is this ADHD or something else? This sucks.

This is such a tough situation and I recognize that it is affecting my health, my happiness, and my children. I need this to change pretty soon. I am sorry this will be a long post. I am telling you, I used to be a kind, happy, considerate person with a great job and caring friends, a supportive extended family and a talent and joy for my work--just got a bonus and big award for doing well. I have a sense of humor. I like to have fun. But I am a wreck underneath at this point. A huge wreck, losing weight with migraines almost every day and hair falling out. My children need me. I need me to be myself again. Long story short--I am the non-, and we have been spouses for over a decade with grade school aged children. We have had a tumultuous, explosively dysfunctional relationship that has worsened to the point of being just about dead. DH admits that he has ADHD, has had it for years, used to take medication to be able to work a job that required few hours, but would not address ADHD's impact in any other area of his life. Everything was me. Or, a reaction to me. I accept my part for becoming angry and hurt. I have been asking him to go to counseling for five years. I read the books and tried to get him to: "The Five Love Languages," and about 10 books on ADHD. He read Melissa's book, said, "That's not me, I do not have self-esteem issues," underlined the parts about the spouse being angry (me), threw the book down and stormed out, and that was that. He once agreed to go to counseling, for about a day, then I sounded stressed the next day, he exploded at me, and went back to refusing. Now he says that I am the one with the problems, that I need to see a psychiatrist (I do see a therapist), and that if it weren't for me, he wouldn't have any stress in his life and would be just fine. 

Years later (I think stress is an issue) DH has a serious physical disability, a condition that makes even moving around difficult, and does not work. He will not admit or discuss that his ADHD affects our relationship or any other aspect of his life in a negative way. Describes himself as a genius (he is very creative and talented and bright)--"the world is wrong, not me--the founder of so and so had ADHD! I am brilliant..." I suspect that in addition to this ADHD, he also must have some other stuff going on and that over the years, with the addition of maintaining a job, having a house, having children, and me not being so ok with him coming and going as he pleases--the stress ensued for him. So does his doctor, by the way (doctor asked bipolar? other brain/chemistry/issues? during a visit months ago--DH denies it or once said, "So? A lot of people have bipolar disorder.") I am seeing a therapist because I am so stressed out and anxious that I can't live this way any longer. I do not recognize myself. I have started investigating separating, which is awful and something I take very seriously. It will wreck us financially, of course, maintaining two households, and on top of it, he is also physically ill, on disability, and I will be "leaving" and throwing out a very sick person. We have no family in the area. But I feel trapped in this house and I. am. losing. my. ever-loving. mind. I also no longer want my children growing up and thinking that this is "normal." It is sad--we are still young, and this condition and the stress from it and our marriage have caused him to lose almost everything--job, wife, maybe living in our house with our kids -- and at this point, he is in "curl up and hide" mode alternating with "There is nothing wrong with me." He lays in bed for days on end. He gets explosively angry and out of control. He has not said a kind word or spoken to me in a kind way in at least a year. He said once that he does not want to lose everything, and cried, but he won't make even one step to change anything.

I have asked DH to see a psychiatrist numerous times and told him that I can't take care of him if he won't. On my end, I see him with some serious depression, alternating with some "highs," a physical condition that has him on disability that is aggravated by stress, and several issues that I will list that may or may not be related to ADHD. His family and I have asked him to see a psychiatrist. His doctor mentioned it once but feels DH has to agree and make the appointment unless he is in danger of hurting himself, which hasn't seemed the case. And it is true: if he does not want to address these things, it won't do any good for him to do it for the rest of us.  

I guess the question ADHD or something else is also paired with: am I nuts? am I the worst wife ever? or is this as bad as I think it is and I just need to cowboy on up, cut our losses, arrange for him to get some physical help other than me, and separate? How in the almighty world am I going to explain this to our children? (And I know, I will have to do all of it). I feel so exhausted and defeated that summoning up the strength to take the next step feels huge. I eat right, I exercise, I talk to friends, see a therapist, and try to be a good person. I am just mad at myself that I am in this situation. Maybe the only answer is to just rip off the bandaid and file (I have no idea what I will have to do to get him to leave, and I really feel it is the right thing to do to keep the house and let our children live it in with me--I am the primary bread winner now, the main caretaker, and also feel like I deserve it, since I do everything). But I still feel bad. It blows. 

