Gift-giving holidays are a nightmare

I'm an ADHD husband and I'm slightly uncomfortable posting here b/c so many of you have so much frustration with your ADHD husbands. Please understand from the outset that I acknowledge my ADHD and struggle with it every day. I work with my wife to limit the damage as much as I can (giving up my computer games for several months, password protecting the TV set) and try to create habits that are helpful (dishes / counters / laundry).  I am ADHD-PI -- primarily inattentive. In fact, I think I have a completely different form of ADHD called "sluggish cognitive tempo" which is just beginning to be studied as a separate disorder. But the symptoms may sound family to many of you: difficulty with motivation, constantly changing interests, spotty adherence to household chores, severe trouble maintaining employment, neglecting important household projects, addictive behavior to stimulating activities like computer games. 

My wife runs a business out of her home and I only work a few hours a week. She has been incredibly supportive with me and it was her idea for me to apply for disability. I'm very grateful for the patience and love she has shown me; I honestly don't know how she does it. We love each other, and have been through some really terrible times -- almost always my fault -- and we are still learning to work together. 

Now to my point: 

Christmas, like any gift-giving holiday with my wife, has turned into another disaster. She loves giving gifts, and she spends days and weeks looking for just the right thing for everyone on her wish list. I, on the other hand, am terrible about giving gifts. There are a whole complex of issues with gifts for me, but the ADHD components are:

  • I have trouble keeping my antennae up throughout the year to catch "the right gift" when it comes up. 
  • I have a lot of trouble putting the energy into LOOKING for gifts if I haven't already found one. Going to the mall and looking for presents is torturous for me and even getting in my car to get there is some sort of Triumph of the Will. Even shopping online sometimes keeps slipping to the bottom of my long and yellowed to-do list. 
  • Once I do get to a store, my brain kind of shuts off and I get gifts that aren't "good gifts." I know "it's the thought that counts" but it is discouraging to have to return jewelry -- as I once did. We tried to have fun doing it and we picked out something she liked together, but it really made me anxious about buying jewelry for her (definitely not looking for jewelry advice by the way). Even before that experience, I'm always second-guessing myself about gifts and I get very anxious. 
  • Because of my ADD, I don't work very much and have very limited income. 
  • Since I can't spend money on extravagance, I spend a lot of time thinking about things I could do FOR her, which for a normal person would be incredibly sweet and awesome, but for me just turns into a reason to procrastinate; I almost never do any of the wonderful things I've planned. 

My wife and I have been through this mill for five years; almost every birthday, anniversary, valentine's day and Christmas. I totally understand why she feels the way she does. The gift-giving and effort is extremely unbalanced. I've offered to just not give gifts, but that's not satisfactory for her. She likes to give gifts and the exchanging of gifts is so very important to her. She said she wants to create memories. Unfortunately for us both, the memories are mostly of tears and raised voices.

We're at an impasse now. We've had our annual Christmas fight. I listened to her feelings, validated what I was hearing, and told her it was completely understandable to feel the way she did. Then she started talking about my inability as a choice and I yelled at her that she didn't understand and stormed off leaving her as I found her -- crying on the couch. I feel like turds but I don't really know how to cope when a really life-crippling failure being prodded like that by someone I love. 

It seems to me that what needs to happen is:

  • I get better about presents and planning.
  • She gets better at understanding my problem and not taking it personally as a sign that she isn't loved. 
  • We get better at talking about the issue without it dragging into a long-running, regularly scheduled relationship killer. 

I feel like point 1 (my getting better) is the one I should have the most control over, but after a lifetime of exactly the same problem, I'm not holding out much hope. 

Your feedback and experiences are welcome -- even if you're pissed as hell about your husband for the same thing. It would be nice to know we're not the only ones. 

Oh boy.

