i have adhd spouse: My brain knows all the facts but

My partner is 32 and has struggled immensely with adhd his whole life but has only recently been diagnosed. Due to late diagnosis he has picked up every bad behaviour/way of coping imaginable. He cannot control his anger nor unpredictable mood swings, he has a low self esteem.

I spent a while battling my emotions of resentment, anger, disappointment in him and would forever be pointing out his bad points and how unacceptable his SYMPTOMS were  to ensure he couldnt forget how others suffered with his condition aswel as him. I was too wrapped up in my own feelings that I didnt stop to think just how much of an affect this would have on his self esteem and cause further damage to our relationship. ITS HARD TO SEE HIS HURT WHEN HE APPEARS SO SELF IMPORTANT AND ARROGANT! During arguments I would wished to have stamped on his arrogance. . He thinks that I no longer love him because he has realised that I have built a brick wall around me to give me the strength to be able to cope with all the hurt and damaging affects of adhd.

Since being diagnosed he has battled to simply get through each day without too much chaos'. We have both been too self absorbed and wrapped up in our own emotions to put the other first! 


I have read lots of articles/ blogs etc to gain further insight into adhd and this knowledge allowed me to gain insight into developed behaviours. Anyway my whole point in posting this (before i went on and on and on again) was that I have actually began to realise that he may be right> He accepts his need to improve certain things where as I refused to believe that i needed to change my ways to help our relationship. I was so intent on ensuring he knew how hurtful and unreasonable his actions were that it gave me the perfect excuse to become increasingly stubborn and selfish. I had previously lived on my own and due to past experiences in life I developed a harsh independence and told myself to never accept criticism or  anything less than the best. I became stubborn and believed my way at doing everything from cleaning to  shopping, writing, organizing, decorating is the only  wasy it should be done. I would tell him he hadnt wiped the side properly, hadnt done the babies nappy properly, hadnt mopped properly etc always knocked his ways of doing things and only accepting my standards. He gradually began to do less and less as he couldnt do anything right. I even take the phone from him when he is texting because he is so slow and gets angry if he cant send it fast enough. I allowed adhd take the blame for everything including my self obsessed behaviour and would not accept that I should ever have to alter my ways.. 

I know all the facts about adhd and constantly preach to  both our famillies when they judge the situation, refusing to believe that adhd is not made up and the reason he has developed  habbits in behaviour.

I have learned how to deal with every action in life and although i know the ins and out of adhd my "in the heat of the moment brain" refuses to accept that adhd actions are not completely identical to its own.  I know and understand all the traits and reasons for adhd behaviours when thinking rationally but all that knowledge goes out of the window in the heat of the moment. My brain will just not take the insult regardless to the fact that my partner is subconsiously self medicating to gain dopamine through all the andorphins at an argument.

How can i teach my brain to deal with adhd in our relationship?

For example: I know that my partner makes certain comments to provoke an argument simply for stimulation if he has got out of the wrong side of the bed or for not succeeding in certain things.and that the things he saysduring such moments should be taken personally but I cannot allow certain things to be said without having my say and becoming defensive. I know that to prevent this disasterous habbit I should totally blank him and ignore what he says so that he will not associate arguments with me as a way of increasing dopamine levels!  This will then lead to a blazing row and dinted esteem on both sides as things are said in retalliation. It even leads to damage to our property or even him packing his bags and saying he cannot cope. This is a regular occurance in our lives at the moment. We love eachother very much but we cannot see how we can deal with eachother in a TEXTBOOK manner.



carathrace's picture

cultivate empathy

Hello Robyn,  I want to compliment you on your willingness to see your part in the conflict.  That's called humility and is the MOST essential thing.  It's the ability to be teachable, to let go of "my way is the only right way."  I think it's great that you've seen where your anger and retaliation were taking you and want to change.

Have you read Melissa's book yet?  She gives strategies for dealing with situations like the one you mention, where he tries to provoke an argument just for the rush.  There are some basics I use, like delaying the discussion until you're both calmer, and using statements that start with "I" rather than "You", and throwing out the words "always" and"never" in a discussion.  THe book has many great examples of how to have a respectful, rational discussion, so I recommend it.  There may be other books that other folks at this site could recommend.

Equally as important is the attitude inside you toward your spouse.  I am learning to see my husband's ADHD as his "way of being" in the world, and that it's just as valid as my "way of being".  From my point of view, his way seems less efficient at times, but he's got a right to it.  I wouldn't want someone correcting my way, and I try to remember that when he waits till the last minute to do something :)  Practicing the Golden Rule with your hubby is a good thing to do. 

In my head I say a little motto:  "Cultivate empathy".  Empathy for my husband, feeling with him, looking at things from his eyes, has to be cultivated like a garden.  When the old weeds of "my way is the only/better way" want to sprout, I need to pull those suckers up.  I cultivate empathy by reading this site and others, and by reading books about ADHD and relationships.  I find that the more empathy I have for him, the more respect I have, and my love grows.  Plus I feel really good about myself, having changed from that nagging, critical, mothery person I didn't like.  These are just some ways that work for me.  I hope you find yours!

I can relate

Hi Robyn, I can relate with your story a lot.  I also lived alone before living with my bf AND I was raised by eastern european/british folk who have certain standards for propriety/cleanliness.   I think we butted heads a lot when we first moved in together bc I insisted that things needed to be done properly.   Eventually, I learned to choose my battles and to let a lot of stuff go.   After a year and a half, he has made a lot of progress with chores and getting organized.   

