Defend, Deflect, Deny | It Happens Every Time (and I'm sick of it)

Please help!

I am the non-ADHD male, and my ADHD girlfriend of two plus years has me at wits end.

Our biggest struggles occur regarding her non-socially acceptable behavior.  She has interrupted me so many times it would make your head spin, including one time she actually covered my mouth in front of her friends to do so.  She also is "bossy", constantly giving advice when none has been asked for.  This is especially bad in regard to me parenting my 13 year old son.  (We are in our late 40s, and she has tow children in their early 20s.)  She also is very critical and will blurt out negative comments regarding almost every subject.

She has been diagnosed ADHD and recently has been put on Concerta.  She is scheduled to start some sort of CBT next week.  This will be her 2nd attempt at CBT, as the first therapist who claimed to be an expert was a disaster.  

Here is the main problem.  We are in a horrific cycle and I am now of the belief that she is simply rude and selfish, and its bringing me to anger and breaking my heart at the same time.  

Here is why.  We are in a pattern where the following happens:

1.  She will exhibit the bad social behavior.  As an example last night in public she was extermely rude to me and some friends of ours.  I was having a conversation with them and she came over, demanding that I drop the conversation to dance with her.  I objected an let her know she was interrupting and the request could wait.  She pulled me onto the dance floor and told me she didn't give a f*ck about the person I was talking to.  She then said why would I value that conversation more than I valued her.  Needless to say, our night went downhill from there.

2.  I let her know that she had (once again) acted on her ADHD impulses and had rudely interrupted.  She then went into what I now call her classic DEFLECT, DEFEND and DENY mode.  She denied she had been rude and that it was no big deal.  She DEFENDED her actions by saying that we were out and that I should value her more than the other couple I ws speaking with.  She then DEFLECTED the attention to my reaction, which candidly was my anger.  I've seen enough of this movie.  It happens over and over and over and my patience is gone.

3.  We had a huge blowup when we got home and it ended with us in different beds.  This morning she awoke with remorse, and apologized profusely.  At this point the apologies ring hollow.  If I had a dollar for every post-fight apology she has given to me, I'd be rich.

4.  I let her know, once again, that though I can deal with the ADHD tendency to not control the initial impulse to interrupt, blurt out, etc., I was sick and tired of the fact that she will DEFEND, DEFLECT and DENY after the impulsive action has been pointed out.  Unlike the impulsive action, at this point she has had time and feedback that she has stepped over a line.  Yet, she continues to dig in with her DEFEND, DEFLECT and DENY strategy.  To me, this shows me she has no empathy whatsoever for what she has done.  She only apologizes, in my eyes, at the end of an exhaustive argument to get out of "trouble".  It may take only a few minutes, or sometimes a week or two, but the pattern above repeats, like a horror movie.

She swears she "loves" me and my son.  I no longer believe her words and have told her so.  I have let her know that I think she loves the "idea" of me, the benefits of our relationship (lifestyle, attention, etc.) but she cannot understand or connect with the damage she does to me and my son.  Even if she does connect the dots, that knowledge is not enough to stop her from curbing her behavior and repeating her behavior over and over.

On my end, I feel like I fell in love with the idea of her.  Like many non-ADHD people, I received the hyper-focus of her attention early on.  She moved in after 5 months and we have lived together for 2+ years.  I thought I was dating a very unselfish person, but my reality is that her actions in so many occasions are selfish and rude that I cannot believe her anymore.  To be fair, she does some wonderful things as well, but these actions do not make up for the hurt and damage she inflicts on a daily basis.

In a quiet moment today, I let her know that if she did not live with me and we were just dating, I would no longer be asking her out on dates.  I would never let someone embarass and treat me as rudely as she has in public and still ask that person out.  

When we started dating, we both said we wanted a person who would be a servant to the other.  Maybe this was naive, who knows, but it is what we both said we wanted.

I have let her know her actions are like that of a waiter who does a horrible job.  Tell her the steak is burned and she will DENY she had anything to do with it, DEFEND that you do not know what a burned steak is and DEFLECT and say you ordered it that way.  She completely refuses to validate that the customer thinks the steak is burned and will fight her poisiton to the bitter end.