Yup.  This is a big issue in my relationship too.  My parents made a point of always making holidays and birthdays special either through gift-giving or fun activities.  It has become very important to me in the last few years because my dad died and my mom lives very far away but without fail my ADHD partner forgets every single birthday, anniversary and Christmas even after explaining to him why it is especially important to me now.  I try not to take it personally but it's hard when other women I know brag about what their spouse or boyfriend did for them on special occasions.  I feel like I'm missing out on an important cultural and societal norm.  It makes me feel embarassed and ashamed since it's usually just a glaring reminder that my relationship is not what I thought or wanted it to be.  It takes what used to be joyful and happy events that I could look forward to throughout year (as I did as a child) and turns them painfully bitter in contrast.  He's given me a wide range of rationalizations and justifications in his defense:  he doesn't like commercialism, certain days shouldn't be set aside to show someone you care,  he's not a good gift-giver etc.  I once told him the day before valentines that if all he did was make me a construction paper heart I would be beyond happy (he still forgot).  For me it's about the thought and effort, I don't really care what it turns out to be.  Just a token.  I'm not high-maintence and don't require expensive gifts or extravagent gestures but it's still too much for him to handle. All I crave really is that he says to himself, "today is X day" so I will make a small effort to recognize that.  He's tried keeping a calendar, but because these gestures require some small planning ahead all that does is let him know the day of that it is a special day and he still ends up empty-handed.   I don't know what to do.  With many of his other failings caused by his ADHD, I've been able to come to terms with them, let them go and accept it.  This is just one thing I can't ever see myself accepting as being all right.  For some reason to give it up would feel like letting go of a part of myself.  I will never stop giving him gifts and celebrating his birthday because that's also part of it, but it's getting harder to joyously celebrate his birthday when I know when mine comes around I'll have to beg him to at least go out to eat with me. 

The other issue is that he just doesn't think celebrations are important in general which is what helps him shrug them off.  This year instead of waiting to be disappointed, I asked him to go out with me on my birthday.  What ended up happening was that he blew a wad of cash on some "toy" that he wanted two weeks prior to the day and then when he didn't have enough money to go out to dinner justified it by basically rationalizing that this "toy" was necessary and more important than some old piddly birthday.  Problem is that while celebrations may not be important to him, I've explained that they are to me.  I find that it's difficult for individuals with ADHD to understand that people feel differently than they do about things.  It's often presumed that what they are feeling is what everyone else thinks and feels as well or at worst is what they SHOULD feel.  He is annoyed by my focus on celebrating and thinks that I should feel the same way about it as he does.  But I don't.  It's a conflict of needs I suppose...which pretty much summarizes our entire relationship.  Our needs always seem to be in direct opposition so that something fundamental that one of us needs is seemingly always undermined by and in direct opposition to something fundamental the other needs.  This makes compromising near to impossible as you can imagine.   Everything is always at an impasse with us both resenting the other.

Sorry, I have no solutions or advice.  I'm merely presenting my experience with a similar problem.

clf, I totally sympathize...

Yup.  This is a big issue in my relationship too.  My parents made a point of always making holidays and birthdays special either through gift-giving or fun activities.  It has become very important to me in the last few years because my dad died and my mom lives very far away but without fail my ADHD partner forgets every single birthday, anniversary and Christmas even after explaining to him why it is especially important to me now.  I try not to take it personally but it's hard when other women I know brag about what their spouse or boyfriend did for them on special occasions.  I feel like I'm missing out on an important cultural and societal norm.

I totally feel where you are coming from. My parents divorced when I was five, so from then on it was like everyone falling all over themselves to get me an awesome gift for my birthday, for having good report cards, for Christmas... My hubby started out good while we were dating but as time went along, he stopped giving gifts. Now he remembers the occasion and will always say, "Happy Birthday" or "Happy Anniversary". But flowers? Nope. Candy. Generally no. This Christmas was the first time that I have received something from him in two years. Ouch. And seeing other people get flowers on their anniversary or birthday is like a knife to the heart. And of course they gloat about it on Facebook. I hate Facebook and yet I can't seem to cut the cord.

 Would you feel more

 Would you feel more comfortable if your wife told you which jewelry store she likes and you go to that store for each celebration, say, a Saturday before the event? (Put that on a cell phone alarm to reoccur every year) You can strike up a relationship with their sales staff or one in particular who would give you ideas for gifts within your budget. Go with a list of what your wife likes. Silver? Gold? Gemstone?

My dh goes to the same jeweler and they know him by sight now. He always buys me a silver charm for my charm bracelet, which is quite an easy gift to keep adding to and the staff seems to know what i like from past purchases. Once he has gotten to know the staff, he is very comfortable chatting with them and looks forward to these visits to them. They already know to wrap the gift, and put it in a gift bag for him. The works, all for a charm.

