The brink of divorce - advice from the other side

This post is intended as a response to a post by "Tom T", in which an ADHD husband is confused about why his wife has left him.  It is also addressed to all the ADHD spouses who still remain clueless about the impacts of the ADHD on their relationships, and are inadvertently driving their spouses to leave them.  Tom is confused by his wife's leaving because asserts he is a good person and thought the marriage was good.

To tom:


Where your instincts may fail you is how your ADHD-influenced actions affect other people around you, especially your spouse.  My first marriage ended after five years.  To me, everything seemed fine, and then one day she just left.  For many years I was puzzled as to why she left, and always thought it was her fault (as did most of our friends).

Only now, in retrospect, do I understand why she may have left.  That retrospection came from a twenty year second marriage that went right to the brink, with my believing that I was OK, a good husband, and the issues were with my wife.  It did not end in divorce, ONLY because I began to realize how my actions (or non-actions) negatively affected my wife.  Surprisingly, the road to that discovery and the self-awareness came from working for a boss who had a very bad case of ADHD (the case for many entrepreneurs and CEO's).  Seeing my actions in a mirror came as quite a shock.

Things like outbursts of anger or harsh responses, that most ADHD don't even realize they do, have an incredible impact on those with whom you have a relationship.

My advise to you is as follows:

  • Fully understand ADHD and its impacts on you (Ned Hallowell's two books on ADHD, Driven to and Delivered from Distraction are the two best, IMHO)
  • Fully understand the impact of ADHD on those around you (this is hard - your spouse has probably been telling you, but your own world view has filtered them out - hence why your wife has left you.  A great place to start is looking through the posts on this site by the spouses of ADHD men and do some deep soul-searching to see if some of the symptoms they describe might apply to you, and especially focus on the impacts on them that they describe. If you see some similarities, dig deeper and be even more introspective, and work very hard to remove the filters you put on your world view of life, and accept that the world views of your spouse might have been the correct ones.  You will find this harder, now that your wife is gone.  You should still do this for the sake of your next relationship, so that it has some chance of survival.)
  • Get treatment.  Medication helps many (even though you might not feel any different - those around you will notice), but medication is only the start, not the conclusion of your journey.  It is in most cases necessary, but not sufficient, to help your marriage.
  • Acknowledge and break your bad ADHD- exacerbated habits.  Medication helps many with the understanding and acknowledgement required for the first two topics above, but you still need to break habits that you developed over a life time.  That will take time, much humility (as you discover that your confidence in your worldview erodes, and you begin to take responsibility for the impact your actions have, and have had over the course of your life), and coaching from friends, loved ones around you, and probably professional help (although the "marriage" counselors who didn't understand ADHD did more to destroy my marriage than to repair it - that is another longer story).
  • Start enjoying your relationship/marriage again.  This seems so far from any reality for most of the visitors on this site, but yes, you and your non-ADHD spouse can once again live a very joyous relationship, one that is even stronger than many, based on having both peered over the brink, and worked together to return.  Life should be happy.  Marriages should be filled with joy.  It takes work.

Most of the steps above are outlined in much greater detail elsewhere in this blog.  You just have to be open to learning from them.


First step, ditch your "instincts".  You really cannot begin to comprehend how your actions affect others.  You may not be bad, but your actions have a very significant negative impact on those you love.

Second, understand the difference between a "bad person" and one whose however inadvertent actions negatively impact others.

If you cling to your instincts and your worldview of you equating good motives with good outcome, you will fail.