Help w/ Effective (not enabling) interactions

Like so many others, I’ve been a long time reader of this site and have greatly benefited from people sharing their stories. Finally, I’ve decided to get over the nerves of posting and ask for some advice about coping with my ex-ADHDer.

My backstory- Three weeks ago I ended a five year relationship with my ADHD girlfriend (diagnosed about 2 years ago). She is one of those who believes taking medication (and not getting counseling) is an effective way to deal with her condition. Just about every year to year and a half, she wants to completely start her life over: new career, new job (old job is boring), new friends, and new city. Often these impulses came with wanting to get rid of me as well. She’s broken up with me so many times I’ve honestly lost count.  Both of her parents have ADHD and are untreated. They fund/enable her lifestyle or as her mom likes to call it “her amazing adventures”. They are completely unaware just how miserable their daughter is deep down as she struggles with feeling like a constant failure.

Like so many of your spouses and loved ones, my EX can be an amazingly kind person. She’s intelligent, talented, and gorgeous. However, her impulsiveness and lack of control over her anger can led her to do some very hurtful things; often to the people she cares about the most. The final straw for me came about after the recent and rather traumatic death of my father. I lost my father (he was only 61) to a firework accident this past Fourth of July. While I was home helping to make funeral arrangements, my EX decided it would be a good idea to apply for culinary school in New York six months earlier than we had planned. I’m working on my PhD in Florida, where we lived together. This is her third career change and third college degree attempt (She’s turning 29). She also thought it would be a great time to go take that vacation in Europe she’s always wanted to go on. So basically a month or so after my dad died, she left for Europe and then immediately moved to New York.  I didn’t ask her to not attend school early, but I begged her to not go to Europe for three weeks. She said she knew it was the wrong thing to do, but she was going to do it anyway. She left me a lease to take care of, her dog, and all alone to deal with my grief. My family lives in Washington state. (FYI yes, I’m in counseling).

Still I supported her. Her dream is to be a chef, and I believe she’ll be an amazing one. However, while in New York. She never called, even during Sandy. She was one of the few in Brooklyn who never lost power or cell service, but I didn’t know that because she wouldn’t answer my calls. Checking up to see if she was ok during Sandy was “too smothering” apparently.

Eventually I got tired of all the back and forth and the lack of communication. Two weeks out of the month I was the love of her life. She wanted to get married, have kids. Now it’s I love you, you’re the only person I trust, but I’m not “in love” with you. I told her I wanted more than that. She’s stuck in this constant cycle of self-destruction and I felt like I was enabling her by always catching her when she fell apart. I know she’s going to get depressed soon and reach out to me (this has happened many times in the past). Before, I tried to encourage her to learn about her ADHD. Even read Driven to Distraction together and bought Melissa’s book as well ( I was the only one who read it).  I went to counseling with her (she stopped going right before my dad’s death).

I know it is coming. What’s the best way to deal with it without enabling her? I know that I can’t do it for her (made that mistake already). I’m not planning or anticipating taking her back despite the fact that I do love and miss her.  I know this will just happen all over again. Should I tell her about the patterns of behavior I’ve observed and leave it at that? Should I just say, I’m sorry, but you need to figure this out on your own? Any thoughts? At this point I’m so heartbroken and full of conflicting emotion that I don’t know what is best.  Thanks everyone.

That is a difficult position

That is a difficult position to be in.  I was diagnosed with ADHD 3 years ago.  I changed my job and interests often as well, but not my location.  My wife told me that it would make her nervous and before I knew I had ADHD I would chalk it up to her not understanding how bored I was in my current job/career.  I have read that even though persons with ADHD don't have a lot of control over their impulsive behavior, I know because I have lost many friends due to my "honesty" and "inappropriate topics of conversation" or "dominating the conversation," they still need to be held accountable for their actions.  I'm sure how this is implemented, but structure is so important to those with ADHD.  I have always hated making schedules because I felt it made my life feel robotic, but it has helped.  Exercise, sleep, and medication have been the biggest contributors to getting the negative consequences of my ADHD under control.  There are some great things about ADHD too.  They are often not the focus of attention on discussion boards dealing with anger, frustration, and sadness, but I have come to accept the bad and good parts...and have really made an effort to change.  She has to want to change and it sounds like her parents are enabling her to ignore the negative consequences of her ADHD.  I would say to let her figure it out, but you obviously care for her and that can be very difficult.  Especially when you probably are still upset with her about leaving to Europe after your father died.  I would be upset if I found myself in that position too.  You need to set boundaries though.  You have to take care of yourself before you can take care of someone else.  At least, that is what I have been told. 

Hopefully that was not to confusing.  I probably need to take my meds now.  I hope that helps at least a little.

It is very good of you to try

It is very good of you to try to handle this situation delicately. I can see that you do love her very much. She does sound difficult to live with and certainly an emotional roller-coaster. She seems to lack empathy, which is a concern. The turning point in my relationship with my ADHD husband was when my grandfather was diagnosed with a terminal illness last year. He stepped up to the plate and was a real support to me throughout three months that ensued. The fact that she knew that going to Europe was the wrong thing to do and did it anyway speaks to the fact she is spoiled and selfish. Maybe bordering on narcissistic. It doesn't help that her parents enable her (I could write a book on that as my husband's parents are the same).

I can't really speak to the desire to move and change jobs because I struggle with that as well. I've recently begun to wonder if I am suffering from ADHD as I will hyperfocus on something for a few days and then won't look at it again for months. Which is particularly damaging given that I'm a writer in my spare time. Ten years to finish my novel and I have two really good ones in the hopper, but I can't find the focus to pick up writing them! And the longest I've ever been in a job is 2 1/2 years but without fail, I start getting bored at the 6 month mark.

I think the best thing you can do is tell her that you do love her but she needs to seek better treatment. If she's on meds, but is still being impulsive, etc. then they are not working too well. But I think you were right to leave and if you stick to your resolve, that may speak more to her than anything else you may say.

Best of luck to you.



First of all, thank you for

First of all, thank you for your reply. I find that your statement about "sticking to my resolve" really rings true for me. At times, I obsess about all the things that I want to say to her, all the "if only she could see x.....", and I've come to realize that I've said all of these things already to her before in many different ways. There is nothing that I can say because I've already exhausted myself time and time again trying to get her to take control of her ADHD. 

I need to stick to my guns and move on with my life. No matter how painful it is. 

This is tough

Eli, this is a tough one. You sound like a kind person and it is obvious that you love her and she has some wonderful qualities. But it is smart to realize that you need to take care of yourself and that if her current behavior is unhealthy for you that you can't just jump back in there and repeat the scenario.

I think that you can't lose in describing her patterns to her-- if you can do it in a supportive, loving way you might help her. Deep down, she has to know what she is doing. You can make suggestions, like counseling for depression or the like. I found this to be helpful with my STBX who still calls me crying when he has a tough time. I listen for a bit if I can, then repeat the same suggestions nicely and extricate myself. But I try hard to stop doing things for him and enabling him and make suggestions that will help him help himself-- I did the eenabling thing even last week and got gobsmacked when he acted like he always had! It sucks sometimes, as I think I am a decent person and his situation really pulls me in, but I know that soon I would be right back in there with the old situation. It is hard to see the line between helping and enabling. And if I keep enabling him, he will not have to figure things out for himself.

Best of luck to you. There is nothing wrong with saying (or writing in a letter) "I care about you as a person, but I am concerned that...") Who knows? Maybe she will hear you?