He feels pretty great with the positive feedback he gets from the sales staff. Maybe a mom and pop store may be to your liking, you get undivided attention, as long as they have what your wife likes.

just so you know my dh has fairly extreme fears of spending money, but the experience has gotten so pleasant for him, he doesn't mind this particular "errand" now...

You are definately not the

You are definately not the only one....   My H has forgotten my birthday, the kids birthdays, his parents B'day...more than I can count.  

Some sort of reminder on your phone, or even as simple as on the wall calendar might help. I got tired of him forgetting every important day that i just wrote it on the calendar...My Birthday,  sometimes it helps sometimes it doesn't. I also got tired of the last minute, what seemed like thoughtless gifts.. i.e. gifts that were more what HE likes than what I would, appliances...  I try and give my H ideas..its up to him to remember them, again sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. I'm actually not big on store bought gifts, and suprisingly for a woman I hate jewelry for a gifts..i have no use to wear something around my neck or wrist that cost hundreds/thousands of dollars. My H used to get jewelry every year and I finally told him to please stop, not that it wasn't beautiful, I just have no use for it.  I would rather have my car detailed, the house cleaned, hand made cards from my children...  Maybe you should just ask your wife what would be a meaningful gift for her, and make sure you write it down, tell her that it is hard for you to find the right gift and would like some ideas.  Like you, I also loathe going to the store to buy shopping is the best thing since sliced bread to me. You can find anything, without dealing with the crowds, driving, etc.

good Luck

This is what I think, and I'm

This is what I think, and I'm going to be blunt about it.

You are making this all about YOU. I hear "I don't even like getting into my car to buy a present", "I hate picking things out", "I get ideas of things to do, but I can't be bothered to follow through with them, even though it would mean the world to my wife".

You, you, you.

Guess what? There are many things I don't "like" either, things that are no "fun" for me: like washing dishes, like reminding my spouse to take the garbage out before it climbs up the walls, like going to the dentist for a root canal, like paying $300 for a cell phone bill. Guess what again? I'm an adult, and liking it doesn't come into the equation. It still needs to get done. 

Here you are, given a golden opportunity that happens ONCE a year where you have a chance to make your wife so happy, to show her that you can step up to the plate and demonstrate that she is important enough to you that you've made the slightest bit of effort in presenting her a gift... and boo hoo, it's such a dramatic amount of work for you to get in your car and buy her a gift. 

It's too "hard" for you. So instead, it's easier to watch her heart break with disappointment, and see her cry in real pain because she feels like she's not worth the effort of being remembered ONCE a year.

You, you, you. All of the things she does day in and day out, every single day, from the time her feet hit the floor in the morning to the time she falls into bed at night. 365 days a year.

But you're right. It's just so impossibly monumental to take 30 minutes out of a single day once a year to buy her a birthday card and a pair of earrings at the mall. Or even order something online which would take even less effort. Yes, poor you.

Shouldn't have to ask....

I am the non-ADHD spouse and this was a MAJOR point with me.  For so long he would ask "we're not getting gifts for (fill in the blank holiday)....are we?"  That simply meant he didn't really want to, it wasn't his thing and that was his way of telling me he didn't want to go out, make the effort, whatever, etc.  

I wasn't even looking for something expensive and would have been happy with even a card, but if I have to ask you for it or reinforce before each occasion that it is something that I want, then what's the point?  It is beyond frustrating that after more then fifteen years of marriage that I still have to explain what I want in this arena.   

I do agree with MsMisses that is not about you, it cannot be.  There are things that I do for my husband that I may not necessarily enjoy.  I do them anyway.  As I explained to my husband, you don't do things because you like them, you do them because the other person does.  

Thankfully this has improved for us and the "are we going to....?" doesn't happen anymore, he just does it now because I want it....and it is appreciated.


Are you sure you're not my

Are you sure you're not my husband? LOL.

As you have seen, there are a lot of women out their who feel the same as your wife does. My husband (obviously) is just like you. He makes plans to buy great gifts but never follows through. It was rough given that when we were dating, he was GREAT about it. He spent a lot of time looking for the perfect gift for me which resulted in Art Deco inspired coffee pots, diamond earrings, and an antique inspired necklace. By the time we were approaching engagement (OK, I was already planning the wedding), he was paralyzed. I picked out a ring at an antique fair and it took him months to get in touch with the dealer and work out a payment plan. The dealer had a nearly matching wedding ring but by the time my hubby got his act together, it was too late to get it in time for our wedding. I ended up using a ring I bought in college as my wedding ring during our ceremony, and we went to pick out a wedding ring after we got back from our honeymoon.

