To ADHDers with angry, withdrawn or rejecting spouses

Disclaimer:  All of this applies to BOTH spouses - I only address it here in this way because so many ADHDers, guys in particular, are working on their ADHD, but their spouses have already checked out and won't give an inch or join the party. 

I wrote a while back about my need for genuine apologies instead of fake ones.  I thought I wanted to hear "I'm sorry, that was wrong (rude, thoughtless, mean) and I apologize."  I've been thinking on this now and then, and something I read recently connected with something I read long ago, and I wanted to explore it.  The thing I read long ago was to the effect of "A human's greatest relationship need is to feel known."  And I extended that by thinking if someone "knows" me and still wants the relationship, that is a wonderful feeling.  The thing I read just recently was about validation.  Validation is seeking to understand, acknowledge and accept someone's feelings, even if you don't agree with them.  Even if you think they're overreacting, or misinterpreted a situation or motive.  Even if you absolutely know the facts don't support that person's feelings.    Validation is hard for everyone.  Because we so want to prove we're right when we know we're right.  Because we think if we explain to someone how they shouldn't feel that way, they will feel better.  Because if the partner's feelings come from something they say we did wrong, we have to defend ourselves because we didn't "mean it".   But without validation, your partner cannot feel "known" and safe.  Cannot trust.  Can. Not.    And validation is key to feeling like your spouse is on your team.  So why did I address this to you ADHDers with spouses who are not onboard with you, now that you are here and working it?  Because I suspect, that in addition to validation being hard for everyone, it is extra hard for those with ADHD.  The Three Stooges may have been your most fool-proof coping mechanisms for keeping a lid on your ADHD.  They are the three most effect killers of validation.  How do you try this out?  Ask.  Listen.  Rephrase and confirm.  Repeat.  When you feel the conversation has gone on too long, remind yourself that you have been making withdrawals from the trust bank for years, and it probably won't kill you if you have to be patient now and then to make some deposits. And remind yourself that your sense of how long this conversation has actually lasted may not be accurate. 

I'd like to give examples of what is not validation and what is.  I'd also like to give examples from where I am right now (doing okay) and from where I have sometimes been (angry, withdrawn or rejecting).  Good day means I start out neutral.  Bad day means I already expect him to fail me.

Not validation, on a good day.  Me:  I've really been missing you lately.  Him:  Long pause.  Yeah, me too.  But you know I'm always busy with work this time of year.  (He's eating and watching television.)  (Which is a crime against marriage, BTW.) 

Validation, on a good day.  Me:  I've really been missing you lately.  Him:  (mutes television and looks at me).  Yeah me, too.  Has this been bothering you long?  (Ask, Listen)  Me:  No, no, just the last week or so.  Him:  This last week we really haven't spent much time together, have we? (Rephrase and confirm).  Me:  Yeah, we've both been so busy.  Him:  Anything particular you'd like to do?  (Ask).  Me:  Maybe after dinner we could take a walk (urg -- I know he's not a fan of walks.)  Him:  You'd like to take a walk, maybe catch up a little?  (Rephrase and confirm).  Me:  (remember this is on a good day, not a martyr day)  Yes, I'd love it.  Him:  Let's do it!  (On a bad day, a martyr day, I'd say, oh, no that's okay, I know you hate walks.  Urg.)

Not validation, on a bad day.  Me:  We never spend any time together anymore.  Him:  We're together now.   OR Him:  You always say never.  That's just unfair.  OR Him:  We were together all day yesterday!! (It was actually three days ago, for two hours.)    OR:  Him:  You've been gone every night this week (actually just two times, and he was gone the other two nights).  It's not my fault.

Validation, on a bad day.  Me:  We never spend any time together anymore.  Him:  I'm sorry you feel that way.  Tell me more.  Me:  Well, you keeping agreeing to do things with other people or for other people, and there's no time left for me.  Him:  That sounds like I'm neglecting you and I don't want to do that.  Do you have any ideas for how we can spend some time together?  Me:  I don't know when we'd ever get it done.  I HATE having to schedule our relationship.  You're supposed to WANT to be with me.  Him:  I want you to feel like I do want that, because I do.  How can I help?  (How long might this go on?  Who knows?  But this exchange, while it may seem excruciating to an ADHDer, would probably take about 45 seconds.  How much time are you willing to invest in your marriage?)

