Commit? Or Get Out?

I've been reading these forums for the past year or so and today I come looking for advice on my situation with my boyfriend of two years. We aren't married but we do live together and I'd love opinions from people who know what ADHD can do to a relationship in the long term.

Two years ago when I met my boyfriend we were both living at our parents' homes. I was fresh out of college and beginning to establish my career, he had bounced back home after some financial difficulties and was pretty much starting over. No car, no savings, just some debt from school where he'd been an on-again off-again student. He was open about the ADHD diagnosis he received as a child, but was not pursuing any kind of treatment even though some of the issues associated with the disorder were clearly affecting his life. These red flags didn't matter much at that stage and he won me over with all that charming hyperfocus. It felt... amazing. Soon I was driving him around, to and from his house and work, helping him out in every way I could because I liked him so much. He always assured me how hard he was working to change his circumstances and how he'd been saving and he'd have a car in a few weeks. It has never happened.

It's been about two years since then and a lot has changed. Shortly after meeting him I got a great job that I excelled at. I've been promoted several times and I'm making a name for myself in a competitive field. I'm proud of how far I've come and I know that my success is due to my hard work and responsible decision making. He found a job in the same metropolitan area and for a while we were commuting together in my car - he was also crashing at my parents' house a lot. He and I moved out of my parents' house a little less than a year ago, eliminating my 2+ hour commuting habit. When we moved in together he was oblivious/uninterested in helping with household tasks. I had to buy everything for the house -- furniture, kitchen supplies, cleaning supplies, bedding, the majority of our food. I had a good paying job and he had no savings and no money to spare after rent and his marijuana habit, so that's just the way it worked out.

He's since been fired from two jobs. I've had to loan him money too, which makes me uncomfortable because it adds a weird power dynamic to our relationship and I just want us to be equals. But now I'm wondering if a partnership of equals is even possible with an ADHD partner. I love hanging out with him, but I'm terrified that I'm signing up for a life of financial difficulties and arguments with his bad temper and victim attitude. When we fight he just says the same things over and over (sometimes verbatim - does that happen to anyone else?), but refuses to consider my perspective. Just the other night we had an argument. Once we talked I understood that it was just a misunderstanding and neither of us needed to be upset. I told him that I loved him and didn't want to argue. He wouldn't stop so I walked away from the fight just to hear him call me a "Fucking Seven Year Old" while I walked upstairs. Hearing him call me immature really gets my goat. We haven't been intimate in months.

I am not without my issues either, and there are aspects of his personality that I adore. After some rough talks a few months ago, he is much better about lending a hand around the house. But that is also due to the fact that after his most recent layoff he decided to finally go back to school and finish his degree while earning money online from home. His being home all day makes it easier for him to help out, but it also makes it easier for him to be distracted by TV/video games/the internet... etc. I'm making strides in my life and my career - I'd like to travel, think about buying a house in the next few years, and live the adult life that I've earned. My boyfriend is not at a point where he has the time or money to do these things (time... that's another thing. He sure updates his Facebook a lot on the days when he is working from home, but then has no time once I'm home. He can't even close his computer to watch TV with me!)

I'm wondering if my desire to be loved is keeping me in a relationship that is not moving forward. I have encouraged/gently prodded him to seek treatment and possibly medication for his ADHD, but he has not. I have done a lot of research and bought books for us to read -- I have read them, he has not. I know it is unreasonable to expect a person to change - but HE'S the one who told me that he was trying to get his act together! I want to feel mutually supported by my partner, but for the past two years it is me who has been supporting him. Even in Melissa Orlov's posts I read about the wives who have to keep everything together for their husbands -- that model may be great for some but it isn't what I want for my life. He would like to get married to me, but I have told him that I am not comfortable making that commitment without seeing him get on his feet a little more.

So tell me forum -- can they make the changes that they say they want? How can I tell if this is a good investment of my time? I'm still young, beautiful, and pretty successful so I know that there are other partners out there for me if that's what I choose. It's just that I'm already in love with this one. I'm so torn between a heart that loves this guy, and a brain that thinks this relationship is going nowhere. Help? 

