Up for debate: what makes a person "good," intentions or actions or something else?

“Love does not exist, only demonstrations of love.”

Jean Cocteau

I have been going back and forth with myself about this topic for what feels like ages. Please bear with me through what may be an indirect way of getting at the issue: I love my DH and fell in love with him because of his extraordinarily "good" heart. It's this single factor that made me push through a lot of our downs, especially times when he inadvertently caused me great hurt and pain and frustration. When repeatedly trying to decide whether it was still worth it to continue, my heart always said "of course it's worth it--he's so good, he has such a good heart." But now, after years of this cycle, I'm asking myself to define what I consider to be "good." I guess I should pause here and say that I don't go around categorizing people as "good" or "bad"--I'm not really sure how I would even call someone bad b/c I've always been known to see the good in people, even when no one else does. I have certainly seen people do bad things, but I often think it's b/c of ignorance or lack of learned skills or desperation...so I guess I want to clarify here that I'm not asking anyone to comment on what makes someone "bad" b/c I don't think anyone can be called "bad" through and through. Everyone has some redeeming quality hidden somewhere inside (I think).

A good person, in my opinion, would be someone who: is honest, does not cheat or lie to get ahead at the expense of others; tries to be mindful/thoughtful/considerate, considers how their actions might affect others and uses that info when making decisions; tries to do no harm; is kind; is empathetic. Of course, a good person can make mistakes and make bad decisions..we're all still human, after all. But a good person tries to learn from experiences and aspires to be a better person.

So the tricky thing here is that these qualities can be seen only in a person's actions, you can't see a person's thoughts, so would it be accurate to say that a good person is someone who does good? I don't think so, b/c I think someone could do good things but for the wrong reasons (someone could make a large donation to a charity, but do so only for tax purposes...which, in my mind, wouldn't truly show goodness, even though good resulted from the action). Likewise, someone might not mean to cause hurt/pain, but if he/she does, then doesn't learn from the act and causes hurt/pain again, what then? Or someone might intend to volunteer at an animal shelter, but not get around to it. What do you call someone who has good intentions but can't translate that into good actions?

This is where I am--I have this feeling that my DH is a good person, but when I step back and look at his actions, they don't match my definition of a good person. My DH lies, a lot, mostly to cover up something he did or didn't do, and I assume it's usually b/c of embarrassment, but I can't see that--I can only see his act: in this case, lying. Or worse, he often lies to manipulate a situation to get what he wants (he'll lie about how long it will take to get somewhere he wants to go, or about how much something will cost...). It doesn't appear that he considers how his actions might affect anyone else--example: he went into work late yesterday b/c he was mad that he had to go in on a sunday, but he didn't consider that he had a crew waiting there for him, and they couldn't start until he got there, which meant they had to stay late...strikes me as pretty inconsiderate b/c they probably didn't want to work on sunday either.

This can all be applied to love, too (hence the opening Cocteau quote)--something else that has kept me holding on in this relationship. I stay partly b/c I know how much my DH loves me. But I can't see inside his heart--I can see only his actions, and his actions don't show me that he loves me. I'm not sure exactly what they show, but certainly not that I'm a priority in his life. And yet, when doing "nice" things for me came up in a recent discussion, he said "I do plenty of nice things for you," but couldn't name a single one (and his behavior hasn't changed--this didn't make him realize that maybe he should do nice things for me, or if it did, he's not showing it).

So what am I holding on to, then? Am I holding on to his good intentions, even though I still feel anger, resentment, hurt...all those things? To him being a good person, even though many would question that based on his actions alone?

I think all of this internal dialog feeds into my frustration--in addition to feeling frustration over my marriage, I'm frustrated with myself b/c it seems I cannot make up my mind. One day, I've decided that that's it, I've been unhappy for long enough, I've tried everything our counselors have asked us to try, I haven't seen him want to change anything and I'm tried of waiting for something that may never come. Then, there are days (like today), where I just love him too much to walk away, even though I can't quite explain why.

Anyone else in this spot? Or just want to weigh in on the intent/feeling vs. action issue? There's a lot of talk on these boards about the effects of an ADDer's actions or non-actions, as the case may be, as well as what was intended or not intended. How do you all navigate these waters?

