Are ADDers capable of empathy?

My husband is always complaining that I don't cook.  My children are grown and I spend a lot of time after work at the gym because I prefer not to be around him in the evenings.  Sunday night I came home after a hard workout and made a big pot of soup.  To make a long story short, he walked in, looked at the soup and told me he was going to my mother's for leftovers.  I actually had the expectation that he would be pleased that I took the time to make homemade soup, and that he would actually want to eat it!  I was stunned.  I explained that I made the soup for him because he said that I never cook.  His reply was that I made it for myself and that he might eat some later if I didn't put it all in the freezer.  He knew I was furious but he calmly walked out to his truck and left.  The last time I let me anger show, he started throwing things, so I had to take a Xanax to calm down.  I really don't like the man anymore.  I don't want to be around him.  And after this, I won't make any efforts to do anything special for him.  At this point, I just try to avoid him.  He is negative and mean and I'm emotionally finished with him.  I actually love my cats more.  I hope he never really needs anything from me because I'm not sure I could be there for him.


That certainly wasn't nice of him at all.  And why does he get to go to your mother's for leftovers?  That just seems off somehow.  ADHD people can feel empathy, sometimes too much and with inaccurate interpretations of how others feel, and sometimes less than normal.  It seems like he didn't stop to think about how you would feel (impulsive), then blamed you for not making it special for him (defensiveness) when he didn't want it.  It was very nice of you to make a meal to share with your spouse.  Good job not getting sucked into his poor behavior.  Take care of yourself, try to spend time with friends as well as the gym, and find something you consider fun to do.  Your emotional well being is important too.  And cats are really good for that.


It sounds like your well-meaning intentions weren't understood, and there was a communication break-down.  ADHD people can feel empathy, but I think they need practice and awareness to get in touch with that part of themselves.  And they have to be willing to try.  Also, their ability to be empathic can be limited.  And not always expressed.  And then interpreted from a more self-centered space.  I also find it interesting that since he didn't feel taken care of by you, he went over to his mom's to get taken care of instead.  I'm sorry things turned out the way they did.  It hurts to do something nice, only to have him storm out the door without any acknowledgement of your efforts.  Courage to you for standing up for yourself.  You did your best to show love, and it sounds like he wasn't able to appreciate it.  I can understand not having much left inside to give, when it's not received or appreciated or when you aren't being fed in return.  If you aren't getting that from your husband, at least give more of it to yourself.  Do whatever is loving for you, you have to stayed filled up inside.

I think that my husband, who

I think that my husband, who has ADHD, has some, but not much, ability to empathize.  He sometimes is willing to hear about other people's feelings and problems but has a very limited range of responses, sort of a one-size-fits-all response for people and situations that are not necessarily at all similar.

I've always been fascinated and frustrated by the fact that he will get very choked up when watching sad movies and TV shows but seem to not feel anything when it is someone like his wife (me) who is suffering.

Thanks Shelley.  He goes to

Thanks Shelley.  He goes to MY mother's not his mother's.  Can you believe that?  I have started telling her things that he is doing because he has had her snowed for years.  She thought he was a wonderful father and husband because she saw the GOOD SIDE all the time.  My father saw it all and understood.  Unfortunately for me, he died 15 years ago.  I know that my life would be different if my dad was still alive.  I miss him...

I'm So Exhausted's picture

Empathy. . .or not

One of the first things that attracted me to my spouse was his ability to feel other's pain.  He could always find the hurting person in a roomful of people.  Sorta like his antenna tuned in  to others.

After 30 years of knowing him, that ability of his is somehow askew.  

He was not and is not affected by my emotional pain regarding our relationship.  He claims I am always really hurt/angry/upset at someone else and taking the blame out on him.  He cannot accept that his actions could cause me hurt/pain.  He feels if he didn't do something 'on purpose' to be mean - than he cannot acknowledge it hurt me - or anyone.  

It is some sort of defense mechanism. 

It is old.  I am weary.

Everything is about him - what he wants, how he wants things done, what he wants to purchase, what he wants to sell. There have been several situations when he attempted to compromise.  It lasted a week, a month, maybe a year; then, he'd blow sky high, yelling that he never really wanted to do it in the first place, but did it for me.

I was looking through some old letters I wrote to him, and there was one from the late '80s asking him , "Can't you hear my heart crying."  

