ADHD Spouses: Step By Step Conflict Resolution

Once again, my husband and I are at odds over phones.  But how we’ve resolved it this time is illustrative of one good way to get past having legitimately conflicting objectives. The phone issue remains outstanding (for now) but I’m actually happy.  Years ago, in our “old relationship”, this situation would have caused a huge amount of conflict and pain.  Here’s how we now avoid that…

A tiny bit of background first:  I want to change my cell phone back from a smart phone to a “dumb” phone because my current phone is almost useless to me for a variety of quirky reason.  As an IT guy, my husband thinks this is ridiculous – another example of my dislike of technology.  However, he agreed to make the call to get it set up as he is the one responsible for IT in our household.  That was a month ago.

After two weeks I asked if he would mind if I made the call.  He said he wanted to make the call himself, which I respected.  A week later I asked for clarification – why did he wish to make the call?  The answer was because he wants to see if he can get my unlimited data plan switched to his phone and save himself some money.  (This is complicated - they don’t offer the unlimited plan anymore, so he will need special treatment to get this.)

So that’s the background.  I am eager to change my phone over because the current phone is almost useless to me – for practical purposes it’s almost like not having a cell phone (my fault, but there it is.)  He wants to request a specific change that will save him money at the time of the switch over, but is very busy because he has a new job, so hasn’t gotten to it.  Both are legitimate requests, but my desire to have the change made now (“sooner”) is in direct conflict with his busy schedule and the fact that this is a low priority for him relative to what else he is doing (i.e. “later”).

A week ago I told him that I understood his desire to try to change over the data plan, and that I knew he was busy (in fact going out of town for a week) but that if he hadn’t decided the phone/data plan change wasn’t important enough to do by two weeks after his return, then I was going to take over the project and make the call myself.  I would try to get the data plan change if I could.

His response?  “Okay.  I hear what you are saying.  That’s fair.”

Why This Works

  • The whole conversation has been respectful.  I have not crossed over his boundaries by just making the call or by taking on a technology task when that’s his area.  I asked for clarification/understanding as things dragged on and respected his answer.  He respects my original request, even though the idea of switching back to a dumb phone is completely foreign (dare I say “stupid”?) to him.
  • I politely let him know that my patience was running out…but also without taking the project away from him.  He has two weeks to make his data plan a priority or turn the project over.
  • Our approach has clear delineation of responsibility.  He’s fully responsible now.  In two weeks, if the project is not done, I am fully responsible.  This is different from my nagging him to get it done, which would make him the “doer” and me the “overseer” – neither with “full” responsibility
  • We’ve worked this type of solution out in the past.  This is not the first time we’ve had directly conflicting objectives.  We’ve worked this particular step-by-step process out over time and agree it works.  So he can respond with “I hear you” (as in “I understand and respect your growing frustration with how this is dragging on”) and “that’s fair” (“I agree to your terms – they are reasonable.  If I can’t get it done in two weeks I shouldn’t stand in your way.”)

So, to recap.  If you find you have a legitimate disagreement that has to do with how long something is dragging out as well as the goal of a project, consider these steps:

  • Clear delineation of responsibilities – don’t nag, just coordinate
  • Ask questions / understand your partner’s point of view and reasoning.  This will improve your patience
  • Respect both your partner’s objective and perspective (even if you disagree with it or think it’s silly – it’s still their right to hold it)
  • Interact respectfully
  • Provide warning of frustration levels that are rising, set up a reasonable timeframe for a “hand-off”

Some may say "then things will always get handed off to me!"  If that's the case in your household, then you have a larger issue, which is a too-lopsided distribution of chores.  To address that, go start with the Chore Score Worksheet in my book to start discussing a better overall distribution.


I like this plan

because in the past I have waited...and waited...and waited...and then exploded and either done it myself or hired someone to do it.  The idea of presenting a deadline in a respectful way makes sense.  I still think I will have to do it myself or hire someone most of the time, and I have to work on those very real feelings of being relegated to the side because he makes time for NCIS  but not yard work, but still... Even a little progress is still progress.  


Let me describe a situation and see what you think.

We are going a distance of about 90 miles tomorrow to pick up a piece of furniture. Our car is small and full of stuff. (2 pack rats + I collect things to sell on eBay from yard sales, etc.) I asked him to clean it out because it's going to be close fit to get the table in. He wants dimensions of the table to know how much stuff he has to take out. He's going to parse it down to the centimeter whether this table and other stuff we have to put in is going to fit and I don't know. Why can't he just take everything out? It's like he's afraid of doing more than the absolute minimum I need. I can't do it, climbing our front stairs (no railing) with stuff in my hands is almost impossible because my knees are bad. If we end up in the other city with stuff that won't fit with the table in there, I'll have to throw the other stuff away.

