How do I break the ice to rebuild the emotional connection?

My DH (ADHD) and I (non-ADHD) are at this awkward/delicate place in our relationship. We're not fighting and I'm not angry but we're just going through the motions of our day-to-day lives. We're walking on eggshells around each other. I feel like we both want to connect but are afraid to initiate. Why we are afraid is understandable - years of missteps and being on the roller coaster for a years. But we're still together and there are still feelings there.

It seems like a simple question but do I put it out there and state clearly that I want to work on connecting and discuss how we should do that? Be very direct - Or is that too much pressure? My confidence is not what it used to be and I need some advice how to approach it with DH.

Recent conversations about other things have been tense - if there's any hint of an accusation on my part he gets defensive. So we are in an okay place but I wouldn't describe it as good. However, I think that working on connecting would help me to feel more trusting of him. The lack of connecting is contributing to the walking on eggshells feeling for me. I think he is scared of me because he doesn't understand what sets me off. And I am scared of him for the same reason.




how recent was the diagnosis?

Hey Willow,

I am an ADHD woman & I know all about the eggshells you're walking on - but from the other side.  I was diagnosed 9 months ago and spent the first 7 months very gun-shy about any kind of intimacy.  Mostly because I felt so broken/unattractive.  I already felt guilty/horrible about past behavior, but now was recognizing many, many more things I do wrong and many many more things that I do/have done that irritate or make my husband angry that I didn't see before.  This realization made me VERY defensive and insecure.  I would work hard to fix/prevent stupid behaviors/mistakes but ultimately would slip sometimes and then REALLY feel $#!tty.  Also, I began to see all the hoops my husband jumps through to prevent me from screwing things up, and it's humiliating.  Or, someone telling me something starts at 8:30, when it actually starts at 9:00.  In the past, I'd come running in at 9:10, out of breath and frazzled and not know the difference.  But now I'll show up at 8:30 wondering where everyone is.  Then they show up at 9:00, laugh, and admit their rouse.  I am humiliated again.

What helps me is finally 'standing up' for myself.  I am NOT always wrong.  I am NOT always stupid.  I was never verbally (or physically) abusive to my husband, nor did I ever steal/spend the family's money for selfish things.  I am not an alcoholic and I have never been interested in 'recreational' drugs.  I do not waste time playing video games while ignoring the house or kids or him...  So already, I feel lucky to NOT have most of the problems a lot of ADHD spouses have.  I have been hurtful to my husband, and that is unforgivable.  However, it was decades ago and I KNOW I am not that person anymore and I have to let it go.  I can't change the past, and after all, he CHOSE to stay.  He CHOSE to marry me and he CHOSE to have kids with me.

If it's a pretty recent diagnosis, try to give your husband a little time to adjust.  Is he taking medication?  This also needs some getting used to...  I know you probably feel you've been patient long enough, but the diagnosis is a serious slap in the face and the stimulant medication is powerful $#!t and takes a while for the body and brain to accept. (at least for me).

hang in there!

diagnosis was a while ago

@ellamenno - DH diagnosis was several years ago so being on meds is not new. I understand from your perspective the feelings of humiliation and failure when it seems only your mistakes are being highlighted by people around you - friends, co-workers and your husband. I'm not sure where I fall into that end of the spectrum. Most people who know DH do not know he's been diagnosed. I think they wouldn't be shocked once told but they aren't fully aware of what is going on. Given that, I'm the bad guy in some situations. I'm the control freak or the B*tch. Like you my DH has not done many of the things that are described by others such as physical abuse, infidelity, computer addiction, failure to maintain employment and excessive spending and I'm so thankful. And with kids and jobs and all of the things that come up there are fewer opportunities to connect. It's not about money as much as choosing to do something with me rather than just the "have to do's" or choosing to enforce the kids go to bed on time even in the summer because we could watch a movie on tv just the 2 of us.

In my marriage, we have

In my marriage, we have struggled to be on the same 'intimacy' page for years. (I'm non, he is ADHD). He was either full on..or nothing. I tried to keep up, go along, and would then get accused of not initiating sex enough when I went along with his 'nothing'. I would initiate and get rejected. There was never any rhyme or reason to where he was at any given time on the intimacy issue. If I mentioned it, he basically would tell me that I over analyzed it too much and needed to stop thinking/worrying about it. So, has been left 100% up to him and that is the only way I have been able to find peace about it. It comes with risks...such as being accused of never initiating. I'm OK with that. It also leaves me feeling lonely and 'disconnected' from him when we go for weeks without having sex, but I have learned to live with that too. I don't talk about it anymore...and I won't talk about it anymore. The only thing that works for ME is to just leave it completely up to him.

