ADHD and Marriage: The Politics of Bedtime

Do you find yourself uptight about whether or not your spouse’s sleeping schedule matches yours?  Does going to bed at night together put you on edge?  Are you unsure how to communicate about how close you want to be (or don’t want to be)?  You may be suffering from an experience similar to the one my husband and I had.

Going to bed used to be a stressful time for us – I was unhappy that he never made it to bed at the same time as I did, he was unhappy that I was moody and cranky when he finally did get there.  Sex was politicized in too many ways to list.  I was so upset with him in general that just being near him put my senses at high alert (and not in a good way!).  Needless to say, it was hard to fall asleep and hard to stay asleep.  Our problem was compounded by a bad habit that I had of trying to get him to talk with me about our issues right before bed.  A bad idea, as we were both tired and these conversations often added to our distress.

In retrospect, I can see that much of the stress came from the fact that I felt his sleep patterns were a comment on our relationship, and I resented what I interpreted those actions meant.  He didn’t want to come to bed at 10?  That must mean that he doesn’t care to be with me.  He won’t read a book with me in bed?  He doesn’t like to share with me.  He takes a long time getting ready for bed, and makes me “wait” for him, even if we start getting ready for bed at the same time?  That must mean he’s rude and goofing around (again!).  These are just a few of these things which could make me angry and hurt, and by the time he really did get into bed I was just plain “prickly”.  Getting into bed was psychologically painful for me, and it was like walking into a minefield for him!

While one solution might be to move to another room, I wouldn’t suggest that as a first (or even a second) option.  Couples need the opportunity to touch each other and to gain reassurance from each other, and the bedroom is often a place to gain this even if you aren’t having sex.

No, first try reinterpreting what is going on.  My husband’s sleep patterns weren’t a comment on our relationship (at least not at first!).  He didn’t come to bed at 10 because he wasn’t tired then.  He didn’t read in bed with me because, like many people with ADD, it’s not a pleasure for him to read.  He wasn’t dawdling in the bathroom to spite me…he’s just never as efficient as I am when getting ready for bed.

And now I know better than to try to discuss really important matters at bedtime.  It’s not fair to either one of us to have to think clearly when our bodies are ready to shut down.  Now if we have something important to talk about, we set a time during the day.

So does having a partner with ADD mean that you’ll never go to bed together or enjoy that time?  No, not at all.  We’re a case in point.  Now that I accept his habits as ADD, rather than a comment on “us”, things have improved greatly.  I no longer feel stressed by our different habits and, because I’m not stressed, he finds it easier to meet me part way.  No more landmines to worry about!  He does enjoy reading in bed sometimes now, though not because he loves reading.  Rather, he likes the physical warmth of being next to me under the covers and a chilly evening.  (Who says we have to enjoy reading in bed for the same reason??!)

He’s a slow reader.  Combine this with his night owl tendencies, and I often find that I’m ready to turn out the lights before he is.  Rather than worry about whether this will keep me from sleeping, I’ll stay near him (and satisfyingly warm!), but roll over, put in some ear plugs and close my eyes.  He can keep going, and we both get the satisfaction of some shared time together.  (And the earplugs seem to do the trick in terms of blocking him out – a good example of a new approach to an old problem).

I also no longer worry about whether we “arrive” in bed at the same time.  In fact, he keeps a flashlight handy for those nights when I’m really, really tired.  He can find his way to bed without waking me up if I’ve turned out all the lights (our signal not to wake me).  He knows that the dark room doesn’t mean I’m mad (as it used to), only tired.

All of this helps both of us sleep better, which means that we are much more likely to wake up with a smile on our faces…well, okay, if not a smile, at least we aren’t mad!

What’s changed?  Well, because I don’t interpret his actions as acts against me, I no longer try to control his sleep habits and, while we both benefit from this, I swear I have gained even more from the changes I’ve made than he has.  Once again the bedroom has become a safe haven.  We both look forward to snuggling in bed – and arriving there is possibly one of the nicest parts of our day.  We don’t always get there at the same time, but more and more we do.  It has become a special time to say nice things to each other, touch, and be happy.  Five years ago I would never have believed it possible.