So we have a specific time limited task that I can't do. He admits I can't do it, but doesn't think he should do it. Apparently, he doesn't think it needs to be done. Does anyone have any ideas?



arwen's picture

restructure the conflict

IMHO, your spouse is being absurdly arbitrary -- he's not negotiating in good faith, so Melissa's strategy does not apply -- and so he deserves the same treatment in kind.

Assuming you are not overlooking the obvious, like driving the car to a friend's where there are no steps, asking your friend if you can leave a box of stuff with your friend for a few hours, and cleaning out the remaining items in the car that your spouse is balking at removing (because surely he is willing to clean out enough to accommodate what you estimate the table's *minimum* dimensions are) at the friend's house beforehand, then restoring the items after --

(1)I would go out to my car and measure the dimensions of the interior, and figure out what the maximum size X by Y by Z of a table that would fit could be.

(2)Then I would get on the internet for about 5 minutes [at some time when he was not present] and look for that same table, to see if I could find a webpage or picture that gave the table's dimensions.  [It does not particularly matter in this scenario whether you find it or not.]

(3)Then I would tell my spouse that I had searched for the table dimension information on the internet and from what I had found [probably nothing], it looked to me like it was A by B by C [where A by B by C was a sliver less than the  X by Y by Z I'd measured in step (1)].    [After all, if he can't be bothered to clean out more than he can be guaranteed is definitely necessary, why should I be bothered to look all that hard for the dimensions?]

Therefore, he will have to take everything out [I would let him discover this himself, not tell him].

If it turns out later that the table isn't as big as the area he cleaned out, you can complain that it was the internet's fault for not providing good enough information.  It's not *your* fault.  Maybe if you'd had more spare time, you could have found more accurate information.  Hey, *he* has lots of spare time, maybe next time *he* should search for the info.

Yes, I'm sure this will seem duplicitous to some -- but from my point of view, it is merely "playing the game" by the same rules he does ("I don't have to do more than the bare minimum, after that I can be arbitrary.").  How can that *possibly* be unfair?

"It matters not what someone is born, but what they grow to be."  Albus Dumbledore


Now I really want to have that cup of coffee with you. I haven't laughed so hard in ages.

Seriously, isn't it sad that we have to think of ways to trick our ADDers into doing what is necessary?

My husband has a pattern of doing this. If I say the dishes need to be washed, he'll say, no there's some left. I say if there are enough dishes to fill the dishwasher, you should run it, but he won't until there are no dishes left. Our meal choices end up being decided by what we have the pans available to cook. He won't wash clothes until there are NONE left, so we have to wear dirty clothes for a day. I am just tired of the whole thing.

Avoiding conflict in the first place

These patterns of conflict are so easy to get into. You say it's time to do the dishes, he says it's not. You get angry, he gets defensive. So you run out of dishes. You get angrier. He gets more defensive. The argument comes up over and over again. I've learned to adopt new ways of behaving so that the conflict doesn't arise. This involves knowing what I want and negotiating for it and sticking with it--as in, you know, dear, I get frustrated when there are only a few dishes left so I'm going to run the dishwasher when we get down to two plates (or whatever). If he complains by saying something like, but then the dishwasher isn't full and we waste water, buy more plates so it will be full. Offer to always be the one to run the dishwasher in return for his taking charge of some other task. You do have a right to calmly negotiate rather than give in and get angry. As Melissa says, you need to do that straightforwardly and with respect for differences of opinion, but staying solid with your own needs. I believe that starting with your own behavior is the key to turning around a relationship.

So I should just give in and do it?

Well, that's one way to avoid conflict-do all the work for him.

Two reasons that won't work:

I am handicapped and the particular tasks of loading the dishwasher and doing the laundry are particularly hard for me.

I work (at a job at which there is no "off" time-I could work 24/7) and he doesn't, so it isn't fair that I should do all the housework as well.

But he thinks I should do everything while he does nothing-support him, clean his house, wash his dishes and clothes and cook his breakfast. (He cooks dinner because he likes to cook, but not in the morning.) I do not know how to negotiate with someone whose core beliefs are so different from my own.

