How to Broach the Subject of Suspected ADHD

“I think my partner has ADHD – he shows all the classic symptoms.  How do I approach him with this without making him angry?”  This is a great question and I applaud any spouse who is sensitive enough to be asking it.  Some specific ideas and hints follow.

Set the right tone.  There are two common reasons why a spouse is resentful when a partner approaches him or her with the idea that he/she might have ADHD.  First, for many there is still a stigma attached to the idea of “ADHD.”  It’s correlated in the minds of many adults (and some of the media) with “little kids who are out of control.”  Suggesting that an adult with this view has ADHD may be considered an insult.  Second, many spouses hear “you have ADHD” as “you are broken and the reason our marriage is in trouble.”  Their interpretation is often accurate – many times this is exactly what their partner is telling them, underneath.  Or, another way to think about it is that few comments in a marriage are given in isolation – so previous criticism or comments such as “you’re like a 4th child!” are the background for hearing the news that your partner now wants to diagnose you so that you can get treated.  So…

Do your research.  Learn about ADHD first, preferably from a strengths-based expert such as Dr. Hallowell (see my resources area for some ideas of good books, etc.)  This will help you understand that ADHD is not always a curse and can really be an asset when managed.  It’s also important to start thinking about how YOU also play a role in your marital dynamics by learning more about the impact that ADHD has on relationships.  This will help you resist suggesting him/her about your suspicions about ADHD at a “blaming” moment.

Let him/her discover it by him/herself.  If you have a child with ADHD, chances are good that one of the biological parents has it.  Many adults realize they have ADHD when reading up to help their child (the symptoms look so familiar!)  So make sure to involve your partner in the learning process that goes on after a child is diagnosed.  If you don’t have kids, you might be able to use another “self-discovery” method.  One man wrote in our forum that his wife had suggested he had an employee with ADHD, and provided him with one of Hallowell’s books so he could address his business problem.  As he wrote… “it was never about the employee…”  A third option is to ask your partner to listen to the audiobook of Delivered from Distraction with you (there is an abridged version available – about 3-4 hours) on a long car trip.  Just because you’ve heard it’s good.

Be supportive, not critical (even unintentionally so).  When/if your partner does bring up the topic of ADHD, just be supportive without taking it any further.  In other words “hmmm….that’s really an interesting idea.  Why do you think you might have ADHD?” is a better response than “I thought you have ADHD!  That explains why you’ve had all these problems over the years!  If you get treatment, I bet our marriage will get better, too!”  Both are enthusiastic responses, but the second one starts to burden the spouse with problems and subtle behavioral critiques before he/she even gets to a doctor.  You don’t want to add anything that might overwhelm your partner and slow down the evaluative process or give your partner something to dread.

If your partner does get angry if you plant the idea that ADHD may be at play, the best response is to do the following:

First, make sure that you aren’t implying in any way that your partner is solely to blame for your problems and you think ADHD is the reason.  This attitude, even communicated in a subtle way, can result in resistance.  If, upon reflection, you realize that you did communicate this, circle back and clarify that you both have contributed to your problems.  Second, back off the ADHD idea, and stick with what your needs are.  So, for example, you might say “I’m not telling you that you have ADHD.  I’m suggesting that research I’ve done suggests it’s just a possibility and it seems as if learning more about it can’t really hurt either of us.  I’m not asking you to commit to any specific type of action, like going to the doctor, really I’m not.  The bottom line is that I don’t really care if we have a label for what’s going on between us, I only care that we start to resolve our issues.  Right now, my main issue is XXX and what I’m doing to work on that is YYY.” 

And, finally...

Paint a picture of the positives.  As Ned Hallowell likes to say, “Finding out you have ADHD is a good news diagnosis.”  It opens up many wonderful options for adults who have previously been blocked by their ADHD symptoms.  Some of these positives include:

  • Better performance at work, and better job security
  • Being able to start and complete things you really want to do, with less distraction
  • Better integration into family life as others learn they can depend upon you
  • Being confident in what you are doing, rather than wondering when the other shoe will drop (again!)
  • Fewer car accidents
  • Ability to be a better conversationalist and enjoy the enhanced friendships and marriages that enables
  • Improvement in your marriage and romantic life

And these are just a few…


Broached the subject - now he won't talk to me

I have broached the subject twice now. Both times he has gotten really mad.  He does not have it, according to him, and I am trying to change him.  He glanced through the website with multiple negative comments and now won't speak to me.  Sigh.  I got mad too.  Didn't handle it as well as I would have liked. 