The best you can do is try and tell him that you miss it, but if he's just been diagnosed, it may just add to his feelings of inadequacy that are common when they first get diagnosed. There is no easy fix for getting back on track...but talking to him might be a start. If he's defensive, like you say, this may be a subject better left for a counseling session.

intimacy is part of what

Intimacy is part of what I would like but it's more of the emotional connection I want to work on - being friends, feeling like he cares about what is going on with me on a day-to-day basis. I would be happy with affection over sex at this point. I really want to spend more quality time (how cliche is that?) - so it's not all just going to Target and taking the kids to practice counting as "together time". For what you're talking about I think that medication affects physical intimacy. Some of the medications do a great job of helping my DH focus - but focus on what? Having a date night would be nice. Not some expensive outing but just going out without the kids so there's time to talk without editing conversations.

I'm there too

Wow, I read your post thinking I might have been "sleep posting". I too feel like we are awkward with other, and both wanting to fix it.  This was both "before" I suggested he may have ADD, and since.  And this awkwardness sets the stage for every conversation to get tense.  My guy is huge on oppositionality (I love that word) and I'm huge on pointing out to him he always disagrees with me.)  I'm trying to use advice I gave my kids long ago -- act out of love, not anger.  Or, in other words, go ahead and say things if you are in a loving, generous, gentle mood, but stay quiet and take no action if you are angry.  ( I don't mean to imply people shouldn't stand up for themselves....etc.)   When you're wondering if something is the right thing to say or do, if you FEEL loving, gentle kind in that moment, the thing you want to say or do is probably loving, too.  If you FEEL riled up it probably isn't.   So when you notice an awkwardness between you and you are in a place of "not angry" could you just say "I know things feel awkward between us, but if we keep being kind to each other, it will get better."  Then stop?  Not have a big conversation about it?  Couldn't hurt.  I think with my guy, something like that, with no pressure on him to "perform on the spot" would stay on his mind, or at least bubble to the top now and then.  I don't mean to demean him but I tend to think of his brain as one of those child's toys that has a fan in it and a bunch of balls.  The balls run through this little tubing system and then suddenly pop out at the top, then drop back down into the brain again.  I just try to get some of "my balls" into the mix.    I'm also working on being a little more "attentive" myself.  I don't always pay enough attention to the things he does "right" and give him "credit" in my own heart for them.  Or let him know that I've noticed.  I don't think that's being patronizing, is it? to compliment someone for making an effort?  Lastly, over our many years together, my guy and I have melted a lot of ice by laughing together.  You know best what makes you both laugh.  It's challenging in that the ice around our hearts (formed for protection, honest!) prevents us from allowing in the things that would melt the ice.  I know my guy has sometimes made a comment, smiled or laughed and then looked downright hopeful I would join in -- and I responded with the fake smile, and the opportunity was lost.    It's so hard to get out of the punishment frame of mind, for me.  Anyway your words "I feel like we both want to connect" really resonated with me, and you should take them as a good sign.  best wishes.

I am taking those words as a good sign

I appreciate what you're saying about being more attentive and verbalizing appreciation as much as possible. I like that word - "oppositionality" - hmm. I think that applies to my DH too. I struggle with not saying anything when I'm feeling negative. It's hard to do that and not build up resentment. It's hard for an ADD person to try to perform on the spot and try to do things because it's easy for something to get forgotten or for it not to get communicated to me in a way I hear or see it. And of course my DH and I are opposite in things so when things aren't going right rather than seeing it as balancing each other out, I feel out of sync and it makes me feel sad, angry or otherwise crappy.

DF's picture

I like your question

Like ellamenno, I'm a bit similar in that i don't suffer from many of the major issues associated with ADD(HD).  However, that doesn't mean that in my wifes current place in life she doesn't make me feel like she has a list of grievances against me. 