I won't tell you what to do.

I won't tell you what to do.  Everyone is different, and what you want and can stand is different than what other people want and can stand.  But I will relay a few things about my experience.  I've been married 27 1/2 years.  My husband was a slob when I met him and he still is.  That was less of a problem when he was working full-time and I wasn't, because I figured it was fair of me to do more housekeeping.  Now that I'm working more than he is, I don't think it's fair that he won't even get on board with the few household tasks that I ask him to do, especially because we've been bickering about the same few tasks for at least 3 years.  

My husband has been a good father, and I've been a great mother (if I do say so myself).  But I think I've been a consistently good parent, even during times of high stress (for me, for my husband, for my daughters), whereas when my husband has been under stress or focused on his own issues, he has neglected me and the children. I don't think that parenting itself exacerbated my husband's ADHD, as it seems to do for some people.  But the ADHD has interfered with his parenting at times.  

Everyone has ups and downs in life.  I've had to be the person who functions at a high level no matter what is going on in my life, because my husband is unable to function well when he is under stress.  I like being a high functioning person.  But I don't like not having backup.  

Please think long and hard about what is important to you.  Both you and your partner will need to be extraordinarily committed to the emotional and physical and financial aspects of your relationship and yourselves to make it work.  If only you are extraordinarily committed, you'll suffer.


Needing backup

Hi Rosered, thank you so much for your reply and all your valuable personal insight. I also consider myself a high functioning person and I like that about myself too. And for me, part of being driven and hardworking is the fact that when I am worn down I need support and backup. It sounds like what you describe is exactly what I fear - always having to be the one who arranges things, always having to be the voice of reason. If he had shown more effort/commitment thus far, this would be easy. But he hasn't read any of the books, he puts himself and his desires before me and our relationship without a second thought, and he hasn't sought any treatment for his condition. 

Our apartment was robbed a bit ago and I lost heirloom jewelry from my long gone grandmas. Insurance wouldn't cover all of it, but they ended up giving him 2k in additional funds after some weird insurance loopholes. He owes me that much money but chose to spend his surprise funds on an expensive new computer. Top of the line technology although it was, according to him, the absolute minimum that he needed. Things like this are hard for me to ignore, but he doesn't understand the message that he sends with some of his actions. I guess I have more thinking to do, but your comments about parenting open up a whole new can of worms that I hadn't truly considered. This is all just... scary. :( 

Witsend, Like Rosered said,


Like Rosered said, we can't tell you what to do, but if I were in your place, I might seriously consider stepping away from this relationship. The first red flag that was thrown up to me while reading your story was your BF's marijuana usage. I know a lot of enlightened people think it's nothing, but in the eyes of the powers that be, you can still serve jail time. Not to mention a routine drug test at work will get you fired or not even hired.

I know where you are at. Making a decision to leave someone you love is probably the hardest thing to do (next to letting a loved one go if they are dying) in this life. You remind me so much of myself. I was a up-and-coming young professional with good prospects, loved to travel and was obsessed with buying a house. Now I let my devotion to my family derail my career to some extent (I have achieved some professional success but it's not in the field I wanted to be in). But I also my romantic relationships derail me too.

I can give you some advice from the non-ADD and the ADD perspective. Before I met my husband, I was engaged to a guy who had I known for several years and was a very good friend. He wasn't ADD but he was stuck in neutral. He wouldn't go to college because he was afraid to fail. He worked at the local factory with his dad because that was what he knew. He was completely content with us living in a mobile home near his parents. He hated to travel and couldn't understand my love of new places. Though I loved him, I finally made the hard decision to break things off. I couldn't with all honesty go into marriage and guarantee that it wouldn't end up in divorce. In my heart, I knew it wouldn't work because we didn't want the same things nor did we have the same drive to succeed.