Sounds familiar

Holy Cow!  I read that and could see me in most every word you wrote!  I used to take it very personally when he didn't go to bed at the same time as me.  I worried that I wasn't doing enough for him.  That he was losing interest in me.  When in fact, he was just plain not tired.

I had gotten better at not taking it personally when he didn't come to bed at the same time I did.  Then we had (another) baby and I find myself falling into that thinking again. Along with some new thoughts.  She's seven weeks old now and still up A LOT though the night.  I've been working at not thinking so negatively about him staying up later than me ("He's not coming to bed so he won't get up and help with the baby.  How selfish.") and working more on positive thinking ("He'll come to bed when he's tired and he always get up to help if I ask him to.").

It's a matter of changing my thinking.  Which is sometimes easier said than done.  But the more I think positively, the more it becomes second nature and the negative thinking is less and less.  

Talking to him helps too.  It seems so simple, yet sometimes is hard to do.  If there's a night that I'm extremely tired I let him know that I'll need extra help during the night. He might try to go to bed early, but you can't make someone sleep.  He does what he can though.  And he does get up to help and never complains about it.  I also let him know when I just need time with him to lay in bed and cuddle.  Just so we can have some "us" time (which is a rarity in a house with three small children!).  

There are times that I start to feel some resentment that I have to ask for the help or ask for "us' time, but I also know that If I don't talk to him, he won't know what I want or need. 

So, that's my long way of saying that what you wrote sounds very familiar to me.  It's nice to know that I'm not alone!

ADD husband doesn't come to bed

I struggle with the idea that my husband’s sleep patterns aren't a comment on our relationship. My husband and I work together. He is XX and was diagnosed with ADD 4 years ago. I am XX. We have been married 7 years. At the end of the day he goes downstairs and sits on the new couch in his dirty work clothes to watch TV while I make a meal even though I have worked outside all day also. After he eats, he goes back downstairs and leaves the cleaning up to me, having indicated that his work is much more important than mine. He has watched TV as long as 12 hours in a day. He IS tired because he invariably falls asleep in front of the TV before I go to bed and will get up and take a shower anywhere from 2:00 to 6:00 a.m. It seems to me that he comes to bed for sex, otherwise he sleeps downstairs. He is often noisy when he does comes to bed, turns on the light, rummages in the night stand drawer for medications, makes loud noises, and wakes me up, even though we have to get up and get to work. I am certainly not in the mood for intimacy when I am awakened from a deep sleep that I desperately need. No amount of explaining that my libido is more active in the evening when we can spend some cuddle time makes an impression on him. His idea of foreplay is to see if I am wet enough for his penis to penetrate. As a result, I am resentful because I feel that I am only a sex object. I am exhausted physically and emotionally from attempting to deal with his ADD. I would not recommend marrying someone who has ADD. It is just too draining. He makes no effort to read about ADD, stating that that's just how he is. My reaction is slowly turning from resentment to bitterness to contempt. I have done everything I have researched to do to accommodate his ADD but to not avail. Communication becomes a battle because he insists he has related information that he hasn't and denies that I have told him things that he has actually responded to when I have asked him. He has called me stupid, hopeless, and said that I should "stop talking and do as he says". Instead of telling me what to do when we are working together (I didn't grow up on a farm) he stares at me until I am in tears. It's his way or the highway. According to him, he knows best and I should do what he says even though he has given me no indication of what it is that I am suppose to do, refusing to explain what needs to be done. His communication style is confrontational, belittling, and harsh which he says he can't help because that's the way he talks. Most of my suggestions are met with "What good will that do?" If I had a job with a boss like that, I would have quit long ago. I taught high school for 22 years and SELDOM, IF EVER had trouble communicating with administration, faculty or students. To give an example of his thought processes: we were shopping for a new couch. He said he needed to wear an old worn out coat because he didn't want to get grease on his good one. What does one say to that??? We often spend tiime looking for things he cannot find. His machine shed is a disaster area. I actually get an involuntary sick feeling in the pit of my stomach when I have to go in the machine shed, which is every day during harvest and planting. He willingly takes medication but the only result I see is that he doesn't break out in a sweat when he has to do some farm planning on paper. We have gone to a counselor (a 90 mile trip one way) who specializes in working with ADD adults and couples, but he isn't interested in going back. I am totally exhausted, beaten down, and don't know what to do or where to go for help. There are no support groups within a 150 miles radius and I am becoming a person I despise. How do I let go of my resentment and bitterness even though I know that things will not change? The sad part is that he is basically a really good guy but has no clue about how his ADD affects our marriage.

resentment turning into contempt

The advice I will give you may sound bass-ackwards, but read through it in any event.

