Let me start by saying that I have ADHD, and my husband does not.
This fact in itself has been the underlying cause of nearly every one of our arguments and is often responsible for quickly turning a rational discussion into a full-blown war of words.
Though there are slight variations to each fight, the cycle goes something like this: My action, which in most cases is inaction, upsets my husband. The offense ranges from smaller things like repeatedly buying produce while there is some already rotting in our fridge to larger things like waiting until months after my car flashes its light to get the oil changed. He points out the facts and explains how they've made him feel, which is usually that I don’t care about him or respect him enough to do needs to be done. I then deny my culpability even if I know I was wrong, make excuses or flat out lie about my actions, all of which only make it worse. I try to rationalize and convince him the situation isn't that big of a deal, and he shouldn't be as affected as he is. At this point, he's usually recalling and listing previous similar actions and thoughtless behavior, which only furthers putting me on the defensive. In my mix of shame and indignation, I continue to invalidate his feelings and opinions by telling him how I think he should have reacted to the situation. Typically infuriated at this point, he asks for space, and instead of giving it to him, my increasing anxiety and need for validation for the good things I’ve done forces me to talk at him incessantly, saying anything I can think of that might help prove my point. That's when all hell breaks loose, and the fight usually ends with my husband questioning his commitment to staying in our marriage because I am consistently unreliable and unwilling to take responsibility for my actions.
Does this sound familiar?
By the end of every argument, I come to my senses and realize how wrong my fighting tactics are. But by this point the damage is already done. One of the worst things you can do to the person you love most is to invalidate his feelings and make a clumsy attempt at brainwashing him into thinking he was wrong for being upset. While I know how unfair this is, I cannot seem to stop doing it. It's almost as if I have no control over my actions when I go into argument mode. After our last fight I decided to do some research into why this is my go-to response during conflict, and luckily one of Melissa Orlov’s blogs provided information to help me understand.
Why is this happening?
In "Reasons Partners Lie...Lying Part 2," Melissa addressed how previous marital situations impact how future ones are handled. Of the seven reasons she lists for lying, I found that four directly apply to my actions and reactions in conflict:
- Avoidance of a partner's chronic anger
- Imbalanced relationship
- Not wanting to disappoint your partner
In a heated discussion I do everything I possibly can to avoid giving my husband one more reason to become angry, one more instance that disappoints him and one more instance that proves I'm incapable of being an equal partner in our relationship.
Trying to break the cycle
After coming to terms with the thought process behind my incorrect reactions to his grievances, I've been able to help my husband understand that I have well-meaning intentions in my actions and in our fights, which is a good starting point. I've also adjusted my actions, and I'm now able to begin these tough discussions with an apology for making him fell as if I don’t care enough about him. No matter how ridiculous I think his response is to my action, it’s not OK to tell him he’s not allowed to feel what he’s feeling. Even though my instinct is to defend myself, I'm learning to acknowledge when I've made a mistake. I try to follow that up by validating my husband's feelings, opinions, and concerns, and letting him know I understand why my actions have affected him. And even when I falter and the conversation devolves into a fight, my partner knows I'm hearing him and really listening. Unlike immediately going on the defensive, reacting first with understanding creates a level playing field and allows us to progress through a discussion with respect and thoughtful discourse. Knowledge is power. The more you and your partner know about how ADHD affects your actions and your fights, the better the chances are of positively changing the situation for the better.