About a year later I met my DH, who is ADD though we didn't know it at the time. He was living the dream as a cop. He loved it and excelled at it as well. He seemed to pretty put together: he had little to no debt, seemingly paid his bills on time, etc. As our relationship progressed, I did realize that he wasn't paying his bills on time, but I thought, "Hey I can do that for us both." But then a few days before our wedding, he got fired. Multiple infractions for tardiness and finally a split second, very bad idea to cover up another incident of tardiness landed him in front of the ethics board. Anyway, he fell apart and hasn't been the same since though he's starting to return to the guy I used to know. But we've been married for over four years now and it's been a struggle from day one. He was diagnosed with ADD and sometimes he fills his prescription, but most times he goes at it alone. While there are great aspects of the ADD (he's fantastic in a crisis, fun to be with, doesn't sweat the small stuff), the bad aspects do color our relationship. I'm pretty sure that he has ODD (oppositional defiance disorder) so arguing is fun to him. The explosive anger is very troubling as is the money management issues. I am the bread winner; I pay all the bills and though he swears he'll give me money, he always forgets. We've been in counseling for the last nine months and things are improving and though progress is slow, I don't see why we won't continue to improve because even though he's distracted, he still wants things to get better.

I think what bothers me the most about your story is that your BF just doesn't seem to have any drive. That's why I told the story of my ex-fiance. Add the ADD and you've got a problem. I do believe that once my hubby gets another police job (his goal), a lot of what I experienced in our dating life will return. And that's what keeps me going. Had things not been so wonderful while we were dating, if I had no hope of ever returning to that, if I had never seen him function normally (for the most part), I don't know if I would still be in my marriage despite the fact that I really, really love my husband.

You are young and I think you should test the waters. If you're meant to be together, it will come back around. Depending on his personality, he may need a good kick in the butt for him to seek help. Your description of him indicated to me that he thinks everything is "fine" when it's not really. Good luck to you.

power balance

I note your comment "I wonder if it's possible to have equal power in a relationship with ADHD" and wanted to respond.  The answer is, yes, it is.  I know a number of couples who have ADHD in their relationship, who share power equally, and who have a deep respect for each other, as well.  So it's not an issue of the ADHD, per se, but rather how your partner is handling the ADHD which, as you describe it, is not well.  The give away - difficulties holding jobs and with finances, difficulties prioritizing.

The question for you will be - is this person the right person for me?  Don't continue the relationship assuming that you can somehow rescue him or save him or change him.  Only HE can do that.  And if he starts to take his reponsibilities towards you seriously and make those changes, then it may well be worth sticking around.  But if he doesn't start making them, even after the two of you have talked about it seriously for some number of months (I assume this has already happened) then what you have is a person who is not willing or able to do the work to be a good partner to you and it would be time, probably, to assess whether or not it's worth continuing the relationship and slowing yourself down with the "sea anchor" of a person who can't also contribute.

Note that this is not the advice that I give to couples who have already spoken their marriage vows.  In those situations, I provide specific steps to work through to maximize the potential that they can stay together.  My advice is different for a couple of reasons.  First, these couples are often older.  Research suggests that those with ADHD sometimes don't tend to even see the import of their ADHD symptoms on their lives until their late 20s or later.  Before then, they may assume it's just bad luck or something the world unfairly throws their way.  Second, many people who are already married have kids who would be affected by a split.  You don't yet.  Third, there is such a thing as a biological clock for those women who wish to have a family.  While working with a husband for some years to see whether or not an already committed to relationship can be saved and turned around is one thing, waiting for some number of years to determine whether or not a partner is willing to start working on his ADHD (and then waiting longer to see if he really means it) is something else when you are in your late 20s (if you are).

So I would suggest having some really serious heart to hearts with your boyfriend, seeing whether or not he is willing to own his ADHD and work on it to manage his symptoms.  If he's not willing to listen or take those actions, then think deeply about what you think you will get out of this relationship long-term.  Relationships in which the ADHD partner does not treat significant symptoms and their resulting problems (and you've named several) tend not to survive long-term.  Or another way to look at it - what will your relationship be like in 5 years if he's still unemployed or is on his 5th firing (the job record you mention is a big red flag for me, BTW).

You're BF sounds EXACTLY like my husband when we were dating...