ADHD or something else and am I the worst wife ever or is this just untenable? --

Major issues that have been going on for years and he won't see a doctor about any of them or seemingly can't address them: 

1) Sleep problems, apnea, and the "last minute" cycle. Can't sleep at night. Usually can at 5 a.m. and sleeps until noon. Tough with kids who get up at 6! Recently got caught up watching a series on video and went 48 hours without sleeping, then slept all day, until 4 p.m., then awoke in agony because he hadn't taken his medicine in way too many hours and forgot to eat. Happens all the time. He has such bad apnea and snores so much--got one sleep study and it was atrocious--won't get a CPAP, or follow up even though doctor has told him it puts him at risk for all kinds of bad things and affects his health. I can't sleep with the noise--you can hear him through a closed door--we have been in separate rooms for years. Also can't do things until they are an emergency--fixing something or writing a report for work--will wait and then stay up all day and night for days to do it by a deadline. Again, tough with kids and strain on me as he goes into "save yourself, I have to do this" mode. But afterward describes himself as a hero who can work "20 hour days!" (for a week or two until the crisis is over. Then, back to hard to move or do anything mode). He did this to write a work report when we had an infant and toddler and I was going back to work after being on maternity leave. And didn't warn me that it was coming. And bragged to everyone later about being able to write this report that usually takes others 2 months, in 2 weeks! Insists that "there is nothing wrong -- you just can't handle the way I work" when I try to talk to him about what a strain it puts on me. The physical strain of doing this for years have put a toll on his body, if nothing else. 

2) Blurting, anger, criticism, and verbal abuse. OK, I hate to even write this because as a smart, independent woman, I sound like I am portraying myself as a victim. What does this have to do with ADHD? DH blurts things out that I see as a criticism. It does not matter if our kids or my mom or anyone is around. "Your car is so messy, yuck," or "That is why (our kids) don't listen to you." He says that he only means to "help" when I tell him it hurts my feelings. Or that I am too sensitive. He rarely apologizes. If I have one moment of being slightly upset, mad, or hurt (1 or 2 on a scale of 10), that is all she wrote (I sound a little strained and say, "Please don't talk to me about how I am disciplining them it in front of the boys.") It is hard not to take it personally because it is about me and it is PERSONAL! He gets really mad, it escalates, I keep trying to "reason" with him (I know, I know...explaining why my car is messy doesn't help--now I just walk out of the room). But the end of the escalation is usually him yelling something awful at me, "The day we got married I knew I was making a mistake!" or "You are a horrible, fake person: I wish you'd never been born," or my favorite, "You are a terrible mother!" At this point, it has been going on for so long and I feel like I have PSTD, truly--I don't even care if it is from ADHD. These are horrible things to say to someone. I have told him that he is verbally abusive. His answer: "YOU are abusive. You start everything and get mad at me. I know it's not great to say those things, but you are always mad at me."  OK, but I would never say something like that to anyone. Ever. I have tried to explain how hurt I am and he accuses me of not wanting to let go, of holding on to it and choosing to be hurt. No apology, or if there is, it is, with a raised voice, "I am sorry, OK!?" So I am supposed to walk on eggshells and smile every time he tells me in front of our children that I cooked the broccoli too long, that my car is messy, that I am not disciplining them (falls to me!!!) right? And I am not allowed to get mad or hurt, ever. And I can't tell him that he did something "wrong" or he will defend it to his last breath. He often appears grumpy, irritable, and in a bad mood, takes it out on me, and then a moment later will be nice as pie to the meter reading guy who just showed up. I am so, so, so very sad that my spouse treats me this way and says these things. He has anger issues--sure, I get pissed or annoyed, but he smashed a telephone on the floor the last time he got really mad. And any time I tell him that I think he needs some help with anger management, I get, "YOU are the angry one!" I saved a few phone messages he left for me when he was mad -- I thought they may help with getting him to see how he sounds. But now I think I may need them legally? 

