ADHD Marriage Turn Around - From Ready to Separate to Happier than Ever

Want to know what success looks like when you've pretty much lost hope and then turn things around?  Here is a letter that came in to me this week that describes it so well that I thought I would share it.  Of particular interest, I think, is the connection between the two partners as they progress - they create an upward spiral of positively reinforcing behavior that really helps them succeed.

Hi Melissa,

My husband and I took your “Couples Seminar” this January.  It’s been more than 6 months since we finished taking it, so I decided to report how we are doing.

A few months before we decided to take your seminar, our marriage reached a low point. I was seriously depressed, my health was threatened. We both agreed staying together this way was not a healthy solution, so we even set the date to start a separation process. For me, it was a sad decision after trying so hard to work it out for 22 years, but was somehow relieved to know that soon I won’t have to deal with his ADHD symptoms. I thought I have done everything I could do and the best I could do for this relationship. I failed and I couldn’t find anymore hope. After I read your book, I realized there was one more thing I haven’t tried for our marriage. “Try differently” with learning about ADHD.  My husband also read your book and we both decided to take your seminar as a last ditch effort.

In the beginning, it was about small tasks in the kitchen. He said “Don’t worry, I will take care of it”. “Yeah sure”, I thought with no expectation that he will come through. To my surprise, he did it immediately without delaying. It was refreshing to me, but I was happy to see it done nonetheless, so I thanked him. I thought it was a temporary exception. I could use that exception more often. Soon I noticed his word “I will take care of it” was actually followed by his actions more often. I was delighted and thanked him each time and expressed how much it is making my daily life easier. But I still wasn’t in the state of fully relying on his word. After all, I lived more than 20 years with his empty promises. The bitter experience kept me on guard as a survival skill. Expecting sometime soon, he will go back to his usual state and the symptom will take him over again. It was the routine that I was too familiar with.

“Strange”  I thought. By this time, he should be going back to his “not follow through” cycle. Yes, he still forgot things time to time and sometimes he couldn’t follow through what he promised. But it didn’t bother me as much anymore . Partly because I stopped judging him every time he didn’t get things done and I understood why he was distracted this time. This was possible because what I learned about my reactions to his symptoms from your seminar. Another big reason was that I could see his effort to manage his symptoms continued. Seeing him trying to manage his symptoms reflected how much he cares about us. About me. He has inattentive ADHD. In the past, to get him motivated to do something, convincing him how capable he is, was the hardest thing and I miserably failed. I believe he cared about us/me back then as much as he does now, but he didn’t know how to get himself into actions that reflect his care, nor could he motivate himself to try. Later he told me that if he tries something and ended up failing, he will feel worse. The fear of failing was so strong, so he ended up not trying. Hence, he looked like he was doing nothing and displayed the give-up attitude until this time. Now, with your seminar, he learned what exactly the targets are and he has nothing to lose by trying to improve. When I was faced with his symptoms, I was pulled right back to bitter past and felt my anxiety build up. I told him each time how I felt. He understood what his symptoms were doing to me. I felt happier. As long as he tries, the result really didn’t matter to me. I just felt “he cares” and sometimes that’s all us women need to feel the “happiness”.

But the results did follow. The more he tries, the more things got done and he gained self-confidence. Not only was he managing his symptoms better, he started taking initiative to do other things before I asked him. Gradually and cautiously, I started to gain my “hope”. I started laughing and got back my sense of humor as before. When I see he has done something without me asking, I would say “Who are you? Or, more importantly, where have you been all these years?” I’m so proud of him and tell him so. He sees his effort and result is making me happy.  Positive circle continues. This summer, we decided to skip our little get away and used that money for fixing our long time neglected house by painting the walls. Our teamwork finished the walls very nicely and we went on to updating other parts of our house. What a nice feeling to accomplish projects together!

He had an business trip at the end of August. Rather a long one this time-2 weeks. I noticed that he started preparing his trip much earlier than usual. He even made a “To Do List” for the trip. Despite his busy trip preparation, he even finished mowing the lawn, cleaning the dish rack, changing the light bulb in the kitchen, buying groceries for me and even fixed the bathtub faucet the day he was leaving. If it wasn’t enough, he apologized for not having enough time together and that couldn’t clean his den before he leaves.

Really, I could not ask more. I had my happiest summer. I wasn’t even half as happy when I was a newlywed. For the first time in our 22 years of marriage, I can feel that we are building our future together. Thank god we tried your seminar!

