Hi gang - joined this forum today in hopes of getting some advice or at least a sympathetic ear. Melissa Orlov's "ADHD Effect On Marriage" book was an eye-opener for me when I read it last month. In the book, and on this forum, I see sentence after sentence that resonates deeply with me and my situation. To know that I'm not alone has helped me calm myself and think things over more carefully (I hope).
My story: Diagnosed with non-hyperactive ADHD in 2000 at the age of 18, met my wife 6 mths later, married in 2008. The post-college world put a squeeze on my ADHD and our relationship, to put it mildly. I had insisted vehemently that to-do lists and sheer force of will would box everything in. Got on medication in 2010 and saw a big difference in day-to-day life. However, beyond the day-to-day things, our lives have deteriorated, mostly I think due to ANGER and the way in which we both chose to handle it.
My own anger: put aside for a long time, in favor of keeping the peace in my marriage. In better times, it could maybe be diverted into self-improvement thoughts and lists. I have a dozen lists which range from kindergarten-cheerful to drill sergeant fury. In bad times, it would fuel a series of on/off binges: junk food, credit card charges, secret drinking, wasteful hobbies, frantic exercise. While my wife worked very long hours, I would try to focus hard on cleaning, cooking, organizing, and being supportive and attentive to her daily stresses. When a promise was made (clean the stovetop, listen to her work gripes without a random interruption, cook healthier recipes) it would eventually get broken. So we inched along to our current position, which is that "promises" and "revelations" are lies made up to keep her off my back.
My wife: I would like to grieve for all of the above, but I'm also saddened by how much my wife's anger has transformed us. And yet it seems to be a forbidden topic. I wish I knew how to step in and undo this cycle of anger, but I'm paralyzed when thinking of what the starting point could possibly be. Bullet points:
- In addition to dealing with me, she has a tough career with long hours and (at times) miniscule personal satisfaction. For many years, her boss would lob personal insults at her without a care, because she knew my wife would just buckle down and work harder for the good of the company.
- Once, the way ahead used to be that I try harder and cross my fingers that she wouldn't blow up. If I felt frustrated, angry, or tired, the answer was "man up", because not stoking her anger was top priority.
- Things are filtered through her lens a lot these days. Trying to point out a mistake = she's a moron. I suggest a thing that she said last week = her words mean nothing to me. Saying that we should postpone a conversation before it gets escalated = her feelings are so insignificant that I can't wait to run away. Tough day at work = she works so hard for zero return. Trying to read a book to understand more about ADHD = too lazy to talk to your spouse instead. Budget is tight this month = no matter how hard she tries we'll always be underwater. I write her a nice Christmas card = hers isn't written that well because she's dumb. Sitting in a nice restaurant, she'd joke that nearby people say, "who let those shlubby people come and eat here?" Leaving a friend's house, she'd joke that they thought, "boy, aren't we sorry we invited those two over for dinner again."
- Pointing out that she might be overly sensitive, or maybe should examine her own feelings, leads to crying and statements like: "if you think I'm such a loser, then just leave here right now."
- Won't entertain the idea of taking a break, cooling down, or agreeing to talk through an argument later. Instead I am running away, being a coward, trampling on her and her feelings. She would prefer that I "say something meaningful" right now, but won't discuss further because I "should just know".
- If I have an angry outburst on my part, pounding my fist on the table or shouting "stop it"... switches immediately to crying, statements about how she is all alone in this life, no one loves her. Threats of self-harm, just going away forever, suicide by car accident, etc.
- Since arguments inevitably escalate, her anger goes into strong and frightening places. In the last 3 years, I have had clothing ripped, CD's snapped in half, drywall cracked, childhood mementos cut apart, dinners dumped into the trash. Any apologies have been framed as: "you made me so mad that I had no choice, because I don't know how else to make you understand." The only canned response which works is for me to say, "yes, it was really me who broke that, because I made you do it."
- Since I cannot walk away, call for a break, ask to not have my belongings broken, or have an outburst, I sit still and try to react quietly and calmly. What I get told is that she "must mean nothing at all, if this is the most I can muster up out of you." Attempts to explain this flat reaction are "escalation" because I wind up saying too much.
- For fear of embarrassment, there is no one else she can talk to about any of this. She has few friends due to time and energy spent on her career, and has implied that she wouldn't expose such a harrowing secret to the friends she does have.
- In 2012-13, we attended couples counseling. She told me up front that this made her miserable because she would have to discuss very private problems in front of a stranger. Has said vehemently many times that counseling stuff is for "crazy people", not her.
- Has said lately that people with ADHD, OCD, autism, etc. are coddled because society invents these categories for weak people. Get your label, and everyone can bow and kowtow to you because you're so special. Society loves labels. Meanwhile, she never got her label and has had to work so hard for everything she has without any help from anyone. The people with labels get an excuse to slack off and maybe get some pills so they don't have to try as much as her.
- If the timing is wrong on a given day, larger issues get flown in within 30-60 seconds of the initial "sliding-door moment". I ruined Christmas last year. I ruined our spring vacation with an argument about packing bags. Don't I remember how I lost my concentration a few years ago and had that fender-bender. I made her go to therapy, which was more humiliating than anything else she'd ever done. This is just another broken promise, or ruined weekend, or screw-up etc.
Grieving, forgiving, and moving on from past hurts seems like it would be beneficial, but I don't know where to start. Discussing her feelings implies to her that it's all her fault, not mine. Suggesting that she take a certain course of action implies to her that her current feelings aren't valid. Suggesting that she read a book about anger, or talk to someone else about it, would be too embarassing—and only something that "crazy people" do anyway, not her.
Any thoughts about how to start up a talk with her which may start to move things in a positive direction? Thanks all.