I am a 51 year old woman with ADHD, just diagnosed a year and a half ago. I struggle in many ways due to it, the anxiety and defensiveness affecting communication with my new spouse and our kids.
I was referred to a book that helped both me and my spouse to understand the core to our interpersonal communications, and how it gets distorted. The book is "Hold Me Tight, Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love", by Sue Johnson.
Sue Johnson is a couple counselor, who sought out ways to get real results for struggling/fighting couples. Her technique of teaching them new ways to communicate had success but limited, it didn't get to what was truly behind each person's real issue to their words and actions. In continuation of her research she looked at the physical fight or flight survival mechanism possessed by animals, to ensure a measure of security for the continuation of their species. She determined a differentiation for this mechanism between animals and humans. For humans there is also an emotional security component added. The need is with us from birth, and is as essential to our survival as is our physical needs. Emotional security ties into our worthiness and self esteem. If we feel it slipping away we react in a number of ways, i.e. lashing out to draw attention in order to protect our emotional security, or shutting down to protect it. Lack of understanding of why we do this, (for protecting our emotional security), is at the core of our words and actions. To greater and lesser degrees we all do it as a coping mechanism. How we cope depends on our combined experiences of emotional security and what we learned or developed as mechanisms to protect it. Learning what this is about for each, has made it easier to let go of the blame of the self or the other. I now understand that I or my partner's expression of frustration, anger, impatience, indifference or hurt is a survival act to protect each person's emotional security. The blame, anger, indifference etc is a misguided way to reach out, not walk away, as ultimately the loss of emotional security, comes with the loss of the relationship that initially provided it.
This has been an eye opener. I now get that I and my partner act out or withdraw as a way of trying to protect our relationship (as it initially held emotional security for both of us). This has allowed us to step back from our fighting/withdrawing, or catch it when it starts, so we can get back to appreciating each other, as we did when we first fell in love.
Reactivity, impulsivity and low self esteem as part and parcel of ADHD definitely adds to the challenge of catching oneself or stepping back. As a person with ADHD, (and the lovely components of compassion, empathy and creativity that also go with it), I and my partner incorporate a code word "Pressure", as a means of bringing back awareness. It sometimes takes a repeat of this word for me to stop and often step back, but it has helped us begin to get back to loving, nurturing and not hurting. We started our marriage this way and want to live out our days caring for each and others who matter to us, knowing how integral emotional security is to the well being of all.
This knowledge opened a means for us to forgive and appreciate our loved ones. It's used daily in our efforts to stop and change the negative patterns we'd been using to protect our inherent human need of emotional security.
This couldn't have come at a better time, as I have teens struggling for confidence in the development of their personal identities. Having this understanding provides me with a more positive perspective and approach to handling their often baited words and actions.
On a different note, it is good to remember, love is a verb, an action word.