It was painful for us to find out that the family Dr. can diagnose ADHD and prescribe the medicine for it, but the Dr. won’t tell us that medicine alone is not going to fix the problems in the relationship unless you take the appropriate lesson/seminar/training to learn how to manage it from both ends (husband and wife). We wasted 2 years to find it out. When we found out that we needed training, we started searching who could help us. Unfortunately, there were no ADHD specialists where we live. We came across one who is specializing on training ADHD in a larger city relatively close to ours, but we were not convinced he could help our relationship. We didn’t want to waste our time anymore. We needed someone who REALLY knows about ADHD and more importantly how to help a ADHD affected marriage. When we both read your book, it was clear that you really know what we are experiencing. We checked your blog as well (Boy, there were so many stories of me! I cried) and when my husband found out that you have a couple’s seminar on line. We jumped to it. It made it much clearer for us what we were dealing with all these years and what exactly each of us had to watch out for and do it differently. It is remarkable that our marriage situation changed from the worst to the best in 8 months! We will continue our effort to improve, but I can say confidently that our marriage is “happily staying”. The key is that both parties have to care enough about each other to be willing to put in the effort. I hope many of the other couples who attend your seminars will turn their marriage around.

We decided that every January or February, we would go though the seminar contents together to review how we are doing. Oh, before I forget. Last, but not a least, yes, our sex life that was equivalent to something like a 80 year old couple when we were younger got better as well (^0^).

Thank you again for such a life changing seminar. It was the best and most effective money and time we ever spent.


I'm not so successful.

In one of Melissa Orlov's articles entitled  "Angry and Frustrated with Your ADHD Spouse?"  She said the following:

"Overcoming anger and frustration in marriages impacted by ADHD is the work of two people. Success is the result of a sort of “dance” that the partners do together. The ADHD partner gets ADHD symptoms under control (thus undermining the destructive patterns) while simultaneously the non-ADHD partner gets his or her own issues under control, as well. (These typically have to do with anger, controlling behavior, nagging, and too much criticism.) You rely on each other to make progress, just as dancers do. Gradually, by implementing the ideas above, you can diffuse your anger and rebuild your love."

What if your spouse is in ADD denial and she does not see the effect she has on the family at all?  We have been married for five years and have two small children.  I have read Gina Pera's book "Is It You, Me, or Adult ADD" and I have read Melissa's book "The ADHD Effect on Marriage".   I pretty much cried while reading both books.  I could not believe that they were both so spot on in almost every detail.  I now know what I am up against.  I have tried so many techniques for broaching the ADD subject over the course of about 2 years now, but to no avail.  She is "offended" that I would even suspect, as she puts it "broken" or "damaged".  She will have NONE OF IT..period!  In turn, she believes I have OCD.  I think what she is seeing is my nagging, criticism and what appears to be controlling behavior, of which I mostly stopped all of these "reactions" after reading the books some time ago, and following the advice given.  I have tried and tried using so many suggested approaches, but I absolutely cannot get through to her.   I discussed this separately with her parents and sister.  They not only agreed with me, but they provided numerous stories and descriptions of her, and how they had to "manage" her very differently from the other four siblings.  This discussion helped to validate my suspicions, and provided key historical insight.   However, for their own personal reasons, they are not willing to get involved, and therefore, will not be of any assistance to me.  Our marriage is a disaster.  We have certainly gone through the "symptom-reaction-reaction" model.  We have entered into divorce mediation.  We are both heartbroken over our failing marriage, especially with the children involved.   Due to the stressors on a day to day basis, I am unable to continue in the relationship with her ADD symptoms not addressed.   Are there any known incidences out there where the ADD partner NEVER accepts that they may have ADD? Therefore, the first link in the "symptom-reaction-reaction" chain forever goes unaddressed?  If so, what does the non-adhd partner do about this?  What are the options other than to divorce, or to just accept it and deal with it?

From the forum, I think there

From the forum, I think there is a huge percentage of ADD/adhd partners who never own up to having a spectrum disorder. I've been able to see what I perceived from my adhd dh as lack of empathy is actually a lack of awareness. It became less personal to me, less of an attack upon my self.

I am still in the marriage and plan to be. But before this, I was always thinking of ways to get out of the marriage conflict of blaming and control and above all, taking on the burden of my dh's ADHD that I ended up with some health issues. I no longer take on the burden, and I tell him so. I refuse to own up to his anger, his OCD demands, etc.

It's not so much selflessly accepting/dealing with it... just finding ways of managing your own self and not being sucked into the ADHD way of thinking and reacting/reacting. It is easy to counter the ADHD reaction with falling into irrationality of your own - we know it's irrational, but the ADHD reaction may seem totally rational to our spouses. Once we let go of the anger we feel that it's personal, then there's less of the conflict. I think the ADHD partner may react more positively as a result too. I always thought my dh was itching for a fight on certain days, but I think because of his inability to redirect his reaction>>>reaction, he needs something/someone to nip it in the bud without making him feel worse than he probably already does deep inside.