3) Apparent lack of awareness of others, especially me. My mother thinks he is the most self-centered person in the world, and that it is "all about him." That adds stress--now I get, "Your mother doesn't like me!" Issues with talking on, and on, and on, and not taking in the verbal or other cues from others around him. My mom and others in his family have told me that they have to leave the room sometimes to "get a break." I know he is sensitive about it, and he knows he does it, but usually his response, no matter how kindly or gently I tell him that he talked all the way through the 20 minute teacher conference we had, talking about all this educational theory he had read and how he handles raising our child, until the teacher was dumbfounded, is either, "No, I didn't," or "She just doesn't get me--other people LOVE how entertaining I am." OK. And the drama (I really think there is some narcissistic thing going on here, but if it is ADHD, please let me know if you have seen this) around anything physical or illness happening to him! He is the most melodramatic person, ever, when he is hurt or sick. Like, I think there is something wrong here--I have never in my life seen someone behave like this. His behavior, talking, drama, and need to talk about it dominates everything. He didn't used to be this way. He will go on and on moaning, and talking about how much a scrape on his arm hurts, and how bad it is, and I think that seriously, it is not that bad! All while our children are standing there saying they are hungry! His gag reflex makes him thrash around and make gagging noises (once when smelling a poopy diaper, he was so bad that a friend asked if he needed to go to the hospital). My mom got fed up with him when I was recovering from a cesarean, trying to breast feed, doing my best, and he kept going on and on about himself and how tired HE was. Recently, I told him, "The kids are sick--I have the worst migraine ever--I can only see red---and such bad cramps I can hardly walk." I never complain, I was in so much pain, and without missing a beat he said, "Hm. Oh, my back hurts so bad! Oooh, oooh, uuuh," and walked away from me, hobbling and moaning. Not any recognition whatsoever. No sympathy, no empathy. I used to get so mad and hurt. Now I just sigh. I tried gently asking, "Do you see that I am working so hard, taking care of all of us, while you are sick, and I am tired, and in pain? Do you appreciate it or see it?" "OK."--why do you need me to say it?" I wish I could just smile and shrug it off. 

4) Need for me to pay attention, to listen to a long story, to drop everything and help him RIGHT THEN when he is on a "high" or doing something. Again, I try to gently say, "Hey, I can listen to you in a minute, but I just walked in the door and the kids are hungry." He gets hurt every single time and accuses me of not caring about him or wanting to spend time with him. Last week, I told him that I hadn't slept, and needed to lay down for one hour, and a few minutes later he came bursting in my room, and demanded that I just come help him hold a bolt thing while he worked on a tire on his car. Seriously. And when I explained my point of view, that I had nicely asked for one hour and that he woke me up, his answer was, "I just needed help for one second! I have to fix this or we won't be able to drive anywhere!" Like I am the jerk, I am the unreasonable one who doesn't want to help him!! Or he will go on and on about some thing he read about soy on the internet when I am trying to help the kids with their homework and get so hurt when I, after 10 minutes, stop him and tell him that I can't listen any more right then, that the KIDS. NEED. ME. 

Anyone out there, thanks for listening. Just such a tough time. I am not sure there is anywhere to go with this any more but out. He tells me that I mistreat him (as he says horrible, awful things to me), and if I ever get even the slightest bit upset or stressed out, it becomes all about that and we never get to talk about the issue. His capacity for denial and deflection are amazing to behold--all he can say to me is that I am the one with the problems. Have I tried hard enough and done enough to deserve some peace? I am amazed at all of you, living with difficulty with loved ones, functioning, and at times, working it out. I know it is important for my kids to see me be calm and not react, and I am trying so hard to disassociate, to not be co-dependent, to not let them have to see their parents fight. No matter what, even if I can eventually settle all of us and separate, it will be a long road ahead and I will need to be able to deal with him as healthily as possible. But I am exhausted. I am doing EVERYTHING. I can't keep it up. This sucks. 

