Advice to Dual-ADHD Couple Struggling with Chores

The question:

“Both my husband and I have ADHD, it is so hard to maintain the house and have fun together and deal with work. I end up being the one who does most of the planning, maintenance of the house and dog, and I also have a demanding job.  How do we work to have a more balanced life where I’m not so burnt out all the time and mentally fatigued?”

My suggestions:

Sharing household responsibilities is a source of conflict and strain in most relationships and particularly if both partners have ADHD. In addition, it sounds as if there are gender dynamics at play - many couples find that the woman carries the cognitive load of remembering all that has to be done, as well as does a greater share of the household work.

Saying "if I don't do this it won't get done" is a common refrain in ADHD-impacted relationships, and results in resentment in the partner who is falling into this pattern and over-functioning in the relationship. You are right to ask the question about what to do with it because if you don't interrupt this pattern, you may well feel worse and worse about your life together.

Think of your next step as a task-related 'intervention' made more complicated by the fact that you both have ADHD, and therefore it's not that easy for EITHER one of you to stay organized.  BUT…things need to change, and the faster the better.  The longer a couple stays in the patterns of ‘over-functioning’ and ‘under-functioning’ the harder those patterns are to break.

The first step is to have a conceptual conversation based not on what your partner is or isn't doing, but on what you yourself need. Approach your partner with something like this "I know it's hard for both of us to stay organized/neat (etc etc) however I am unable to carry as much of the load as I have been doing. I find that I'm overwhelmed, exhausted and becoming resentful. Therefore, we need a different system.  I would like to work with you to figure out what that system looks like."

After that I would recommend doing an inventory of who is currently doing what and discuss your options to make things more balanced.  A couple of good resources for doing that inventory are John Gottman’s Who Does What inventory or the Chore Score worksheet in the back of my book, The ADHD Effect on Marriage.

As you are going through that inventory, include gentle conversations around why the chore distribution looks as it does.  Do you have differing opinions about priorities?  Do you have different attitudes about cleanliness or the urgency of tasks?  Are some tasks misaligned with the strengths of one or the other partner?  How do you set priorities?  Is it a matter of gender expectations, or how each person's family of origin regarded tasks?  Seek to find understanding that may provide insight into possible approaches.

You do have quite a few options when figuring out how the task distribution dynamics might change in the household.  Those options include hiring out some of the tasks (for example, house cleaning or yard work); deleting some of the tasks all together; reassigning who does what task; getting executive function or organizational coaching for one or both of you so you can complete tasks in a more timely or efficient way; putting some tasks off for a long time; getting therapy to understand the emotional or ADHD-based reasons that one partner struggles to stay engaged; having a heart to heart about your feelings about gender bias and tasks to encourage a more even distribution; and more (be creative with your options).

Then...hold your ground. Only do what you have agreed to do. The more you over-function, the worse your relationship becomes (because resentment builds), so it's in your best interests to hold your ground without being mean.

Given that you are going to hold your ground, make sure that you select those tasks for yourself that you genuinely care about in case none of the others actually get done. Because you are only in control of you.

And, you might be interested to hear that research suggests that for those in heterosexual relationships, the path to satisfaction around tasks isn’t an even split.  It’s a split in which the female partner feels tasks are ‘well enough’ distributed.  Which is a good thing, since so many couples in American culture don't ever get to that even assignments of responsibilities.

If your partner continues to under-perform in the partnership, then make it a larger discussion about parity; your expectation about relationships; what you want in your life etc etc. Again - this is about YOU getting what you want in your life, not about what your partner is or is not doing (which you have no control over).  If you do not seek to make yourself heard in a respectful way, you will possibly not resolve the issue enough to feel comfortable.  While this process of recreating how the two of you address tasks will take time, it is well worth the effort.

For my part, I hope that you are able to take enough of your tasks off your plate so that you have more time to have fun and connect, thus reinforcing and enhancing your partnership.