connecting over the hard stuff (only)

My husband and I have been marred for almost two years. He once mentioned when we were dating that he thought he probably had ADHD, and from what I have read and experienced while we've been married, I can understand why he thinks this! There are lots of challenges we face in money management, frustration levels, household chores, but these all seem to be improving to "good enough" when we work through them. One area, though, is not improving. Almost immediately after we married, I began to feel lonely because he seemed so far away whenever we would talk or catch up on our day. It's much easier to ask him questions and listen to him than to try to get him to show real interest in me or my thoughts. Sometimes I wonder how many weeks we can go without him noticing that he knows nothing about me or my life! However, he is very sensitive, and if he notices that I am sad or blue, he immediately pays lots of attention to me. His ability to engage in a conversation where I'm sharing goes from nil to 110% -- better even than my female friends! I feel like I'm getting more high maintenance as the months pass because when I'm sad or seem perturbed, my husband is able to listen better and focus. If I'm just interested in carrying on a normal conversation -- he seems utterly bored and distracted. Please help me! I am a naturally sunny person and do not like to see the way I am changing. I also feel like I take advantage of my husband when I cultivate the negative in order to feel connected to him and important to him. P.S. -- when we've talked about this, we both see the same pattern, but don't know what to do. Trying harder doesn't seem to work . . .

Hard Stuff

I'm really glad to hear that you and your husband have talked about this and that you both see the same pattern because this indicates that you are still able to talk to each other with some clarity.

There are a number of different ways to try to deal with this - and you may wish to try a few to see what works best.  This is a fixable problem, but you both have to be invested in changing it - i.e. you'll probably have to meet in the middle.

You don't say what you are talking about specifically that he's not interested in, but if it's a list of smaller details about things he's not inherently interested (like household chores), many men (not just people with ADD) might zone out.  Analyze what you are talking about when you don't feel connected and see if there is a content issue, not just a connection issue.  Some women deal with their husband's lack of interest in details about diapers or home issues by discussing these things with other women.

Another possibility is that his inattention is possibly due to the time of day that you are communicating the "good stuff" to him.  For example, some people (men and women) find that they need a period of decompression right after returning from work, yet this is a time when their spouses want to talk about their day.  Being out of synch at certain times of day can lead to anger or distraction in the conversation that can be misattributed to disinterest.  (Another hot time is right before bed.  Some people are great at this time of day, while others simply can't handle conversations that last more than a couple of minutes!)

Many couples with ADD give each other special permission to "get my extra attention" when it is needed.  My husband has given me permission to cue him when we are in social situations and he is getting off on a tangent and I see people's eyes glazing over (something he doesn't pick up as well).  You may want to talk with your husband about setting up a cue that lets you indicate when you are starting to get that lonely feeling.  Making eye contact, for example, might help focus him, so perhaps you can get his permission to say "please look me in the eye" without him being offended or taking it wrong.

Treatment for ADD can also focus a person.  One potential form of treatment is exercise, which focuses one for 2-3 hours afterwards (a good time to talk about the "good stuff" perhaps)  Good nutrition, enough sleep, and even medications can also help focus.

Your husband might like to learn a bit more about the skills necessary for effective listening.  There a number of books on the subject, including one written by Rebecca Shafir of the Hallowell Center, called the Zen of Listening.  (I've put a link here to the page that lists the various books that the Hallowell Center suggests - this is one of them.)

Don't leave this problem unattended for any longer.  Feeling alone in a marriage can be awful, and will start to warp how you relate to each other.  You can already see this (you are starting to get more distressed, just so you can get his full attention).  The next step after this one might be depression, self-dislike, resentment or anger - none of which will improve your relationship.  Your feeling as if he doesn't listen well to you is the tip of a bigger iceberg - it's a short step to feeling as if he doesn't love you (and that the poor listening is a manifestation of this), even if this isn't the case.

Melissa Orlov