Wow, yet another post that I

Wow, yet another post that I could have written (except not nearly as clearly or succinctly as you have).  Yes, I think about this topic all the time.  I've been thinking about this today. My husband is a nice guy.  But I emailed him today, in yet another of a series of messages over the years, saying that I hate our marriage and I hate myself for staying in our marriage when it seems as though I'm not doing either of us any good by staying.  But I don't hate my husband!  He is nice.  He is well meaning.  But he has been fired from two jobs despite many warnings that he was having problems.  He will not deal with the behavioral aspects of his ADHD.  He "feels guilty" because I am unhappy over many things, including our unequal division of labor, and yet he doesn't take action to make changes.  He is deathly afraid of  making decisions.  He fears being held responsible for choices.  He won't think about the future.  This, to me, is not a "good" spouse.  I, on the other hand, confess to having many mixed feelings.  But I do not do things to harm him, and he has done many things that have harmed me.  After awhile, the lack of intent doesn't matter anymore.  And yes, I do feel upset with myself for not being able to decide whether to stay or go.

We are what we DO

I am the ADD wife. This topic has come up over and over through the years (married 17, together for 20) because even though I LOVE my husband, many, many, many times my ACTIONS have not demonstrated that love. In fact, many times my actions have demonstrated the OPPOSITE. My husband is in the "You are what you do" camp, and I have been in the "I am what I feel" camp.

There are blatant, obvious examples of my behavior where I can look back and think/say, "wow, that was really not loving," but a LOT of times I have felt deeply frustrated when my husband has accused me of not caring, because I FEEEEEEEL the love and I DO care.

It has taken me a long time to really SEE that it is not fair (actually, that's not strong enough). It is WRONG for me to expect my husband to have ESP and "know" how I really feel inside when I treat him like crap on the outside.

That said, I think that there is a *little* gray area for us ADD/ADHD folks because sometimes our feelings/actions really do NOT jibe, and some of that can be attributed to working memory, difficulty with emotions, etc. BUT, there is a certain point that WE MUST BE HELD ACCOUNTABLE FOR OUR ACTIONS OR WE WILL NEVER CHANGE (or feel/think like we "need" to change).

I would like it if my husband extends grace with me when I do the gray area stuff, AS LONG AS I come around and admit it when I am called on it. But, it is NOT acceptable to lie, manipulate, dismiss, be inconsiderate BECAUSE WE HAVE ADD. We (I) want to blame my lies, manipulation, dismissals, inconsideration, etc. ON ADD a LOT. It's easier. But there is a line there that we should not cross, but we do too often. I guess I would call it the ADD/Character continuum :). We ADD folk have chemical brain stuff going on that can affect our interactions, but I am ultimately responsible for my CHARACTER. I have free will.

I keep going back to this post I wrote a little while ago: http://www.adhdmarriage.com/content/addadhd-and-narcissism-relating-comm... with the link to an article about admitting mistakes/inability to apologize because it REALLY opened my eyes about some behaviors that I had previously been too quick to blame on ADD. Whether the narcissism article is completely on target or not, we MUST be willing to admit mistakes, which I think has a LOT to do with the intention/action thing. If I INTEND to show love, but ACT unloving, I need to OWN IT. If I blow it off, or continue to do the unloving behavior, I think that is CHARACTER.

By the way, even though I talk a good talk here, I am still a LONG WAY from really living up to these words regularly (I started to say "perfectly" but my husband doesn't expect perfection, he expects EFFORT and hopefully IMPROVEMENT - i.e. not "intention" effort, but effort he can actually SEE.) I think I am getting better, but I have to come to terms with it and fight it every day.

This forum has helped a lot, and I truly appreciate everything I have learned from other Add'ers and especially the non-ADD spouses.  :)

Veg_girl, I totally know

Veg_girl, I totally know where you are coming from. I see my husband (the ADDer) as a basically good person. I define that as having a good heart i.e. he cares about people even though he isn't always considerate. Also like you, I catch my husband "flubbing" the truth. For much of our past (six years now), I was constantly bothered by the lying. He used to not even acknowledge that he was doing it but now he seems to accept it that he does and will even precursor something with, "I'm not lying..." 

I have figured out that when it comes to activities, he underestimates the time needed to accomplish them (thus making it to where he has to spend several days doing something that he was supposed to have done in one) or he'll tell he's doing something when he's actually intending to do something, but often doesn't get around it. Although annoying, I can understand that this is something inherently ADD and I can somewhat accept it as not so much a "bad" behavior as just something that comes with the territory.

