I have ADHD. I was diagnosed very early, and it pretty much screwed any chance at a wholesome family dynamic; everything got twisted, and I know now that as a result, my emotional dependency needs were insufficiently met, which left me filled with shame, anger, pain, resentment, contempt, and more shame. By the time I was 25 I had accumulated layers and layers of defense mechanisms built to ward off anyone trying to hassle me, and I spent my days playing video games, moving back home when life got too hard, and generally aiming for contentment and relief over genuine happiness in the firm belief that it was the absolute best I could hope for.
Then I met an amazing girl who I fell madly in love with, things went well, and we got married. She didn't care that I was mostly unemployed, because she had a very good job, and I took care of her emotional well-being, which had been severely traumatized by a childhood spent in a pentecostal cult and a five-year stilted relationship with a controlling asshole.
Our relationship thrived because we so completely filled in each others' gaps, or as Jackson Browne so beautifully put it, "We filled in the missing colors in each others' paint-by-number dreams."
There were ups and downs, but we were solid. We made our friends sick by how in love we were.
Then, in the spring of 2011, my wife became pregnant, and since my wife was the breadwinner, it fell to me to be the 'stay-at-home dad' (I hate that term, nobody ever talks about stay-at-home moms). As the reality of the situation sank in, I started to panic.
I've never been functional enough to hold a job down more than six months. I was barely able to keep the house from becoming a disaster area, so how could I take it on 'faith' that I would have it in me to care for a baby?! It was time to fix my life (though, as it turned out, taking care of the baby was something that was seemingly built-in. I never felt heavy about changing a diaper, but I still had trouble doing stuff for my wife. That pissed her off to no end).
I got a therapist and a psychiatrist, started taking meds again, and it started off well. My therapist helped me work through a lot of the emotional baggage I was carrying around with me from my troubled childhood, and I improved my relationship with my parents, which was amazing. Getting through that took about four months, give or take.
At this point, looking back, I have surmised that every day that brought the due date nearer brought my wife closer to what was (to her) an awful truth: The best person to be the primary caregiver for her baby was her, but it wasn't going to be her, it was going to be her amiable stumblebum husband. That's not how it should be!! Sure, I was trying to get my act together, but what guarantee was there? Slowly, a white-hot resentment began to form beneath her consciousness (her mother is the queen of denial, and my wife has inherited the unfortunate habit of pretending things are other than they are without really realizing it until a crisis is looming).
I was, of course, COMPLETELY OBLIVIOUS to this. I'm sure there were warning signs that she was distancing herself, but I was digging deeper and deeper into my own head, trying to find some sense of clarity that would allow me to get past the stumbling blocks I had always struggled with, and this had the unfortunate side effect of shifting my focus away from 'us', and onto 'me'. Months later, my wife's favorite line to stick me with was, "It's not all about YOU!" Bleh.
Unfortunately, once my therapist had helped me deal with my emotional problems, and the focus shifted to helping me become functional, she wasn't effective. At all. As Dr. Russell Barkley said in a lecture on ADHD (paraphrased), "Conventional psychotherapy doesn't work! Once they leave your office, whatever you told them to do is gone!" I remained oblivious, going further and further down the rabbit hole of introspection, while my wife distanced herself emotionally. We began to fight, and the weekly therapy went on for another year, with very little return for the investment.
After our son was born, the fighting worsened, and she began to lean on me, hard. She made it clear that she believed that I was capable of being functional, I just didn't want to try, didn't want to do the 'hard work', didn't care enough, blah blah blah. So our fights became about either her being pissed that her needs weren't being met, or me trying to convince her that she was wrong about what I was capable of, that personal growth on the scale of what I was attempting was difficult, and time consuming, blah blah blah. And all the while, that knot of resentment and anger that she was denied the opportunity to care for her baby grew and grew.
