Accountability for Conversations?

This is somewhat similar to apollo's post from a year ago, but I was just wondering if anybody had tips for dealing with the problem of the ADD partner's ability to participate fully in a conversation and yet have no memory of it.

A very benign example:  Last night my spouse asked me to make some popcorn.  I was on my way out of the room, but I started the popper and asked him to save some for me to eat later.  He said OK and I went off to do my thing.  When I came back an hour and a half later, he had not doled out the popcorn for me and had no memory whatsoever of us having that conversation.

A less benign example: We are planning a road trip vacation to visit family.  He and I sat down and talked about when we were going to leave, and agreed on a plan.  When the topic of our departure date came up again last week, he got angry with me because we were leaving on a Wednesday and came up with all sorts of excuses for why he didn't know that, or would never have agreed to it, even though we had talked about it at some length.

I'm not so much concerned about dealing with the "false memories" aspect of it - I have made my peace to a greater or lesser extent with that aspect of his ADD.  What I want to know is... does anybody have any ideas as to how to tell when the ADD spouse is not present in the conversation?  I have tried asking him to repeat things back to me (which is how I handle our four year old when she is just smiling and nodding at me) but he gets offended and says that I am patronizing him.  Any other ideas?

Nettie's picture

Gauging Attention Levels

I can't really help with accurately judging attention levels; I just usually predict that my husband is not going to remember what I tell him, even it's just the time span of walking from the living room to the kitchen. Fortunately, he is good natured about getting reminders and doesn't feel patronized - that must be tough.

And I do remind him! I send emails, text messages, text to office phone, etc., and more fun - my bookstore sells cute reminder stickies. One says to guess the "likelihood of actually remembering" and has checkboxes for things to remember, including "smile." I have a note he can carry around waiting for him almost every night, and I would even consider posting one over the popcorn popper if I wanted him to save me some popcorn (or on the bowl itself). I'd also plan to have another packet I could make myself.

This morning, I called DH and asked him to come home so I could duct tape a reminder to his forehead. He happily said he'd be right over. ~N

In the trip scenario, I get a

In the trip scenario, I get a calandar out and write everything down as a plan. I once asked him to sign something one time and that was a mistake so now I pretend the written plans are for me and lets me remember because "I tend to get things mixed up" according to my ADD husband. When there is a question, I seemed surprised and go to the written plans to confirm what we talked about. I also write it on the calandar so he can see it everyday. In the popcorn incident, I would leave a bowl out for me to remind him but that does not always work, he tends not to see obvious bowls on the counter.
Elisabeth's picture

My fiance has ADD and we have had similar issues.

In the beginning of our relationship, we were living in different countries and making times for phone calls was really important to me. We would have a 30 second conversation on the phone as either one of us was leaving work and arrange to Skype an hour later....which would often turn into a 6 hour wait on my end because he would have forgotten or even had no recollection of our ealier conversation - even when it was him leaving work to go home directly with the express purpose of calling me!  I would swear black and blue on my life that we DID in fact have a conversation and agree on a time and his forgetfulness used to make me think I was not a priority and he didn't really care.

This may sound silly, but it took both of us a while to catch on that this was indeed happening because of his ADD.  Sometimes you read and learn about what the symptoms and behaviours are but then it can take a while to figure out how it actually plays out in real life.  Once we realised what was causing this, he used to set himself an alarm or write himself an email and then he would remember the conversation when he got that trigger.

Another thing is, now we are living together, if we need to have a conversation in which I need him to action something (anything, be it big or small), I specifically ask him to focus on me.  I ask him to turn the TV off, or shut his computer down or stop and put down whatever he is doing and actually say "I need your attention on me now" and make sure he is looking at me as we have the following conversation....if he for even a second looks away I know he won't have heard me!  Well he would have heard me, but the information has not registered.  By us doing this, he then (a) knows it is important to me that he listens and (b) that it means he will have to action something.  It really works for us.  We still butch up from time to time in that I will call out something from the back door like "can you grab my purse on the way out?" he will call out from the bedroom "yeah sure" as he is tying his shoelace or getting his iPod ready and then down the track we realise are standing at the supermarket counter with a full trolley having just gone through the cash register and no money to pay with....but these it makes us laugh if anything.



arwen's picture

Conversational accountability

SMF, I've never been able to consistently accurately gauge whether my ADD spouse is truly listening or not.  Sometimes the responses he makes are perfectly appropriate for what we're saying, but he still isn't in the same conversational universe I am, because his mind has gone off on some tangent.