You have tried hard enough

You have tried hard enough and you have done enough.  I know it is hard to leave (I'm still stuck in "should I stay or should I go" mode), but I think you would be justified in splitting from your husband.  Have you been perfect?  No, but none of us is or can be.  It sounds as though you have gone above and beyond the call of duty for a spouse.  

BTW, the self-centeredness and the talking about himself in situations in which a conversation (both people get to talk) would be appropriate are characteristics of my husband, too.


First, realize that abuse is abuse, whether the person dishing it out can help it or not. You are not required to take abuse from the elderly, from the mentally ill, from people who came from abusive backgrounds, from alcoholics, from poor people, or from ADHDers. Although Melissa's book is great for those who are working together as a couple, if you are saddled with a person who will not do their part, your final decision will be, "Which do I want most? My mental health or my partners?" If your partner works with you, great! But if he does not, it will not be possible for you to have a relationship with this kind of person.

A good start is the book, "The verbally abusive relationship" by Patricia Evans. It spells out abuse in no uncertain terms, and you may be shocked to realize how much the abuser actually understands what he is doing, but has made the decision that he matters the most.

What to tell your children? You can't live with him anymore, you are too tired and unhappy from not having the help of an adult partner. That they can see him as much as they want! You won't use them as pawns, and you will always love him because he gave you such great kids. That he may be a great dad, and they should love him just like they always have. That you will try to make this as easy as possible on them. (Maybe, just maybe, if you make all these promises to him, he won't seek the revenge that some ADHDers are known for.)

You probably have a fair share of mental problems yourself from being criticized and blamed, for not being able to make sense out of a situation that makes no sense. Look up gaslighting and passive aggressiveness. Dig into articles about abusive partners. Look up complex PTSD and domestic abuse. You probably DO have it!!!!  Take ownership of the idea that most of the population agrees with YOU, not him, because most of the population is not ADHD. Accept that you just are not as strong as you always believed you were or that you could take it. You are just another normal human being with normal feelings, desires, and abilities. You are not superwoman. Your DH will never change under your present circumstances. He sounds like he has severe problems that you cannot solve, and you are just his crutch. He may feel better with you in a crappy relationship than he thinks he could do alone, so why would he want to rock the boat? What if he tries to change and can't? What if he is just unwilling to look at anyone but himself? Maybe he has a good bit of narcisism with that ADHD.

My ex DID go to counseling after we separated! It's amazing what they can do if they are miserable enough. But don't fall into their guilt trap if you decide to leave. You are not his mother!!! If you bite, he may play it for all it is worth. There is help out there, even for indigents. He will find it if he decides he needs it, believe me. But realize, their capacity for being miserable is much higher than yours.

If you were once reasonable happy, bright, productive, or whatever before you became so enmeshed with him, you can be that way again. Once he is gone, it will probably happen almost automatically, if you give it a little time. I'm going on 6 months since we divorced. Ex has found another playground and moved on. I struggled a little with bad dreams (about snakes.....), depression that came and went, a little loneliness -- but never during this time did I want him back. I stay on this website just to be sure I never look back at that relationship with blinders on again.

Prayers --



Lynnie, Rosered, thank you for taking the time to reply to my long, rambling post. I have see both of you here on these boards for a while now and feel like I practically know you. ((Hugs)). 

Yep, I feel that "moment of clarity" this morning, and appreciate your words. Thank you for helping me see that I knew the answer to my question --  but was feeling overwhelmed with the work and fallout that is going to have to happen to bring it about. All the worries (marriage over! well, it has been over and is in an unhealthy place)-- finances! (really--do I really want to say I stayed in a horrible situation so that I could keep my house? would I take money to have someone verbally abuse me? we won't starve by any means) -- I'll be the bad guy! (well, actually, I will be the brave one, and the healthy one, and the adult, and the good parent--as my friend, who is in a 12 step program says, "It is none of your business what other people think!") -- he is sick and it is tough asking him to leave and move out (yes, but he has also been telling me for years that he wishes he didn't marry me when he is mad--be careful what you wish for, right?) And he does have family, and doctors, and it's not like he won't see our kids. I am checking into a home health worker tomorrow to see if our insurance covers it.  