It's time to start taking care of yourself.  I see all sorts of effort you are making to help him and yet this has not helped your relationships at all.  In fact, it has hurt your relationship insomuch as you now feel completely used up and bitter.  Your husband insults you, and you take it.  You are beaten down by your it is time to change it.

You are clearly a competent woman - one who used to teach (and successfully, I bet), who is capable of doing research to find out new information, who is thoughtful, who is unafraid to take on something completely new.  In other words, you do have strength, even though you may feel as if you aren't getting to use it enough right now.

I am not suggesting you quit - at least not right now.  I'm suggesting that you need to start loving yourself again and thinking about what is in your interests.  (And in my mind, that does not include catering to your husband's whims, stubborness and downright mean streak.)  When I was in my darkest point Ned Hallowell gave me some great advice - he said "you are a strong woman.  You need to start thinking about yourself and your happiness.  I'm not suggesting that there is a specific path to that happiness - it might be as a single woman or it might be in your marriage.  I'm only suggesting that you need to stop worrying about your husband and start taking your own happiness into account.

Here's another way to think about it.  You are too confined by your husband's issues because you are taking them on.  ADD isn't an excuse for this behavior.  Iinstinctively I think you know this by your comment about his saying "this is how I am" - BALONEY!  He wasn't born rude and thoughtless.  He's allowed himself to become that way.  And you've put up with it, essentially letting him know that it's okay for him to treat you that way.  (Nagging him or yelling at him to change won't affect change, it will only make him mad and put him on the defensive, giving him incentive to "prove" that he's okay.

Next time he tells you he's too tired to do the dishes with you, tell him politely that you have worked just as many hours as he has and that you are also tired, so you are going to go and rest a bit.  Then leave the dishes.  (Or, if you're feeling like it, join him at the TV, assuming that you like the show he's watching.)   Don't do those dishes until either you really do have the energy or he helps out.

Don't be mean to him, yell at him, or otherwise try to get back at him, just stick up for yourself.  And, don't do unto others what you don't want them to do to you.  If he does start to do dishes (doubtful, but hope springs eternal) you can assist - wiping counters or putting away things that have been left out.  A simple "thanks - it's so nice to feel we are in this together" would be great.

In the field - if he calls you names, you can say "No, I'm not stupid.  I happen to have much to learn in the way of farming, because this is new to me, but I refuse to accept your insults.  Furthermore, if you want me to learn then the best way would be to be supportive of me.  I know this from my teaching days."  The next time he insults you, "It hurts me when you use language like that.  I would like you to be more constructive when you talk with me.  If you can't be, then eventually I'm going to need to leave when you treat me that way.  I don't deserve your harsh words."  And then the next time "Gee, I've been pretty clear about this - have you not heard my requests for you to treat me with respect?  I'm afraid that I'm going to need to take a break for a while and do something else to manage my disappointment and anger with you."  Then walk away from him.

Your message shows signs of being too close to your husband's issues - and not in a good way.  Let me take your example of the coat.  You think that his wearing an old coat is a problem.  Why?  Lots of people use old coats when they go out, and keeping something in good order for a special occasion makes a lot of sense.  I think your problem has more to do with the fact that he didn't do it the way you expected, would have done it yourself, or wanted him to do it.  Which leads me to my next point.  As part of pulling yourself away, you need to respect his autonomy, as well as your own.  In other words, if he wants to wear a certain coat, that's HIS choice, not yours (just as he shouldn't be telling you what skirt or gloves to wear - and you would resent it if he did.)  If, when you confront him in the field for his bad language, he chooses to ignore you and tell you that it's fine with him if you go back to the house then just accept it.  If that's his response, that's his response.  It deserves respect, just as you hope that he will respect whichever choices and responses you choose to make.