When we first met, my husband was living back home with his mother after some bad financial decisions, working a dead-end job under the table for a friend's small business, had no car, and no savings and smoked a lot of marijuana.  You're story almost completely mirrors my own.  My priorities back then were so very different than they are now.  These things didn't bother me very much when I was young and carefree.  Once we had our first child, it got really hard.  He struggled to deal with the stress of having a newborn and now that I had all of the duties that come with caring for a baby, I started to resent more and more that I had to do EVERYTHING else too.  We had our second child only 16 months after our first and the first 6 months were pretty rough. 

I am not saying you should just leave him, and run screaming in the other direction.  But I do think especially if you are planning on having kids some day, that you need to seriously think about what that will be like with this person.  Working full-time, caring for children, cooking, cleaning, etc. with minimal help or "back-up" is really hard.  

On a positive note, my husband has been on Concerta since April and it has helped significantly.  He is definitely more present, helps around the house more, has a better attitude, etc. since starting meds.  It is far from perfect, but it's an improvement.


barneyarff's picture

OMG! What have I become??

I'm typing in my room on my laptop.  Please forgive the typos.

I've put myself into timeout for just going over the edge into verbal abuse with my kids mostly because, DH is gone this weekend (Helping his folks declutter their house.  I love the irony)  and I'm reading these posts and mulling over why I have put up with his ADHD for so long.  Then I read a post here that someone wrote that it was mostly the non-ADHD spouse's fault because we put up with everything for so long.

So now I feel terrible and stupid because I've tried so hard to get things to work.  I shared my college fund money with him so he could go to school.  I put him through school a 2nd time.  So I guess everytime I tried to help I was a dumb(insert nasty word here)  and I thought I was trying to help.  So now it's my fault DH has 2 degrees and a house that's paid off, etc.  
All because I'm some kind of whacko who actually made the marriage worse because I'm so nuts with codependancy that everything is always my fault  (again!!!!)  

Yes, I'm codependent but I'm getting over it.  I'm getting over it quite fast  and as soon as I find a condo, I'll be completely over it.  When does DH have to look at his ADHD?   And, OH! BTW  was I just supposed to let the water get turned off?   Why am I being blamed for trying to keep the utilities on?  I didn't start out as codependent.  I was just trying to make everything work out.  I kept being told that I was the wife who needed to help her husband.

So now because I feel so terribly guilty for screwing up again by trying to help,  I got mad at the kids.  DD wanted to go to a friend's house for the evening.  I was going to drive her there so I jumped in the car and bumped my head while getting in because for the 1000th time DD forgot to push the seat back.  I'm much taller than her.  Yes, I should remember after bumping my head several times that she does that, but how about her having the courtesy of remembering to push the seat back.  I roared.  I refused to take her to her friend's house.  I told her I could kindly request 1000 MORE times for her to move the seat back and she'd still forget or I could have a gigantic hissy fit the next 100 times and she'd finally remember.

Then DS, who has ADHD is cleaning out his room and I see all kinds of things written under his bed as to how much he hates me.  Well, I'm not surprised.  DH never gave him any boundaries and I try to be strick (another thing I've been told I'm a "B" about)   Well, I tried to tell DS that I understood that he was just writing what he was feeling and he's just a kid but it really hurt my feelings.  He backed away from me and started having a fit just like his dad.  I wasn't even mad, just sad and just trying to say what I felt.  As he backed off and had a fit I lost it.

I had to put myself in time out.  DS has come in and talked to me and when I told him that when I told him I felt sad, I just needed a hug.  He was able to do so.   DD is still in her room.  I really did some damage to her with my verbal rampage.

I feel really bad about my behavior. It is not excusable, but I think I'm reacting to what I read here about how the nonADHD spouse being so codependent that I am ruining the marriage.  I'm sure I missread it.  I'm just tired.  sick and tired of it all.     No doubt DH will blame me for his terrible life but I can't take the blame anymore.  I don't want to read here about how my trying to make things work and trying to keep the peace ruined the marriage.   Good lord what was I supposed to do??!!??  Let the electricity get turned off?  I was sick! I had no hair from chemo and I was cold all the time.  I needed heat!

