Embarrassment in Social Situations

Are you embarrassed when your ADD spouse takes over a conversation at a party, and doesn’t notice when his audience winces or starts to yawn?  People with ADD often have more difficulty reading emotional cues than those without, and this can cause some interesting moments both socially, and even between just the two of you at home.  What to do?

First, understand that you and your spouse do not “receive” emotional input in the same way.  Think about all of the emotional input that you can easily read – a certain type of baby cry means frustration, while a different one means pain and danger; a slight inflection in a sentence means that the person with whom you are speaking is becoming irritated and you need to stop pursuing what you were saying or risk an argument; or that few situations are appropriate for hurtful sarcasm.  You don’t really think about it when you are faced with situations where your gut tells you to change direction…you just read the signal and respond accordingly.

But what would it be like if you didn’t “hear” that signal most of the time?  What would it be like if you couldn’t differentiate between the “this is war” and the “I’m alerting you to the fact that my blood pressure is going up, but you’re not in trouble yet” version of your spouse’s statement “I’m starting to get angry”?

Personally, I think this would be a terrible position in which to be!  Reading your audience’s response is a sort of mental and social agility that I used to take for granted…until I started living with someone who sometimes lacked it, or, in this case, used to lack it.

That’s the good news.  If your ADD spouse has trouble reading emotional cues, he (or she) can teach himself how to do so better.  Here’s a path to take to aid in this learning:

  1. Both spouses need to understand that this is an ADD symptom.  Also, the ADD spouse needs to trust the non-ADD spouse that there is a problem.  In other words, a person with trouble reading emotional cues is not the best judge of whether or not people are sending emotional cues their way.
  2. Determine whether or not this is an ADD symptom that is really problematic, or just somewhat annoying.  Is it something that is so destructive for either the ADD spouse (as in he’s in trouble at his job because he doesn’t respond appropriately at work, and is getting criticized for it at review time) or for the non-ADD spouse (as in it’s affecting how she thinks about her spouse in a very negative way) then it’s worth working on
  3. In that case, jointly set up a system that notifies the ADD spouse when there is a cue that they are not seeing.  Note, it is important that both spouses agree to this, else it’s just offensive “butting in” by the non-ADD spouse.  So, perhaps it is a touch on the arm, or a sentence (“Honey, I need to talk to you for a moment”) or an agreement that if your non-ADD spouse changes the subject on you, you won’t change it back or get angry.  Whatever you both think will work to notify the ADD spouse that they are in a situation that they aren’t reading correctly.
  4. Both spouses should then try to remember the situation, so that they can talk about it a bit later in private.  Again, this takes some trust, as the spouses will likely have been reading the situation quite differently (which, of course, is the heart of the issue in the first place!)

The goal is for the ADD spouse to learn what he was missing in the situation, so that he might recognize it in the future.  It is NOT to upbraid him for missing it this time, or make him feel bad about it.  Reading emotions is a skill – one that takes longer for people with ADD to learn than for people without ADD, but it is only that – a skill.  As such, constructive and supportive comments are the best approach.  Here’s a way to think about the role of the non-ADD spouse in a way that might relieve some of the tension that will be natural when one spouse is critiquing the other’s behavior – have the non-ADD spouse think of herself as a really great coach…one that is supportive, thoughtful, and never condescending, but who also trusts the athlete to try to apply the coaching in the future to improve performance.

I am happy to report that this really works.  My husband (without really even realizing it) has become much more receptive to the hidden signals sent to him at emotional cues after we put the sytem above to work (and, importantly, after he learned to trust that I wasn't judging him when I commented on awkward situations he didn't see).  Several people have commented about successfully using cues in social situations with their spouses in the forum.  One who comments on this, and also has other good points to make about accepting your ADD spouse is in the forum discussion at this link: (read "Been There, Done That" in this forum discussion)


