Engaged to Someone with ADHD - Part 2

I’ve written here before about how you might approach thinking about whether or not you should marry a person you know has ADHD (see this post), but there is a conversation going on in the forums now that makes we want to write further on the topic.

I can understand how reading the voices of the many desperate and unhappy people here would make anyone want to question whether they should get married.  But remember that the voices you do not hear here are those who have happy marriages with their ADHD spouse.  These people exist (I know many of them) and they would tell you many great things they get from their marriages.

The heart of the issue isn’t ADD per se.  It is really the very complex business of melding two lives together.  ADHD – because it is a different (and often unexpected) way of experiencing and understanding the world can seem like a foreign language - making the gaps between you harder to traverse.  But once you both understand the “language” of ADHD, you can both make the adjustments necessary to create a smooth translation between the ADHD partner’s viewpoint and the non-ADHD partner’s viewpoint.  Not only that but, having two “languages” in your relationship can make life much more interesting in many positive ways.

We have a tendency to believe that the institution of marriage will somehow make things better or different – we assume that financial burdens will be fewer, chores will be easier to get done with two sets of hands, we’ll feel happy on a daily basis.  We tend not to think about the other side of living with someone else – complexity.  It is harder to coordinate two schedules than one, we experience more complex emotions when we are dealing with another person whose responses we can’t control or even predict.  Financial priorities often don’t match up.  Some chores are more than doubled, depending upon the partners.  In order to deal with this complexity we need to have a really robust and healthy way of managing conflict.

I’m not just talking about arguments.  I’m talking about negotiations – what happens when one spouse leaves papers all over the kitchen and it drives the other one crazy?  What happens when one spouse doesn’t feel any urgency around doing household chores?  What happens when money is tight and one spouse wants to go on vacation anyway?

One marriage expert claims that he can tell you with 95% certainty whether or not you’ll stay married simply by observing your interactions around conflict.  Those with a preponderance of positive interactions will survive (respectful; positive tone even in conflict; acknowledge the needs of the other person; pre-determined ability to work through things without lingering resentment).

We have been raised with a series of “love conquers all” myths (think “Beauty and the Beast”, “Cinderella”, “Sleeping Beauty”, and any host of romantic movies you’ve seen lately).  Deep inside, many of us accept these myths in a way that makes us put aside some of the more unromantic sides of thinking about an impending marriage  – in particular, developing before marriage the sure-fire ways to manage your differences that will keep you married.  Not all couples can successfully develop these conflict-management techniques, so it’s best to know you have them in place before you get married.

If you read the forum post that inspired me to write this, you will find a couple with a “language barrier”, though it may not relate to ADHD.  It seems that in their enthusiasm, they haven’t completely worked through how they will negotiate her legitimate and important issues and fears.  The day you are married you need to be able to say “I love this person just as he is”, not “I love this person just as I expect he will be someday.”

It strikes me that this woman is stuck exactly in that difficult place between the “love conquers all” myth (wanting to believe it will all be fine) and the complexity of the reality of being together.  They have different priorities around cleanliness (she wouldn’t leave the Christmas tree up until April, nor would she cover her home in mess and papers) and money (he is less conservative with money than she is, perhaps because he has the ability to earn more).  Most important of all, though, is that she is still dealing with her emotional issues surrounding her divorce.  He wants to support her by being there for her, she feels she needs space to “figure it out”.

This particular relationship is a pretty short one (1.5 years total, of which 6 months has been engagement) and it seems to me that, barring religious or other reasons to not do so, both parties might benefit from remaining engaged but delaying the wedding and living together for a set time period (set a date 12- 24 months out?).