We have been married for almost 8 years.  This website describes us to a T.  I love this man - he is a good person.  His behaviors are difficult to deal with.  I have SO not handled things well over the years.... and have a lot to learn and want to.  It would be helpful if he would at least be willing to work on "us."  We really have been doing better in the last couple of years, but I am getting tired.  Suggestions? 

Wonder if things got better

​things are a little different here as I forced my husband to go be tested and he was diagnosed with ADHD  but now after trying a few medications he decided he doesn't like how they make him feel and refuses to take any.  We are about to go bankrupt and he is self medicating with herbs.  Don't know how to stoP the denial.

so shut down

I have been researching for over a year now the "  why " that is behind my shutting down towards my husband and marriage  .  Taking the shame and blame for over 35 years, of course , I still thought the problem was with me. Then a copy of Melissa's book came my way , and , BAM !  I'm sure you have all heard this thousands of times , but , it described my life and feelings to the letter . Imagine my relief ! I wanted to scream it from the roof tops ! I'm not crazy !! There is actually  a reason behind all of our heartache !!! It was as if this huge dark , abnormal , life-threatening , mind-grinding , bone -crushing , life - sucking mystery had been solved .

The first thing I did was to have my 17 year old son evaluated ( I had known he was struggling with something ...ADD never entered my mind ).  He is now on meds and they have made a difference in his academics and other areas in his life .

The next thing I did was to ask my 25 year old son to get evaluated . He did . He is in the process of going on meds. He has struggled with OCD for years and we are hopeful this may help him in that area.

I approached my husband carefully and asked him to read the book , which he did . He agreed to get evaluated , and he has . He was not happy with some comments that were made to him by the doctor and now he wants a second opinion . He is scheduled for more testing in the middle of December .  I've always known something was very off and very strange ...we've gone through counseling for devastating things that have happened in our marriage . I've been to Al-ANON meetings thinking that was the problem .  I've watched people adore this charming fun-loving  guy for years , all the while I was dying inside and shutting down emotionally . 

My problem is that I am so shut down that I can't even talk to  him . I don't even want to be in the same room with him . I am so numbed to him that the idea of working together is incredibly overwhelming to me. He still thinks that I am trying to blame him for everything and find fault with him , so I don't even bring ADHD up anymore . Believe me when I say that I showed restraint when I did bring it up in the beginning . I am aware of all of his efforts to make our marriage better and that he has been trying so hard for so many years .  He is so discouraged .  We are both so sad and frustrated !

How do you talk to someone that you've been trying to protect yourself from for so many years ? How do you let yourself be vulnerable enough to risk ? How do open yourself up again ? I am so afraid that I'm way past being able to - even if I wanted to.  We are looking at a future that may include separating , which neither of us really want at this point in our lives . But the high cost of living with him -to myself - is more than I can bear .

Thank you for any insight and suggestions .

Reversing the Shut Down

Hi flowerchild, firstly big hugs to you for still hanging in there!  I too spent a lot of time researching why I didn't feel the way I thought I should about my marriage and my husband (and myself), before realising that I was simply experiencing what I think of as ADHD fallout.  I also largely live in an emotionally shut down state, mainly so I can keep mental focus and be aware of how I respond and to always try to keep the peace and keep the household running.  The constant fighting, misunderstandings and having to be so careful about how something is worded etc is extremely draining and  severely detracts from anything that would be regarded as a happy and harmonious union.  My emotional state also impacts how I cope with the usual parenting challenges day by day. 

Although my H is aware of his difference (having been diagnosed 'hyperative' as a child) he still has a long way to go in admitting that with help there is a better way to be.  He initially got furious with me when I suggested a while back that perhaps his childhood diagnosis should be 'updated' and looked at again.  I explained it to him originally that I thought I had ASD (aspergers) and that maybe we both did and maybe we should both get assessed so that we can improve our marriage.  He immediately grabbed hold of the part that I had ASD, and yes, we should definitely get that looked into as I have been such an emotional wreck and it would be great to get that fixed...... hmmm....time for strategy number 2.  I then got some literature on various non-neuro-typical differences and suggested we study them together to better understand ourselves.  I wasn't anticipating the hurdle of him perceiving me to be saying there was something 'wrong' with him.  I didn't realise at the time that he had been programmed by his folks to believe that his childhood diagnosis meant he was defective - they never managed it, only made excuses for him and tried to ignore it because it didn't fit with the image they wanted everyone to have of their family perfection. So I'm not only dealing with the ADHD, but also his upbringing and perception. 

