How to get him to listen

I'm recently married to my wonderful husband Vincent and I love him more than anything and although we've been together for over a year now I'm just now beginning to realize how much his ADHD affects our relationship. Even though we are both aware that he has ADHD and I try so hard to understand what he's thinking It's still hard for me to try and communicate my feels to him without making it seem like I'm attacking him. It seems every time I start to try to explain to him that when he does this or that it makes me feel like this he automatically goes into defense mode and forgets why we are talking in the first place and starts saying whatever he can to hurt me or I guess make me feel like the way i'm making him feel. How do I explain to him my feelings without making him respond this way?

We're in the exact same boat.

I have been asking myself this question over and over.  I've read the forum posts and I've tried to follow the advice given there only to have it blow up in my face.  I've tried to shift the focus from "him and his behavior" to "ADHD symptoms", but I think he feels they are one in the same.  ADHD is part of who he is, if I attack the disorder then I'm also attacking him.  It seems like it's impossible to not offend him in within the first 2 minutes of the conversation.  And once that happens, no amount of explaining, me correcting myself, back peddling or anything is going help.  I feel like once he's offended, I have two options.  Either drop the subject and NEVER return to it or put on my "boxing gloves".   Last night we decided that we just flat out lack the communication skills necessary.  Without a therapist specializing in ADHD, nothing either one of us say is going to be understood as it was intended.  So now I feel like we shouldn't discuss anything important until we can get to a counselor.  I've found one that we've seen before, she herself is ADHD and seems to really understand the communication issues between ADHDers and the Nons. 

So, far.... finding professional help is the very best advice so far.  Your brains are wired so differently, and if you're like me, you may be presenting it to him as though he'll process it as you do.  And he wont, trust me.  I'm right now digging myself out of a situation I created because I didn't present it to him in a way his brain would accept.  Even though I'd put a lot of thought into it and carefully chose how I would approach the conversation, I still screwed it up.  I accept that and the fact that it will happen again and again until I gain the skills necessary.


You are exactly right. Due to

You are exactly right. Due to their history, they are very defensive and feel like any criticism just points out that they are failures. "you didn't take the trash around" equates to "you're a complete loser who doesn't deserve the air you breathe!"

Professional help is a really good tool because our counselor could always get him to 'hear' my words even when she would say it the exact way I said it. It is the fact that it is coming from US (non's) that it takes on a life of its own.

Another way to minimize the 'blow ups' is to state your feelings, as they occur "it really hurts my feelings when you _____" and then DROP IT. If he tries to engage in a negative way, simply walk away. Even if he gets mad, he will most likely calm down soon enough and you've made your point without causing a huge scene. Also, give up on the idea that you'll get any kind of acknowledgement or resolution of many problems in a timely manner. "oh, I am so sorry..I didn't mean to hurt your feelings" probably isn't something you're going to hear for a while. Many ADHDers get defensive because they do feel attacked...and they don't feel 'safe' saying I'm sorry. It is a very humbling and vulnerable state to apologize. In order to feel safe apologizing you have to create an atmosphere of 'acceptance'...or just be very willing to humble yourself and brave enough to face possible rejection...which most ADHDers aren't due to low self-esteem. Once they realize that each 'mistake' isn't going to be a 2 hour, 12 hour, 2 day conflict they will be much more open to 'listen'. I truly think more information 'gets in' and is processed when it is kept to one simple statement (see above) as opposed to trying to have a long drawn out discussion about how hurtful something they did was. We have to assume A) that they can hear, B) that they do love us and do care if they hurt our feelings and C) if we don't attack them and crush their already damaged self-esteems that maybe they'll slowly start to become more aware and spend less time being defensive. Once they are defensive, WALK AWAY. God, if I had learned this 13 1/2 years ago the damage I could have saved our marriage. I fought for my feelings to be validated, for him to agree with me, for him to acknowledge my pain...and the main reason I got NOTHING was because of the way I went about asking for it.

Saving 'big' issues for counseling is an EXCELLENT idea as well. Lastly, as sad as it is to say...we never exercised our 'right' to agree to disagree until just in the last year or so. Even if he's saying something that feels outrageous to you just simply say "although I don't understand why you feel that way, I respect that you do, and we will just have to agree to disagree on this one". When my DH accuses me of thinking or feeling something that I know I don't, this is what i say because I have never found any other way to bring peace to the marriage.

