How to stay or when to go?

My partner has ADHD, OCD and mild Asperger's, diagnosed only 2 years ago.  She's 40.
Over the 3.5 years we've been together, I have learned to set stronger boundaries, take better care of myself and identify co-dependency more clearly so as to stop my part of it.
She's getting treatment - therapy, medication, self-help through reading and forums.  She puts a lot of effort into learning, though ADHD itself sometimes causes her to forget/deny management of her own symptoms.
We have a couples counsellor.  I have self-help as well.

I'm not sure that staying is healthy for me.  Or that in staying, how to do it so that I can feel better, if it's even possible at this point.

She tries her best, but to be honest, I don't know if the level of her awareness or management is enough for me.  I find myself feeling frightened by her behaviors when she "relapses" (I don't know what other word to use at this point) into some destructive ADHD habit. And I feel like I'm going through chronic trauma over and over.  

While things have improved (she'll do house chores, she now holds a steady job for the first time in her life, is less of an impulse spender, will pay rent and a little bit of the bills, remember to say loving things to me (as long as her phone alarms remind her to) and show appreciation for what I provide) I feel drained by her dependency on me for nearly everything else (financial strain is mostly mine, social, emotional and more…)  

When I set my boundaries or ask that (quite reasonable) needs be met (such as asking her to provide some balance to the give and take in household or letting her know she can't buy something because there's actually no money for it), I often end up facing a tantrum or upset... and that's what's hard.  I feel disappointed, grief and sadness.  She pouts that she can't have her way, then forgets about it tomorrow, only to repeat the same behavior (and even same demand) again.  It's less frequent, but it still repeats.  

I also get hurt over and over every time she makes another irresponsible decision, that leads to some kind of sabotage or damage in our relationship.  Despite her best efforts, ADHD takes over and she wants to be teenager instead of a partner.  

She's been getting steady treatment for two years.  That's not long considering she's been living with undiagnosed symptoms for nearly four decades.  If this does get better, how much longer will it take until she acts more like an adult than a teenager?  I realize it depends on severity of symptoms and management/treatment efforts… but surely there must be some research on results?

I'm too inside of this to know if I'm being intolerant, unreasonable and impatient, or if I've become too much of a caretaker and doormat by making this rollercoaster my norm.

We have good times and fun together.  But I don't want to be in a teenage relationship.  I want an adult partnership.  I feel like I'm dating a really fun 16 year old who wants to hitch a ride in my car without pitching in for the gas.  And if I kindly ask for it, she throws a fit.  And then finally she will give me something to show some appreciation, but usually resentfully, then look back out the window as if nothing happened and tell me that there's something bright and shiny outside.



Forever Young

I feel like I'm dating a really fun 16 year old who wants to hitch a ride in my car without pitching in for the gas.  

Same here.  Sucks, doesn't it?  Keep buying the gas, maintaining the ride while she enjoys the wind in her hair being the life of the party. She will continue to be the child and you will wonder how you ended up with this father/daughter relationship with a person that you are not able to trust with adult responsibilities.

What to do?

Hey jennalemon,

If I make my bed I have to sleep in it.  Yeah, but if it "sucks"... then when is enough, enough?

You said you're in a similar relationship.  What makes you stay?  What are you doing to make it better for yourself?  How do you stand up for yourself?  What are your boundaries?  We can't keep blaming them (and actually - to her credit - she reminds me).  Do you feel it's getting better for you?  Have you considered leaving?  

Recently, I told her that we are going to have to split a major expense because I need her to pitch in more.  She acquiesced (with a bit of a fight but eventually just complied).  I felt better cause originally, I was just going to pay for all of it like I always do.  I feel like it's a step in the right direction for me.  I also need more mental and emotional space and equity - though I'm not sure what that's going to look like.

Anyone's advice or stories are deeply appreciated.  I want to feel better about my relationship, or at least, do something so I don't feel like I'm living with trauma after trauma. 

Choose your own adventure, beingNT

I stopped picking up the slack and hovering over him like I had for decades.  I gave him the bills that he would feel physically if he didn't do something.  He let the electricity bills go until the electricity was turned off.  I went to a hotel with my computer and told him to give me a call when he got the electricity back on.  He said he didn't have the money.  I said, "Then you will be cold then".  It took him three days.  It was freezing.  I gave him the real estate taxes to pay this year.  I reminded him for 6 months that he needed to save up and hustle to work to pay them.  In the past, he waited until they were due in a day or two and then said he didn't have the money and I would pick up the slack and pay them.  This time I told him every day for months before they were due that he was responsible for the real estate taxes.  Our real estate taxes are 2 months overdue right now. He is ignoring them.  We will have late fees....stupid huh?  Who is going to pay them in the end?  I just cannot bear to be the only responsible one while he is the "fun" one.  In years (decades) past, I had done everything like talking nicely, supporting, helping, motivating, screaming, manipulating, nothing works to make someone BE responsible and play on a team.  I guess what I am doing is proving this to ME.  How bad am I going to let it get before I leave?  I am paralyzed because of finances and fear.  Sucks.  I can't tell someone else on these boards what to do because I don't do what I know I should do myself. It doesn't get better.  It gets worse.  It has been 35 years and lots of tears for me.  Don't let it be 35 years for you....Don't give your self away to someone who does not care for you.  Some people with ADD learn, and try and put in effort and make plans and schedules and set alarms....that is love. Promising, sexy, intelligent-sounding/debating words might make you want to believe them, but the truth is in the actions. Why do you think I stayed so long?  The words were there and he was/is very good with words and small gestures. But all in all, I feel manipulated and unloved because the effort and integrity is not there. You sound young enough to make a new story with a happy ending.