While it may be painful for him to accept that she is unsure, he may be able to handle her feelings better if he remembers that she has had a tough first marriage to a self-centered man who didn’t take her needs into consideration.  She seems unsure that a spouse will accommodate her concerns.  As disappointing as it may feel to delay the marriage, his responsiveness to her needs will underscore how he is different, and serve them both well.  If she is “uneasy” in her marriage she may run for the hills at the first sign of trouble (“oh, I thought I might be making a mistake…this proves it!”) rather than work from a position of confidence (“Every couple has issues that need to be worked out – good thing we know how to get through this!”) 

Living together will also give them an opportunity to find balance around chores.  This woman claims that she is “very efficient, but very busy making ends meet”.  This, combined with her description of how he lives, is a red flag for me.  In relationships in which one spouse is less aware of living areas than another, “efficient” spouses can take on too much responsibility, leading to resentment and problems.  This couple needs to find a balance around chores and duties that will give them confidence about their future together.  From what I’ve read in the post, I’m guessing they will be able to do so, but her fears are legitimate and need to be addressed.  Even though messiness isn’t a concern of his, the fact that it’s her concern (and big enough to consider cancelling a wedding!) makes it his concern by default.  His promises to do better when they live together are not the same thing as having a proven track record of doing better.  Again, it’s an important but very unsexy part of being a couple.

It's quite possible that these issues can’t be resolved before the current wedding date.  But plane tickets can be cancelled and arrangements can be made to visit relatives who might miss a future wedding – neither logistics nor momentum should determine whether or not you will marry.  Put another way, both members of this couple understand that plane tickets are much less expensive than divorce.

The good news here is that this is a couple that genuinely loves each other, and has much going for them – good jobs, an understanding of what a makes a bad marriage, an ability to cherish each other, etc.  She has unresolved emotional issues that come from her previous marriage that can be worked through with a good counselor.  He has issues around how he lives to which he needs to be more sensitive.  Hopefully the conversations they will have around her nervousness and his living habits will help them start to build the bridges they need to build between his more romantic, spontaneous nature and her more cautious one.  But conversations remain theoretical by their nature.  Living together puts actions behind the words – and action is what confidence is built upon.

The next few weeks will be a test of each person’s sensitivity toward the other – yes, these conversations may hurt…but they probably need to happen for this marriage to work out successfully.  Resolution will help both partners approach their wedding day (whenever it may be) with greater clarity and confidence.

An added thought (word of caution) - please remember that you cannot predict another's response to any action you take.  So, in this case, the fiance may be so hurt or offended by the woman's need to delay the wedding that he will not be able to remain in the relationship.  Or, he may be relieved and welcome the idea because it makes sense to him.  The way to determine whether or not to start talking about delaying a wedding is to look inside yourself and look to see what you need, not to try to anticipate how the other person might respond...or to assume that they'll respond either as you expect or wish.


Unless the other person has

Unless the other person has demonstrated gainful employment for 2+ years and the ability to live  successfully on their own without help and/or is properly managing their ADD beforehand I would run like the wind.

Learning a language requires that the language consist of some sort of logic or meaning. I've found, and I don't think I'm alone, that the language of ADD does not contain logic or reason. And if there is any meaning it requires the Non ADDer to have the ability to read minds and perform painful brain gymnastics to figure out why the phrase "My green shirt looks faded" was the answer to the very basic question of "What time is it?"

It is one thing when finances are tight and one spouse wants to go on vacation. It is another when finances are tight because that one spouse seems to go through jobs like water and then while searching for work on the internet sees an ad for Disney and decides because he saw money in the bank , what the hell not, and books a 5 day vacation mean while he with glee and love in his eyes "suprises" you with said vacation while the rent is bouncing.

