How long is too long?

Sometimes in a marriage, you have to talk to your partner about "serious" topics.  Decisions must be made, options considered, or progress evaluated on things like finances, family schedules, or putting the relationship on the "front burner" now and then.  My guy has told me, though, that his biggest fear in starting these "serious" conversations is that they "will never end." He said while we talk he keeps wondering "Is this almost over?"  Kinda like I feel in the dentist chair?   This astonished me, because we are not a couple who spends a whole evening, or even an hour either talking or arguing about serious topics.  I have even monitored the time in order to better understand his feeling like this... to make sure I wasn't trapping him for hours on end, but not realizing it.  A recent example was checking in to see how our new strategies for tracking the budget are working for us.  (And they are working, so shouldn't this be a "good news" conversation?)  It was 12 minutes long!  And he was edging away as we finished up.    My question to ADHDers is, is 15 minutes really too long to talk about serious stuff?  Or does 15 minutes feel like hours?  I want to clarify that these are not heated, contentious, arguing discussions... I am not nagging, pushing, blaming...these are "two people who love each other" discussions about making sure we schedule an evening out, or celebrate how we're saving money toward an exciting goal, or what changes we might need to make in our morning routine so we both leave the house feeling good.  I'm smiling now, because my guy would read those words and say AAACCCH!  LET ME OUT!  DON'T WANT TO TALK! I think it is physically painful for him to talk about anything other than his current projects, a story from the news, or what the neighbors might be up to.  It's like he wants to avoid confrontation, but there  is no confrontation.  Sometimes the topics are even ones I've heard him suggest, e.g., "We need to talk about what to do about replacing the truck."  It doesn't seem unreasonable to me to say that 15 minutes is not "too long" but am I asking for too much?  Or is he playing me, and any amount of time on topics he'd rather not think about is too much.  He always suggests we do it at another time, and that time never seems to arrive.  I'm not going to stop requiring that these conversations happen -- that's one of my bottom-line needs-- but I had hoped to cause him less pain in the process. 

*giggle* Not laughing at you,

*giggle* Not laughing at you, laughing with you, girlfriend. If I were honest, I think about two minutes is all my husband is good for if it is a subject he is 'forced' to deal with/talk about. Doesn't even have to be confrontational, just something he isn't interested in or doesn't feel invested in. Discussing matters involving emotions or feelings...forget it. A comment here, a quick statment there, is what these conversations have been reduced to. Fine by me, I'm sick of the fighting and I still make my point. Whether he 'gets it' or not, not something I'm willing to stress over anymore. I have always, with more consistency than anything else, gotten better results this way anyway.

It is important to you, and it won't kill him to sit and discuss important matters with you. Have your ducks in a row, maybe even put everything in writing, and hit on everything important to you as quickly as possible, but as thoroughly as you need. Not sure if it helps....but yes, 2 minutes is about all I would manage to get here.

Don't get me wrong, we can discuss the weather, kids, friends, neighbors, music, etc for hours on end...but it interests him. :o)

There will never be a "normal" conversation

I hear ya both...I get maybe 5 minutes tops till I get the glazed over look and he is looking for the clock....hahahahaha  Well unless he is talking about the radio studio he is building or the computer.  I just make sure I know exactly what I want to say and am quick and to the point.  Usually he gets it.....sometimes not.  Funny story from a couple days ago, I was teasing him about his smoking (hes trying to quit and it was in a friendly way) and told him that when he quit I was going to develop a $200 a month "shoe habit".  I said this while walking down the steps of the deck, to go to the store.  Well two days later we are laying in bed and my DH is like "I have to ask you..why would you develop a $200 a month "chew habit", "that's just disgusting".  I started to laugh so hard I was crying...he had let it bother him for two days that I was going to start a chewing tobacco habit.  I almost couldn't get it out that I said "shoe habit"!  He started to laugh too and told me that maybe he should start listening closer.

Hope that makes you smile for the day, I'm still laughing and so is he!  ~~HUGS~~

arwen's picture

there's no magic number

"Too long" is different for everybody, it depends on their level of management and discipline.

Six years ago, my husband and I instituted the practice of regularly scheduled "meetings" several times a week for the same purpose as your conversations with your spouse.  At the beginning, our meetings couldn't run more than half an hour, more than that was too strenuous for my ADHD spouse, and he would be uncomfortable before the half hour was up -- fifteen to twenty minutes was more typical.  Over several years, he learned to meet for longer.  He can now meet for over an hour if it's necessary, but anything beyond 45 minutes is pretty much out of his comfort zone and requires a lot of discipline and effort on his part.