jennalemon, it's never too late

I feel very sad that so many people live with so much misery - ADHDers and their partners too.  My friend recently broke up with someone after being with him for ten years.  When I asked her if she had any regrets, she said "I only wish I had cut the cord sooner."  

She's sooooo much happier now!  She's 60 and has been able to remain confident on her own.

I'm sorry you've had to go through being a parent to your husband for so long.  I see you are really hurting... on empty promises and living with someone who isn't able (after all, it's a brain disorder right?) to give you what you need.  Yes, people with ADHD can learn, but even the ADHD gets in the way of that sometimes.  And so does the willingness or not to try.  It's also up to us, as you said, to decide what we can live with.

Good for you for standing up and letting your spouse face his own consequences.  And I've also learned that even with the consequences, sometimes my partner still doesn't learn.  I mean, she was about to go bankrupt for the second time (so obviously, she didn't learn her lesson from the first time).  As far as I understand, ADHDers have a short-term memory.  And that means they often end up repeating mistakes because they don't remember that they did it before or what it felt like.  But I'm trying to be careful to not do things to make my partner learn this or do that (then it's just more codependency and manipulation).  I'm just trying to do things for me- whether she likes it or not.  It takes so much courage - I get anxious and afraid.  Its an awful feeling, but I'm trying to face my fears.

She doesn't make empty promises though.  She actually follows-through on what she says, or at least tries to... if she writes it down and puts on alarms to remind her.  And she is being more caring.  My back was hurting terribly this morning and I was so surprised when she brought me a hot water bottle.  It's sad that I was surprised that she would initiate caring for me without me having to ask, but she's obviously learning that it's important.

I guess I'm still tired though, with the ADHD flare-ups.  I get beat up inside my heart.  Some days I have hope, some days I just need to get away.  She doesn't always understand what's kind or inconsiderate... and she may never - she'll do a gesture because she knows it's appropriate, not because she understands emotionally that it's important or loving (so I believe).

I think there is always hope - though it may be in something other than what you think.  35 years doesn't have to turn into 36, 37 or 40... what if you did leave?  Sorry, I'm not trying to break up your marriage (or whatever you want to call it).  But you sound like it's really painful for you.  I guess I'm trying to encourage in you, what I'm also needing to encourage in me - more strength to stand up for our own happiness.

I don't think it will really

I don't think it will really change a whole lot. I think our ADHD partners might become less impulsive or more mellow, but I don't think their lack of awareness will improve to the point where we feel we are equals as a couple.

A friend of mine observed our dynamics during our 20-year marriage and said to me, "it seems like your husband is acting and thinking like he's still single, making plans only for himself." (as it relates to himself only).

I'm pretty down about my situation at times, especially when I find I'm by myself and the enormity of it all hits me how sad I am. The only way for me to survive the ADHD partner and raising a child who is on the lower end of the autistism spectrum, is to keep looking for the good, the positive and the rewards (this isn't the word I want to use, maybe it is the "fruits of hard labor"). There must be some kind of satisfaction or something I can take with me that will make me a more tolerant, more fulfilled person. But this certainly wasn't what I envisioned, to be a caregiver in every sense of the word for life.

I feel like I'm dealing with a messy and volatile roommate, at times a teenager, at times a complete stranger. I cannot find any deeper layers to my partner other than the impulsive and superficial way he treats everything. There is just a very slim sense of the deeper human being. He doesn't see it himself tho. I don't know if it's behavioral, or simply there is no awareness in the brain to help him see it. After all, he's been like this for 5 decades. What proof do I have he will change with some medication? Right now, I'm taking medications so I can cope with it. 

Ask yourself if you really want to go there or would you rather experience a life that is fuller between a person more like yourself?





What's your answer to your own question?

CopingSAH "I don't think it will really change a whole lot. I think our ADHD partners might become less impulsive or more mellow, but I don't think their lack of awareness will improve to the point where we feel we are equals as a couple... Ask yourself if you really want to go there or would you rather experience a life that is fuller between a person more like yourself?"

It's a hard reality to face if that's true - that it may never be equitable.  You've asked a very good question... it hits home in my heart.  Thank you.

I've only been with her 3.5 years... and I have a long life ahead of me.  Yes, I want to experience a fuller life, and ideally, with someone who is more conscious, and able to function (she also has trouble with Executive Functioning).  I hang on to the hope that things will improve... but I can't stay for a future - I need to enjoy life now.