Seeing as how I don't have results to offer you, I thought I might recommend reading "5 love languages".  I got it from my local library a few months back and it was very interesting.  I'm not able to put it into practice, but I may yet get to in seemingly distant future.  The bottom line is that you are in a better place than me to run with new gained knowledge and what I got from the book was that it's not about saying anything sometimes.  Depending on what appeals to your spouse it may not be words at all ( or sex - a common misconception ). 

Sometimes actions really do speak louder than words.  The eggshells, for me, is somewhere I'm not at anymore.  For myself, eggshells are when you are concerned about how your spouse will 'react' to your words or actions.  I know where I stand and I know it's a lot further in than knee deep in $hit.  It bothers me very little because I'm the guy my wife chose to marry and spend our lives together.  It's not the perfect life nor is it void of current hardships, but we're good people and we've raised our kids well.  I'm not ignorant of the idea that she may want to leave, I've seen the folder containing the paper work to dissolve the marriage.  I just feel like I'm more important right now.  Not because I'm an idiot, but there's a possibility my wife is living MidLife issues and I'm unable to do anything about that other than not give her any more reason to want to file the legal paper work.

If you and your spouse are showing signs of "wanting" to improve the situation, the ticket may not always be direct communication.  Sometimes implying hurt or pain is translated by your spouse as you are blaming them.  I've never been one to be in touch with my emotions in spoken form, I'm creative in my form of expression.  This is good for me seeing as how my last attempts to profess my undying love for my wife verbally moved her into the living room to sleep - and she's been there ever since.  Eh........

So find what works for you.  It's not always easy, but any positive response can help you find the strength/excitement to pursue other avenues.  Do ADD(HD) people need constant stimulation?  Being diagnosed recently myself I'd say - yes, but within reason.  Nobody can be everything everyday, but being reminded every now and then just how special someone is to us is pretty neat.  I don't speak for all of us, but with the right resources available I truly enjoy reciprocating in kind.  And seeing as how i have almost no spending money after bills and my current icy situation with my wife, I've enjoyed finding frugal and creative ways to offer her that something special - without forcing myself on her if in fact she is having a MidLife Crisis.  I'd hate to have her move into the basement.... ;)

Verbal vs indirect communication

DF - I think you could write a book about that. I'm not at mid-life crisis so I'm not sure what to say about your wife. I'm sorry she went to the couch when you expressed your undying love for her. I think if my husband directly said he loved me or made any overt statement of undying love I would faint in shock. I've talked to a man who is married to a woman with ADHD. He is hurt if he initiates sex and she turns him down (which is often) and says she feels like he's initiating it just for him and she doesn't feel special. When she initiates he never turns her down and is basically grateful to get what he gets.

I have a running monologue going on in my head that my husband can apparently turn off when he's "in the mood". For me the conversation gets louder instead of softer and then I don't want to have sex. "Having sex doesn't excuse you coming home 2 hours late" or he sees I'm distracted and gets upset. So if there's more affection in general I won't feel that he only touches me when he is in the mood. So the indirect communication list would include: touching in sincere way (not joking or only in front of others) , looking at me when we talk, touching me - holding hands, rubbing my back, kissing me at random times and letting it stop at a brief kiss. And of course compliments - even thank you counts.

DF's picture

A common set of requests for sure

I myself would love to have those  very same things that you list above, but my wife resents me.    Those are things that are important to her as well, but not from me at this stage in our lives.  I can't pretend to understand what is running through her heart and the battle being waged in her mind.  Today I'm more of the person she has wanted me to be in our 13 year relationship, but by being that person her resentment grows because I've failed her for so long.  Two months ago I'd be choking on my heart about the things we talked about last night, but not anymore.  I can be the man my wife wants me to be, but it takes an inch of giving on her part to make giant leaps.  It doesn't frustrate me or upset me anymore because I know now that I have so much to be thankful for.  A year+ of being ignored and resented makes for one long growth period for me so it was kind of strange how my mindset changed at the flick of a switch the way it did.  Heck just look at my original post - I was depressing and needy.

I'm going off subject.......sorry.  Happens a lot.

I noticed something in talking with my wife last night and it was that we haven't every really "talked".  My fear of failure my whole life has provided me with some serious trust issues.  It's not fair to her, but it's my reality.  Assuming I know what she wants is no different than her assuming what I want and all that does is get us to where her and I are today.  It felt really good to have a frank and open conversation with her.  I made sure to tell her that the smile on my face was not condesending or mocking, but the fact that I'm in a happy place in my life and speaking from the heart & mind is such a beautiful thing. 