A lot also initially depended on *when* we had our conversations.  He could stay with the discussion longer if we met earlier in the evening after work, rather than later -- but not right after work, when his brain hadn't yet had enough time to recoup from his job activities.  I needed to figure out, from trial and error, what meeting times/conditions worked best, and then we'd try to schedule our meetings to fit.  "Where" mattered, too -- we needed to meet somewhere with no distractions (no TV, no kids, no dog, no books).  We formalized it as much as possible, to help him focus, and I undertook to not discuss things with him outside the meetings.  This helped because he knew he wouldn't be "ambushed" by surprise conversations, and he could be prepared for our discussions.

My gut feeling is that it's not that your spouse sees your conversations as confrontation -- it's just that his mind is *used* to wandering, and it's a lot of effort, for him, to stop that from happening, and it's hard to remember what he needs to keep track of.  Most of us don't like spending any more time than we have to at something that's hard work.  How would *you* feel about studying, say,  quantum physics theory for 15 minutes every couple of nights, with questions you had to answer correctly about it and were graded on, and you forgot half of what you'd learned one evening by the next time?  I know that would give *me* headaches and dread.  That may be what your conversations are like for your husband.  To you, the conversations are simple and straightforward, so you can do 15 minutes standing on your head.  It sounds like he has neither your skills nor your memory nor your learned discipline.  There's not much you can do about the skills, but memory aids (e.g., notes, PDA) may help a little and practice and discipline may help some too.  A lot of patience on both your parts is key to improving his conversational capabilities.

One thing you may want to consider is whether he could cope better if you had two 10-minute sessions in an evening, to give him something of a break in the process.  I know that when I was taking piano lessons as a kid, and I was supposed to practice a minimum of 30 minutes each day, I found it a lot more pleasant to do two 15-minute sessions with a snack in between that 30 minutes at one stretch.  Later, when I was older and more used to practicing, 30 minutes seemed like nothing.

Hope this helps in some way.

"It matters not what someone is born, but what they grow to be."  Albus Dumbledore


Before meds or After meds? What time of day?

I don't think anyone looks forward to tough topics, but I can do just fine myself these days. The biggest "Blank Stare" response from me is if it is late at night and/or "Out of nowhere". I do well if we decide to go to lunch and we can talk about "X", but if we meet for lunch and all of a sudden a "Big Topic" comes up I don't do as well. I would be surprised, unprepared and in a public arena, I'm not That much better on meds. These unexpected conversations used to really shut me down in the old days, but I have improved quite a bit since the ADD diagnosis and meds.

I know big issues must be discussed and it's no fun, but I'd rather deal with an issue than wonder about it in "Chaos-land" forever. Hanging in the back of my mind wondering when it will and how it will blow-up later.


We have to talk about the

We have to talk about the week ahead every Sunday night, and now that I'm used to it, I do appreciate the regularity of it.    I also like that I'm getting it all done at once.  On my end, my husband has asked me to come to the sessions more prepared; I've frequently had to run downstairs to check to see whether I have an appointment coming up, etc...  My response has been to start planning for Sunday days in advance.  Planning out chunks of time and the response/steps necessary on my part, as well as anticipating problems, and adjusting those problems on the spot is not my strong suit.  We usually spend about 10 or so minutes on it. I try not to let us start too late, because then I start interrupting, lose patience more easily, and frankly, can't summon the executive functioning skills necessary to plan out a week's worth of crap.  Too late+ no meds=pointless conversation likely to go South fast; YYZ is right about timing and meds.

I don't think 15 minutes is too long unless the conversation is unplanned, meds wearing off, or bad time of day.  It's great that it's a positive conversation, too.  The only other thing I might say is to ask you whether you talk too long without taking processing/question breaks, so he can spit it back to you in small increments.  It's hard for us to sit still and listen without reciprocating.  Might help for him to have a notebook to write down things he wants to say and is afraid he might forget instead of interrupting.  I had a huge issue with "discussions" with my husband, and it had to do with his tendency to perseverate on a point until I wanted to strangle him.  Mostly, this was when he was upset with me and wanted to either a) hammer me about my faults or b) keep talking and talking and talking (AND TALKING!) because that way, I just might get it.  It was soooooo distracting.  In an effort to stave my interrupting,  I told him I wanted to use a 90 second hour glass that he got with a board game.  When the sand fell through, he was done talking.  It didn't take long to work, and could work with a chatty ADHDer as well.  I found I didn't need to use it; simply needed to know it was an option.  It also might help him to stand or pace.  My husband hates that, because he thinks I can't be listening to him and pacing, and sometimes this is true.  Othertimes, I need the movement to stay still mentally.

I was one of those "hammer it

I was one of those "hammer it home/talk talk talk" kind of people too. I cannot explain why I became that way, but it was a direct reaction to dealing with DH (and SD) whose behaviors repeated themselves 1000 times and your ideas about why we nons do this is dead on..we think if we just keep talking, something will sink in. I wish I had all of those hours of my life back that I spent wasting my time trying to convince a brick wall to move. There really are other, and better, ways of getting a point across. It just all boiled down to the little girl inside of me feeling like no one was listening and no one cared about all of the chaos they were bringing to my life. My childhood wasn't without faults and issues, but for the most part there was ZERO chaos. When you are thrown into the middle of it, and you have no clue what is behind it, I think it is a human reaction to think that simply 'talking' is a solution because it worked for me in every relationship I had had up until that point. (family, friends, etc). I am glad, it seems, from your post that your husband has learned how ineffective and derailing this is.