Why didn't I get the message way back then?  I thought it was me.



I hear you. For the longest

I hear you. For the longest time, I thought my ADD dh lacked empathy. Until I realized he did feel, but not in a typical way. He lacks awareness and just until this week, I think a better phrase is "lack of insight". Things happen over and over again, but he doesn't seem to take what he experienced in the past and apply it with any meaning to the present.

DH is also not affected by my emotional pain or emotional anything. He has been disruptive and obstinate when I went through the death of my sibling and marriage of another. Instead of being supportive, I was called names at a time of grief and had been physically pushed in anger during what should have been a time of celebration.

He can sob/cry for a dead celebrity, but he's never shed a tear over some of my real pain, nor that of our elder child. One evening I fell through a window, breaking and dislocating my shoulder. Instead of showing concern, he launched into a tirade about how much it was going to cost to replace the window (with our son standing there visibly shaken since he witnessed my fall). Busied himself with cleaning the glass shards while I laid there with broken bones. He kept telling me I was fine and I kept asking him through my shock to please look at my shoulder. He would not seek medical attention for me until almost 10 hours had passed. I counted the minutes until the next morning and I had to ask again after I sent the eldest boy to school. Talk about my own version of "blechh." 

People don't believe me when I tell them, they think it's a misunderstanding and I have to let it go, or some other further alienating advice.



I'm So Exhausted's picture

We learn to take care of ourselves

 "He would not seek medical attention for me until almost 10 hours had passed. I counted the minutes until the next morning and I had to ask again. Talk about my own version of "blechh." 

Dear copingSAH,

I am responding to what jumped off the page at me when I read your post.

It appears you will need to take your own gentle care of yourself.  

My spouse gets angry at dental visits, doctor visits, etc., etc.  He had a cancerous tumor removed several years ago, and claims he has "used" his share of the family's medical bills.  I tried to explain it does not work that way.  No one knows who will need medical assistance and who wont.

If you are in pain, you go directly to the hospital. Don't depend on anyone to cherish you as much as you should cherish yourself.

I know. . . . it would be nice.  .When I got the telephone call that my niece died from leukemia, I ran downstairs, crawled into my husband's lap, and cried.  I could have got as much comfort from my own pillows.  Disappointing.  No gentle caresses.  No tight hugging.  Sigh.


Thank you for understanding.

Thank you for understanding. :) I feel for you about the lack of comforting arms, it always feels loneliest when there is a pair of arms available yet they are unyielding.

I have to tell you, I felt helpless and stupid for sitting it out that night. During the time of recovery (6-8 weeks), and I would say it was extremely pivotal time for me, I was alone and was forced to think things through. I realized how truly depressed I was. Not for the injury, but for all those years of relinquishing more and more of my own self to a partner who isn't even aware of my needs. I don't know what on earth possessed me to believe him that I did not break my shoulder and that I would be OK in the morning. I think I didn't want to risk another outburst I suppose, plus there were the children to worry about. So, you are right, I placed everything before me that period of time to the point I didn't have a mind of my own. It took me to hit rock bottom for me to turn things around for myself, mainly standing up for myself, and separating myself from the confusion that is ADHD/ADD/lack of empathy/etc running our lives.

Nowadays, when dh goes, "you're fine, there's nothing wrong, you'll be alright." I don't listen to him anymore. I look right at him and ask him what medical back up he has for his flippant remarks and that he had better back off, especially when it comes to our children.

I'm sorry you had to suffer

I'm sorry you had to suffer overnight.  I understand how shocking it is to realize that one's spouse cannot be counted on.  In my case, it has been more gradual (fortunately, no dislocated shoulder for me), but nevertheless, still very sad.  I've been able to observe my husband's response when his parents are ailing (he provides them with "caregiving" assistance) or when he himself is sick.  He doesn't want to take action.  I stopped telling him about my health problems years ago.  Why give sensitive information to a person who doesn't know what to do with it?

oops I just lost an entire

oops I just lost an entire post. That pesky shift key has a mind of its own.

I observe the differences between how my children and I are treated, and how the rest of his family/friends are treated. Since they don't see each other often, the only description is that these visits in person are hyper focused in nature, so there is none of the ADHD behaviors my children and I are privy to.  It is frustrating to see that, indeed, he can switch on and off when necessary. I really did not think ADHD could do that. But it must be from years of practice, of having to fall into the role of being the guy that everyone likes. It's a role that comes second nature. I no longer play the game in public, it feels hypocritical.

