ADHD and Marriage - Not All Problems are Due to ADD

There is now a wealth of information in the forum and blog posts here about what types of issues are related to ADD.  A recent post reminded me that it also makes sense to focus a bit (pun intended) on the fact that not all marital issues can be ascribed to ADD (and the inverse, which I wrote about in my "Ode" post that some wonderful things in a relationship can be directly attributed to ADD characteristics).  Here is the post that brought this to mind and my response:

"My husband has ADD. We have been married 5 years...We are still young - he is 35 and I'm 30. We have 2 kids - 23 months & 4 months. The last few years of our marriage have been very rocky. This is in part because we have had to face a lot of adversity. But, also in part because of my husband's ADD.

There are some things I would like to understand better: (1) Why is it that an ADDer has trouble with emotional cues? I can be very emotionally distraught and my husband has repeatedly rolled over and fallen asleep and NEVER readdresses an issue. He'll promise me to respond to something I've shared with him & never does. How much of this can be attributed to ADD and how much of it is a personal choice?

(2) How exactly does ADD affect one's memory? I can understand how short-term memory can be affected -like forgetting to take out the trash, but what about bigger stuff such as all the fun things you used to do with a person, an argument or series of arguments over a hot topic, or a conversation? My husband and I will have a conversation and reach an agreement about something only for him to forget about it - as if the conversation never occurred and as if an agreement was never reached. Sometimes he'll swear up and down that he said something to me when I know he didn't.  Or, he'll swear he never said something that he in fact did say. This happens enough that I know it isn't always my lack of memory. I'll make decisions based upon what we've discussed only for him to deny having an entire discussion with me!

The past few years of our marriage have been really rough. When I talk to him about the memories of our marriage before it got rough, he says he can't remember the good times. He explained to me that he remembers how something made him feel, not exactly what that something is or was. This is hair-raisingly frustrating for me because I have tried and am trying to go out of my way to do things to help repair our marriage and he can't remember a lot of what I've done. He only remembers the negative. I never know what it is he will remember and what it is he will forget. It is extremely discouraging for me. I need help understanding ADD and memory."

You have quite a few things going on at once here, and it is possible that your urge to ascribe your problems to your husband’s ADD is getting in your way.  Here are some of my reactions to what you wrote:

Problems remembering what you have been doing to help your relationship:  Your husband is giving you a clue to what is going on here when he says that he remembers how things make him feel, but not exactly what something was.  You are doing “things” but he is remembering “feelings”, and it takes 7 good feelings to trump one bad one.  Rather than keeping score about all the “things” you are doing to fix your relationship, start keeping score of the numbers of times you find yourselves having fun.  If you don’t get to “fun” (and therefore good feelings for both of you) then you are doing the wrong things and need to try a different tack.

Trouble with emotional cues:  Yes, ADD people often have a harder time reading emotional cues than folks who don’t have ADD, but don’t discount the fact that men and women communicate differently.  I feel for you – acutely – because I have had these same issues with my husband in the past.  It’s easy to conclude that he doesn’t care AT ALL when he just rolls over.  But that’s not the case.  What probably is happening is that he is feeling under siege and unable to help you solve your problems.  Perhaps you’ve read “Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus”?  Men tend to retreat to their caves when faced with difficult issues.

One of the funniest relationship books I have ever read, “Why Men Don’t Have a Clue and Women Always Need More Shoes” is all about how men and women communicate differently.  (It gets negative remarks for simplifying the issues and stereotyping gender roles, but I found this made it easier to talk with my husband about because it adds a bit of levity to some pretty basic points...)  One of the things the authors say is that men communicate in order to solve problems.  Women communicate because the process of communicating helps them work through their problems and also because the process of talking helps them feel better.  A solution isn’t needed in many cases.  Being heard is enough.  These are vastly different approaches.

The “not listening to you late at night” issue may not be related to ADD.  It’s certainly a male/female communication issue (it may also have to do with your natural body rhythms – he may just be too tired).  The authors of “Why Men Don’t Have a Clue…” write about this very phenomenon (p. 159) “To men, it’s a mystery why women like to talk through an argument, especially late at night.  The female brain is, however, a communications computer that is process-based.  Women like to talk through every aspect of their actions and their feelings.  Men are more likely to recoil at such a prospect…Women want to make peace and smooth out any disagreements.  They believe talking can make everyone feel better.  Men believe talking can usually make things far worse.”