reading social cues

This is a very relevant topic to me (and I believe my husband also). I myself have ADHD and am hyperverbal in one on one type situations. My trouble isn't usually in recognizing that I need to slow down or taper off (I'm quite sensitive to non-verbal cues), but how to do that without seeming socially awkward or abrupt. Medicine has helped me with the ability to cease, but not with how to do so appropriately. It seems like I just keep going and going, despite having it in the back of my head that I need to quit. If I can make myself stop, the person I'm talking to often seems like they don't know where to pick up or how to respond, and either discontinues conversation with me altogether or changes the topic. In these situations, my husband isn't around, so I usually just end up saying sorry or make fun of myself to the person (depending on . Later, when I'm alone, all the verbal and non-verbal responses during the conversation flash before me and I get really upset and embarrassed at myself. Thankfully, my close friends are understanding, and will tell me or interrupt me if I'm going overboard, but with others it's very hard. The self-depreciating behavior isn't helpful, but I don't know what to do to change.

Because I'm more introverted, I usually take the role of a passive listener/observer in group situations, a totally different dynamic. I used to have trouble focusing on any conversation before I got on meds several months ago, but since then, have been able to enjoy hearing others in more social environments and chime in from time to time appropriately, with relatively low stress.

My husband, who also may have ADD to an extent (but is unwilling to admit it or seek help if so), isn't "hyperverbal," but does overwhelm his audience with information. The difference is, he doesn't realize he's dominating the conversation and later says things like, "why wasn't anyone else talking?" As someone who doesn't really like to call attention to myself or steer conversation in group situations, I haven't usually been able to help him. I don't even know if he wants help. However, as a member of the group, I get tired of his constant rebuttals to others comments and non-stop stream of factual info, but don't know how to tell him (or even approach the topic at home) without hurting his feelings/angering him. When he and I are alone and having a conversation, it can also be challenging for me, particularly when my medicine has worn off. I lose my patience and bail out, interrupt, or start in with the impulsive attack comments. I try to listen, but sometimes it's too much! When I try to tell him so, he just slows down even more and repeats himself... You can probably imagine how well that goes... He is a very warm-hearted, likable person (everyone says so), but for whatever reason finds himself without close friendships. I think if I could somehow help him understand and/or assist him, he might find more success in deepening his friendships (as well as strengthening ours).

talking too much

when you find yourself talking too much, perhaps you can help "redirect" the conversation by inserting the words "what do you think?" and then staying quiet for a second. People always like to be asked their opinion, and rarely find it awkward to answer that question. You'll probably find that your conversation end up being more interesting to you, also, because they will start to have a more consistent thread to them. As for your husband, it's generally boring to listen to someone expound for too long. It's also boring to hear someone go into excruciating detail about things that aren't all that interesting to the listener. Non-stop rebuttals, as you describe them, and overwhelming people with facts, may show a social insensitivity. It's hard to get around this one, and you are right to be sensitive to the fact that confronting him may hurt his feelings. On the other hand, his approach to conversation may be why he doesn't have too many friends - he's not really showing anyone that he's interested in them if he converses this way, and friendship, like love, is a two-way street. Perhaps a way to address this would be to go to a listening or communications workshop together, or to read a good book on the subject (one was written by one of the best listeners I know,Rebecca Shafir, and is called The Zen of Listening). If this doesn't work for you, consider practicing listening to each other - say 15-20 minutes a day of time when you are focused on each other, listen to whatever is on the other's mind, and ask questions such as "does that mean XXX?" and "I think I heard you say YYY, am I right"? You'll feel closer, and the practice will stand you in good stead in more social situations.

This is hard for me.

I have a really bad habit of butting in a conversation. Since taking Medicine I notice My habit of butting in and the reaction on there face. I can see the look they give me. I usally say I am sorry . I am trying to catch myself from butting in a conversation. this is so hard to catch your self. I do notice when there are other people who do the same thing i do. My husband usally gives me a look of slow down or Says your trying to be like your Head of The United Nations or UN.

Ding Ding Ding

I don't have TACT, and I usually know if what I said was good or bad by whether or not there is a "ha ha ha" or a "gasp"

My wife gets soooooo embarresd by me in public.

The 4 days that Addarrall worked for me, I actually had a filter in my brain. For the 1st time, I was able to go "That wont be good to say" and I didn't say it. It was actually a really weird feeling for me.

Now that the drugs don't work, I just go back to the "ha ha ha" or the "gasp"