Her adult son has ADHD and he cannot keep a job, keep friends, steals what he thinks he deserves, etc.  She has "had it" with his behavior and is giving him tough love.  Essentially, she is no longer speaking to him until he gets his act together.  She can see this rudeness in him, and in a weird way can see it in herself, but its simply not enough to make her stop.

I feel like I am losing it.  I so want to believe she will change, but I am losing faith that she has it in her to stop the DEFEND, DEFLECT and DENY cycle.  She told me tonight she was very sorry, she loves me and she cannot believe the damage she has caused.  I am numb to those words...I have heard them too many times with no changes.

Someone please give me some practical advice.  I am on the verge of ending this relationship.  It has become a very toxic and sick cycle.  I feel stuck as she lives with me and though we are not married, it will still be like a divorce.    


It isn't personal

Hello. I recognize and sympathize with your difficult position. Her behavior is classic out of control ADHD. Still, it is totally consistent with the ADHD reality that her brain is wired to behave that way and she hasn't learned appropriate ways to control the symptoms. And defensiveness is in line with a life on constant criticism and anxiety. Basically she can't try harder or want her way to better behavior, she has to change the path. Hopefully the Concerta will help. CBT is a big benefit when the right therapist and right topics are addressed. ADHD folk can use up their sessions easily on lesser issues. You might try joint sessions as well.  Also simpler things like sleep, eating a diet of non processed, low glycemic foods, omega 3s, and exercise are hugely beneficial. I would guess her behavior is worse when she's tired, stressed, or had a couple drinks, or is hungry. I wish you and her the best of luck.

Decide what you will do

So sorry to hear about your crazy cycles. I have experienced similar things with my ADHD spouse, but they take a different form. The effect is the same though: his impulsive actions do damage, followed by his denial, deflection, anger, etc. 

I do not have ADHD, but have been married to an ADHD man for 14 years. He was diagnosed 2 years ago, after I spent months researching ADHD and "diagnosing" him and then encouraging him to seek treatment, which he eventually did. He was diagnosed and takes medication, which helps. I spent 2 years learning all that I can about ADHD so that I could help my husband and save our marriage. All of my attempts were a disaster and made him angrier and more distant.

I have finally accepted that there is absolutely nothing that I can do to "fix" him. He is who he is. He is a good man with lots of great qualities and I love him, but his behavior can be maddening at the least and extremely damaging and painful at the worst. What I have shifted my energy toward lately away from him and onto myself, by taking control of my life, my actions, and my plans. I know how his behavior can affect me and my kids because of our long history and these same cycles, so now focus on how I will handle situations, not how I can prevent them, change him, etc. I have begged, pleaded, compromised, and all the rest to no avail. 

In my experience, it is best to assume that nothing will change and act accordingly. Have your plan in place, which might include not going to social events with your girlfriend, or leaving the event if the behavior occurs. Once I shifted the focus back to me and what I will do, life has been much easier. I can control what I do and plan accordingly. Best of luck: it is tough, and I feel for you! If she wants to seek treatment and work on her own stuff, she will. You can't force it. You might want to seek therapy for yourself to deal with the stress of the relationship. I did (for about 6 months) and it helped tremendously. 

Beware of assigning character

Beware of assigning character labels to ADHD symptoms. People w ADHD don't lack empathy, they lack forethought and impulse control problems. Which can make apologies appear hollow,but they usually are quite sincere. It seems to me that you are holding onto a lot of anger and resentment, which is toxic to all relationships. Yes, you have a right to be treated well. Your wife does too. Empathy from the spouse re the myriad of ways ADHD impacts behavior is as critical as the ADHD person trying to manage and mitigate his or her symptoms. 


Your wife may or may not feel empathy but if she doesn't its not because of ADHD. There may be a co-morbid disorder such as high functioning autism, borderline personality disorder, sociopathology. My dh has no problem with empathy. He perhaps empathizes too much. The problem is that the empathy doesn't translate into behavior change. 

You have the right to be treated well now. You have the right to expect your wife to listen to your concerns and behave accordingly. We all do. I don't know what's keeping your wife from doing so. Depression, anxiety, no blueprint to follow. Remember, you are asking her to change a lifetime of poor coping habits developed because her brain is not like ours. Change requires executive function, which she lacks, making it even harder.