You have kids.  There is something else going on in your relationship that you aren’t taking into account – kids.  Relationships change dramatically with the introduction of kids.  Suddenly there are a whole lot of uninspiring, dirty tasks that absolutely, positively must be done in order for your day to move forward (think diapers, trash, laundry, spit-up, lugging kids around with you everywhere…compounded by lack of sleep, lack of intimacy, lack of special time together and lack of focus on each other).  YIKES!  No wonder your relationship feels different (and worse) than it used to.  No offense to the men who are reading this, but I know of exactly ONE couple where the man actually was the primary child caretaker.  This burden is falling on you!  And, if you’re like me, you resent that.  (And if your husband is like mine, he’s none to eager to take on the dirty work – it’s much more fun to pretend it isn’t there.)  Your life doesn’t feel as fun as it used to because it isn’t.  Kids ought to come with a tag on them “Warning:  Taking care of young kids is a whole lot of work!”  Don’t fall into the trap of not speaking up for yourself and allowing your resentment to build.  They’re his kids, too.  But make sure to be reasonable about how you talk about this.  This is a relationship issue - not an opportunity to complain about his lack of initiative or compliance.

As for ADD and memory...  I don’t think it’s the ADD that’s affecting his memory…or yours.  First, let’s look at your memories of the past.  What may be going on here is that both of you are looking through a different lens at your relationship.  Just like when you wear prescription glasses, what you see looks different, depending upon what lens you look through.  If you are feeling positive about your relationship it colors everything (current and past) for the positive (hence why we are so willing to pass over very real differences when we are dating).  If you are feeling negative, as you are right now, then even things in the past that looked good then don’t seem so positive now.  In addition, he may well be right about perceiving memories differently.  My husband (with ADD) can remember incredibly minute details of things we did long ago.  I, however, am more likely to remember the floor plan of the place I did it in (I know, it’s a bit weird!) and how it felt.

On a slightly different angle, you are frustrated that he doesn’t remember agreements that you had, but I would suggest that it is possible that he doesn’t want to remember those agreements because he isn’t really agreeing to what you are saying…he is only saying he agrees so that you’ll stop bothering him.  (If he did agree, then the question of whether or not he had agreed in the past wouldn’t even come up…because he would also be agreeing with you now.)

By your own account, you are young.  Yes, your husband’s ADD is most likely causing issues in your relationship – you only have to look in this blog to see that ADD can affect a lot of things in a marriage.  But it is certainly not the only factor.  You have an opportunity to take a broader look at your relationship, today, and stop moving in the negative direction in which you are moving.  Not everything should be attributed to his ADD.  Try not to focus on blaming him, and instead spend your time figuring out how to bridge your male/female communication gap and how to get the support you need into place to be happy.

Take a look at your own behavior and what is going on between you.  If you need help with the kids (and everyone does), ask for it – nicely (no nagging allowed!)  If your husband isn’t able to provide it because he is too unfocused, then that’s an ADD symptom that he needs to get treated, but give him credit for still being a good person at heart.  If you are having communication problems, try to tease out the underlying factors – are these from ADD or from other things (like different communication styles)?  How can the two of you – together – get to a better communication pattern?  One in which you get to listen to his problems just as often as he gets to listen to yours?  Ask yourself – are you nagging or coaching him?  If you are, you need to just stop.  (You’ve heard the Nike slogan – Just Do It?  This is the opposite – Just Stop It!)

One final piece of advice.  Don’t worry about how each of you perceives memories. What’s important is how you perceive today.  Focus on creating the happiest today and tomorrows you can, and do as many little, loving things as you can (and tell your husband that you miss this stuff, and can he please start showing you today how he feels about you?)  Remember those little loving gestures?  They are the things courtships are made of.  You’ll be amazed at how much better you’ll feel if you can let go of resentment about past things and start constructing a positive today and tomorrow together.

It’s really important that the two of you work this out now, before things get any worse.  Learn everything you can about ADD, but open your mind to the idea that you are two people who are going through some really huge adjustments in your lives (kids, adversity, learning how to live together in harmony) – adjustments that every couple struggles with, ADD or not.  Give yourselves some credit for taking on a whole lot, and then get yourselves the support that you need to succeed – be that babysitters, a life coach, a therapist, a mother-in-law…whatever!  You shouldn’t be doing this alone!