The flipside

I can see your point of view, Ki; having ADHD myself, I am certain I have frustrated my partner with non-answers to reasonable questions and forgetting of reasonable requests. I try the usual tactics - lists, post-its, phone alarms - and they work most if not all the time. He accepts it, and I in turn accept his quirks: his indecisiveness over small issues (like what to eat for dinner or what tie to wear) or his willingness to stick with a situation that makes him unhappy. We are all flawed, and if we are to live harmoniously as couples we have to be willing to counter some of what we perceive as our partner's flaws with our own strengths. Mine helps me organize and locate stability; I help him relax and overcome inertia. Logic and reason are important, but so are creativity and spontaneity. For two people who lean toward opposite ends of this spectrum, compromise can improve both of their lives. Indeed, many of my friends with ADHD and their non-ADHD spouses find the balance energizing. To be clear, I think you're right in many respects; it is a bad idea to stay with someone who repeats mistakes and risks your peace of mind over and over again without making a reasonable attempt to modify his or her behavior. In fact, it's co-dependence. But the idea that the logical and reasonable non-ADHD spouse is the only one trying to read minds and perform painful brain gymnastics is inaccurate. The feeling of having to "read minds" is common in just about any relationship, romantic or otherwise, and in a society that perceives ADHD symptoms as signs of laziness or selfishness, folks with ADHD are expected to perform uncomfortable and unnatural "brain gymnastics" to fit in as a matter of course. Furthermore, the "language of ADHD" generally describes behaviors that are indeed logical, patterned, and predictable. Example: People with ADHD often perceive time not as continuous but as "now" vs. "later." Thus, a big project due "later" does not necessarily need to be started "now." Is waiting to start a big project wise? Hardly, but there is a kind of logic (at least, the kind of logic connoted as "reasonable inference") behind it. A keen boss who values her ADHD employee's creativity might address this alternative logic by helping her employee set incremental deadlines, thus rendering the amorphous "later" a series of comprehensible "nows." Similarly, a spouse who understands Dr. Hallowell's "the itch at the core of ADHD" can likely determine why "I just signed up for a rock climbing class!" is an answer to the very basic question of "How was work?" ADHD translation: "Work was boring, so let's talk about my latest exciting, new activity!" The language of ADHD may not be linear, but in many cases it does have a logic that can be followed easily by those with basic knowledge of the ADHD mind. In any relationship it takes time for us to understand another person's point of view sufficiently to apprehend the logic of his or her behaviors and responses, particularly when those behaviors/responses are very different from our own.
StopInterrupting's picture


Wrong.  The heart of the issue” IS ADD.  Forget all the pie in the sky gibberish about the ADD partner bringing a "creative" side to the marriage.  That wears thin really fast.  Be prepared to follow after your partner and make sure she or he has turned off the stove or oven after cooking, removed the keys from the front door after entering, locked the door behind her or him, turned off the TV when done watching, etc., filled up gas tank when it's empty.  Be prepared to endure CONSTANT interruptions while talking (they “can’t help it.”).  Be prepared to avoid discussing any stressful topic for fear of “overwhelming” your spouse and setting off an angry meltdown.   Be prepared to be the bad guy in the marriage whenever you understandably lose your patience at having to be the "grown up" in the marriage.  In short, be prepared to be EXHAUSTED!!  ADD is the biggest excuse for not trying that ever was.  It’s also the greatest burden you will ever accept.  Anyone here with ADD who is offended by this post needs to shut up and realize what a burden their “disorder” is for the rest of us.  I love my wife, but the ONLY reason I'm still in it is because she realized what hell she has put me through.

Oh boy, can I relate!

Thank goodness, I have found this site.  I thought I was the only one going out of my mind.  I am the non-ADD partner in a 5 1/2 yr relationship.  He is 48 and diagnosed only this year, and it was  at my insistence.  The medication has worked wonders, but there is still soooo much more to work on.  How do you deal with someone driving down a freeway and then reducing vehicle speed to 1/2 to "look at a hawk on the light standard"???? DUH! There is traffic around and they DON'T know your situation!!!  This is dangerous. How do you deal with someone so unaware of his surroundings? It is just the tip of the iceberg.  I feel like I am also parenting, because someone has to be the responsible one in this arrangement and look after bills, the house and so on. I haven't married him, because I just can't take it anymore.  In 5 years he has had 5 jobs, and the pattern just keeps repeating. 