The approach I've used to cope with this is to "make sure we are on the same page" before we close the conversation.  My spouse uses a PDA, and sometimes I ask him if or for what date/time he created the alarm (that he should have created is implied) for an item, in order to verify that he in fact paid enough attention to make an entry. If there's no alarm, I ask him to please create one so the item doesn't get lost track of.  In a planning situation, I'll close by saying, "Ok, we covered a lot of territory here, let's both read back our notes so we're sure we didn't miss anything."  (This presupposes you are both taking notes -- a requirement in my husband and my discussions.  Taking notes helps to reinforce the memory formation and reading back helps reinforce it again.  The more you reinforce, the more it's likely to actually stick.)  It's not *always* my spouse who missed something, so he can see it is worthwhile for us both, and that helps take any sting out of it.  Finally, I don't let him get away with conversational vaguenesses like "OK" or "uh-huh" or "I guess".  Whenever I get that in response (unless it's really obvious that "OK" is very actively meant as "fine, I agree"), I say (as non-confrontationally as possible), "I'm sorry, I don't know what 'OK' means here.  Does that mean you agree?  Or just that you heard what I said?"  If the response is a mere "yes", I double check the meaning with "You mean, yes, you agree that we should <whatever>?" or whatever would be appropriate.  Nail it down, nail it down, nail it down!  Sometimes I do have to say, in as matter-of-fact a way as I can, "I'm sorry, but it doesn't seem to me like you were really listening, and I really want to make sure we understand each other on this, could you please summarize or repeat back what you understood?"  (And he can see I really *am* sorry to have to call his listening into question -- it helps him to know I'm sincere!!!)  After a couple thousand of these, my spouse eventually has gotten out of the habit of vague non-listening responses most of the time.  Since he's not articulate enough to give me a substantive answer without being aware of it, I can be pretty sure he really heard.  I work very hard at not being challenging or confrontational (don't always succeed), but mostly I'm just very quietly and nicely persistent.  He's eventually understood that the only way to get me to stop trying to verify his listening is to actually try to listen.  But that puts a responsibility on me, too, to make sure I don't ask him to listen and digest more than he can really handle.

My husband used to resent my asking him to repeat back.  After a lot of time and effort, I've managed to get him to understand that I am *not* trying to patronize him, but that the stark reality is that he doesn't always listen as carefully as he needs to, and I'm just trying to prevent a future conflict by making sure we understand each other now.  He isn't particularly keen about it even so, but he has come to recognize that it's better than the alternative of a future crisis and blowup over misunderstandings.

Of course non of this helps with a "popcorn" sort of conversation, but anything of greater importance might benefit.  I've given up fretting about the "popcorn" conversations myself!

Regarding the "false memories", I know it's not my business, please forgive me putting my two cents in, but I would be more concerned about them.  My husband had a much bigger problem with this himself when his meds dosage wasn't right.  (There were other problems as well, not just this.)  When we adjusted his meds, this problem got a lot better.  If your spouse is having this problem, it may be an indication that his meds need tweaking.

I hope something in here is helpful or sparks an idea for you,

How do you respond when he gets angry about not remembering

For me, it is not the fact that he doesn't remember whole conversations. It is the fact that he gets angry at me when he doesn't. He barks at me when I say "we discussed this, remember?" ("Well Obviously I don't remember!" or "Don't say 'Remember'!") or he acts like I'm an idiot (like I would say something is true if I thought there was some way I could be mistaken?) He realizes that he has a weakness about remembering conversations and things that I say, but he always gets annoyed or angry when it comes up again. How do I make him own it and not lay it on me? His anger is making me very anxious, tense and depressed. About the popcorn thing. When my husband volunteers to make the tea I just take it as read that I will have to finish the process. He always forgets that the water is in the microwave. I would wait 2 hours for a cup of tea if I waited for him to finish it. I don't have a problem with that. In fact, I don't have a problem with any of his little behaviors and I am really easy going about things. I don't nag. If anything, he nags me. It is just the anger that I am having trouble dealing with. Any thoughts?