Didn't mean that

I didn't mean to suggest that you do all the work around the house--quite the opposite, in fact. And certainly your handicap needs to be taken into account. But my own experience has taught me that when I "can't get him" to do something, I need to try a different strategy. My partner is bad at dishes, too. But if we're out of dishes and pots when it's time to cook, he will hand-wash some on the spot. If your husband won't even do that, I wonder why. What would Melissa do, based on her conflict-avoidance strategy? Interesting to think about. Maybe she would say, Let's agree that if no dishes are available, you wash what we need right away and then load the dishwasher afterward. Or we call for takeout and you load the dishwasher afterward. Or we hire a neighborhood girl to load the dishwasher twice a week. Just ideas. It seems entirely reasonable that he take care of the dishes since you can't, but I bet his ADD interferes with this task. My partner frequently says, "I like order. I like a clean house. I just can't achieve it." He hyperfocuses on something else, or the job seems so tedious, he procrastinates. He has a handicap, too. Is there any way the two of you can acknowledge your mutual handicaps and work with them? 

All of those suggestions cost money!

With him not working, you are suggesting that I pay someone else to do things he should just do because he lives here. I can't afford it! He needs to act like a physically able adult who lives in this house and loves the other person who lives here. If that's too much, I don't see any hope for my marriage.

Melissa's Idea about the Dishwasher

Who made him king of deciding when the dishwasher should be run?  How about agreeing that he will run the dishwasher the time that he feels it's appropriate.  If you feel there aren't enough dishes to cook dinner soon, go ahead and run it, also.  You happen to both have a disagreement about what constitutes a load, is all. 

I also like the idea that Arwen had - at one of those yard sales you go to, pick up a few extra dishes of the variety that you typically run out of.  That way you can both be happy.  He'll get that completely full dishwasher, and you'll still have dishes when you need them.

That will neatly solve the dish problem.  But the larger issue will still remain.  Underneath it all, this is an argument about control, not about dishes.  So is the issue over cleaning out the car.  As in "why is YOUR way better than MINE?"  I'm guessing it's not that he's lazy (which is what you imply in your writing about his resistance to cleaning out the car) but that he hates being told what to do all the time by a wife whom he feels is holding a spectacular grudge.

The running joke in our household is that my husband likes to put 10 pounds of s%%t in a 5 pound bag.  He loads the dishwasher this way (every nook and cranny filled before he'll run it so we don't waste water or energy), he picks the smallest possible tupperware for whatever food he is putting away (every time!)  He fills his water bottles to the very top.  There are many more examples...It's exceptionally efficient, and it used to drive me CRAZY!!!  But now it's just one of his endearing qualities because I no longer feel as if I need to dictate whether or not that is right.  It's just HIM.  (and I trust that the way I load the dishwasher might drive him crazy, too, if he cared about it!)

Next time your husband says "what size is the table?" give him the dimensions plus a few inches - make it so that even if you've guess wrong you still have room to spare (and who knows, perhaps there is some trim or something you don't know about, so this is only reasonable in any event.)  Or, give him a dimension that results in his emptying the entire car out.  Again, you might have something else you wanted to pick up on the trip as it sounds as if you do this regularly, who knows?  But don't get into a control argument.  He's asking for information and you're saying "just trust me" when that's not what he feels like give him the information he seeks and be done with it.

The rest of the story

Not sure if any of you are old enough to remember Paul Harvey's "The Rest of the Story" but here goes...

The dishes are like the laundry. He insists it isn't possible to put them all away. When I insist that he do it, he piles all the pans in the drawer under the range so that the drawer won't close and I, less flexible physically than he is, can't reach the counters. Our house, which I hate, does not have room for the dishes we already have, let alone more. He just does not want to do the dishes. I am the one that worries about waste and the environment. By the time he is ready to run it once, there are 2 loads full.

As to the car, I came out that morning and found that he had cleaned out the hatchback by turning the seat backs down with all the stuff still on the back seats. I was horrified. I got THREE BOXES of stuff out of a car he swore he had cleaned out. Doing that made us late. We didn't get to go somewhere we had planned to go on the way to the store I work for to pick up the table.

Yes, this was a work-related trip. I was planning to pick up some items (and I had no clue of the volume) that my employer wants me to sell. I did not want him to see us putting Restoration Hardware lamps and fancy candlesticks in a car full of newspapers and old ice cream cups. I don't want my boss to see the car looking like it belongs to a hoarder. If I'd been him, I would have refused to allow me to carry merchandise in a car that looked like that. And I didn't know the volume and I wasn't going to ask. "My husband needs to know how much of the car he needs to clean out"? I don't think so.

And you know what? Even with the car perfectly cleaned out, the table didn't fit! So that justifies it all in his mind.