ADHD and Marriage - Getting Past Denial

I was giving a talk last night outside Boston and, once again, was asked “How do I get my spouse to stop denying that ADHD is a factor in our marriage?”  Here are some specific suggestions for anyone who is struggling with this.

It is very common for a person with ADHD to deny that it is a factor in their marriage.  They aren’t being obstinate or mean when they do this.  Rather, they genuinely don’t see it, and often they are concerned that admitting ADHD is a problem will mean that they need to take the blame for your marital issues.  For some, there is also an internal (sometime unrecognized) fear involved.  If the ADHD really is the issue, then that makes them responsible for fixing it, but they aren’t sure they can (haven’t up until this point).

These are pretty strong reasons to continue to deny (run away from) the fact that ADHD is a problem.  Furthermore, an ADHD spouse is often faced with significant anger and frustration from his/her spouse, and that anger clearly contributes to the marital discord.  When I asked my husband to try medications to see if they could help us both, his angry response was “I like myself the way I am.  I don’t have a problem here – YOU have a problem here!”

And in my husband’s response lies the answer to the question of “how do I get my spouse to stop denying the impact of ADHD?”  My problem wasn’t with my husband, it was with his symptoms – and the two are very different.  He was a warm, intelligent, caring man hidden under symptoms that were a pain in the ***.  What I saw was ADHD trampling on my marriage.  What he saw was anger.  Admitting that ADHD was an issue was tantamount to giving in to my anger.

In order for someone to acknowledge that ADHD is the issue, you must uncouple your negative response to their ADHD from you yourself.  In other words, you must demonstrate to them that ANY person would respond to the symptoms your partner is  exhibiting in exactly the same way.  This is one of the strengths of this website (at its most positive) and certainly a big part of my book.  A non-ADHD partner’s response isn’t personal and it’s not arbitrary.  It’s predictable and directly related to the symptoms and how they are – or aren’t – managed.

The reason that I put the “empathy” chapter as my very first step to recovery is because I want people to genuinely understand what the other person is going through.  People with ADHD see themselves in the “what it’s like to be the ADHD spouse” section and, because it is believable and familiar, I hope they will also believe the things they read in the non-ADHD section.  To do so can be shocking.  "I had no idea!" is a common response.  Once they have a new perspective, it is my hope that they will rethink their resistance and denial – and very frequently they do.  You can get a similar experience (in a much less organized way) from this website.

For my husband, this awakening to the emotional pain and discomfort his ADHD symptoms created for me (and the fact that my pain was the inevitable result of dealing with unmanaged ADHD symptoms – not a personal assault on him) came when he worked for someone with ADHD.  Suddenly he was having my experience.  AND he had the same, predictable responses to the ADHD symptoms that I had had.  I cannot create that eye-opening experience for all the readers at this site, but I hope that I can mimic it enough in the book to make partners with ADHD stand back and open their minds enough to consider the potential upside of getting an evaluation.

And, at the same time, I hope that non-ADHD partners will assess the possibility that they, too, may be in denial – in this case denying that their anger plays a role, or denying that they need to (or can) take control of it.

You move forward in tandem – one person attacking symptoms and the other person attacking the anger and frustration (also symptoms).  It’s a win/win that mutually reinforces each partner's efforts and that can lead to a brighter future together.

For those who wish to see other posts related to this topic, go to these links:

For men with ADHD who aren't convinced it matters

Advice for ADHD man whose wife has left him - set a new course