So now I will leave.  DH will tell everyone (including any woman he dates) how he took such good care of me while I nearly died of cancer then I just blew him off.  I will be vilified again...again...... AGAIN  AGAIN!!!!!!!

Our lives would be better if DH just stayed with his ADHD bio family and they could all stay together and blame the world for their misfortunes.



You know,  I spent 6 weeks teaching on the other side of the country some time ago.  I was so happy.  I smiled a lot.  I want to be like that again.



Your situation makes me sad,

Your situation makes me sad, Barneyarff.  I do feel sometimes as though I've been so stupid:  I thought it was OK to try to be a married person; I thought it was OK to have children; I thought it was OK to try to protect my husband when he was floundering; I thought it was OK to try to fix the relationship by making changes to myself, endlessly.  But instead, it seems, I should have taken one look at this guy 28 years ago and said, oh, he's a loser, and gone in the other direction.  It's so hard when people say, you can't change anyone else, you can only change yourself, which is true, but then don't follow up with how you're supposed to cope when you've changed yourself and the situation is still intolerable and you have children and you're sick and you don't have much money and leaving the situation really isn't an option.  

barneyarff's picture

Run.  Run fast and run far.

Run.  Run fast and run far.  don't look back.  Thank the Universe that you got away.  Yes, I'm jaded, especially today.

I have decided though that ALL girlfriends of my ADHD son will get books about ADHD and be told to run.


I wish someone would have told me to run.

That's about the worst advice I've ever heard

Are you seriously talking about making sure that your son never has a good relationship?  That the BEST solution to falling in love with someone who has ADHD is to run away from them as far as you can, or to sabotage the relationship so it can't possibly succeed?  Even if your son reminds you of your husband, punishing him for having ADHD is not really a very loving thing to do.  But I'm sure you know that.

And this is EXACTLY the problem with all of the "run away" advice given on this site.  Just because you have not succeeded DOES NOT mean that others cannot.  Your son has every reason to believe that he can succeed - he knows about his ADHD.  There is much more information about how to manage and treat ADHD now than there used to be (and please remember - ADHD is one of the singly most treatable disorders out there).  He has not had to live the embarrassment of growing up with undiagnosed ADHD - thinking he's a failure instead of knowing that he has symptoms he must manage, so he's much less likely to suffer from the self-esteem issues that plague many adults with ADHD.  If interested, he can learn the danger patterns that ADHD introduces into relationships and interrupt them before they cripple the relationship...

This body of knowledge is what you should share with your son (let him decide what to do with it).  That way he can have the happy and supportive relationship you didn't have.

For the record, it is NOT good advice to "run" at the first sign of ADHD.  Whether or not to stay in a relationship is complex and depends upon who the players are, whether or not the ADHD is managed, how empathetic each party is, whether or not there are other co-morbid disorders (depression being particularly difficult for relationships, as is ODD).  Your simplification is hurtful and misleading for future readers of the site.

barneyarff's picture

Thank you for bluntly telling

Thank you for bluntly telling me your opinion.  I appreciate that.

A couple of weeks ago I was chatting with an old friend of mine whose oldest son has a bunch of ODD.  She was clear that she was glad he was out of the house and mourned the fact that her younger son lost so much attention from his folks because they had to focus on the one with ODD.   These are very well educated people who went down a long hard road to help their son.


She ended up telling me that this son now has a girlfriend who seems to be willing to help him with all his problems.  The Mom was relived that it was someone else's burden. She even laughed with relief.  I was stunned.  This is when I realized that in good conscience I could not allow a girlfriend to get involved with my son without her  being well educated about the problems.  It would be a terrible thing to do.  Farm a young man with ADHD or ODD to an unsuspecting person?  Good Lord!  Talk about unethical!

I love my son very much.  I have gone through hell and back to help him and will continue to do so because it's my job.  I signed up for this and I will do my best because this is my child whom I love.

IMO, letting an unsuspecting person get involved with someone with ADHD is wrong.   So, I guess we will have to just disagree.   that's OK.   There are many other things we probably agree upon.

But I do appreciate your bluntness.