Perhaps with this round of counseling a blueprint can be developed. Milestones identified, timelines attached. She needs to feel she can try different approaches until she finds the best strategy that works for her. That may take awhile. But if you see concerted effort you might feel better too. If she doesn't make the effort then you have to decide if you really need that change or can accept her as she is. That is a personal decision to which there is no wrong answer.

carathrace's picture

I admire you.

That's all.  I do.  Best wishes to you.

Very Unhealthy/Dangereous relationship!

Regardless of are in a very unhealthy relationship...The post that said it's not's may not be intentional, but its definitely personal...I suggest you step away, It sounds just like the first 4 years of my marriage...and only after 11 months of separation and 10 months of counseling and praying along with several boundaries have we just began to live together in a somewhat peaceful and understanding manner...You're going to have to deal w/your anger and it's almost impossible with the behaviors you have listed above always present...If it is add/adhd it will always be the third person in your bed, home, car etc....It doesn't get better after marriage, so pray and think long and hard...If you decide to stay together, I suggest a Christian counselor who has dealt w/add/adhd....Blessing friend!

Two Bits

I really hesitate in making armchair diagnosis for character disorders but...I'm going to chime in here with one anyway only because I've been involved with a woman who was diagnosed with one.  After only reading a few of lines into your post I started to get a sick feeling in my stomach.  This is the same visceral reaction I got when I was with this old girlfriend.  If my gut is telling me's saying that ADHD is not the overwhelming issue here.  I second another poster in thinking you should look up borderline or histrionic behaviors and see what you think.  It frightens me just remembering my experience.  Please be careful if you suspect that this might be the case.  Getting into the relationship is easy with these folks.  Getting out is a whole different story.  You may need to talk to someone on ways to do it with the least amount of damage to yourself.

Take Care!!

See the same pattern

Sorry that you are going through this.  I don't have advice because I am bewildered by my DH.  He can be sweet and affectionate, and at the same time be very narcissistic.  Even when he is sweet, it is out of self centeredness with a result for himself.   I can't name a thing that he knows about what I'm doing in my life.   It's like there is no one there to share the intricacies of life.  It's lonely.

Yes, DH interrupts on a daily basis.  We just had a fight last night about him interrupting.  He does not own his part whatsoever and blames me for getting annoyed at the interruptions.  You described it so well with Defend, Deflect, Deny!   It is exactly how our issues go.  I wish I had a tape recorder to play back to him sometimes.

What I'm committed to do is 1) take care of myself and do what makes me happy, 2) maintain my friendships, 3) take care of my kids and give them consistency, 4) maintain a daily calendar for everyone, 5)  communicate exactly what I need from him, 6) try not to get angry...7) expect that the shoe will fall, 8) expect that he will have rebellious-like reactions and/or misguided anger, 9)  ask him before a party or get together to not talk about me (or it sometimes gets inappropriate or disparaging just because he is trying to be funny) 10) agree on a time to leave and "when it's time, it's time".

Another main thing I think will help me is to compartmentalize him.  I will not expect him to do a task from A to Z.   Then I will not expect him to carry out that task consistently.   For example, helping a child with homework containing several steps, and helping the child weekly with homework, then keeping track of the weekly homework over time in the school year.  

Whew...  I think the most he could handle is helping a child with homework containing maybe two steps before he is distracted into something else.  I don't ask him to help with homework much, but essentially, I ask him to sit with the child for that period of time to complete 1-2 steps.  Then I will come back to check where they are.  If they are done I make sure that it goes back into the child's backpack.

Thanks for he post and letting me "vent".


This is how I've resorted to living my life....

I've accepted that he spends

I've accepted that he spends a few minutes in the mornings and a few minutes in the evening (to say goodnite) with the kids most weekends when we're home. There is some interaction but it seems superficial at best. There is no such thing as having meaningful conversations as a family. It's all about talking about TV trivia for which none of us have any use for. The rest of the weekend time he sits in front of the TV, if he's not off taking long walks or exercising off on his own.

I still feel resentful but I have also thrown in the towel because every time I bring up the lack of interaction, he has the same responses - deflect/defend/deny. Lately it's taking what I say and throwing it back in my face. My depression is a result of living in an ADD/ADHD household, but he deflects by saying it's due to my mental baggage. I've extricated a great deal from my dysfunctional past. My current depression is not from my past upbringing, it's the current situation...