Needless to say, after such an auspicious beginning, it has been a point of contention between us. We don't have a great deal of money, but I always bust my butt to get him what he wants. And then I'm lucky if I get anything. This Christmas was a turning point of sorts. I decided to scale back on his presents so I wouldn't feel resentment and for the first time in two years, he actually showed up with two gifts. They were nothing to write home about but it was nice that he had actually followed through. I actually felt bad because he bought me a blanket (our apt is notoriously cold) that I didn't like the design on. He told me I could exchange it for another one, so I did. But I kind of feel like I might have hurt his feelings, which in turn made me feel bad.

He does claims that he has trouble buying for me because he has little to no money. I used to get mad because if he has discipline and didn't buy so many snacks and energy drinks, he'd probably have enough money. But I'm learning that sometimes, you just can't go there. When he does get a better job (he only makes $150/week), I will be interested to see if that makes a difference. Perhaps that is tripping you up as well?

I'm gradually getting to the point where any acknowledgement is good. I don't have high expectations. If he were to show up with a bunch of tulips on Valentines Day, I would be stoked. Sometimes it is the little things. LOL.

I don't have any real advice for you. Flowers are always good for non-Christmas events. I would die and go to Heaven if my husband would just bring me a Walmart bunch of flowers every once in a while. Cards are great too. My hubby doesn't do cards in general, so if he showed up with a nice card that was actually written in and not just signed, that would be awesome. I think the pressure is starting to get to you as well. Just try to think of things in small blocks and see if you can get through the wall. Heck, there's always gift cards too. :-)

Resigned2B's picture



If you do not know my situation, and have a minute, please click on my name and briefly read some history.

Our 32nd wedding anniversary is coming up in a couple of weeks. I have NO idea what to get my ADHD husband. All the things I come up with feel mean and snarky. I know that his 'dream gift' would be to spend a lunch with Brad Thor. That option seems very unlikely.

A sympathy card seems much more appropriate... (Hence my 'snarky' comment!)

: /


How About....

a first edition signed autographed hardback of one of is favorite books? (ebay) Even if he's read it still could be collectible some day and it personalizes it in lieu of lunch? Thinking close as it gets maybe? It's the thought that counts:) J
Resigned2B's picture

Great Idea!

Dear J,

i just printed out my husband's purchased Kindle action novels for the past year and a half from Amazon. There are 161. That would be 8.9 action novels he's read each month. I'm not quite sure how to figure out his favorite though...

I am crystal clear on one thing. THIS is his 'real-life'. I am the hobby...



Resigned2B's picture


I think I need 2 aspirin!

Just Remembered

My sister once contacted as many famous actors and entertainers agents, publicists and booking sources as she could find information on writing them and addressing the letters specifically to each person in a letter asking them for any personal photos and sentiments that they could offer for my mother on her 70th birthday picking ones that she knew were favorites. My sister took the liberty of saying to each one they they held a special place in my mothers heart and if they could they be so kind. The responses were surprisingly overwhelming.

Off hand what I remember: Frank Sinatra, Dick Van Dyke, Robert Redford, Paul Newman, Katherine Hepburn and Barbara Streisand are the first ones that come to mind. All in all......over 30 different celebrities responded (or their agents) but, some them were personally written by the person themselves. Most were copies with signatures without any personal sentiments but.....the best one of all was from Katherine Hepburn.

She didn't send a photo at all (the only one who didn't) Her response was hand written on a piece of note paper. You could tell it probably was really written by her personally (the sentiment was wishing my mother a happy 70th birthday)...since the hand writing was a bit shaky and it was just before her own death only a year or two later at a ripe old age.

Very cool .....and my mother never forgot that gift when we (my sisters and I together) presented it too her with all the photos put on a big piece of decorated cardboard in one big presentation.

I'll bet there is a contact for Brad Thor to do the very same thing? Just a thought.


Resigned2B's picture


That's wonderful! I'll look into what it would take to contact him. That must have made your mom SO happy! I'm happy for her just reading about it.

Thank you for sharing. :))