Aside from the health issues, which thankfully I learned from (never again will I allow myself or children to be talked out of medical attention), is my lack of understanding in finances. I am afraid once I'm gone, my estate will go to my ADD husband. Once the kids come under the "management" of ADD/ADHD, I don't think they'll be taken care of appropriately. Knowing my husband, I don't think he will know when it's time to dispense funds my children need i.e. college, postgraduate, etc. I just wish I was a bit more clever with this.



There are things you can do to protect your assets and your children.  Go see a reputable financial advisor.  Make a will.  I'm not sure what your level of assets are, if they are substantial you can set up trusts to finance the kid issues, college, etc.  You don't have to know everything, just how to hire good people.  There may be limits due to jurisdiction, communal assets, but it does not hurt to ask.

Good job standing up for yourself and kids now. 

Hyper-focus is totally an ADHD symptom.  The people he doesn't normally see are not only an audience but they are much more stimulating than the people who are there all the time.  Completely consistent with how their brain works, not personal.  Annoying since it obscures the real issues to the broader audience of course.

Shelley's right, there

Shelley's right, there probably are things you can do to protect your children and at least some of your assets.  I don't know if you can designate a guardian other than your husband, but I think it would be a very good idea for you to talk to a few trusted and trustworthy relatives and friends now about their willingness to step in and help if something were to happen to you.  

I wrote a will.  All the property that I'm legally allowed to give to someone other than my husband will go to my two daughters, both of whom are now adults.  I live in a marital property state and so my husband always is considered to own half the marital property, but by writing the will, I've overridden the presumption that he would get everything else, too.

I keep gifted money in a separate bank account.  I manage the finances.  

It definitely is stressful to know that I'm the one who has to be on top of everything that requires big decisions, but making plans and learning more helps.



Thanks Shelley and Rosered,

Thanks Shelley and Rosered, it's food for thought. I will try to push those brain cells of mine a little further -- I think it's one of the drawbacks of being a stay home, there's parts of the intellect that get put on the back burner while one juggles the ADHD dynamics and a family. Before all this, I'd like to think I was pretty savvy with finances. It took me this long to be able to learn coping mechanisms and different ways of approaching the ADHD relationship from this forum. Now I just have to take it further and remember that independence doesn't mean going to war; it's simply looking out for my children's future stability as I cannot sit and listen to those dreaded phrases "don't worry about it" or "let's discuss later"


I'm So Exhausted's picture

Evolution of time

I have so often wondered, "How in the sam heel did I get to this place in my marriage and my life?

When, I found this forum over a year ago, I found out I am one of many who have experienced the same thing.  Who have  gotten stuck in the same place.  Who are hurting and confused the same as I am. Who keep hoping, "this time, this new approach will work."  Only to be disappointed, yet again.

I wonder what happened to the man I married?  Was he only drawn to me because I was needy?  Is there really nothing to our relationship if I only 'want' to be with him, rather than 'need' to be with him?  Did he ever love "me" or did he love the fact that, at that time in my life, I 'needed' him?  

It is a mourning process.  I hope I get my "Aha" moment very, very soon.

Cycle wreck

My husband and I had a cycle wreck about 4 months ago.  His knee swelled up, but I broke my collar bone, my wrist, and two bones in my hand.  He kept telling me that it could have been worse.  It was bad enough as it was!  Do I have to be half dead before it is bad?  I have known for a very long time that if I ever ended up with cancer or any other horrible disease that I was on my own.  I got the chicken pox at age 35.  I had a fever off and on of 103-104 for days.  My husband pretty much left me alone the whole time.  He said that HE would have wanted to be left alone so he figured I did too.  I was so weak I could barely get out of bed.  Why do we stay? 

Oh my goodness. I hope you

Oh my goodness. I hope you are healing well. It's awful with these kinds of injuries because you are so challenged with mobility on your own. I know all too well those comments about it could have been worse. Please tell me your dh didn't give you a slap on the shoulder for being a trooper like mine did (argh-ouch!) while you were mending.