Another validation, on a bad day.  Him:  Hey sweetie how's it going?  Me:  Fine.  Him:  Good day at work?  Me:  There's no such thing as a good day at work.  Him:  Whoa, bummer.  Tell me more.  Me:  Oh, it's the same old crap.  Him:  Not getting any better?  That's really wearing you down, isn't it?  Me:  It's just so frustrating---- followed by 15 minutes ranting about coworker X.  Him:  That sounds so frustrating.  Me:  Oh, whatever.  I'm not going to let it bug me anymore.  Him:  Well, I'm always interested to hear about how it's going.  Me:  Thanks (Hug).  I'm hungry.   Note that it took FOUR questions to get me started.  If he quits after one or two, I'm going to think he's just not interested in how I feel. 

Couldn't you just scream?  :)  If this feels "unnatural" to you, I'd ask if what you're doing now feels natural, and how well it's working. 

To recap, cause that's always handy, right?  Ask.  Listen. Rephrase and Confirm.  Repeat.  Your spouse will let you know when they're done.  Watch for the signal and seize on it.  Did you recognize it in the last story above?  You just made a big ol' deposit in your trust bucket. 

For ADHD relationships this is even more important, because you may have been using the Three Stooges for so long that abandoning them might then throw your spouse for a loop.  Accuse of pretending, sucking up, faking it.  Your spouse needs time to start believing this is for real.  Your spouse does not expect you to get it perfect.  Does not expect 100%.  Just an consistent effort.  Good luck!

AWESOME!!!!!!!

This is a Really Great Post. Thanks for your detailed perspective!

My DW came and sat down by me late last night and began telling me something on her mind. I immediately turned towards her, away from the TV, and after about 30 seconds I paused the TV to give her my undivided attention. I knew it was 10:30 pm, my meds were gone, holiday stress and I needed her to know I was there for her :) I believe a deposit was made to "The Bucket"... 

Maybe I have learned something that I can still retain/use after my Adderall Awareness is long gone!

cool!

So, was it torture for you, or not so bad?  Awkward?  Just curious. 

Not torture at all...

The key was noticing in real time. If I am slow to notice and she gets annoyed/angry because I was not quite in real time, then nothing I say or do will be good enough to correct my response. I'm trying to be real time as much as possible :)

Another Illustration -- And Non ADHD spouses, you need this, too

Wow, this is really on my mind this weekend.  Thank you to Jon Kabat-Zinn for this illustration.  A physical way to think of validation.  Imagine you are being "attacked" by someone, face-to-face.  You can see them and beyond them.  They are looking at you and beyond you.  That's point-of-view.  If this were a physical attack, they'd be reaching for you, swinging at you, grabbing at you, shoving you.  You'd be "defending" yourself by backing away, dodging, pulling your arms out of their grasp, shoving back.  Now use those physical actions (backing away, dodging, pulling, shoving) and think about trying to talk to someone or respond verbally in this manner.   Accckk!

 Jon Kabat-Zinn says when you are "attacked" or in conflict, step closer to the person, then turn and stand beside them.  Can't you almost feel the immediate "neutralization" of the threatening situation?  Now you are seeing the same things they are seeing.  You aren't pushing or shoving in opposite directions.  You are facing the same "view" side by side.  To me, this is what validation of your partner's feelings does.  You "step" away from defensiveness and move into "let me see what you are seeing".  You haven't said you were wrong, or they were wrong, or they overreacted, or misunderstood.  You are simply saying "I see what you are seeing (saying)."  This internal trick of "physically" rearranging the space between you and your spouse seems very powerful to me.  I can't wait for the next time my guy says something Three Stoogery to try it out.  I can't help but imagine that if he gets "defensive" about a request or question, if I move next to him and validate the feeling behind the defensiveness, that he might feel safe enough to abandon the defensiveness.  Even if he then tries deflection, I don't think deflection will work very well if I'm not standing in front of him, but beside him.