I've decided to do what I want for myself.  I'll explain that to her and our couples counsellor.  Normally, if I was with someone who was my "equal" (so to speak), I would be able to give more because they give just as much in return.  But in this case, since my partner can't... then neither can I.  I'm not saying that in spite, but with clarity, recognition, acceptance, sadness, disappointment... and also, hopefully, some confidence and self-esteem.

I realize that I can't support - or rather enable - my partner.  This means, if I have time or money to go out somewhere nice and she doesn't (because she spent it all or has debts to pay or is mismanaging her schedule) then I will go out by myself or with my friends.  I can treat her from time to time, but less often and only if it energizes me to do so.  This also means, if I'm tired and she's ill, or even if I'm well and she's ill, there is a limit to how much I will take care of her.  She may need to call a friend instead or just be left to her own devices.  Taking care of myself means if she has to work overtime as a consequence of her own errors, I will still go enjoy my free time and not put more efforts into making sure she's got her stuff ready for the next day because she got home late.  It means if I don't have the energy to listen to her antics, then I just won't.  She needs to talk to her therapist about it.

And then we'll see if we last.  Either way, my hope is I'll be happier because I'll be treating myself better.

CopingSAH - your comment "fruits of hard labor" reminds me of how my mother and father stay together, or a certain generation of people that stay for the kids, stay because marriage is economic, or because it's tradition, expected or for the community.  I think ultimately it's about expectations and norms.  In another time period, love wasn't the main reason people married.  People married for other reasons and the "fruits of hard labor" was actually enough.  Now, for the most part in our society at least, love is the reason to marry.  So anything different seems very unhappy.  I don't know which generation you belong to, but I belong to the latter.  It sounds like you want more than what you have, but have decided to live with it in quiet strength and acceptance.  I'm sure you love your child deeply, and I imagine it's also very hard.  But there is a deep passion there and that deserves admiration.  Also, to accept one's lot shows incredible courage and endurance.  I do hope you make time for solitude and a life of your own away from it all as well.

I don't know if your spouse would change much with medication.  I can tell you that as soon as mine started taking medication - it worked wonders.  I felt like I was practically talking to a different, nicer person.   It took some trial and error to find the right meds and doses.  But she could focus better at work and in our conversations at home.  She listened to what I had to say.  She could even understand more concepts.  She stopped being emotionally abusive.  I liked her and decided not to leave.  She still takes them diligently.  Is your husband willing to take meds?

And I got treated for depression and anxiety.  I still have anxiety and am working on managing that - the ADHD triggers me!

I do get scared that eventually, if her meds stop working, she'll revert to old behaviors.  I've decided I can't go back to that.

I guess if you are staying with your husband, you must find some inner satisfaction and perspective, especially if you feel your partner isn't ever going to be an equal.  And to make room to do more to take care of yourself.

I so appreciate everyone's responses. It helps me to feel I'm not so alone and that perhaps, I can find a better way of responding to my situation.




you are not alone.

i too feel like i am in what is meant to be an adult relationship with a teenager.  and at a crisis point.  think i have an ulcer.  there is no easy answer about whether to stay or go.  but the first thing to do for sure is to continue to prioritize yourself -- and leave the mess your partner makes to your partner.  i am trying SO HARD to not engage in his mess.  but i find it confusing and hard since a marriage is a partnership and we affect each other's lives!   the only thing that is helping me right now is that i no longer feel like i'm crazy and mean.  i'm not.  i'm just coping the wrong way with a difficult situation.   and knowing others experience the same things makes me feel a lot less alone in this.  good luck.


the grey areas

wishiknew - there is no easy answer about whether to stay or go, but it doesn't have to be that black and white either.  i've mitigated that by taking more space to myself.  like vacations away from my wife.  if i didn't get those, i *would* end up leaving!  and if your health is suffering and you've reached a crisis point, you must also prioritize yourself even more than you are now.

i'm truly sorry to hear that it hurts so much, believe me, i (and a lot of non-ADHDers on this forum) truly understand.

and you are not crazy or mean.  sometimes we get used to things that really aren't healthy for us, and it can drive us crazy until we start acting mean just to assert ourselves in a situation where we aren't feeling heard.  

yes, its hard to let go of their messes, because it does impact us.  i told my partner again that i would really appreciate if she could exercise, because we both know that it helps manage her symptoms.  she told me it wasn't my responsibility - and she's right.  and i reminded her that unless she's actively continuing to manage her ADHD/Asperger's then the fall-out is on our relationship.  the reason i was asking her to stay on top of things was because i was hurting and i wanted her to stop hurting me.  she seemed to understand at that point.  if the hurt continues, you have to find your bottom-line about how much you are willing to tolerate before you have to get away (for short or long periods).

the relief i have, is that marriage actually isn't permanent (let's be honest, that's the reality).  there is always an exit.  i'm not saying i'd want a divorce (or not), but knowing that the door is there helps me to know i can leave if it ever came to that point (again).

on the brighter side, things have much improved since i was last on the forum.  a bit more balance for now.  she's continuing to get help, take her meds, do her part in the house chores, keep a stable job (thank god), and for the most part keep her end of the bargain financially so she doesn't continue to dig herself into an impulsive spending hole.  i believe she's realized the consequences of ADHD much more now than ever before - so that's helped.