ADHD and Marriage: Preparing for the New Year

Okay, I admit I stole this idea, but I will give full credit to Experience Life Magazine staff for writing a bit about why it’s important to think carefully about this year’s successes before setting your New Year’s resolutions (you can read the article here).  This is a particularly smart idea for couples who’ve been struggling with ADHD issues for a while.  Let me give you my specific thoughts…

The gist of the Experience Life article is that you probably have accomplished more than you think, and that an accumulation of small victories is important.  Acknowledging them can help you set realistic goals for 2012 and also be optimistic about your ability to reach the next targets.

Here are some things you might have accomplished this year, for example:

  • After many years, your ADHD partner finally came to terms with having ADHD – perhaps getting an evaluation or starting treatment for the first time
  • One or both of you “went to school” on ADHD – learning a lot of new information you didn’t have before
  • You each started experimenting with ways to manage ADHD in your relationship
  • Perhaps you took my couples course or went to hear a talk about ADHD
  • You’ve started to work out more and think about yourself, not just your partner.  Maybe you’re start to work on your sleep and diet.
  • By learning more about ADHD you’ve become more compassionate towards your ADHD or non-ADHD partner’s challenges

ALL of these things represent real progress, even if they have not yet gotten you to your identified finish line.

So make sure to give yourself a pat on the back for any progress either of you has made and then think about the foundation you may have built.  What might be some positive next steps you would like to set as goals that could build on that base?  I would love to hear your thoughts and personal goals.


Victory is realizing the work needs to be done...


The title of your blog post (which I just discovered a couple of weeks ago) caught my eye and your optimistic, forward thinking view of things kept my interest.  It is quite appropriate to the situation my wife and I find ourselves in.  The love and passion has gone out of our marriage.  Our "finish line" is for us to find that love and passion and rediscover in one another the person that we married.  And we have barely begun our journey - we have just recently acknowledged the need for counseling to help us.  We know it won't be easy - the procrastinator in me and the planner in her have chosen to put off the start of counseling until after the holidays due in large part to that.  But the fact that we have identified a lot of things gives me cause for hope. 

We will have been married 10 years in May, and started having real problems two years ago, when the stress of our (now 7 year old) son's diagnosis of central auditory processing disorder hit us and exposed our difficulties in coping with things.  As the husband with ADHD, only diagnosed 6 years ago, I became more disorganized, and my wife took on a greater role in - well, everything, and her emotional overwhelm, already heightened by our son's difficulties, became greater.  Her resentment and anger at me grew, and that in turn paralyzed me with fear of making yet another mistake, and...well, you sound like you know the rest.  I'm feeling angry and unappreciated, and she "has nothing left."  "Nothing left" seems like the mantra of non-ADHD spouses everywhere...

But I really do think there is hope.  First, my wife and I are reasonably smart, self-aware people who were indeed deeply in love at one point and had an absolutely fantastic relationship in the beginning, and we have that to remind us of the place where we can be again.  Second, we have indeed been able to gather information and learn a lot about things, even before we have entered into counseling together.  She is a pediatric neuropsychologist who has not only read Driven From Distraction, but recommended it to many of her teenage patients; now that we've agreed to seek help, she's been able to step back a bit and see, with some empathy, how difficult even basic things in my day-to-day life can be sometimes.  

For my part, I am an anesthesiologist who, through dogged persistence, made it through undergrad, med school, and residency before finally getting the ADHD diagnosis at 37 years of age.  And yes, medication totally "turned the lights on" and improved my functioning and life significantly.  A month ago, when my wife and I came to the realization that our marriage was in a critical state, I looked on iBooks and searched "marriage," where I found and uploaded your book.  It is loaded with great information, not to mention being eerily descriptive of our relationship and its problems.  I nodded knowingly reading about the non-ADHD spouse and the anger, the criticism, the parent-child dynamic, the lack of appreciation, and so on.  

All that stuff I understood and related to all too well.  But the one thing that really hit home with me was this:  "If you have ADHD, I guarantee that you underestimate the impact your ADHD has on your non-ADHD spouse."  Yet another light went on!  I have certainly never denied my ADHD since being diagnosed; in fact it was a relief, an explanation.  Furthermore, as someone who employs pharmacology at work every day, I figured that taking my meds faithfully (which I do) was more than enough; after all, everyone around me has noticed the objective improvement in my symptoms since then.  But meds didn't change a lot of things, like thought and behavior patterns which were my compensations for my undiagnosed ADHD for so long.  I was getting to the point where I didn't know what else to do - I'm trying so hard.  Nothing is working  I'm just not appreciated.  I figured that it was my wife who needed the attitude adjustment, and that we needed new strategies for interacting with each other, which would hopefully be discovered through counseling.  But that's not all.  Meds are good, but not enough; I need some adjustment too.  And through your book (and a lot of the links on your blog), I have found ways to go about that.  It's quite liberating.  I don't have to bang my head against the same wall over and over; as you say in your book, I'll try differently.  

Some things I'm already doing.  I used to play soccer and run marathons; I got away from that and found myself out of shape.  Today I am 2/3 of the way through the P90X fitness program, and I have more energy than ever.  Some things I'm about to discover.  I have been a good, loving, reliable parent to our son, and with my wife's help, I have become fairly organized and useful with regard to work around the house.  So that's good.  But as far as financial matters and the executive functioning of our lives - well, that's another story.  So finally, for the first time, I'm planning to enlist the help of professional organizers to help me with my time management and executive functioning skills.  Could it be that my wife doesn't trust me to handle all of these administrative duties because...well, I'm just not that good at them?  The possibility never even occurred to me until I read that telling passage in your book.  I'm not sure specifically what kinds of changes I'll need to make, but I'm ready to take classes, wipe that slate clean, and try something different, not just because it'll be a step in saving our marriage, but it'll make me a better person as well.  And as a guy with lifelong ADHD, you can bet I know all about the never-ending quest for self-improvement...

For me, gathering information and acting on it gives me a sense of real empowerment.  Your book and blog have been a great source of that information.  I can't predict the future and I don't know for sure if my wife and I can mend our relationship.  We have a lot of work ahead of us, both as a couple and as individuals, but I like our chances.  For the first time in years, I have hope - based on a real plan and the successes of others before us - that we can.   And that hope is a great foundation on which to build in the coming year.  


your title says it all

Wow.  (wipes tear).  I have been saying (here and to myself) since I discovered there is such a thing as adult ADHD, that it isn't the ADHD part of my spouse I have trouble living with, it's the crappy coping skills he's developed to deal with it.  Your eyes seem to be wide open, and you "get" that denial, distortion and deflection don't work.  

I like your chances, too.