You mentioned above the list of things you would like your ADD(HD) spouse to do for you and I'm sure you assume that if he loves you that he should just know.  It could also be that you have told him about that list of things.  I know my wife has told me those very things and having ADD ( not HD ) doesn't mean I forget, but I am guilty of not 'knowing' just how important those things are.  Sure I was giving her a random kiss on the back of the neck when she came home from work, but I treated it as something that I thought made her feel appreciated.  My heart was not in it because in my busy mind, if things seem okay then there's no problem.  I never even asked my wife if she liked my random kiss on the back of the neck.  ..........

So long story short, I would like to know, as the man I am today, what my wife thinks could melt some of the ice in her heart because I found out how to listen and in some cases ask the right questions.  Had I been the person I am today when my wife provided me with the same list you mentioned above, it would not have fallen on deaf ears.  So I ask you this.....  I'm sure you've spoken of some of these things to your husband, but have you told him why they are important to YOU?  I don't mean telling him it lets you know he cares about you.  Have you told him that a back rub for you is like heaven on earth and makes the worst of your stressful day all but forgotten, because you're married to the one guy that just gets you?  -> If that's how it makes YOU feel.  Or are you telling him these things in a way you "think" he'll hear and understand you? -> This last one my wife is guilty of.


A strategy for "oppositionality"

I mentioned my guy's tendency to "oppose" or disagree or take the other side of even the simplest comment, about the weather, if the paint is dry, if the grass looks good or too long (I'm always "wrong).  I've just started saying "yeah, yeah, yeah" and then moving on.  Moving on is critical.  I can say these words with a smile and not a sneering tone, because really sometimes this habit of his is crazy funny.  Can't you imagine a Seinfeld character who might always do it?  This comment serves in several ways:  1.  it's easy to remember when I'm suddenly flooded with irritation that I've been disagreed with AGAIN.  2.  The yeah yeah yeah and the sitcom image remind me to lighten up.  3.  My saying something I feel like I'm not stifling my feelings.  4. The phrase seems to sometimes make him stop and think about what he's just said and whether it's true.  I've only done this about a dozen times in the past two weeks and many times he has taken back his opposing statement, even interrupting me while I'm "moving on".  I'm pretty sure a couple of times he was going to oppose me but stopped himself because he realized he didn't really disagree.  Back to my point about moving on.  I used to try to point out why my statement was true and his was not.  Like that will get you anywhere.  Then I tried to point out how frequently he disagreed with me when he didn't really disagree, to which he said "I do not."  LOL.  Now the moving on part, which is essential.  Here's an example: I go out and check to see if the dew is off the lawn so I can cut the grass.  I walk around in my tennies and it is certainly dry. He has not been out of doors at all.   Me:   The grass looks like it's dry enough to cut.  Him:  No, it's still pretty wet.  Me:  Yeah, yeah, yeah.  I'm going to go change my shoes. And off I go.  Here's another example of how to move on.  Me:  They sure are making a big deal of X on the news.  Him:  There's only been one story.  Me:  Yeah, yeah, yeah.  How'd your meeting go today?  If you can't deliver "yeah, yeah, yeah" with the right amount of humor (quickly, no eye contact, gentle tone of voice) then find something else.  My guy likes to tease and be teased, so this line seems comfortable for him, even if it is surprising coming from me.  You might use something as simple as "hmm" or "there you go" but I think it shouldn't contain any judgment or sarcasm.  You might think my yeah, yeah, yeah is sarcastic, but it isn't to my guy.  (He hardly ever notices sarcasm, or sadness or anger or any of those things. Which is handy at times and extremely painful at others.) 

Great strategy and glad it works for you!

I am going through the same thing but I can't find a way to make a change. I can't use sarcasm. If I replied with "yeah, yeah, yeah" he would fly off the handle.  I try to be extremelly clear with my words as, contrary to your guy, my husband hears sarcasm even where there isn't any. He hears attacks where there are none. He thinks he can "read between the lines". I usually remind him to just listen to my words, there is nothing else there. But it doesn't work.

I like your idea of just moving on to the next subject. Right now we just keep going on an on. I'll try that.