Best of luck to you both! It sucks feeling like you cannot express your feelings, most importantly feeling like they see you as the 'enemy' but we perpetuate that image by arguing with them, picking apart their mistakes, demanding our feelings be validated, and by being so angry at them. Keep it short and sweet and have faith that they hear you and love you enough to care about what you're saying.

A different approach

"oh, I am so sorry..I didn't mean to hurt your feelings" probably isn't something you're going to hear for a while..... if ever.  I'm not being rude, its just my experience that they don't get the point of apologizing, especially if they feel like they are screwing up again and again.  Why apologize for something you know will probably happen again, its really kinda like apologizing for breathing (an exaggerated example, but you get my point).  Something my DH started doing (he came up with it on his own) that works just as well for me (the non) as an apology, is looking at me, listening to what the issue is (I keep it short and to the point-5 minutes tops) and telling me that he can see X, Y or Z is an issue and he will work on it.  Eight times out of ten he works on it, maybe not as fast as I would like, but he is making an effort.  It sure beats fighting all the time!!!!  Not sure if this helps, but I hope it does. ~~HUGS~~

LOL My husband used to

LOL My husband used to apologize...profusely...all the time. I 'broke' him of it by repeatedly telling him that his words meant nothing because his actions screamed that he wasn't really sorry. (LONG before ADHD diagnosis...neither of us knew any better/different) Now, apologies are few and far between.

I have came to a point...

where I don't want apologies!!!  Especially if they are just words to stop me from being mad....I just want him to see the issue and work toward not doing it anymore.  I know he feels bad when he does something "wrong", but your right unless you are going to back that up with a commitment to change its pointless.  I would much rather he tell me to give him some time to work on it.  I don't turn into a (in his words) nagging bitch and he has the opportunity to choose to change.  Its a win-win situation for both of us!

I just heard the Millionth Apology

and I'm commiserating with you both. I told him a LONG time ago that apologies/words in general mean nothing unless there is an action and REAL CHANGE behind it. We got home from a marriage counseling session today that was very heated and tense and emotional (for me, apparently not him) and he just apologized to me saying "I didn't want it to be that way, I want us to work things out, etc etc." All I can do now when he apologizes to me for the Millionth-and-one times, is just stare at him and say "Ok" and think to myself 'this means nothing' because I honestly don't know what else do to when he says I'm sorry 1,000,0002 times.

Honestly, if I had it to do

Honestly, if I had it to do all over again I would have handled this differently. We did not know he had ADHD until barely a year ago and we've been married for 14 years. So, taking that into consideration, we just simply did not know. Having said that, if I could go back and KNOW then what I KNOW NOW, I would like to think I would have handled this a little differently.

Maybe instead of saying "your words mean nothing to me" I would have said "I really appreciate you saying that. It tells me that you know how badly this hurts me. I know we both want things to be different so I would really like for you to help me figure out how we go about that" or in your case I might have said "I know it isn't easy for you to say that, and I really appreciate that you acknowledge that things went really badly today. I also appreciate that you want the same things I do...for things to go better in counseling and for us to work through things without fighting. I am hopeful that in time this will happen." It acknowledges his apology vs. blowing it off. It acknowledges that you're both on the same page vs. putting all of the blame for the bad counseling session on him. It doesn't blame him for the bad session or anything else..just simply points out that it WAS a bad session, you agree, and you agree that things need to be different.

It isn't easy. It might feel like your words are falling on deaf ears, or that you've 'forgiven' him for something you feel he isn't truly sorry for. Take a chance and assume, for once, that he really is sorry. Chances are, he is. :-(

Like I said...I wish I could do all of this over again. Not only does he rarely ever apologize anymore, but I truly believe that he was sorry for hurting me. Knowing how ADHD makes these things 'tick', I can now see that it wasn't that he wasn't sorry, or that he didn't love me, it was simply his ADHD being in control of him. Maybe if I had let him believe that I had faith in him that he WAS sorry and that he WOULD try and do better next time, it might have made a difference and saved us a lot of pain. Just something to think about.


Sherri, I just checked in again and am very, very impressed with the progress you have made.  I truly admire how you are able to stretch and grow.