anger about not remembering

I once asked my ADHD husband why he got so mad at me when this would happen (he'd forget something).  He told me that he wasn't mad at me, he was mad at himself.  Mad at himself that he forgot AGAIN.  He still gets mad if/when he forgets, but I've changed how I see his anger.  I now know that it's him - it's not me.  Most of the time it takes a lot of self-talk on my part (telling myself that it's not me, he's not mad at me, etc) to get through these times (that don't really last long).  It has gotten easier, though.  I can now see that he's angry (at himself) and give him the space he needs to calm himself and we get back to "normal" (whatever that is  :)  ) sooner.  

Elisabeth's picture

I understand about the cup of

I understand about the cup of tea thing.  My fiance will ask me if I want a cuppa and be in the kitchen at the kettle, filling it up with water.  I say yes and he says great and then walks out without turning the kettle on.

I agree with what jgf wrote about the anger.  In my fiance's experience it is about the fact he is mad at himself and the situation and he hates the fact that forgetting something so simple or so often makes him feel like a little kid, like he doesn't know any better when at 32 years of age he should.  For conversations that are going to have some more input to them at a later date, can you make notes in a diary that you guys could keep handy in the living room as a reference guide, for either of you to make notes about conversations or plans you have coming up?  Just as an example, if you are talking about doing something, in front of him write the notes in that very day i.e. "Today discussed dinner for this Friday with the Jones'", show him there and then that you have made notes and ask him if he agrees with what you have written and then next time the issue arises, you can point out that you guys did discuss it. Leave the diary handy so it is something both of you can have input - maybe he can even be the one to make the notes?

arwen's picture

angry about forgetting

Julia, I certainly can't blame you for being upset by your spouse's anger over forgetting!  I've been in your shoes, and I can really sympathize with your feelings.

Obviously, I don't know if the dynamic between you and your spouse is similar to the dynamic between me and mine, but I've found that one of the things that really sets my husband off about these situations is when he feels I'm being challenging or confrontational or patronizing (which sometimes I *am* being, I'm sorry to say, but sometimes I'm not even though he thinks I am). If I say "We talked about this, remember?", he would take that last word as a challenge.  He knows he has trouble remembering, and he knows I know it, so he would feel I was rubbing his nose in it to ask him if he remembers.  I've found that my husband reacts better if I say something neutral that might help him remember, like "We talked about this on Monday -- right after dinner -- in the living room -- does that ring a bell perhaps?"  That indicates to him that (a) I hope he can remember but (b) I don't necessarily expect him to and (c) I'm trying to be helpful and understanding by providing information that he may find useful.  It keeps him on the hook to try to remember, but it takes some of the pressure off.  It does not always help -- if there was a synaptic problem in his brain when the memory was stored, it just isn't there to retrieve, and then he's still frustrated.

I'm sure you don't mean to be or to sound challenging or confrontational when you ask "remember?", but  it might sound that way to *him*.  I've found that if I can make it super-clear to my husband that I am not being confrontational or challenging (sometimes I find I even have to *say* "I'm not trying to be nasty, I'm just trying to find out what you do and don't remember"), it works better.  ADDers often have trouble reading facial expressions or body language or tone of voice, and if they've gotten into the habit of being defensive, they often don't notice that you're sending cues that would tell them you're trying to be cooperative.  It helps me to approach him in a neutral way if I think of his feelings about his poor memory as a physical wound -- if I "poke" it, he's going to "yelp", and it may allay his fears if I specifically tell him I'm not going to "poke" it and I'm actively trying not to hurt him..

Please don't misunderstand -- I'm not advocating walking on eggshells all the time, or being a spineless dishrag.  What I'm saying is that it needs to be a cooperative effort.  I need to avoid being provocative and recognize that this is a sore spot for him, and he needs to work at controlling his responses.  My husband has found that yoga has really helped him in this way -- he took classes for two years, and still does it at home on his own. Unfortunately, I can't tell you what else my husband may do to deal with this on his side, because he doesn't tell me (I doubt that yoga is the only thing he does that helps).  All I can tell you is what *I* did that helped.