I don't know if its coincidence or not, but he now realizes what he has put me through and I feel like running away ....  

Reply to Sabatine

"I don't know if its coincidence or not, but he now realizes what he has put me through and I feel like running away .... "


I'm sure you've found this to be common and you will read about this pattern of events in many stories here.  In my opinion, it's your distance that precluded your inclination to end it all that led him to get off his duff and start trying to change.  Many ADD'ers will claim that the series of events just the opposite, but I have my doubts owing to my experiences with my husband.  He has "changed" his habits SOLELY after I threw him out or after he sensed that I was about to leave.  No one picks up and leaves a long term relationship in a day's consideration.  For months prior to that day you leave, you were cutting off.  It would manifest itself in many ways, such as your eventual refusal to handle the ADD'er's life for them any longer.  It would show up when you STOP having to scream at them to follow through when you need them, because you've decided to not need them for anything any longer.

In my case and as I've read here in other cases, it's this pending threat of abandonment that makes the ADD'er "suddenly" realize how much pain they've caused.   It's only then that the ADD'er will start claiming that their spouse left "right after" they started to apply effort.  Once again, the ADD'er will discount and "not remember" all of their previous promises to change, followed by 2 days of effort and another year of no effort in which their partner did not leave.  You can see this cycle also in the stories of the spouses and partners of ADD'ers who did not leave. They have repeated tales of a never-ending cycle of promises to change and then slipping right back to what they were as soon as the threat passed. 

It took a revelation of a murder-suicide ideation (from me) to get my husband to seek diagnosis and treatment for his ADHD. All previous incidents of crying, numbness, evictions, abandonment and the like never registered with him.  He sought help only after I disclosed to him that it occurred to me that if I ever did commit suicide, I'd have to take him out with me, because there was no way I could leave care of our son to him.  I was certain that our son would be dead within the year if I did.  The reason I was even considering this permanent exit was because I knew that as soon as I appeared remotely happy again, my husband would go right back to his broken promises and his obsessive video game playing and not giving a damn about me and our son.  So, I told him, I realized that the only way for me to gain any cooperation from him was to be so utterly miserable that I didn't get out of bed.  It's no way to live, so I wasn't sure I could continue living that way.

With his own life potentially threatened if I slipped into any more depression, he suddenly found treatment for himself. He "suddenly" realized all of the tremendous pain he'd caused me for so many years.   I'm used to my husband acting whenever HE may face serious consequences.  When anyone else faces them, including our son, there is no effort made.





engaged to someone with add??

If you suspect your fiancee or bf has add...educate yourself and realize and accept that there WILL definitely be issues for you to deal with in married life. Yes I am sure there are successful add marriages...just be prepared and know what you are getting into. If it something you feel like you can't handle..save yourself the energy and move  on no matter how much you may love the person. Also consider your personality....how do you react to certain situations or conflicts? Are you a secure person? Do you have patience? Are you and understanding/ forgiving person?!?

Cut them some slack......

ADD is a disorder not a crutch, at least not for my "man".....think about this: How may of us can claim an MBA and MD by our late 20's and live on our own, without debt, and have a give-you-the-shirt-off-your-back mentality? Marriage is about choices. Relationships are about negotiation and forgiveness; ADD or not. A good marriage is made up of two good forgivers. So, just because someone has ADD does not disqualify him/her from love and support. Remember the 'Golden Rule'...'do unto others'......and there's more happiness in giving than receiving! If you don't have ADD why not pick up the slack around the house? So what if he leaves the toilet seat up or she squeezes the tooth paste from the middle of the tube? My first husband had terminal cancer at age 42, trust  me if he leaves his keys in the door...what of it?? Count your blessings...it beats sitting with him for chemo! I'll talke my new man and his ADD any day over the suffering I had with my late husband (to no fault of his own....)