Feeling Alone and Hopeless in an ADHD Relationship

I was moved by this recently posted comment:

"So much good advice but how do I get my husband to read with me or even try?
I am so alone and I honestly don't know where to turn. I can't leave due to finances and no where to go. I don't know if it would be right to call an abuse hotline, because he is just verbally abusive.
Learning more about the ADD mind is helping a little. Just no where to turn."

First, you are not alone!  There are many, many people out there who are in the same situation that you are in – feeling isolated in a relationship affected by ADHD, feeling as if they somehow didn’t get what they had bargained for in their marriage – that it all has been an ugly surprise.

Many areas have free adult ADHD support groups.  I hear over and over again that just knowing that others share your issues is helpful and that a good support group can be therapeutic.  Here are some good resources for finding a support group in your area:

Second, you do not have to accept the verbal abuse.  In fact, as you are probably aware, being in a pattern of verbal abuse is very damaging to your health.  I’ve mentioned Steven Stosny before in this blog before because I found his book “You Don’t Have to Take it Anymore” very helpful for putting the anger, resentment and emotional abuse that was happening in my own relationship into perspective.  He provides tools for learning what to do about emotional abuse, including a section written for husbands who emotionally abuse their wives.  You might consider seeing if you can find it online or at your local library.

It may be that your spouse is unwilling to engage with you about the ADHD and about your relationship because things are just way too emotional for you both.  Nonetheless, there are good reasons to care.  Stosny writes to husbands in his book:

“Your wife most likely bought this book because she sometimes feels like she walks on eggshells around you, in the hope that you won’t criticize, ignore, yell, complain, reject her, or give her the silent treatment.  I’m sure you don’t realize how often you do these things.  The fact is that you don’t have to do them very often to get your partner in the habit of walking on eggshells; doing them now and then is just as bad as doing them all the time.  The damage is done not so much by the frequency of the negative incidents as by her constant worry that you might do them….
If she does feel that way, she doesn’t like the person she has become in your marriage.  And if she doesn’t like the person she’s become, it’s almost certain that you don’t like the person you’ve become, either.  That’s a strong statement.  To test whether it applies to you, ask yourself two questions:

  1. Is your relationship the way you thought it would be before you got married?
  2. Are you the husband you wanted to be before you got married?
    (source:  You Don’t Have to Take It Anymore by Steven Stosny, pp151-152)

Stosny goes on to talk about a very important concept for all of those who are in marriages where ADHD is a factor.  YOU CANNOT CONTROL WHAT YOUR SPOUSE SAYS OR DOES.  YOU CAN ONLY CONTROL YOURSELF.  He continues “If you focus on things you cannot control, like your spouse’s behavior, you will certainly feel powerless and inadequate most of the time.  Real personal power comes from focusing on what you can control, from acting in your best interests…in accordance with your deepest values.”  (p. 152)

It is all too easy for both spouses to feel overwhelmed by the anger and frustration in ADHD relationships.  This results in a lot of bad behavior on both sides.  Whether it is abuse, retreat, or something in between, communication can become close to impossible, making both partners feel isolated and unloved.

One unfortunate side effect of the anguish of being a non-ADD spouse is falling into the trap of trying to change a spouse with ADHD.  This sends a message to that spouse that you don’t love him.  The fact is that you probably DO love him, but you HATE is behavior.  It can be hard, but you have to remember - you CAN’T CHANGE a spouse with ADHD, or his behavior.  Only he can do that.  You can only change how you respond to that behavior and how you feel about it.  Interestingly, it sometimes happens that when the response is changed, so is the behavior.  It’s counterintuitive, to be sure.  (And don’t fall into the trap of thinking I mean a short-term change in your reponse.  I’m talking about genuine, deep-down change of spirit about how you feel about his ADHD and how you’re going to deal with it.)

I am NOT suggesting you put up with the emotional abuse.  Rather, in the near-term, focus on what you CAN change…get connected with a support group (hopefully one run by a professional who can give you some solid advice about your specific situation), get some ideas about how to live with ADHD behavior, try to create an environment in which your spouse is able to open up a bit without feeling blamed, attacked or disliked.  Perhaps then he will start to think about hearing what you have to say and ask (no guarantees on this, but your chances are improved if you yourself are in a better state of mind).  Take control of what you CAN control – don’t let your loss of hope and isolation continue.  You’ll feel better and, most likely, learn that you have more options than you currently think you do.