My frustration comes from his complete inability to manage money and yet his insistence that he can and then the lies that stem from him not getting something right. And then I have to clean up the mess to our finances. That's what bothers me. Though recently, he came to me and confessed that he hadn't been paying his cell phone bill and was $300 in the hole. I was not happy especially since I'm the major bread winner right now and times are tough as it is. But he reminded me that at least he came to me and didn't go pawn something like in the past in attempt to cover the situation up. Progress...at least in a very warped manner? Though part of me wishing he had just taken care of it in whatever way he could because paying that amount was a burden on our finances.

Holding him accountable just doesn't seem to work, nor will he sit down and make a plan. I finally severed our bank accounts because his was perennial overdrawn and pulling money from the joint account, thus leaving me scrambling with the money to replace it. Now he operates on cash mostly, but I still don't know where it all goes, and I don't think he does either. If I had a dollar for every time he has told me that he is going to give me money for the bills or asked to "borrow" money (borrow=long term loan), I'd be a millionaire! I wish Dave Ramsey would teach a course on money management with an ADD spouse!

But back to the original question. I just made the realization that if my husband (the ADDer) was graded on intentions, he would get an A+. He thinks a lot about doing things, but the follow through is not there. The most maddening thing is that he expects to be rewarded for the whole concept of "it's the thought that counts." Yeah, no, not in real life unfortunately. When you live by that concept, all you do is hurt people and earn their mistrust. Husband says that he doesn't understand why I can't trust him--to me it's a no-brainer! You can't trust someone who rarely follows through on what they say! He seems to be trying harder to follow through but it's often frustrating and emotionally taxing when you've been through so much together. There is very little room for grace in these situations. And yes, you do ask yourself why you are sticking around when there are so many un-redeeming qualities at play. I have no answer to that. At the end of the day, I love him, and perhaps a little part of me doesn't want to be responsible for his total self-destruction if I should leave. And then there's a little shred of hope that one day, he will really turn things around and I would be the loser if I walked away.

Veg_girl, I don't know if you are in active counseling or not, but have you confronted him about the fact that he doesn't seem to change? I find that with my husband, he thinks he is moving heaven and earth to change, but in reality it's just not translating. It is heartening though, to know that he is at least thinking about the problem and trying to change. Although I only feel that way on a good day!

I agree with Szgrrl (and enjoyed reading your opinion as an ADDer). I try to hold my husband accountable but it just frustrates him. What method would you suggest to help hold him accountable?

great topic

I love the question posed here, have used "but he's one of the good guys" many times as a way to stay in the marriage, but need to think on it a little more.  I guess I must be someone who gives a lot of credit for "good intentions".  

Good intentions are part of the overall equation...

As an infamous ADDer, now almost three years into recovery/restoration mode, I've had a lifetime of "Good Intentions" that were mostly there and I can't say that I never intentionally broke a promise of course. This being said, there have been many times that I truly meant to do what I promised and got slammed with a statement telling me otherwise. I "LOVE" it when someone tells Me "What I Intended" to do or not do... My diagnosis explained so many things to me and the Adderall and re-working of my coping skills have helped tremendously. I agree with most of you that Good Intentions should only carry so much weight. It is not like I did not know my aptitude for forgetting or missing the deadline on a promise. It made me furious with myself, because Why would I Not do something that means a lot to someone I love or care about? I owned my mistakes and worked really hard to use every tool I could get my hands on the prevent these let downs. Notes, alarms, tasks, to-do's, calendars, asking others to remind me or what ever else would help. Now that I'm knowledgeable about my condition and Adderall helps level the playing field, I disappoint far less than the old days.

When people forget something regarding me, I'm pretty easy on them, because I KNOW what it feels like to be on the other end. The only thing that sucks in a marriage is when there is not balanced response to these disappointments. I often still get hammered when I do miss something, but I'm still easy in the reverse scenario. Surely this should get better when the whole ADDer in the Fog has been replaced by one who is not so much that guy anymore. I'm very patient and understand that changing her perception takes time. When IS enough time? The difference now is when I mess up and get hammered like the old days, I Don't curl up in the fetal position and take anymore. This leads to fights, of course, but if I were to treat my DW the same way she would defend herself for sure.

Overall... IMO Good Intentions count, but the bottom line weighs in as the overall most important thing to evaluate.