ADD and Marriage: Controlling Your Spouse's Life

When I got married, I think I misread the marriage license.  I could swear that in the small type on that document I saw the words “this license lets you control your husband’s life from now on!”  I must have needed glasses because boy, was I wrong!  But (and I say this affectionately) how many other women do you know who made the same mistake?!

I used to think that my husband (that guy with the ADHD!) changed after we got married.  And to be fair, he did.  He stopped hyperfocusing on me – I went from being “queen for a day” to being, well, chopped liver in about the amount of time it took us to complete our honeymoon.  In my complete confusion over this change of events I didn’t take into account that I had changed, too.  What is it about tying the knot that suddenly made me so demanding?  Don’t get me wrong – my husband knew I was strong willed – he just didn’t know I was THAT strong willed!

This is not an ADD/non-ADD thing, per se.  It is the reality of realizing that you are supposed to be with this person who has those annoying habits for the rest of your life!!!   Wow!  Those shaving clippings in the sink in the morning seem a lot more annoying when you think you might have to put up with them every day for the next 50 years!  Why suffer?  Better to “get rid” of that habit (and all the rest of the ones that you are seeing with fresh eyes) now!!!  A little nagging should do the trick…

We’ve had several younger and newly married couples write about how badly they feel about their new spouse and marriage, suggesting ADD is the culprit.  ADD is likely contributing to their issues, and that's what this blog is all about, but I would encourage newlyweds to also consider the subtle pressure that the words “the rest of your life” put on you as they rumble around in the back of your head.  Problems seem super-sized when tagged with “forever”!

I can look back now and laugh at the time that I screamed, full-throttle, at my husband for spewing grass clippings into my just-worked-on flower beds.  (Even better, he can laugh at it, too.)  It wasn’t one of my best moments.  With more perspective, I would have seen that it also wasn't that big a deal.  On a more serious note, I can, and do, look back with regret at the amount of time that I spent trying to create my husband into someone he isn’t, by trying to “fix” his ADHD symptom foibles.  The harder I tried to fix him, the worse he became, and I don’t blame him.  I bristle when people try to “fix” me, too.

The big lesson out of all of this is that accepting him, rather than trying to fix him, cleared the way for the two of us to constructively work on our relationship.  He stopped hearing the message “you are broken and need fixing” and started to hear the message “I want for us to be a real couple again.”  By accepting him, I set both of us free.  I set him free to try new things and not fear failure.  To be happy with himself and to love me again, rather than wonder when I would next attack him or whether he would ever be "good enough" for me.

For those of you who think that women like to be nags, I beg to differ.  Though I had trouble controlling it because I couldn’t think imaginatively enough to find a better solution to my marital woes, I found nagging to be depressing.  I came to really dislike myself before I decided to stop.  In fact, the single biggest reason that I decided to stop was because I so disliked the person I had become.  I was so miserable that I decided that it didn't matter if my marriage fell apart - first and foremost I wanted to be my happy self again.  My husband falling in love with me again was a side-benefit (a big one!) to my refinding who I really was.

I guess I finally figured out what the small print on that wedding license really said...and all of the surprising benefits that those words held..they didn't say "control", they said "to have and to hold" love, cherish and respect.



clancy's picture

Point of view

Both of us have ADD and both of us have ben trying to control each other's behavior for 30 years. Now this last time around , he's the alpha dog due to our financial situation and his style is micromanaging. I remember complaining to my therapist how he wants the kitchen cabinets kept in a certain order (he's doing the cooking) but yet he never wipes off the counter tops. Her very simple reply was "then you do it." AHA! All these years of agonizing over little stupid habits when I could have handled it as easily as wiping off the countertops and saved myself a lot of unnecessary resentment.

controlling behaviors

YES! We both control each other in different ways.  He tries to control me emotionally when he's feeling insecure. For example, he works for himself.  When he is busy and happy, he's great. When he's not working he feels bad about himself and wants me with him ALL of the time.  I can't stand this.  I tell him over and over that one of the reasons I fell in love with him was for his letting me be independant.  He ridicules the time I spend with my family,he says I don't make him a priority, etc. This behavoir just makes me want to stay away from him longer!!  I'm guilty for controlling him as well.  I guess I'm the typical nonADD "nagging" spouse. My excuse is so that I can be with him.  For ex., I'll constantly ask him what he's doing b/c I want him to be working or looking for work.  He asks me why I always question him, and it's because I'm so stressed out about our financial situation that I need some reassurance!!!  I also have to ask him about certain responsibilites to ensure they get done or I will have to do them!!  I wonder how may nonADD spouses just do everything themselves??  I go back and forth.  I'll do everything myself so I don't have to ask him,then after a while I'll resent him for it and have to "nag" him to do it!

Controlling Each Other

Is there a way to put some systems in place that might take some of the roller coaster out of your marriage?  For example, perhaps some sort of financial budgeting that doesn't let you spend all of the money he's making when he does so you have some left over for more lean times (thus taking off some of the pressure)?


Also, (don't laugh here) I have found that putting yellow stickies on my mirror in the morning was a good way to remind myself not to engage in certain behaviors (or, conversely to do so).  So during those times when you find yourself nagging or doing too much work, possibly a yellow reminder that says "don't nag" or "honey is better than vinegar" (and perhaps he can put up reminders like "make 4 contacts for new jobs today")?