On the above post, better late than never.  We can only work with the knowledge we have at the time.  Share with him what you have shared here.  Especially for those who need so much positive feedback late is better than never.    

For me, allowing myself to be vulnerable, not trying to appear perfect and admitting I handled something poorly for whatever reason, was like a last vestige of letting control go.  I had a hard time with that for a while partly because I was afraid of the blame game but it didn't happen.  My acknowledgement of my own shortcomings put us on a more level playing field and allowed true co-operation and compromise to start flourishing.  We can acknowledge that our minds are working differently with neither being right or wrong...just different.  We are both strong personalities and will still butt heads big time but it's no longer a personal thing if that makes sense.  We can acknowlege a behaviour in an objective way without judging or feeling judged.  Once, a couple of hours after a particularly frustrating exchange, I  said to him that was pretty bad but doesn't mean I don't love you.  For some reason that was huge for him and it has become our little mantra of humor and reassurance..."holy that was bad but I still love you". 

On the topic of exercise, for us it is HUGE!!!!  If my BF is seriously wound up I don't even try to discuss anything or interact I just invite him to play.  I run him, run him hard lol.... tennis, cycling, swimming... anything to get it out of his system and it works amazingly well.  An hour of play and his whole demeanor changes.

I do the same thing for myself if I'm feeling tense with him.  Sometimes I'll say I'm just going to take the dogs for a quick bike ride and it gives me a little space to decompress. 

For those of you who think their relationship can't/won't change we are a testatment that says otherwise.  Even though we knew we loved each other we were in a terrible constant push/pull battle filled with anger and frustration.  Today we are truly happy as individuals and as a couple.   Is it stress free?  Absolutely not but we have become a team and I wouldn't trade this relationship for anything.

Say it once and then drop it...okay, I'll try that

Hi Sherri,

I like how simple it is -- okay, I'll try it. Why does this work with the ADHD mind? I'll admit, I know it will be hard for me to walk away, because when he gets defensive, he will do and say anything -- really, the most outrageously hurtful things -- to get me to react angrily, in order to justify his own behaviour. By dropping it, do you mean, carrying on as usual, or saying nothing? Because when I say nothing, then he accuses me of not caring enough to talk about it, and then he tries even harder to get me to react.

But you have to identify with

But you have to identify with what is ADHD and what is actually the 'issue at hand'. If he's saying things because he knows it engages you, because he is defensive and wants to fight, then you're aware of exactly what HE is doing and exactly what YOU are doing and if you continue to participate then you're going to eventually want to kick yourself. Walk away, physically removing yourself from the fight/room/situaiton. So many ways you can handle this..."I appreciate and respect that you feel that way, but my perception is completely different from yours on this issue and the only solution I see is that we agree to disagree. I certainly don't want to fight about it" "I am sorry that you feel that what I said was meant in that way or meant the way you took it, I can only say that I assure you that wasn't my thought process/intent and I think this is just a matter of us seeing this from two different perspectives"

Pick your're not going to 'change' a behavior that has been happening for years by expressing the same feelings over and over and over again. Surprise him by just NOT reacting. "oh you locked your keys in the car" (Happened to us last night) or when he promises to spend time with you and then doesn't, or when he gets defensive or whatever the issue might be, just don't react with anger. If you say "it really PISSES ME OFF when you do that" versus "it is really hurtful when you do that" you can see where the defensiveness is coming from. My only theory on why it works better to not only diffuse a LOT of situations that could be potential fights but also seems to reap more benefits than you would imagine is because they actually HEAR the emotions (hurt) without them being overwhelmed by our anger and it gives them a chance to think and nothing else. If it escalates then they see our anger, and that is ALL they see and all they think about. Also, they are so used to being berated and raked over the coals for everything they've done wrong that it creates an atmosphere in which they lie, deflect, and become defensive in order to 'cope'. If they slip up and aren't faced with the firing squad, then eventually they'll (ideally) become more motivated to try harder because they want/like the acceptance that they get in spite of their slip ups. Make sense?

When you are accused of not caring when you say nothing...then you can still keep it simple and 'adult' and respectful by saying something like "I do care, I really care a lot about our marriage/relationship. I want to prove how much I do care by walking away from this until we are both in a calmer state emotionally. I promise to address this with you later, calmly, because I can see it is important to you"