High functioning; still broken.

By way of introduction, my SO and I have been married over 20 years.  I'm the non-ADD partner, and it wasn't until one of our children was diagnosed that we started to realise SO might have ADD as well (about 10 years ago).

Oh, the many wasted years.  We were told when we mere married that, if ever you find yourself thinking negatively about your spouse, it's best to check your own halo before attempting to straighten theirs - meaning, be absolutely certain to clarify thinking, make sure you're in a good emotional place, and not speaking hypocritically.  I took that advice to heart, and had a lot of practise starting in the very first year! I thought I was being selfish by wanting things from my SO, or for feeling hurt when we had communication difficulties, or any number of minor conflicts.  If not my own 'selfishness' I attributed this to the growing pains of getting married, which we'd also been advised on: living full time with someone exposes you to parts of them you might not have known, and provides more opportunities for animosity, requiring hard work and many adjustments.

I felt like I was the one doing all the adjusting, but beat myself up for 'feeling selfish'.  In truth, I'd learned to subjugate my own needs as a way of avoiding conflict due to the number of things that come along with ADD (also due to poor habits learned growing up in a household with a Borderline parent, and avoiding irrational conflicts and outbursts).  It wasn't until I'd sacrificed a great deal of my own health and hit bottom that I had to admit the imbalance in our relationship was more than just me, and more than I could 'solve' on my own.

For a while it made me frequently bitter and resentful, and so very lonely.  Then learning about ADD gave some hope: but not enough, because we weren't able to find a good therapist and SO didn't want to 'shop around' for one that would be useful for diagnosis or treatment.  And so it's been another ten years, and the cycle has largely continued.

I've learned to separate SO's character from their behaviour.  Orlov's book has helped tremendously in generating empathy and overcoming that kind of bitterness - not to be overly dramatic, but it's about the only thing that's enabled me to keep a portion of my heart intact.  But at the same time - even though I understand SO's behaviour, and can process it without feeling bitter, it doesn't do anything for my unmet needs.  I still feel extremely lonely, never desired or desirable, and so often as though I'm challenged to justify myself and my positions instead of being understood and respected despite differences.  I'm exhausted, physically and emotionally; but very much in love.  Probably wouldn't hurt if I wasn't.

The compounding factor in all of this, is that SO is very 'high functioning' with their ADD symptoms.  Between that and our earlier marriage advice (not that I was perfect, by any means!), it not only masked the root of the problems (perceptual and behavioural differences inherent in ADD), but also means we've avoided a lot of the worst conflicts: we don't have nagging, or a parent-child dynamic, or many of the hyper-negative criticisms and the like.  When we have conflicts they don't turn into fights or blow-ups, except for a very few situations where the ADD temper flare really shows.

That 'high functioning' meant they were not diagnosed in childhood, and even looking back it would be hard, other than school performance, to point to their experience and say 'this was clearly ADD'.  They internalised a lot of organisation advice from their parents, and learned to make-do (or find other compensatory strategies).  It wasn't until a deeply enmeshed relationship (marriage) and compounding factors (children) overflowed those habits that things really came to a head.

We're still in the beginning of our journey of discovery and learning.  SO is dragging their feet, for fear of yet-another-personal-failure, or being told they are inadequate or broken - a fear they've long nursed, and don't want to see confirmed (heightened rejection sensitivity) despite reassurances.  Quite the opposite of the liberating 'this isn't a personality flaw' realisation I hoped for.  I'm not nagging, but I am doing some pushing: the alternative is for situational depression to become clinical, and to emotionally 'check out'.  I see and support SO's unique and remarkable strengths, and am coming to this from a position of love, not trying to change who they are or make them non-ADD.  And no, we don't have a critical and embittered relationship of high drama and sharp conflict: but to be so long unequally yoked with my partner is emotionally unsustainable.  I cannot love them from a distance, or live a parallel life.  I am doing everything I can to learn and be supportive, but until more progress is made... how do I keep from collapsing?

Where can the non-ADHD partner find strength and emotional fulfillment even when it feels like your heart is broken?  When you're all alone, with your best friend and greatest love within arm's reach - but out of touch?