Nowadays I try to continue to be encouraging about getting help. He has come a long way in the last few years and is now open to seeing someone and seeking a better way to be.  It was a long and hard road to get here, but I now have a glimmer of hope that our situation will improve.  What it took was for me to be leaving and a complete emotional train wreck right in front of him. Too exhausted to argue anymore, too sad to care about it - numb, like you said.  Numb is a state I am in quite often, which I sometimes feel is marginally better than hurting constantly.  But numb doesn't fix anything and gets boring so I continued to find moments to tell him that I understand how frustrating it must be to be constantly misunderstood, forgetful, confused, angry.  I also told him that I know it's not him that has done so much damage to our marriage, but the ADHD not being managed.  I told him that I know he is a different person on the inside compared to what the world largely sees, and that I don't want our union to become another ADHD statistic.  I told him that I believe we are stronger than that, and that we owe it to ourselves and our children to be better people towards each other - for their sake.  I asked him what kind of future did he want for our kids and what example did we want to set for them, given that they are both 'different' also, and will also have to manage and understand their differences to a lot of other folk.

After allowing all my emotional baggage to come tumbling out and all over the place, he finally saw and admitted that it hurts him to see me hurting and not coping. Perhaps for selfish reasons, but at least he admitted it.  I guess a lot of therapists will also say that to deal with what has been hurting we need to let it all out and process it consciously rather than bottle it up and become numb. I found this worked for me, and my husband has a slightly better comprehension of how hard it is for me to always be the one making allowances and concessions and letting things that irk me slide - particularly when it's such hard work to continually 'suck it up' when my feelings are hurt but life and family and committments still go on.

I really love one particular phrase that gets used on this site quite often - ADHD is not anybody's fault, but it is a responsibility to be dealt with/managed.  Once we're all on the same page on that front things get a little easier.  Oh and I would dearly love to show my H this site, in particular a comment by a guy who's devastated that his wife asked for a divorce.  He apparently didn't see it coming. The feelings that he expressed are something I think a lot of ADHD guys should read so that they don't continue to destroy something that they obviously still want very much.  But baby steps are to be taken, at the moment my H would just react badly and insist that he's not that bad and how rude of me to 'go behind his back' by speaking about him on a public blog. Sigh....

nomorebadhead's picture

good book

mandi i was reading this post and realized you were the one who commented on my other post. there is a good book called change your brain change your life. Daniel g Amen. it is practically an owners manual to adhd and depression. it goes into detail about the physiological causes of these disorders and talks about the difference between typical brains and cingulate system brains. really fascinating. but like any non adhd er you probably have the whole library of self help books after years of trying to figure out what in the world went so wrong!

Mandi K.... Thank you so very

Mandi K....

Thank you so very much for taking the time to reply !It was really helpful and I appreciate it so much !!!!!! 

I can relate so fully to your explanation of how you feel and the emotional exhaustion . I also discovered through my research that I have been living co-dependently with him for many years . So for the past almost 2 years , I have sought out help for myself and the issues I face that have kept me in a marriage that was devoid of intimacy for decades .   I have made amazing discoveries concerning myself and am so grateful to be getting to the truth of things. I now can understand my numbness , my walled-up heart , my anger . I am feeling like I need to work on myself to gain strength and understanding before I can even think about talking honestly with him.  But you are so right when you talk about living in a numb state as boring and not fixing anything !   I could scream ! I guess that would be a good thing :)    So I am getting help , but now I wonder if I should've kept it all to myself like some deep dark secret that I won't share with him . I guess I have to get to the place where I can approach him with some kind of kindness and compassion . I pray for that to come eventually .

Again , thank you for responding does help tremendously to hear how others have done things and how they feel .

and , yes, my H too would be horrified that I am talking about him on a public blog because " things aren't that  bad "....