It's almost as if all the behaviors and responses are textbook, and we just [insert] whatever illness/situation/conflict we've all had to go through and it's the same story. dh left me alone both times I had pneumonia, said he didn't think I wanted to be bothered. I guess I don't want to be bothered with a meal either :) I don't know how he managed to lay next to me through my fits of wheezing without ever asking me if I was alright or needed anything. I finally learned I had to spell it out for him in such a way that he did some good.

I stay because I care for him, but I don't know if he'll miss me all that much if I should go away. I don't think he has that kind of poignancy of emotion. Some days are easier to cope than others. I think the worst is when I meet up with siblings partners, they do things with my siblings I have yet to experience. I'm missing out on the whole companionship thing on those deep levels, I'd even just take quiet levels if that's all i could take.

it's the same story

"It's almost as if all the behaviors and responses are textbook, and we just [insert] whatever illness/situation/conflict we've all had to go through and it's the same story."  Here here, I can relate.  I remember the first time I got really sick and couldn't get up out of bed, I was so shocked when my partner... did nothing.  I mean, I took care of her not only when she got sick, but when she was well I was still cooking, cleaning, taking her out for dinners, even paying her bills.  I did that not because I was co-dependent, but because that's the way I learned to give to the people I love and my previous relationships were with women who gave me just as much (if not more) as I gave them!

I remember being so hurt and upset and quick frankly, flabbergasted that my spouse didn't even think to make me a cup of tea - especially since I gave her so much care on a daily basis.  I remember having to explain to her that when I'm sick, it would be nice if she could show a bit of care.  I suppose the good news is, after "training" her to take care of me when I'm ill (which is becoming more frequent - and I'm sure that's stress related to my relationship actually) she is actually better at it.  However, it's taken a long time and a lot of crisis to get to this point, and I almost find it's like the feeling of a little too late.  After so much hurt and neglect, even though she's doing more now for me as a partner, I feel like I've been so beaten into the ground emotionally that... I dunno.  I almost feel like I did all this work to have a better partner but have little energy to enjoy it anymore.  I hope I can feel better soon.

Textbook Behaviors

You are so right beingNT.  They are all kind of like IPhones and they just have different SIM cards.  When I first got on this site, I couldn't believe that other people were behaving just like my DH.  And all of the non-ADDers were responding like I was.  Stunned and confused.  it's like there are men, women, and ADDers.  They are not like us.  We can train them to a point, but they are almost like robots.  If you don't keep the pressure on to act HUMAN, then they go back to their old ways.  I am even past the "too little too late" stage.  I don't think I will divorce my DH, but we have no marriage.  He is severely depressed, and very often he runs out of his meds and won't get them re-filled for weeks.  That is where we are right now.   And he is 61 so he is getting even more forgetful and disoriented.  I am constantly expanding my group of friends.  He can sit and watch TV all he wants, but I'm going to enjoy my life.  If any of you guys think that your partner will eventually GET IT, I think you are going to be disappointed.  The only way to live with them is to have little or no expectations that they will ever change.

No slap on the shoulder.  I

No slap on the shoulder.  I seriously cannot believe your DH did that.  These ADDers never cease to amaze me.  I'm so sorry that you had to go through that.  :-(

Dead Celebrity???

Did he REALLY "sob/cry for a dead celebrity"??  I just can't imagine that.


Do you think your dh jumped

Do you think your dh jumped to some conclusion (as irrational as it were), that you made the soup for yourself, and not to be shared?

I had the same happen with an ex partner who I am certain was a psychopath. He took the most innocent of gestures and turned it into an indictment. I once made a pot of stew when we were living in a communal setting with other couples. And the ex threatened to throw the entire pot of stew in the toilet and flush it with my head along with it. He wouldn't eat it, and neither could any of our roommates. He had it in his mind I did not make the stew specifically for him, and it became for him that I had a wicked plan on my part. I will tell you, I have been absolutely cursed in regards to healthy relationships... if not ADHD, I'm a magnet for personality disorders.



Why are you still with him?

llc's picture


I have so much empathy for my husband I perpetually think about leaving him and giving him the kids because I suck so much. I am constantly Telling him I love and appreciate him and do what I Can to make up my failures to him. He told mine I hurt and suffer over my ADHD than he does.

I am flabbergasted at the painful stories here about people with no empathy. I feel For all of you., but I hope people keep in mind that all of us aren't like his. And many bring positive and good things to a marriage.