ADHD & Marriage: A Simple Approach to Help You Make Progress

One of the participants of my couples course recently asked me “You talk about how important it is the measure how you are both doing against your goals…but what does that look like, exactly?”  It’s a great question about a really important part of moving your relationship forward.  Here’s how our conversation started, with a specific example so you all know what I’m referring to:

Me:  Let’s talk about something very specific as an example.  Tell me what one of your own goals is.

Him:  Hmm…I would like to be less surprising to my wife.

STEP 1 – DEFINE THE PROBLEM

Me:  Let’s define that.  Does that mean you want to be more dependable?  Able to have more coherent conversations with her?  Easier to predict?

Him:  Yes

STEP 2 – NARROW THE PROBLEM YOU ARE WORKING ON TO BE MANAGEABLE

Me:  So let’s take one specific area of it, then – I’ll pick one since this is just an example – conversations that are more coherent. Let’s assume that you’ve discovered that the issue with your conversations is impulsivity and distractibility, which lead you to go in surprising directions in your conversations.  This shows itself in a few ways:

  • You interrupt more than you want to
  • You lose track of the conversation, then have trouble getting back into it
  • Your wife has trouble following the path of the conversation because she doesn’t understand where your next ideas are coming from (a byproduct of the “flat” vs. hierarchical nature of your brain)

STEP 3 – CREATE A PLAN

Continuing on... With those ideas in mind, let’s create some specific things that you could try that might change this situation for you, as well as figure out how we will measure success.  You will be experimenting and, like a scientist, measuring your success.  For impulsivity, I would consider some of these options: trying mindfulness training so you can develop the habit of thinking before you speak; creating some verbal cues to minimize the effect that interruptions might have on your conversations; having a pad of paper with you to jot down thoughts you are afraid of losing.  Let’s say you pick the mindfulness training and the verbal cue.  Your plan and measurement ideas might look like this:

1.     Research mindfulness training options by Monday of next week.

a.     Call health club Wednesday (put reminder in phone)
b.     Call doctor’s office Thursday (set reminder for 9:05am)
c.      Search internet Friday at lunch (reminder for 11:55 am)
d.     Go to Amazon and look at books about mindfulness training (Friday lunch)

2.     Create verbal cue with wife

a.     Conversation about what the cue will be Wednesday evening (Sue has agreed to remind me of meeting)
b.     Start using cue (both)

STEP 4 - MEASURE

Because the ideas in the plan are finite, you can measure whether or not you did them successfully.  Did you call the health club on Wednesday or not?  Did you have the verbal cue conversation, or not?  Later, your plan and measurement might be something such as “Do mindfulness meditation at 9:45pm Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday.”  Your measurement, again, is whether or not the item happened.  Eventually, after the mindfulness training has happened consistently, you would then measure whether or not it was helping you interrupt less often.  Your wife could give you feedback on this.

Perhaps you were not able to meet your goals.  Let’s say you called the health club and they had no ideas for you, but you didn’t call the doctor’s office.  Take time to understand why you didn’t do it.  Did you forget to put a reminder alarm into your phone?  If so, write a note you keep at your desk (or wherever you are creating these plans) that says “put reminder in phone” and create the new habit of creating a reminder for EVERYTHING (once the habit is in place, you can take down the sign!)  If you put the reminder in, but ignored it, why?  Did you unrealistically schedule your call during work hours?  Did you not hear it?  What could you do better next time to increase your chances of not ignoring your next reminder?  Perhaps you need to “group” reminders into a specific 45 minute block of the day…if so, when would that be?

Be creative as you think of ideas, and work together as a couple to support the experimentation that goes along with this process.  But always remember to set your goals so they are measurable – that way you can get past the “I was thinking about it, so therefore that must be progress” syndrome that so many with ADHD seem to fall prey to.  “Thinking” and “doing” are not the same thing, neither for getting results nor for reassuring your spouse that you are committed to making changes.

In this example, there are other elements of “being less surprising to my wife” that eventually need to be addressed.  As a concept, “being less surprising” is confusing and provides no real direction – hence the process I’ve outlined here of defining the problem, narrowing it down, creating a plan, and measuring success.  As you gain success (and learning about what makes you most successful along the way) you’ll be able to back up and attack a different part of the issue (perhaps reliability or something).  Use the same method and attack one small part.  As you use this method over and over again you will find that you start to learn what works for you.  Perhaps NOTHING you assign yourself to do during work hours ever really gets done, so you decide to wake up half an hour earlier and spend that time on specific items you are working on.  Or perhaps you learn that the most effective reminder system is a pad of paper you carry with you, rather than a phone (easier to see everything at once).  You will get better and better at figuring out what an effective plan will be for you…and doing so will take less and less effort, while also making you more reliable.