Melissa Orlov

one random money solution i

one random money solution i came up with - it would require some one to be the master of the finaces s to speak and a bit of a quasi-contract made between husband and wife but it offers a bit of a external limit to spending. 


how - make a contract that x person will not spend more than x in a given amount of time. say 2 weeks. 


make a seperate account in the bank - get a debit card for it. 


this way - he uses only that debit card to pay for things/get cash. 


and because of new financial laws - as long as you do not opt into "overdraft protection" the person with the card will not be able to spend any more money than he has on that card. 


just a random thought - it works if your willing to admit that your a person with an issue and submit to certain rules. 






Ive often thought that with

Ive often thought that with everything from the internet to video games to TV that families and those in the marriage naturally have a propensity to ignore each other.  Spending time with each other becomes sitting next to one another watching a show rather than really communicating and enjoying each other. \


kids often use them as default escapes from reality and the world. ( including ipods since they became solitary listening devices as opposed to how music used to be a group experience) 


at times, what is really needed - it times where TV games, computer/internet etc etc etc - is all off for everybody, as these are the moments where people connect and grow together. 

Socialization and Honesty

"I can, and do, look back with regret at the amount of time that I spent trying to create my husband into someone he isn’t, by trying to “fix” his ADHD symptom foibles. "You know what I think is interesting? I think we Western women are heavily - and I mean heavily - socialized to be the "fixers" in our relationships, especially our relationships with spouses, whether or not the purported "foibles" of the husband spring from ADHD or not. And then we're ridiculed - and resisted by the husband/SO - when we try to "fix", and shamed by the rest of society when we don't."I couldn’t think imaginatively enough to find a better solution to my marital woes"At least you're honest about that. There are a lot of "conventionally-brained" thinkers (NeuroTypicals?) in our society that are NOT that honest about the source of their inability to find solutions. I wonder what percentage of the "communication problem" that is?

Socialization and Real Honesty

While I agree that socialization, as well as genetics, life history, individual personality characteristics, etc. play a role, I choose not to discount the fact that ADD does exist and does create unique and challenging issues within a relationship. As a 41 year -old woman with a lot of relationships behind me, and a newly-wed (9 months) to a man with ADD, I will not discount the special nature of our relationship. I understand that your intention was to point out that many issues are simply "male/female" ones or attributable to our socialization as caretakers. Still, in all of my years of experience, I have never been labeled a nag, as I have been now, in my marriage. Had I one or two relationships in my life, I may have been fooled into thinking it was just me. Or women in general. It's not me. Or women. It's the effect of ADD and our responses (my husband's and mine to it).

Thank you for posting. :)

Thank you for posting. :) Recently my husband-to-be has "come out of the closet" about his ADHD. I embraced his feelings of realization that he had a problem, and I dug into it and talked about it for days with him in hopes that seeking professional help would help us out. The last few months have been rough, especially before marriage! Reading this passage had made me put a new perspective on things. I do not want my hubby to feel like I know he's broken, I want him to feel whole even though we both know he's broken. It would probably be best if he feels like I still think of him as a whole, and I'll support him no matter even if he goes through therapy for his ADHD. Thank you for posting!

YOUCH! Broken Husband-to-Be

Danger alert here!  Go back and read what you wrote!  "I want him to feel whole even though we both know he's broken"...This is a recipe for disaster!

He is NOT broken!  He has a different way of thinking about things and going through life - a way that will make him hard to live with at times.  But a way that still deserves respect!

Do not kid yourself into thinking that if you verbally suport him, but secretly think he is broken, that you'll end up with a healthy relationship.  What you'll end up with is a large amount of resentment someday and wonder why you both didn't see it coming.

You fell in love with your fiance in part because of his ADHD - I'll guarantee it.  Probably you like his spirit and energy and creativity.  BUT, those things aren't going to load the dishwasher or change a baby.  SO, you need to decide before you get married what the power of the positive is, and whether or not you and he can create a positive environment for him to manage most of his ADHD symptoms (all, if you are really lucky, but DON'T count on this)!  You must decide that YOU (note I am not talking about him right now!):

  • love him for who he is - ADHD and all
  • are able to forgive him when he stumbles or does things differently, which he will (just like non-ADHD men, but perhaps more frequently)
  • can see the positive in difficult situations
  • want to be his best supporter and friend
  • don't want to change him from who he is right now (it's okay to hope he ages well, but this is a bonus, not an expectation)
  • can respect him, even with a label of "ADD"
  • can accept that there is a good chance that some of your children will have ADHD and you'll be dealing with that, too

Here is another way to look at it.  Imagine that you discovered you were depressed, as many people are.  Would you want your spouse to think of you as "broken"?  Would you want him to put pressure on you to change in a certain way, or would you prefer that he support you on your own terms to find what might make your life better?

My suggestion is that you both consider some counselling about marriage, preferably with someone who understands ADHD.  You need to explore your expectations about marriage to make sure that you really are ready to support each other through thick or thin.  Marriage to a person with ADHD is not for the faint of heart - it takes lots of careful thought and communication skills, it takes patience and generosity, and above all it takes flexibility.  The rewards are many, but please make sure you are ready for the challenge.

Melissa Orlov

I'm having dificalty with

I'm having dificalty with this. I know what your saying but I can't seem to let go of the control. Have any suggestions?