Please forgive me if I've said this elsewhere before and I'm repeating myself, but ADD memory problems come in multiple flavors.  The irregularities in the synaptic activity in the brain can give rise to problems in memory storage, memory organization and memory retrieval.  An ADDer may have more trouble in one area than another.  It might be helpful in reducing your spouse's anger about this if you can identify whether there's a specific aspect of memory that you can work on together.  For my husband, we found the biggest problem is memory formation, so we do all kinds of things to reduce distractions and reinforce the memory formation.  As a result, he forgets less, and that help him be less angry because he isn't forgetting *all* the time.

Last but not least, you note that you wouldn't say something  was true if you thought you could be mistaken.  Well, neither would I -- but my husband would, and I'd bet yours probably would too.  That's one of the common coping mechanisms of ADD -- if you can't remember, take your best guess and throw it out there -- maybe you're actually right -- maybe if you're wrong, you can make it *sound* like you are right (after all, if you yourself aren't sure, maybe nobody really knows??) -- or maybe you'll be lucky and no one will notice you were wrong, or you can distract them from your error.  Look at if from your husband's perspective, and it becomes really obvious why he would suspect you would say something was true  when it wasn't -- if he does it, why wouldn't you?  Plus, the ADDer often wants so desperately to be right about their memories that they persuade themselves that of course they *are* right.  And by logical extension, that's why *you* must be so sure that *you* are saying something true.  When you can't ever be certain of whether or not your memory is playing you false, how can you possibly understand the valid memory certainty that those of us who don't have ADD experience??

Hang in there!!

I know what NOT to do...

I am embarrassed to say that i have actually said to my dear husband (and angrily to boot), "Seriously honey, which one of us do you think is more likely to have gotten this wrong?!!?" 

With regard to knowing when they are paying attention, sometimes it honestly feels like a crap shoot.  I am with the turn off the distractions and ask for eye contact (though my husband was once so distracted by his arm hair that I had to repeat an entire explanation!).  I havent had good success with asking him to repeat back something we decided in those words, but I will ask him a question that will require him to give me the basic info on the plan to make sure he actually knows it.  And hopefully if we are on the ball, it goes on the family calendar as well as personal ones.

I am coming from the point of

I am coming from the point of the ADD spouse. For years my husband would insist that we had talked about something and for years I would insist that he must have talked to someone else about it because I had no memory of it. I even had him convinced at one time that "he" was the one having memory problems. This, of course, was before I was diagnosed with ADD. It wasn't until a specific conversation I had with my best friend that I knew I was truely forgetting conversations. She started telling me word for word what I was about to tell her, about this article I had read...and apparently we had a lengthy conversation about it the day before.

Up until that point I really believed that all those conversations between my husband and myself had never taken place. And even now there is a lot I don't remember. However, since I have fully accepted my ADD and the limitations it has placed on me, I accept when my husband says that we have talked about something. I trust that he's telling me the truth. He knows my limitations so he'll give me gentle reminders and tries not to get frustrated with me when I do forget something.

Before my diagnosis, this was a point of much frustration and anger between us. I would forget important conversations and he would be hurt. He didn't believe me that I could forget a conversation we had just had. I couldn't explain myself.

I wish I knew something that would help me or your husband remember things. But, as my husband has learned even the constant repetition and having me repeat things back to him doesn't work. Notes help me remember to do things, but as far as converstations I just accept that I won't remember a lot of things.  

What about "pillow talk"?

I've been seeing this man, (I'll call Bob) for about four months now.  Recently, he's started staying over at night on a regular basis.  We've had such sweet, intimate conversations lying in bed, drifting off to sleep, but he says he has no memory that they took place.  This really hurts. I feel like he can remember all kinds of seemingly insignificant details about cars, stereo systems, friends, politics.  The list goes on and on. But he can't remember conversations with me?  I feel like I'm in fantasy relationship and I don't know how to deal with it.  I can't take notes in the middle of "pillow talk".  Any suggestions, thoughts, comments?