Husband w/ ADD

I had about a page worth of information typed out; stepped away for some daily work and then came back and read it.  All it said in summary: "As long as you keep in mind he has ADD and you don't 15 minutes shouldn't be to much to ask".  I didn't see this as a helpful answer at all so I gave it some more thought.

I tend to communicate in bullet points and apologize if it comes across as terse (I do it to help me stay organized in thought and not forget a point.


I think all would / should agree 15 min is a reasonable expectation of time to attribute to an important topic of conversation.  Heck an hour or more is reasonable in some cases.  I'll attempt to provide some insight into my thought processes when its a topic I might not be interested in, currently thinking about, planned to have, etc.

1) Not planned topics: In order to be productive daily I find myself creating systems to organize task, time, deliverables, communications, etc.  It takes conscious planning and effort to maintain this system that really "drives" my daily schedule or plan.  Positives: I can maintain some level of consistency in being productive each day, I can articulate at a high level a weekly plan of activities and detailed 24 hours advanced, I have cut back on the # of dropped responsibilities because of the routine of the system and several other benefits.  Negatives: I am not as flexible in adhoc interruptions to the plan, when something interrupts the plan I don't always handle the communication the best way possible, its hard for me to accommodate other peoples request for time if I didn't plan for it, it comes across as hardlined and uncaring.  All that said I would assume that from the outside this system of thinking and planning is transparent and probably appear very disorganized to someone else.  It would take insight to know and understand what it took to be productive that day. I think one part that makes ADD / Non-ADD relationships hard work is it takes a constant effort to put yourself in someone else's shoes with no experience of what it feels like to be like them.  What might seem like a simple question or request to one is probably a huge deviant of thought process for the ADD individual.  The random comment or question from an ADD person that seems ill timed for the circumstance that also takes effort from Non-ADD.  

2) Interested in: I have no problem admitting that a person with ADD has a much more difficult time maintaining focus period and an even harder time focusing on something they aren't interested in.  I can say in my circumstance if I am doing a few basic things; eating right, sleeping 6+ hours a night on average, staying physically active, drinking more water than soft drinks daily, taking ADD meds as dosed; I have no problem being more conscious about the need to engage even on topics I might not have active interest in.  I find it much easier when I am doing those things to shift gears with less effort.  Even still it takes me a few more seconds and sometimes minutes to shift gears and be available to absorb and respond to questions.  If the question is positive or neutral in nature (ie phrase, tone and approach) I do my best to respond in kind regardless of my personal feelings or position on the topic.  I find though that the best way to address serious or important topics that might have varying degrees of interest by either part is to make a specific time for it.  I don't prefer to have to schedule conversations that have emotional implications as the societal norm is "if he/she cares they would pay attention when I am talking about it"; but unfortunately for me to give someone my best I do that the best on a schedule.  I can prepare my mind, shutout distractions and other environmentals that are distractions and be available.

3) Approach: the only other thing I can think of that affects my response is how the conversations are approached (how is the conversation started, what tone was it started in, what position is the other person in, etc.)  Many times we try to start conversations that have "valid" concerns with all of the emotional charge with it.  If your angry about it the opener is loaded with obvious or not obvious tones and phrasing.  We focus on how we feel versus what is the best way to get to the result I want and even further how in this moment knowing my mate; whom is "x,y,z"; can I accomplish that goal.

I think we have to ask ourselves on both sides am I really wanting to punish for failed expectations or do I really want change and how do I become part of that change.

I think we will all attest that there is no easy way to get someone on board with that line of thinking.  In the absence of desire to change how can we expect different results.  I am sure there are countless dynamics going on in every circumstance but these are just a few thoughts I hope will help.  Spoken from the ADD perspective.

thank you

Thanks, that is very helpful. 

ive resorted to pinning mine

ive resorted to pinning mine down when we're in bed and talking to him about it then - he wont often get out of bed, because he only goes to bed when hes ready to sleep. so all i have to do is poke him if i think hes going to sleep to early and try not to be greedy. i love our late night conversations and after 5 years of effort on it, so does he :) he still won't admit that hes got adhd, even though he was diagnosed as a kid and everyone else knows hes got it and even his mother, who thinks her children are perfect, says he has it, so management is... difficult... but this is one of my best strategies - save serious stuff for bed time, its the only time he stays still long enough to listen. any other time and he seriously forgets we're having a serious conversation about 5 minutes in and either starts a completely different conversation or he just wanders off while im mid sentence :/ frustrating. i think any more then 3 minutes is usually too long to him.