Don’t Just Talk, Communicate
Good communication is the key to strong relationships. This is true for adults with and without attention deficit. The problem is, adults with ADHD often think that they’re communicating when really they’re just talking. How to get your feelings across effectively with friends and partners.
BY KATHLEEN NADEAU, PH.D.
Adults with ADHD know that communication can break down when they are preoccupied with a particular problem, and don’t — or can’t — get their feelings across to their partners.
When you find yourself anxious and obsessing about a worry, ask yourself: What’s really on my mind? Have I conveyed this to my partner? Other habits can cause ADHD communication problems in relationships. Here are seven hot spots, with solutions for each.
Talking Too Much
Problem: Open-mouth-insert-foot syndrome.
Good communication doesn’t mean immediately expressing every thought, feeling, or reaction that pops up.
Solution: Stopping to ask ourselves whether to say it — and how to say it — is critical to sustaining relationships. We have been on the receiving end of critical comments throughout our lives, so we should be aware of the effects our impulsive remarks might have on our partners.
Problem: Spilling everything.
Some people with ADHD are compelled to say what’s on their mind before they forget it, leaving their partners frustrated by a flurry of words.
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After you’ve had your say, turn to your partner and say, “OK, I’ve said it. Now let’s talk about it.” Or tell your spouse about your compulsion to vent, ask her to be patient, and then restart the conversation.
Problem: Switching subjects.
Conversations that suddenly change direction frustrate our non-ADHD partners. They dismiss what we’re saying if our talk is flighty, and it’s impossible to resolve an important issue if you introduce new issues before the original one has been resolved.
Solution: Be aware of this tendency and try to catch yourself as you change topics — and enlist your partner’s help in staying on track. If a truly important issue occurs to you as you’re discussing something else, admit that you’re changing the topic, make your comment, then return to the topic at hand.
Problem: Tuning out his words.
Our busy brains are abuzz, especially when we’re feeling pressured or anxious, so we are scarcely able to listen to our partner — never mind respond to him. It is impossible to maintain intimacy or resolve problems when you catch only a handful of words that your partner is saying.
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Solution: When your partner is speaking to you, ask yourself: “Am I listening to her?” Remind yourself that your partner’s thoughts and words are important and that you need to attend to what he is saying.
Problem: Blaming your partner.
People with ADHD tend to defend themselves against real or imagined criticisms rather than responding to a complaint. We’re so busy defending ourselves that we can’t hear someone else’s point.
Solution: If you hear yourself saying, “It wasn’t my fault” or “You do it, too,” more than once, take a break. Go to the bathroom and splash cold water on your face, or take a walk around the block to calm down and reset your attitude.
Problem: Sounding antagonistic.
Some people with ADHD and high stimulation needs consciously — or unconsciously — stir up trouble when boredom strikes. Drama becomes a way of life, shutting down real communication and conflict resolution.
Solution: If you find yourself in this position, talk to your doctor about tweaking your treatment plan, or ask your therapist about the reasons for your antagonistic posturing.
Feeling Like You Can’t Speak Up
Problem: Clamming up.
Sometimes, when emotions are running high, a person’s ADHD brain locks up, and it feels like all you can do is scream and cry. Thinking about and explaining how you feel is simply out of the question.
Solution: Write down your thoughts and feelings in advance, so you have a script to read from. Or, instead of talking one-on-one, write a letter or note to your partner.
Tips for Every Conversation
You don’t need a Ph.D. in communications to have a productive chat. Four points to keep in mind during every conversation:
Remember to breathe.
Slow down. If you’re talking too fast, slow down what you’re saying. If the conversation is going too fast for you to keep up, tell your spouse that you need him to slow the pace so you can both be heard and understood.
Make your points clearly and concisely, then be quiet and listen. Ask your partner to paraphrase what you have just said, to make certain that you have communicated clearly.
If you use ADHD medication, always take your dose before starting an important conversation.