it may be easier to consider an evaluation. Getting an evaluation doesn’t commit one to a specific path such as taking medications. It simply gives you information that points in a direction that will help you improve your life in whatever direction you choose to pursue. It helps put you in control! If you have anger issues, you can move down that path with knowledge about how ADHD might play a role. If it’s organization, then you can choose that path, with specific tools designed to suit your needs as an ADHD adult. (Why waste time trying to use tools that work for others, but not for you???!) If it’s focus, then perhaps you wish to consider if medication might be right. The good news is that 50-70% of adults diagnosed with ADHD can make huge improvements in their symptoms with good treatment and another 20% can make significant improvement. Those are amazing numbers, and you deserve to partake in that!