Consider putting a yellow sticky note on your mirror.  No, put two.  On one, write the word "respect".  This is to remind you that your assignment is to respect yourself, and respect his right to be who he is (you don't have to like the way he is, only respect his right to choose to be whomever he wants to be.  If his choices end your marriage, so be it.  You can't change him - though many times people who are given the responsibility to change actually end up doing so).  On the other sticky note, write the word "love".  This is to remind you to love yourself and make your best effort to be thoughtful and loving as you pull away from your husband's tyranny (in other words, try not to pull away in anger or as punishment.  Rather, try to pull away because you deserve it - because it is the most loving thing you can do for you).  Every time you go to your mirror you will find reminders of what you are doing...and can take a couple of seconds to gather your strength and remind yourself that you are a good, strong woman.

A word of warning here.  You will likely find that at first this will be a big shock to your relationship.  Your husband will try to do things that will bring things back to where they were - where he gets to get away with whatever he feels like.  Hang in there and kindly but firmly hold your ground, unless this turns violent in some way, in which case you should leave immediately and get out of any danger.  You are doing this for YOU, not for your relationship.  Time for you to be able to be that strong woman you used to be - the competent one whose opinion mattered and who had her life in order.

Let us know how it goes.


resentment turning into contemp

Thank you, Melissa, for taking the time to reply to my problem. You have given me hope and the incentive to continue on. I didn't realize how much I had taken on my husband's issues, nor had it occurred to me that I don't have to like the way he is, only respect his right to choose whomever he wants to be. I appreciate your encouraging words about ways to become strong for myself, especially in responding to his harsh words when we work together. It will take many re-readings of your words of wisdom and much willpower to continue to change my responses but I am convinced that I can become the woman I once was. Again, thank you for the considerable amount of time and effort your reply required. I am very grateful for your advice.

ADD husband doesn't come to bed

Dear JAM First let me tell you that you are not alone. I'm sure if you struggle with your husband on ADD issues it's usually across the board with your entire lifestyle. The worst part about this is you have an idea in your mind on how you should be treated, spoken to,and thought of but with guys like ours, it doesn't come out of their mouths the way they mean it. I've bent over backwards to make my husband try to see that there is something wrong with him and the more I did that the further away we parted and the more he began to hate me. We did get help and the person we saw just gave us no good direction at all but I did find a man that explained to me the goings on inside a ADD ers head. I can't say that we are fixed perfect now but I am less aggravated and things between us are on the mend. The way this Dr. made me see my husband was in a different light. For most people you can take a behavior for face value. This does not hold true for ADDers. When they show anger, it's fear. If they want something done their way it's fear of loosing control. If you tell him there is something wrong with them, it's like saying they don't have a man part. To sit a have quality time, family time, intimate time,THEY CAN'T. It's not a question of love, it's a question of ability. You can bend the rules however. Most of the time they need you to give them more stroking and more attention than we actually need.

I'm the ADDer

I'm the ADDer in this marriage, the wife! I've been accused by my husband my bedtime habits are only to avoid being intimate with him. That I'm chatting online with "someone", just don't want to be near him. He claims I no longer love him cause I used to beat him to bed but not anymore. I've been a night owl for as long as I can remember, this has never been a secret to anybody that knows me. I can't help that I'm not tired & ready to go to bed as soon as the sun goes down. I work out of the home. My husband works from home. He claims he never heard of ADD till he met me. Thinks its a crutch to take med for ADD. We've had that argument but not for awhile. Now we just can't afford the Concerta because of lack of insurance. I try really hard control my symptoms with behavior modification. I tried taking whatever I was interested in to bed with me. But then I was still accused of putting more importance on those things to keep from having sex with him! I am a major procrastinator, late for everything! Doesn't think I respect him or anybody when I do that. Time management is not my strong suit, I've fought with it all my life. When I take Concerta, it kicks in my OCD symptoms too. Which makes my being on time even worse. It's not easy being married to one of us, definitely not easy being us! There's really no one way of dealing with us, and I hate that term too! "Dealing with us", live with us, help to understand us but don't tag it as "dealing with us!" My last husband gave me that hated phrase! Last because I will not tolerate anybody to get physical with me in a violent manner! End of story! I wish all this support was out there when I was younger, being labeled lazy, is not encouraging to any child. Even worse as an adult, I'm soo thankful to have found this site!!! Don't give up on us, please keep loving us, trying to understand & whatever you do,,,,don't judge us. We don't always do things against our spouse out of spite, its not that we don't love you we just don't think sometimes. It's not personal, really. Like I try to tell my husband, everything doesn't revolve around him, its not always about him. It truly is me & I know it.