Thank you for helping me see that, no matter what, I don't have to live with verbal abuse or misery, even if there is ADHD or bipolar disorder or something else involved. If I don't do something, we could go on for 10 more years like this -- or even more-- (and your are right--his capacity for misery is so much greater than mine!), or I could lose my health, and my children could be scarred. It is unfortunate that we have descended into such dysfunction, but we have and that is just the truth. If I heard a friend going through this, from the outside, I would beg her to stop believing she is a victim, that she is not trapped, and to stop feeling deep down that she "caused" this! To stop it right now! Stop putting up with someone who is supposed to love you, being verbally abusive toward you because she just keeps wishing that it would stop. 

Recently DH asked, when I asked him for a little help sitting with the kids while I ran to the store, but he felt too sick or bad or out of it to get up, "What would you do--you need to handle this--how would you do it if I weren't even here?" Ha. I would do it just fine. And get a neighbor to watch the kids, and feel like a 10,000 pound weight had been lifted off my chest--that's how I'd feel.

MagicSandwich's picture

You have described my ADHD

You have described my ADHD boyfriend exactly - I mean EXACTLY - right down to the weird somatic health self-centeredness. If I have a headache, you can bet he has a brain tumor. And he fires-up his dramatic woe extra hard in front of people who are actually suffering from post-surgical physical pain or whatever. 

What bothers me the most is how after a long day of me working and making breakfast, lunch & supper, doing homework with and bathing/putting to bed his youngest while he goofs off on the computer (!), he becomes angry and insists that he is the "only one that does anything" in the house. This used to happen once or twice a month, but lately it has been happening weekly;  around ten at night he will start to freak over not having done any billable work. He will huff and sigh for 15 minutes getting revved to a big angry blow-up where he will announce that he has no money to pay the bills  because he "can't concentrate" to get any work done and that condition is all my fault because I don't "have his back" in general and never help him with anything. Nothing could be further from the truth. Nothing!  I think I'm done trying to defend myself. If I even appear to be starting to speak during his rant, he increases his volume and makes wilder accusation such as he can't earn a salary because I spend too much time thinking about the upcoming election instead of "helping" him, and that's why the gas/electric are going to be turned off. (I pay the water/sewer and heating oil. He pays gas and electric, or is supposed to.) 

Nope he's not consistent with his meds or eating or sleeping or any promissory thing he may have said or implied to people in his life. I don't think I can take this anymore.

same thing!

Magic S,

Mine did the same thing. Literally. Would freak out because he hadn't made enough progress or been successful with his work, and blame me for not being supportive enough. When I was working twice the hours, taking care of most of the nuts and bolts of our home and family life, and I felt I was doing just the opposite (I rented him a space and helped buy his supplies!) He actually mentioned a friend's wife who lived like an old-fashioned wife from a 50's sitcom, and did everything while her husband got his business off the ground. And told me I should have been like that. Which, a) I never signed on for, and b) I did so much for him and he was taking his stress and sense of failure out on me and c) I bet that even if I had done that, he still would not have made enough progress or been successful, because his freaking ADHD kept him from being able to work on a regular basis! 



Thanks a lot for saying that. I don't want to always be the raincloud in this forum. But sometimes I think all the attention is given to the pain the ADHD person feels, but not enough is given to the mental health of their partner. If we have to take antidepressants to function, it may be too much to ask. Not all problems are solveable, especially by a partner.

IMHO NO problems are directly solvable by a partner


I would go even further; I would say NO problems are directly solvable by a partner.   All you can do is offer support and encouragement. If in the end the person does not want to or cannot help themselves, then there is little point in both partners going to the bottom of the lake.    Also ADHD or no, there is never a justification for abuse IMHO.

