I joined this forum today because I finally got to a point where I couldn't wait for my weekly therapist appointment, and my ADHD husband has asked me not to share that he has it to my friends and family. I'm at a loss now and hoping to turn to this group for shared experience. I apologize that this is a novel -- I don't know how to be succinct in painting the full picture.
My husband was diagnosed with ADHD a year ago, as a result of my going to therapy for more than a year to sort out my anxiety and marital stress around housework (driven by undiagnosed ADHD and all the associated ways of thinking in him, and the dynamic created between us). Finally one day my therapist asked if I thought he had ADHD. I went home and googled it, and immediately told my husband. He felt horrible, accused, dejected, but also seen and heard for the first time ever. He now understood so much about his childhood, his frustration with his parents, how hard college felt when he is actually gifted. He got a diagnosis and got on Adderall within a couple of months.
But that's where the progress stopped. I immediately began reading books, doing research. I'm sure he did too. I learned all about the three-legged stool -- medication not enough, need exercise, sleep, good diet, behavioral coaching, and therapy in his case -- years of feeling incapable, ineffective, unlike everyone else created depression patterns he will freely admit to in the right conditions. Last summer, we did begin reading the ADHD Effect on Marriage together, section by section. We got to step 2 or so, but at least had some very productive conversations when we prioritized it weekly. But the entire time, he maintained that if he took time and energy to focus on on home life, it'd be at the direct expense of his career. And he was clear that he was, for the first time, in a high-growth role with a very short window to accelerate and get promoted, or be boxed out. The implication (and overt assertion) is that my expectations of our home life -- high standards for time with the kids, home maintenance, cleaning, family meals, and our social life -- were the great detractors that made him feel like his work wasn't a priority and he had to shortchange it. Working through the book fell off when work stuff hit and then a big family trip. I also found him a phone-based ADHD coach, and he only made it to two calls and didn't implement the action plans, so no progress there. He continues to be sensitive that everything comes back to his ADHD and he feels that undermines his valid feelings and experiences.
The truth is, over the course of years, I've walked back nearly all expectations of him to "clear the road" for him to finally feel a clear path to advance in his career. Years ago, before kids, I began going to social events alone, and later organizing weekend play dates without him. I rarely make social plans for weekends that require him. I do meal prep for the week with the kids on Saturdays so he can get ahead on work. Well, some weeks he sleeps in or doesn't get out the door and I'm not allowed to ask for an accounting of that time because it puts pressure on him. But at the very least, I have made the time available for him, or he knows that if he gets up and leaves I'm on it with the kids, yet he'll say he didn't feel like he had the support to actually leave to work because when he gets back I have expectations of things he needs to do. I've dropped all expectations on dishes too, though he will sometimes insist on doing them. I've stopped falling on my sword to get him to commit to taking out the trash, or bringing in the mail which would pile up til it wouldn't close and collect rain. One fine day I started silently taking it out myself, not resentfully but rationally, and also usurped the mail key. He genuinely enjoys our kids and races home to see them, but I only ask him to do bedtime on the weekends or if I really, really need a break. He'll still say his home life is demanding because the kids take a long time to fall asleep. They do, but I'm the one in with them -- he's usually on the couch on his phone (he tells me, evaluating his company website -- but it's nearly always reddit when I walk by).
The "household" expectations are an illusion now, and any pressure is self-inflicted. For example, last week he hadn't handled shoveling the snow and we had people coming to stay in another unit in our building. He woke up already late for work and asked if I could call our handyman to do it as I'm pregnant and was off with the kids that day. I said it's no big deal, I'll do it, it just takes 20 minutes. To which he said he'd take the morning off work to do it instead -- really not a good use of his time, and a totally unnecessary grand gesture, which I wonder if he thinks will compensate for other things? He similarly rushed home early from work when the visitors got locked out, when I was already on my way home and would reach at the same time. Those are not practical choices and are not imposed by me, but do have real consequences at work.
Rather than taking the steps we've discussed (15 mins on our treadmill is better than waiting for a perfect opportunity to go to the gym, a small investment of time in therapy or coaching or sleep will pay dividends immediately in productivity), he takes more Adderall and runs himself into the ground. He stays up til 2am trying to get ahead at work, is exhausted the next day, and the cycle repeats. He's hardly able to work effectively, let alone prioritize what needs to get done, etc. I just got done today with my therapist laying this out and the implications on me -- his poor health, the trail of housework he leaves behind, his general grumpiness and down attitude which impacts the kids, and then overspending... not egregiously but irresponsibly, and then I do it too -- I try to purchase some convenience to mitigate the rest. And I shared the arguments he makes about our home life being too constraining. We agreed that for a couple weeks I'd literally ask nothing of him, say nothing regarding any type of housework or help with anything, and track it. Then ask in a couple weeks how he is feeling about work, if things are getting easier, if he's got more bandwidth, and help him see that perhaps home life isn't the constraint and if he would like to realize his career/financial goals it might be wise to really invest in himself in ways that can make him better AT work. The reason for this plan is that he has a stated goal of advancing his career but seems to make choices that make that impossible -- I was hoping to help him take a real step to working on the actual issue (his productivity at work) rather than a concocted set of constraints (home life).
Well, not 2 hours later he tells me that the promotion window he was racing against has closed -- two others got them, he didn't, and he's being moved to a much less impactful area with less scope. More "do what they say" vs. "set the vision." He is crushed, mad at himself for wasting the opportunity, still citing the lack of support at home for him and his career, and said multiple times how he hates himself (he says this often). I tried hard to say nothing, to listen, to lend support. He said the colleague who got promoted works longer hours. I said I don't know how you could possibly work more, you work late nights too. He said he is always working late to catch up, whereas the other guy works late to get ahead. I said, why do you think you are playing catch-up? And he saw where I was going --- the fact of the matter is he has ADHD at work too, not just at home. And there's no way it directly, as well as all the things it's done to his personality, assertiveness, confidence, etc., hasn't directly led to the other guy getting a promotion.
I feel for him, but my heart is screaming "I told you so." He said at that point he didn't feel it was a safe space to talk anymore because he knew I was thinking about his ADHD, and I said that's ok. You don't have to talk to me. But I'd like you to find a safe space, because you deserve that. What I really mean is I hope he gets a freaking therapist/counselor/coach already.
All this to ask: How do you provide normal spousal support in a situation like this, when it so obviously taps into the root causes you know are there and the actions that, for you, seem straightforward to take? I'm just at such a loss on how or who to be for him anymore, while also being someone for myself. Thanks for any thoughts anyone can share. Please be kind -- it took a lot for me to put this out to the universe.