For my part, looking back I realize that the only effect the therapy had was to help me shove my head firmly up my own ass. Being severely ADHD, I had very little control over my reactions to her barbs, and my defense mechanisms were working overtime, but they were really working against me, because my defense mechanisms aren't interested in my thoughts or my desires. They are only interested in deflecting blame, manipulating conversations, throwing up smokescreens, applying liberal amounts of repression and denial, and displacing my inner frustration onto external targets (of which there was exactly one). For the year and a half that our marriage slowly ground to a halt, I think it's fair to say that I spent fourteen months of that time not knowing what the problem was, being ruled by my unconscious defenses, and trying to pull my head out of my ass. I also think it's fair to say that the constant bickering and fighting was a constant distraction, more noise in my head, making it harder for me to focus on self-improvement.
For my wife's part, and this is cobbled together from things she said and things I keenly suspect, her contribution to the downfall of our marriage was thus:
1. She was absolutely positively certain that I had been sandbagging for our entire marriage, that I could do so much more but didn't want to, and she would not be convinced otherwise, no matter how many times I carefully explained what I thought she already knew about ADHD. She would say things like, "Why can't you be more considerate?" which made me want to tear my hair out in frustration. All the emotional baggage from my family that I dumped in therapy I gained back during the last year of my marriage. But no matter what I said, she could always stop me cold by saying something to the effect of, "you're all words and no action, it's actions that matter." I had no actions, and my defenses were working overtime to drown her in words. She was wrong, dead wrong, but my wife is one of those 'black or white, all or nothing' people, and she would not be moved.
2. I think her certainty that I was sandbagging stemmed largely from the resentment and anger and hurt feelings she built up and repressed over me being the primary caregiver instead of her. She had a clear picture of what life 'should' be like, and it was inordinately unfair and crass of me to force her into such a position. I think in her mind it became not 'why can't you improve?', but rather 'you are my husband, so you SHOULD be functional, you SHOULD be supporting us financially, you SHOULD have a better handle on your ADHD than you do, therefore YOU AREN'T TRYING HARD ENOUGH, YOU DON'T WANT IT ENOUGH, blah blah blah. If her go-to catchphrase was 'it's not all about YOU', mine became, "I don't know from 'should'. I deal in what 'is'." All those negative emotions mixed together and suppressed turned toxic, and poisoned her image of who I was. That's what makes sense to me.
3. My wife is an accountant, and so her ire was greatly increased at the thought of all the money she'd doled out for therapy with nothing to show for it. After I realized what was going on and quit going to therapy, she was completely burned on therapy of any stripe, so even when I found a kind of therapy that I knew would be effective, she refused to throw good money after bad. I didn't know what I was doing. Let that be engraved upon my tombstone.
4. It took me a VERY LONG TIME to come to terms with the 'maternal instinct'. She would say some damn fool thing like, "be sure you use a different sponge to clean off the bottles than you do to clean off the regular dishes," which might make sense if I didn't also zap everything in the microwave for ten minutes in a steam bath, which would kill anything that might have been clinging to the sponge, so I protested. She would not be moved, and repeated her instructions, which made me crazy because it didn't make a damn bit of sense, so we'd have a fight. There were lots of little things like that, that anyone could plainly see were just asinine, but my wife would break down and cry and make me feel bad for her not getting to care for her baby during the day, so I'd grumblingly do it (forgetting when I knew she wouldn't know). I know that my constant backbiting in the face of these NECESSARY things increased her resentment. "Not only is this jackass responsible for my not being able to raise my own baby, but he's refusing to do it the right way (that being the way I would do it, of course)."
Just for the edification of any guy out there who doesn't yet have kids: the 'maternal instinct' is a little red light buried deep inside the mother's nervous system, and when it detects a 'risk' to the baby, the red light goes on, and screams AAAAAAHHHH, YOUR BABY IS IN TERRIBLE DANGER!!! After that red light goes on, guys, it will not go off again until the 'threat' is addressed, no matter how stupid or pointless it seems to you, and until that light goes off again, you will have no peace. Your usual ADHD knee-jerk response of, "What? I will not, that's stupid and pointless!" will get you nothing but an enraged mama bear leaning on your windpipe.
5.(I'll get into this towards the end, just letting you know there's a fifth item.)