It is well documented that carers tend to suffer much higher rates of mental illness than the baseline,  amongst the families of my disabled daughters school friends,  a large proportion of them are separated and/or struggle with  depression, anxiety etc.  Such high levels of stress are not ever going to be conducive to a functional relationship, so I guess it is hardly surprising.  It is also the case that depression is particularly hard on relationships, so with a ADHD partner on one side and a depressed person on the other you can end up with a bleak prognosis.

A little note on this however from a personal perspective.   I think as ADHD people we often carry immense uncertainty and are chronically insecure; it is difficult to stress just how crippling it can be to have little sense of place, time and or context. This facility is one of the very basic attributes of high functioning in humans; it defines us as individuals and gives us a sense of belonging, without it we struggle to have any sense of who we are or where we fit in and we inevitably will always carry a sense of isolation.     

In a lot of ways a partner takes up some of the role that is missing in ourselves i.e. the stability, the dependability and the security, and fundamentally the ability to plan and look ahead and realise goals.For us they offer the prospect of a shelter and a support structure to a life-long fear.

When you break it down, anger and aggression are the outward expression of frustration; which in itself is typically the result of a goal/s that are being blocked, and when that source of that frustration can’t be removed then it gets vented on anyone in proximity.So as an ADHDer, our goal is to gain some kind of control over our lives so that we have some sense of order and less anxiety, and so that the stress of always being late, or losing things or failing are relieved.   Unfortunately the deficit we have blocks our ability to achieve this goal, and  we end up angry and often aggressive. 

The short temper is, at least as far as I have been able to work out with myself, a result of constant background frustration,  anger is always lurking just beneath the surface on a whole range of issues and a simple thing can just overwhelm my ability to keep it in.My Autistic child hits and scratches and bites herself because she is being frustrated by her inability to do something she wants to do,  in a lot of ways our ADHD is no different.

So back to relationships, this behaviour of course makes things *very* difficult, why I think partners can get a particularly bad dose of it is manifold;  

One is that ironically we are close enough to our partner enough to let down our guard a little, this unfortunately means the frustration is simmering just that little bit closer to the surface and that the rage can boil over more easily.      Secondly we can see things are going badly, and we know that our behaviours are mostly to blame, so this just compounds the sense of frustration and we get into a vicious cycle.  

Partners may get accused in irrational outbursts, but this should be seen for what it is; compounded frustration and anger that the relationship is failing to fill the void we had hoped.

The other reason is relationships, particularly failing ones place more stress on us than anything else, I am sure that this is not an ADHD thing, it is just that our ability to cope with the acute stress and frustration is so very poor.

A partner’s organisation, order, sense of self, grasp of goal setting and understanding of time offer no real substitute for the same things we are missing.    You cannot tap into these attributes in someone else any more that a blind person can use someone’s description of the outside world as a substitute for being able to see it for yourself.  Without an internal point of reference and an understanding of context these concepts are essentially meaningless.    I am not attempting to any way to offer excuses for aggression on abuse,   but I think that an understanding of where it might come from in its various guises is critical to working out the best way to deal with it.

I have seen adaptive behaviours work with my own daughters hitting and biting, and I have seen the results of adapting our parenting approach to my ADHD son, these small changes can be the difference between constant conflict and us all having lots of fun as a family.     

I would personally reject the notion of the ADHD spouse being “happy enough” to leave things as they are.  I think this completely at odds with the behaviour described, happy people tend not to be constantly angry nor do they tend to practice avoidance behaviours.

FWIW my own wife had been clinically depressed for a very long time (and I know the stress of having to deal with me has been a significant contributing factor) she is now getting treatment for it, just as I am getting treatment for my issues.   It has combined, made a monumental improvement to the quality of our relationship and that of our entire family.  But in the end it needs both parties to give it 100% and to be able to give an honest appraisal of our own contributing faults and of course it has to be something you want to work because you really want to be with each the other person.  If it’s about convenience, money, religious obligations or old habits or If there is no respect or admiration then it is hard to see how their can be sufficient sustained motivation to ever make a go of it.


Jon, you explain these things so well. This is beautifully written, I agree. Thank you for your insight and point of view.