Anger and Resentment Key Issue in ADHD Marriages

It may well be that anger management in marriages where one or both spouses has ADHD is THE critical issue that determines whether or not a couple can be happy together.  Anger can develop in both partners, though it often manifests itself differently in the two.  This is a topic that is so large that it needs to be addressed in many different ways, but let me start here with an example of a couple I've written about before, whom I'm calling Anne and Tom.  In this couple, Tom has ADHD and had, for many years, an issue with sudden flashes of anger.  His wife, Anne, who does not have ADHD is generally an optimistic person, however dealing with the surprises she found in her ADHD marriage wore her down to the point where she was diagnosed with, and treated for, depression.  Both spouses were angry at each other, and themselves.

Frequent bursts of anger and resentment, such as what Doris mentions in her comment, are common.  In Tom's case, he would go along for a while, with the anger mounting, until suddenly he was yelling, stomping his feet, and making threats.  Anne never knew when Tom's anger would erupt - it seemed to come at unpredictable times, and there was little warning.

Anne, in turn, resented what she felt was Tom's unfair treatment of her.  She didn't feel she deserved to be yelled at or belittled, particularly since what ususally brought on their arguments was something that Tom had forgotten to do.  As her resentment of his behavior increased, her anger increased.  They ended up in a downward spiral.  At one point in their relationship, they were unable to talk to each other about anything without anger or resentment being part of the conversation.

Author Steven Stosny write beautifully about resentment in his book, "You Don't Have to Take it Anymore":

"If you suffer from resentment or live with a resentful (person), you will one day have an unhappy marriage, if you do not already...If your partner is resentful, he will almost certainly have occasional angry outbursts and, sooner or later, engage in some form of emotional abuse...While it's true that not every resentful person becomes angry, emotionally abusive, or violent, it's also true that every angry, abusive and violent person started out with resentment."

"You Don't Have to Take it Anymore" deals with the intricacies of how resentment works in your brain (it's different from anger, for example), how difficult being in a "walking on eggshells" relationship can be, and what you can do about it.  In it's conceptual content, it's a very helpful read for those who despair of ever figuring out how to manage anger and resentment in their relationship (a note here - read it with an eye for what's relevant for your specific situation).

Of real importance for a discussion about anger in ADHD relationships, though, is this comment from the same book:

"Resentful behavior is certainly different from abusiveness, and both differ from being just angry.  You can definitely have one or two of these three demons without the others.  But the deeper, unconscious motivation of all three emotional states is to devalue - to lower the value of the other person, either by dismissing, avoiding, or attacking.  And the devaluer does this even though he may still love his wife.  Examples of devaluing behavior are stonewalling, criticizing, belittling, and implying superiority.  And devaluing can be implied by tone even when the words seem to be positive.  You can say, "I love you," for instance, with an inflection that implies that, "You're not worthy of the love I'm giving you."  Devaluing behavior can often be barely perceptible in the tone of a voice, or a closed-off body posture or facial expression, or a silent disregard.

Not surprisingly, all three demons - resentment, anger, and abuse - damage the bonds of love in the same way, for all three feel like betrayal.  All are a betrayal of the implicit promise your loved one made you when you formed your emotional bonds.  You both agreed to care about how each other feels, especially when one of you feels bad."

One of the key reasons that couples need to deal with ADHD as part of their relationships is that they need to change unconscious motivation and behavior into conscious motivation.  That is to say, that instead of having day after day of highly unconsciously charged interactions, they need to move their conversations and relationships to a more "transparent" realm.

To do this, both partners need to first acknowledge that ADHD can play a role in how they interact with each other and in their building resentment and anger.  They also need to acknowledge that it is very likely that they both are behaving in ways that are not desirable because of responses they both have to the ADHD.

Tom and Anne spent many YEARS struggling with his and her unconscious responses to resentment.  Anne belittled Tom and attacked him for not being able to help out around the house (see ADHD and Household Chores) while Tom "fought back" by being unresponsive to any requests she made of him and telling her that her opinions were not valid.  He would not have said he was "fighting back", but he hurt her, none-the-less, by ignoring her and letting her know that he didn't respect her.

This sounds as if it is an unsolvable problem, but it is not.  Once Anne and Tom were able to step back, admit that ADHD was playing a role, and that their responses to each other were unconsciously motivated by resentment and anger, then they discovered the REAL demon they were dealing with was manageable.  They weren't inherently bad or flawed people - they were just angry and resentful people.  They decided they didn't need new spouses - they needed to diminish and manage their anger through conscious effort.

Think about your own relationship.  Do you find that episodes of anger creep more frequently into your conversations?  Don't worry about who should get blamed for this - trust that in all likelihood both partners contribute in some part to how you interact.  Now, if you are really honest with yourself, can you see how resentment might affect how you relate to each other?  Reread Stosny's description of devaluing behavior.  Does that sound familiar?

If so, then you are joined by many, many couples who struggle with these same issues.  Are you at a point where you could talk about these concepts?  If so, remember that it is REALLY important to not point blame in the direction of the ADHD spouse.  The objective is NOT to assign blame.  The objective is to get both partners into a position where they can both recognize that neither one of them is perfect and that by identifying the unconscious they can start to deal with it.  Sit down and talk with your spouse about wanting to do this - use Stosny's description, or this blog, or your own situation at home as reason why you want the two of you to work on this.  Point out that there is quite a bit to be gained by both parties if you can relearn how to treat each other with respect.

If you get agreement, next time you feel belittled by your spouse's behavior, take note of it.  (If you don't, then try approaching the same issue at another time, or with professional assistance.)  Consider very politely saying something like "That doesn't make me feel good - your ignoring my request makes me feel insignificant."  Invite your spouse to verbalize - in a nice way - those moments when he feels belittled, nagged or attacked.  Then, lead by example.  Acknowledge his feelings and do something to respond/change your approach.

Melissa Orlov