So, where was I? Oh yes. As I said, I didn't figure out what the problem was until it was far too late. The problem (on my end) was my defense mechanisms, which are sort of like the maternal instinct in that when they detect a possible source of anxiety, they act immediately, automatically, and unconsciously to get rid of the source of the anxiety (someone making you feel ashamed, trying to get you to do stuff when you just can't, someone repeatedly interrupting your focus, etc.). By the time I was starting to become aware of when they were triggering, I was still helpless to stop myself from acting. As someone put it on another forum, 'it was like watching the slow-motion car crash of my life'.
I would promise myself that I wasn't going to talk to her anymore on a given night, and five minutes later, there was something I just couldn't live without saying to her. And it was usually a load of bullshit, but it was coming out of my mouth, and only when I'd look back and think about what I'd said did I realize hey, that was manipulative. I'd go back and say, "Hey, I'm sorry for that shit I just said, I didn't mean it," but my credibility was shot by that point, and taking back the words can't take back the emotions they engender.
So she left. She did it matter-of-factly, and set her plans in motion as if she'd had them already prepared. She was gone two weeks later, leaving me alone, in our apartment, with the majority of our stuff, bills paid through the end of the month, and a $30 a week allowance to help me get on my feet. I sank into a black depression, and didn't rouse from it for two weeks, most likely because I couldn't afford my exhorbitantly-priced meds, and my wife steadfastly refused to pay for them.
I couldn't make myself find work. I tried as hard as I could to best my old enemy, 'job hunting', but he wore me down with heaviness and the compulsion to find distraction, and I was stuck, with no marketable skills and a five-year gap on my resume. The end of the month arrived, and there was no escaping the inevitable: I moved back home. There was no place else for me to go. My folks were pissed (even now, they have a better relationship with my soon-to-be ex wife than they do with me), but what could they do? The real bitch of the situation was that now I live 360 miles away from my little boy, who I cared for every day for a year and a half. I see him three or four times a week on video chat, and he gets the odd weekend vacation at my place, but it's a damn far cry from how it used to be, and I know that has to be stressing him out, and probably hurting his development.
For a long time, I was so angry with her. How dare she excise me from her life and consign me to this fate (she maintains that I could have found work and stayed near my son, if I had wanted to enough. RAGERAGERAGE). Ever seen 'Saved'? "So everything that doesn't fit into some stupid idea of what life should be like you just try to ignore (denial) or fix (pressuring me to live up to her expectations) or get rid of?" So now she has her perfect life, her perfect baby, and her perfect clean apartment, and everything in her life that was messy or inconvenient is just gone. Must be nice to just give up on your marriage, and since you hold all the cards, you get to have it all your way! I was so angry.
But now I have some clarity. Since I've moved back home, I have worked hard to better myself and continue down the path of personal growth I set for myself initially, and its amazing what you can accomplish when no one is constantly telling you that you are 'capable of more than you give yourself credit for', whatever that is supposed to mean (it seems vaguely insulting to me). I am much more functional now, and more importantly, I am slowly becoming the master of my unconscious mind. Disarming my entrenched defense mechanisms is not pleasant, but I lean into the pain. It's worth it to not constantly mouth off without thinking. I don't leave messes around the house, I do housework and cook, and I am much better about keeping my commitments and my promises. I've taken my grandmother to her hair appointment and picked her up on time seven weeks running (HUGE accomplishment for me- time was I would have been totally incapable of such a feat). I am confident that I am now able to meet most of my wife's needs that I was not meeting before, due to constantly running back and forth from trying to fix myself to trying to fix my relationship (youc an't do both at once, it will make you crazy, don't try).
Which brings me to point number 5 from before. This last piece of information I learned from a class I had to take called 'Helping Children Cope with Divorce'. It concerns the nature of love.
Love is an extension of what psychologists call the 'Arousal-Relaxation Cycle'. It goes like this:
"Husband dear, would you please fix dinner tonight, my dawgs are barking!" (A NEED is expressed)
The husband hears his wife's need, and he immediately responds to the need (because he loves her, he will do his utmost to meet every need she expresses). "I'd be happy to." (The NEED provokes AROUSAL (not that kind))
The husband starts working in the kitchen, and a delicious smell wafts into the living room. (The AROUSAL produces the motivation to see that the NEED is MET)
The wife smiles to herself. One less thing to worry about! (Now that the NEED is MET, she who expressed the NEED experiences a sense of RELAXATION)
Any break in the cycle causes she who expressed the need to suffer anxiety. If the husband doesn't hear her, or doesn't respond, then her NEED did not produce the desired AROUSAL, and the cycle is broken. If the husband for some reason refuses to MEET the NEED, then the cycle is broken.
