ADHD and Marriage: Choosing Your Responses Leads to Happiness

Effectively communicating with your spouse often seems like hard work - pushing the proverbial rock up the hill.  Have you ever stopped to consider the role that your everyday responses play in how smooth - or rocky - that communication is?  I started thinking about this topic the other morning when I woke up to find my husband's arm across me, cutting off my circulation.  The situation got me thinking about the "responses" we make to a thousand different situations we find ourselves in every day.  There are internal responses (how one feels about something, even if they don't say it) and external (what you say and do).  Then there are conscious and unconscious.  All play a role in a marriage affected by ADHD.

There are many different ways to respond to any single event - and how we choose our response not only says a great deal about the current state of our relationship, but also about our intentions for that relationship.  In ADHD relationships, many people carry around a "history" of resentment which leads to repetitively destructive types of responses - every day. 

As a rule, it is good to let any individual event or communication stand alone, without complex interpretation.  Take each event as an opportunity to set a positive tone, and look for a loving way to interact.  What you should find is that as the tonality of your interactions improves, the content of your interactions will also improve.

Let's go back to my original example of my husband's arm cutting off my circulation.  It's a small and somewhat meaningless interaction in the overall scheme of things.  But a few years ago, when I was carrying around a lot of resentment, I would have responded angrily.  He was, after all, hurting me (once again) even though he didn't realize it (once again).  I would have rolled away, perhaps "accidentally" waking him up in the process (because I was angry at him in general).  He would have lost sleep.  I would have lost sleep.  We would have both started our day disgruntled or unhappy.

Here's a different response to the same situation - to be thankful that we are asleep cuddled up together closely enough that his arm is able to put mine to sleep, smile, roll him over gently to move his arm, give him a hug, and go back to sleep.  We both sleep, PLUS I get the benefits of all the great chemicals that flow through your body when you happily hold someone.

What about bigger interactions?  Think back to the last 24 hours of your relationship.  I'm guessing that there were plenty of opportunities to view something in a more positive way that would set a happier tone for you both.  For example, you are in charge of dinner one night and your husband walks through the door later than you expected from work.  You can:

  • hold dinner, then chew him out for being late once again
  • feed the kids, then go off and do other stuff so he eats alone just so he knows that you didn't like his behavior
  • figure that he's always going to be late, so plan to have the entire family eat later - if he's early it's a bonus
  • feed the kids, then spend some time talking with him about his day as he decompresses

While any of these responses are understandable, only a couple of them say that you appreciate your spouse for who he is - which happens to include being late with some frequency.  Some of these set a tone of kindness and love, while others are more hostile.  Some say that your husband is a priority, some do not.  Whether you actually "say" these underlying messages, your husband "hears" them.  Your actions are not neutral.

I am NOT advocating losing your own priorities.  I AM advocating that if your relationship is one of your priorities, then you BOTH need to WORK at it - and work at creating a positive tone.  Tardiness is one of the hallmarks of ADHD and is very difficult to control.  So accept it, and don't feel bad about making less traditional choices.  One couple I know goes separately to friends' houses and parties.  The non-ADD spouse arrives on time and the ADD spouse gets there when she can (sometimes a couple of hours late).  No apologies, no guilt, just a positive, supportive solution.

Over the next couple of weeks, why not try an experiment in setting a positive tone?  As always, talk with your spouse about it in a non-accusatory way.  Consider something like this:

"I just read this interesting article about how important making sure have positive interactions in your marriage is to being happy.  As I was thinking about it I realized that I have many opportunities to be more positive that I haven't been taking advantage of - in fact we both probably do.  As a fun experiment, and to see if it will help us get along better, could we try to be more positive towards each other when we're together?  If you hear me say something you think is angry or negative, could you tell me nicely about it?"

Try to take every event at its face value, allowing no anger or frustration to intrude. Think about your possible responses and choose the most loving one.  Then see what happens.  I think you'll find that you have more potential responses than you might assume.  And you might just be pleasantly surprised with the results.