Choosing between him or the dishes?

I know the subject sounds strange, but bear with me. This morning, for the millionth time, I awoke to a sink full of dirty dishes. Each night before bed, I clean the kitchen, load the dirty dishes in the washer, and set it to run overnight. Most nights, my husband, who is ADHD (diagnosed 2 years ago and taking meds but with no real difference in behavior), raids the kitchen and fills the sink with his dirty dishes (or leaves them lying around the house). I have asked (and begged) him hundreds of times to PLEASE put his dirty dishes in the dishwasher before going to bed. Small effort on his part, and makes my life so much easier. When I wake, I hit the ground running. Emails and phone calls from work to attend to, kids to tend to, dog to walk and feed, house to clean and manage. I need as much help from him as I can get, but instead he makes my life more difficult.

My husband and I both work full-time, but I feel like I do 99% of the household chores and childcare. I have asked him for help, and he usually agrees it but normally doesn't follow through (or will help for a day or two and then it's back to life on my own). 

This morning, when I mentioned to him that he once again forgot to load his dirty dishes, I got what I believe was his first honest answer: No. I can't. I'm incapable of it. If that's a problem for you, you must choose between me and the dishes.

The dishes, of course, are symbolic of the imbalance in our relationship and/or my inability to accept that he won't change. I can't live my life as a single mom if I am married to and living with the father of my children. I have this man who is physically present but mentally absent. He promises the world then delivers little. I feel like the only responsible adult in our household, and I have for a very long time. I feel totally alone, completely overwhelmed, and now very hopeless.

We have been together for 20 years. We have been in therapy for 2 years (but the therapist doesn't seem to want to focus on ADHD as an issue). We separated last year (he left me and immediately went on to have other relationships and basically abandoned me) though we are now living together again and trying to reconcile. He threatens to leave me often if I don't change. He likes high-risk behaviors and it scares me. I am doing the best that I can and don't know how to live like this anymore. It is so much more than the dishes: it is everywhere. I have been in individual therapy for 1 year because I simply cannot manage the stress of life with him. I also don't want to leave him: I love him and we have children together. He has not contributed financially in a while, and in fact has accumulated a lot of debt. He seems to struggle daily and has no real plan for his life (or has very unrealistic and risky plans). I worry about myself and our children.

He doesn't seem to think there is a problem, but when he does, he is convinced the problem is me. My standards are too high. The other day he told me that his problem is that I work too hard and do too much. I wish I had his problems! He doesn't see a need or possibility of him changing, and to the contrary thinks that he is fine the way he is.

I don't think I can accept that. I love him, but can't live with him. How am I contributing to the problem? Is there any hope for us? I am at the end of my rope. 

Reality vs expectations

Hello. I'm very sorry you are struggling. I see several issues in your post.  I think that if he doesn't feel a need to change then it is unreasonable to expect him to change. People, ADHD or not, do not change unless they want to be the result.  It is not personal, it's human behavior.  So it sucks. Now you have to decide whether what benefit you derive from him is worth compromising your standards. And if you decide it is, can you let go of the resentment and anger from being the load bearer? Stress is very unhealthy in the long run.  Mitigate it as best you can. Exercise, sleep, let things go. 

All unhappiness is the result of unmet expectations.

Letting go

Thank you. I agree: lots of issues here. It is wise to suggest that I stop focusing on his behavior and start focusing on me. That is something I have lost (me) while worrying about him and his behavior for the past 20 years! I am wondering how this is possible, but I know that I must find a way or else the stress will literally kill me. I hope it is, because I love him and don't want to give up on our marriage, but I feel like I'm waiting for the next disaster to strike. Will he rack up more debt? Have another relationship? Will one of our children get hurt while in his care? He is a good man, but life with him brings a heavy load for me to carry. I am doing OK with exercise and sleep, but don't know how to let things go and let this anger go: that's the next big step. I worry that if I let anything go, everything will fall apart. Good homework though: I'll start with the small things.


Goingthru, I am sorry you are in this situation. Honestly, I hear why this is a tough road for you--been there, done that. It is pretty hard to accept life with little help, the high risk behaviors, unrealistic plans and spending issues, and very unequal partnering. It is not what you sign up for!

Best to you. I know this is painful. Try to let go of being angry and work on what you can control. My own spouse adopted this defensive "if you don't love me for who I am then just leave" mode, along with the "I don't care if the dishes are in the sink and the floor is not clean, so stop being so uptight--if you are so worried about it, you do it," tact. Along with a lot of other defensive stuff. It can be heartbreaking, because you feel like you are being told that he doesn't love you enough to try to change.

It sounds like your spouse is tired of whatever dynamic is going on. You must be, too. Maybe a new counselor who understands couples with ADHD better? Ask yourself what you are willing to compromise on. Unfortunately, he is not going to try to change anything unless he wants to. 

Sounds like you've been

Sounds like you've been there! I will try to let go of my anger and work on what is in my control. I also agree that a new counselor is needed. I am going to search for one with ADHD knowledge. Our counselor is wonderful, but every time I bring up ADHD she changes the subject. I am wondering how to let things go, though. I have been angry for so long that I don't know if I can not be angry, though I obviously hate it. It is also not a very attractive trait in a partner, and he can sense my upset from a mile away and runs. Need a different approach. I am re-reading Melissa's book and Gina Pera's book about ADHD in relationships and hope to get some tips there.


I simply cannot manage the stress of life with him. I also don't want to leave him: I love him and we have children together. He has not contributed financially in a while, and in fact has accumulated a lot of debt. He seems to struggle daily and has no real plan for his life (or has very unrealistic and risky plans). I worry about myself and our children.