It shouldn't take a rocket scientist to see how ADHD can cause havoc with this simple process. Let's look at the cycle again, this time with the husband having ADHD:
"Husband dear, would you please fix dinner tonight, my dawgs are barking!" (A NEED is expressed)
The husband, while plainly within earshot, does not respond because he is concentrating on writing a letter to the housing authority and her plea doesn't penetrate his awareness. (The NEED does not provoke AROUSAL, therefore she who expressed the need suffers anxiety) How could he not have heard me? Is he ignoring me? Why would he ignore me? The lazy bastard must not want to make dinner.
After calling his name several times, the wife finally manages to get her husband's attention by throwing a shoe at him. She repeats her request, although now her tone is snippy. "What is wrong with you? I asked if you would go make dinner." (AROUSAL is finally provoked after several failed attempts, each one causing the wife to feel more and more anxious)
The husband shoots back a knee-jerk reaction to her snippy tone that doesn't get filtered through his brain. "What's wrong with me? What's wrong with you? Why did you hit me with a shoe, for chrissakes? Just because you had a crappy day doesn't mean you get to take it out on me." The husband didn't really mean to come across the way he did, but he might as well have thrown the shoe back at her. The fact that she had asked him to cook dinner is gone from his mind, all he's focused on is how bitchy she's being, and how unfair that is. They bicker for several more minutes, and finally the wife yells, "FINE! I'll make dinner. You just sit there and write your stupid letter, I don't care!" The wife storms into the kitchen. (The NEED is not MET, so instead of feeling relaxed, the wife is highly pissed, and her husband is confused about why they were arguing in the first place)
Even though the wife probably isn't consciously thinking it, somewhere in her unconscious, a little voice is saying, "He doesn't really love me, or he would have agreed to make dinner the first time I asked." That little voice doesn't know from logic or reason, all it knows is what feels true. When your wife looks at you uncomprehendingly when you say something like, "Baby, I would do anything for you, but sometimes I just can't," that little voice is why she doesn't understand. This underlines a point that has been written about a lot on this site: If marriage between an ADHDer and a non-ADHDer is going to work, it's going to require effort on both parts- the ADHDer has to make an effort to find ways to cope with his condition, and the non-ADHDer has to find a way to empathize with the plight of the ADHDer, so that when something like the scenario up above happens, they can understand what's going on and not get upset at the ADHDer for something that isn't his fault. Above all else, both parties have to be on the same page.
So when I looked at the smoking ruin of my marriage in these terms, it is evident to me that neither of us maligned the other intentionally, we were victims of our defense mechanisms- mine tried to get me out of my responsibilities and hers buried her head in layers of denial, painting a picture of how life should be, and justifying her negative emotions stemming from the fact that life wasn't how it ought to be. We were both unreasonable in our expectations, and neither of us would back down from our respective points of view. Perception is reality, guys. It sucks, but it's true. She shut me out because she gave up hope that our relationship would ever recover, and it was bad for our son to be around such conflict, and she was right to do so, however much I cringe to say it. She did the right thing.
So now I am not angry at her, because she didn't know what she was doing either. I know she still loves me, I can see it in her eyes when she looks at me; I can feel it in my bones. She can tell herself she doesn't love me anymore, but I have to believe that she's lying to herself- she tends to deny reality when she can't deal with it. She was trapped in a corner and she had to escape, and I understand that, and I hold no grudges. I was out of control. Now I want to set the record straight and try to rebuild upon the foundation of our relationship, which has always been strong, even when times were bad we found ways to connect meaningfully. I just have no idea how to go about it, and I'm terrified I'll screw up this scrap of a chance, if it even exists.
It's late, and I'm tired, so I'm just gonna send this out without much proofreading, so my apologies if some of it doesn't make any sense. If anyone out there has come back from a similar predicament, or has any insight into how I should go about attempting reconciliation, please share it with me. You have my unbounded gratitude in advance. ~Fake