I am not sure why this comes

I am not sure why this comes and goes in phases in my marriage...but I have had this issue with my DH as well. Even when discussing subjects that were completely neutral, that had no bearing on our marriage at all, he would disagree with me. I just simply 'agreed to disagree' and moved on...but eventually it got so bad that I said "are you disagreeing with me just to disagree with me?" because it makes me feel like he considers me the 'enemy'. I posted on here before about someone I have a relationship with ( I have no choice) and how I used to have such animosity towards this person that I would intentionally disagree with (or not agree with, if that's what they were looking for) just because I couldn't stand the thoughts of having anything in common with this person. When my husband does this to me, I cannot shake the feelings I had towards this other person and worry that he feels that way about me. I don't want to be his enemy...I want to be his best friend. I am not sure this is an ADHD thing...for me it was just "I really don't like this person and blame this person for all of these things wrong in my I am not going to agree with this person if my life depends on it".

Hopefully someone with ADHD can chime in...

I've got two theories and I like them both

Yes, I'd like to hear from someone with ADHD if that tendency is a common symptom... Prior to learning about ADD/ADHD my theory was that my husband lacked confidence in his own thoughts, and coped with that by swinging too far the other way in defending himself, then developed the knee-jerk habit of disagreeing with everything and backing down later if necessary.  His parents have always criticized almost all of his statements and actions.  After learning about ADD, I thought perhaps he feels so frequently wrong about stuff -- not reading people well, forgetting to do stuff, not hearing important things because his mind was elsewhere-- that he developed this habit of taking the opposite side to go on the "offensive" , and again it goes too far.  different source, same result.  SherrW13... there have been times in my looooonng marriage when things were so rocky, my guy abandoned his usual lay low, wait it out style (which I believe is part of his baseline easy going personality) and felt so threatened that he got more "aggressive".  For him, aggressive isn't what most people would call aggressive, but I knew it was VERY aggressive for him.  Staring me down, setting his jaw, getting angry (for him) or fiercely defensive.  I believe now that was because of the intensity of what he felt coming from ME.  These were during times when I was really starting to believe I would end up leaving.  I never got to developing plan B, but I definitely got to believing I needed a Plan B.  So even though I never said so, he had to feel things were nearing an edge, and all of the behaviors I now think are from ADD would intensify HUGELY.  The more I asked/begged/pleaded with him to improve, the more he did those things.   (I think now he was terrified, and moving from flight into fight.)   So my question for SherrW13 is .... the feeling you are picking up during those "phases", and wondering if it is like those times you deal with the family member.....does this phase correspond to when you are feeling near the edge?  If so, you have to wonder which comes first.  I never could keep causative and correlative straight.... so let's ask which is the chicken and which is the egg.    For us, prior to having the "big conversation" if I just ignored or accepted or adapted to his ADD behaviors, he was a very happy guy.  If I asked for more, pointed out issues, or begged and pleaded, over time, he would get worse and worse and worse until I felt he despised me and was disgusted by me.  Then I would shut down, withdraw, lick my wounds, carry on, leave him alone, and he would settle back down to the very nice guy who didn't listen, didn't finish anything, didn't consider anyone else's life, yet was pleasant and mellow.  Lather, rinse, repeat.  BTW, since the big conversation, we have not again mentioned ADD/ADHD.  Yet he has apologized (!!!!!) for not helping with housework for our entire married life, and started doing more.  He has started (sometimes) looking at me when we talk.  He has started correcting himself when he is "oppositional".  He has started asking follow up questions (what I call a conversation) rather than just saying "good" or "okay" and walking away.  I'm kinda hopeful. 

Ok...this has given me

Ok...this has given me something to ponder...will start a new has been mentioned more than once recently.

Clever Response to "Oppostionality!"

Great idea!  I get sarcasm really well, but I don't detect any sarcasm there.  I like that your response isn't an invitation to fight (which can be very stimulating to people w/ADHD, something that took me forever to realize for myself), but simply a tool to get past the impulsive comment of the moment.   I also like that you say something, so that it's not simply a matter of time before you give up, explode and proceed to throttle him ;). That must take a lot of willpower, because I know our behavior can be annoying, to say the least.  That you aren't trying to fight back must really help your husband see that you are trying to work with him, and must give him literal pause before he continues.  I bet on some level he realizes you are trying to help.  I would notice the difference.  Your husband is lucky that you get that aspect of his symptoms :)!