Thank you for your

Thank you for your comments..  This is helpful, as I am new to the forum.

Denial Causes Divorce

I have a theory - it is not ADHD that causes divorce, but denial that causes divorce.  Which is so sad because ADHD can be managed.  In fact, research suggests that 50% of people can manage their ADHD in a way so it doesn't get in their way and another 20-30% can handle it well with good treatment.  When children are involved it is particularly sad to get to this point without having tried the ADHD-inspired options that are available.

It's not just ADHD denial that causes divorce, BTW, it's also denial on the part of the non-ADHD partner that they play a role (i.e. they insist that ADHD is the only issue).  This is not what you are doing here, but I think it only fair to mention it in the forum.

Hi Melissa, What are the

Hi Melissa,

What are the "ADHD-inspired options" you are referring to?  I assume they are the various strategies you lay out in your book?  

It's somewhat funny, if it wasn't so serious, but I have often told her how sorry I am for the role I played in our struggles.  I would apologize over how my reactions were at times very non-conducive, and even quite damaging to turning things around for us.  I have told her repeatedly that I accept a 50%-50% role.  However, she continuously says that I have NEVER owned up to my role in this, and I blame her for everything 100%.  She completely forgets what I said over and over again!  I don't even know how to respond to that??  My reactions that I speak of are mostly the anger and sometimes hurtful things a non-adhd spouse might say during a reaction...I've improved greatly on this front, but it certainly is no easy task.  She does engage me on occasion, and sometimes I am caught off-guard and I take the bait.  There is no question though, at least on the inside, I am quite angry and resentful over her denial.   I believe that dealing with the denial is actually worse than the adhd symptoms themselves. 

Some time ago, when she told me to "lay off the the ADD garbage", I reacted by saying "If you have ADD, it is no problem at all, it is very treatable and workable.  However, if you don't have ADD and this is just your personality, there is no treatment for that and we may have a problem!"  This was an example of one of my "not-so-bright" moments.  I have been learning quite a bit since then, thanks to you and your members, Melissa.

In terms of the ultimate "blame" of the marital struggles due to ADHD symptoms, I can only think of the following example of how I feel:

Suppose there were two people far out at sea in a large row-boat.  One person takes a sledge hammer and starts to pound holes into the bottom of the boat.  The other person looks on in panic wondering what she should do!  She then screams at the person, calling him a fool and to stop pounding holes in the boat or they will sink.  The person, somewhat annoyed, then responds by saying that he doesn't quite see what the problem is, and actually believes there is no problem at all.  Terrified, she then jumps up and tries to plug every hole she can to stop the water from rushing in, but she can't keep up!  She then calms down, apologizes for her unacceptable screaming, and for calling him a fool.  She tries to reason with him and explain, in a very loving tone, why pounding holes in the boat is not proper luck, he denies that they are even on a boat in the water.  Assuming she is not an experienced negotiator, or crisis manager, this boat most likely is going to sink.  Now granted, she did have some reactions that were not productive and could have angered him, but if this boat sinks, he is to blame! 


Here. Here.  This is how I feel about the experience.  He is like, "What boat?  What holes?  What are you so angry for THIS time?  Enjoy your life instead of seeing the glass as half full.  Stop complaining, Cant you see I have work to do making these holes?" dh just "does his thing" without plan or purpose or care about anyone around except his own experience at the moment.  He just is enjoying making these very important holes in the boat.

I agree

This is so relatable. Unfortunately for me at this time,I feel like those wholes are now sinking this relation"ship". I am trying so hard to learn more about my husbands ADHD and nearly every page I read in Melissa's book is spot on but I can't seem to get my husband to start learning. He says he'll start reading the book and going through the information on the site but he doesnt and hasn't. I really feel like this boat has set sail and sunk 3 feet off the shore...:-(

Yes, the denial and the

Yes, the denial and the related "how dare you interfere with my life and our relationship by pointing out that there are problems" attitude:  these are bigger issues than the ADHD behaviors themselves.  Thank you for your very good analogy.

The analogy I use sometimes also involves water.  My husband is sinking, I try to help him, and he responds by pushing me down and staying afloat by holding on to me while I'm under water.  That's on a good day.  On a bad day, he claims to not need help and pulls us both under the surface.


This same analogy goes through my mind about the drowning and the using me as a floatation device he is wiling to suffocate so he can be a little more comfortable. 

I have a boatload (pun

I have a boatload (pun intended!) of water-related analogies.  Here's my favorite, because I get to use everyone in my family. If I were drowning, my sister would try to rescue me; my brother would hire someone to rescue me and then ask our mother to pay him back; my (ADHD) husband would stand on the shore and start crying and say, "Oh, poor me, I'm about to be a widower," and my father-in-law would say, "Someone's drowning?  I don't see anyone in the water."