Want to Understand ADDers

I was recently dumped by an ADDer, or ADHDer (?).  It's pretty painful.  So this is my therapy.  Maybe I just want to justify that this is the best thing that happened to me.  In fact it is.  Minutes after I read the "Dear Jane" e-mail from him (with some very, very harsh words; he was so BRUTALLY honest!), I cried and cried.  Then, picked myself up and started googling "ADHD and relationship."  I always suspected that he had little "problems."  It became clear from the way he wrote that indicated "racing thoughts" and other red flags.  The more I read about ADD/ADHD, the better picture of him I got.  Why was he doing all these things the whole time?  We were just classmates going thru military training together; but I did fall for him.  Who wouldn't?!  Those caring, charm, creativity, intelligence qualities in him that came along with moodiness, forgetfulness, and tardiness.  Did I say moon madness, too?  He could easily turn into a werewolf staying up alll night a few days before the full moon.  He was so full of energy and became so hyperfocused.  What else could be wrong with him?  LOL

Anyway, my prince charming became very mad at me after I had revealed my feelings to him.  Hence the "Dear Jane" e-mail where he told me that he never cared for it to be romantic relationship between us.  He even said that he'd report me to the chain-of-command for sexual harrassment.

Robbie Jean, thank you for making me understand ADDers.  Thank you the ADD spouses for having written and shared with us.  Unfortunately, he didn't want me in his life.  And I respect his wish.  But I'm thinking about volunteering for a local ADHD/ADD later when I'm done with my deployment and come back to the states.

Best wishes to y'all both ADDers and their spouses.  I learn so much from reading your blogs and other on-line articles.  I certainly learned a lot from him but didn't realize it at the time.  Don't give up on yourselves with your struggles.

This healing process will take time for me.  I always remember him and the time we spent together and have him close to my heart.  I know that there will be someone else for me one day.

Wife's random routines before bed

I am glad to hear that someone else is having these same issues.  I am the non-ADD spouse and I struggle with the fact that my wife has absolutely no routine at bedtime.  One night she is dead asleep at 9:00pm (just when I thought I would get a chance to speak with her for the first time all day), and the next night she spontaneously decides to do work until 1:00am.  She has absolutely no routine to her evening which seems to suit her just fine.  Often, as we are getting ready for bed, she will decide to launch into a project she would like to accomplish herself.  In either case, I need to ask her well before bedtime if she would like to spend time with me before bed (otherwise it never happens).  The evening is the only time we have to talk and be intimate, but every day is a crap shoot in terms of if we will have time together. 

I am a flexible person, but I just cannot cope with her spontaneous activities before bed.  I want to be with her, but don't want to run everything on her schedule (or dictate what we do).


I am "your wife"....

Hi Paul,

I'm interested to read your experience - I am the ADHD one in our relationship. My girlfriend needs lots of sleep and I'm one of those people who comes into their own as soon as the rest of the world is going to bed. I often don't make it to bed until 2 or 3 a.m. - usually because I get really "into" something, useful or trivial ,and I cannot tear myself away from it. It's always, "Just one more".  


sometimes this is fine, when my g/f and I sit watching amusing/interesting/informative videos on youtube.  Other times it drives her potty because I "Just have" to do the washing up, the laundry, book keeping (YUCK!), designing a flyer (I'm self employed), etc.


So sorry to hear it drives you mad....