It always stuns me when I read the messages that someone loves someone who causes them so much stress and unhappiness and some fear.  LOVE cannot be the emotion here.  I can see that you might NEED, be ATTRACTED to the unloving person (because some people love the things they cannot have).  He makes you think about him a seem to be obsessing (like me).  But this CANNOT be love.  You may feel a responsible kinship and duty because you have children and PROMISED yourself to love him forever or because he reminds you of your parents marriage. You may be attracted to him sexually because he talks about sex a lot or has physical characteristics that appeal to you.  But do you admire him? Are you able to put your trust in him? Does he add something to your life that makes you better than you are by yourself?  

I am in somewhat the same boat.  He makes me miserable but I don't leave him.  Why?  I am trying to figure that out.  Finances after 35 years is definatly the number one reason. But why didn't I leave when I was younger? Dh is a salesman type guy.  He manipulates people without shame or guilt.  He does not have empathy or compassion.  He HAS the ability to smile at you and make light of things when things get heavy.  I am serious and when we were younger I could appreciate how he would divert my thoughts to humor.  Now that same trait is maddening when he won't get serious about ANYTHING....his humor infuriates me because I now know how he has been "working" me to get away with things.  Actually playing me.   He is companionable by situating himself and touching and laughing. He withholds a LOT...which is a way of maintaining mystery...and making me wonder about him...   At first that made me want to know more about him that he must have interests and work away from I know that he was "working" me.  He made me NEED him by being absent.  I don't even know how he did it.  I think I became needy when my first son was born.  I was tired and emotional and needed adult companionship and my friends were all wrapped up in their own little families.  We didn't support each other or even confide in each other of our need for adult interaction. I lost my confidence when he started acting like a jerk in the very beginning of our marriage and he had no qualms about hurting me emotionally....or rather he lacked empathy and even when I told him how much his actions hurt me, it didn't sink in (or he enjoyed the power)...he kept doing it.

I thought being a supportive friend and working toward common goals was the way to have a strong and loving marriage.  He was playing games and saw me only as someone he owned to have sex though it was my duty as a wife to fill his need to control me sexually.  

LOVE?  No, I was manipulated. Not just my him but by how I grew up.  I suggest those of you who love the spouse who makes you miserable, pay attention to what he says and does and detach yourself for your "learned" emotions long enough to find out how to LOVE your own life.  That is what I am TRYING to do.  It takes time because of how long I LEARNED to love from the past....romantic notions, duty, WANTING so badly to have a nice family, feeling a duty to keep a family together, feeling the inequalities of women and men...not knowing if I COULD financially make it as a single mom, having little family support.  

Look at the word LOVE between you and your spouse who hurts you.  Why do you love someone who you can't even trust?

GoingThru, you are going through exactly what I did.  His arguments and cavalier attitude toward you are exactly how dh is.  Imaging 35 years of this type of interaction?  Find love and support OUTSIDE of this relationship because you won't find it inside of this relationship.  He does not love me for my support or out of duty.  He feels he did it all himself (he is able to "rewrite" history in his brain) and because I supported him in the early days, he has a SUPERIOR attitude over me...I am miserable yet i stay.  He lives his life for his own well-being and is very independent of me.  It sounds stupid, doesn't it?


“Sometimes we want someone to fall in love with us because we need to feel wanted, but in reality, we’re not actually in love with the person ourselves. Ask yourself how you feel about this guy. Do you accept him for who he is? Value him and the fact he’s in your life? Do you appreciate all that he does for you? Feel as though he’s your best friend, someone you can rely on in all things? If not, you may just be wishing to be loved without being willing to love yourself. But the two go hand in hand.”

For us, this is the crux.  Can I love him the way he IS?  Maybe I don't love him really inside my heart.  I have been willing, and doing and trying to love him, but I guess I can't manufacture it by myself anymore.

I'm So Exhausted's picture

Dishes, dishes, everywhere dishes


I too am struggling with "the dishes problem."

My spouse of 29 years recently stopped doing the dishes.  He had taken that chore in January 2012 during our participation in the ADHD and Marriage Couples Seminar.   It was the Holy Grail of chores, as we had learned Melissa Orlov's spouse took the dishes as his responsibility.  You cannot imagine how close I came to exploding each time my spouse announced he was doing the dishes because Melissa's husband did them.  

My spouse didn't really see it as a way to change his behavior and help even the chore load - I think he saw it as a bandaid/magic potion to make our relationship work.  

then he just stopped.  Said he will not do them anymore.  Period.

Today I realized that my blood has been coming to a boil as I stand in front of the sink and do the dishes.    I have been thinking I will just stop doing his laundry - but that sure seems immature.  I believe I will get to the  point one day, where I just casually mention that since I am overloaded, I have decided one thing that won't really affect me if it doesn't get done is his laundry.  Laundry is done in our basement - piles of dirty laundry don't affect my daily sense of a tidy house.  Just gotta make sure I am setting a good boundary and not being nasty.

I don't do my husband's

I don't do my husband's laundry anymore.  I do all the other housework, I do most of the finances, I work more outside the home; I think that him doing a chore that affects only himself is perfectly appropriate.  (And yeah, we had the dishes dispute, too.)

Doing dishes..........

When I feel stressed out and I know I will go insane if I have to do dishes, I buy enough paper plates, bowls, cups and plastic tableware to last a while. To keep from feeling guilty about being wasteful we recycle all the cardboard. One time I put an entire huge load of dirty dishes in a large cooler, put the whole thing in the shed and left it there until I was ready to do them, and then I did them a little at a time. If anyone wanted a pot, pan, or whatever, I calmly directed them to the shed.  Almost a week went by before anyone said anything about doing dishes.