The thing I have the hardest time with, like you - is the talking part and how to deal with arguments. I feel like my guy picks fights with me and is rude.   Both of my parents are products of WW2, and they both have undiagnosed/untreated conditions - so it has been a lifelong struggle for me to learn what healthy boundaries are.    So when my boundaries are pushed by my ADHD guy constantly; I am hyper aware of that fact and it is really difficult for me to ignore it.  

So I would be interested in any helpful tips in this area, as well.   

Sending hugs your way - sorry to hear about your troubles.   Thank you for sharing your story.





I can completely relate to your situation

It is very similar to my marriage, except that my husband is still in denial about his adhd, so therefore we never mention it. I simply refer to whichever specific negative behaviour he is displaying at the time. Like you, I used to react extremely badly to his criticism, insensitive comments, nit-picking, poking & prodding etc. I now manage to completely ignore it about 30% of the time so still a long way to go, but perhaps I am slightly further along the line than you? I'm not aware of making conscious changes to how I react, but here are some of the things which I think have helped me adjust my perception of his provocative behaviour:

1. I first learned about adhd 18 months ago, and have researched as much as possible including books, videos on YouTube, forums etc. This sometimes helps me to block my default thoughts of "He is so arrogant/contemptuous of me/such a hypocrite" etc and replace with "Wow, he's really off on one/feeling insecure/in need of stimulation today" etc. Understanding that the problem is make-believe rather than real, helps me to stay calm. A bit like watching a toddler have a tantrum, when you know that they are being unreasonable.

2. I try to learn from the occasions when we disintegrate into big arguments. Afterwards, I replay the scene, and try to think up specific things I could/should have said at the time. I then try to adapt that to other slightly different situations, so I can try to be prepared for the next time. It's a bit like learning lines for a play. When you hear the same words you heard before, you can automatically reply with your learned response, rather than your instinctive reply. Sometimes I just jot down the gist of the start of the argument, so that I can read it from time to time, so I can recognise when it starts again.

3. When my husband is being provocative/confrontational but without any real cause (just his bad mood), I have successfully pre-empted the situation and said "Right, you are obviously spoiling for a fight. So what shall we argue about? I'd rather get this argument out of the way now, rather than treading on egg shells waiting for it to happen later". He always denies he wants an argument, but he then has to avoid being provocative, otherwise I will be right and he will be wrong, which he doesn't like.

4. I walk away. If he follows me or asks what I'm doing, I say "Oh, sorry, thought you had stopped ranting. Do carry on." He often stops. It's as if once he is given permission to behave badly, it takes the pleasure out of it.

This all sounds so petty when I read it in black and white, but I don't know how else to describe it. I've also learned not to take things so personally, because I realise he is just trying to stop himself feeling bad, and he often doesn't even mean what he says and will probably have completely forgotten saying it after 24 hours.

Hope you can adapt these techniques to work for you.

"When you hear the same words

"When you hear the same words you heard before, you can automatically reply with your learned response, rather than your instinctive reply."

That is a great tip for ADHD people as well.  We all have fights in our marriages that keep happening over and over again, and for the impulsive among us, learning from the current fight right after it happens would be so helpful in the future.  Much better than word vomiting on our partner and wondering why we just had the same fight for the millionth time.  I can imagine this would be particularly helpful during the symptom-response-response scenario that Melissa Orlov details in her book.

"Right, you are obviously spoiling for a fight. So what shall we argue about? I'd rather get this argument out of the way now, rather than treading on egg shells waiting for it to happen later".

Brilliant way of stopping a fight in its' tracks.  That would absolutely take the wind out of my sails, and would probably make me laugh, now that our marriage is getting better :).

"often doesn't even mean what he says"

So true, when impulsivity is involved!  I find that once the toothpaste is out of the tube, and am being questioned on my goofiness, I find that I am wrangling through what the truth is.  It's part of a working memory issue.  For example, if I accused my husband of something, he calls my attention to something not being true, and I have to work through that in real time while he watches my confusion.  What I sometimes think is true is convoluted false memories that feel like reality or I've just forgotten the facts.  But other times, I'm right, so that just adds to the fun ;)!


Love your posts :)!

Hi Catharace,

I always enjoy reading your posts.  They are positive, yet empathetic to the realities of being married to someone with unmitigated ADHD.  I know our diagnosis is NOT easy to contend with on a daily basis!  How did you do it?  What was the turning point for you and your husband?  Were you ever at a really low point like others on this site?  




carathrace's picture


Hi ADHDMom, thanks for the nice words.  My husband has a dual diagnosis of major depressive disorder & ADHD, and he doesn't have the anger issues that a lot of folks talk about here.  We hardly ever fight because we did hellacious amounts of that in both of our first marriages, and both of us being conflict-avoiders, we work really hard to communicate respectfully. Six years ago, (four years before he was diagnosed with ADHD) he attempted suicide and I guess that would be my really low point.  We've been in counseling for years to work through the aftermath of the suicide attempt, and that's when ADHD was diagnosed.  It gave us a lot of answers to things that the MDD diagnosis just didn't seem to cover. 

I guess I'm just so grateful to have him with me.  He is a really really good man who had a miserable abusive childhood, and with that and the dual diagnosis, I'm amazed he does as well as he does.  And at the same time, I do understand the frustrations and disappointments of living with an ADHD spouse -- sometimes I just want to bang my head on the wall.  I don't have it as bad as many here do, but I do empathize with the feelings.

sorry i havent replied to

sorry i havent replied to your posts, i read them a while ago but was too upset to reply as we split up the day after id posted. we have recently got back together but i ams o anxious as i dont know if we can work. we both love eachother but we have nothing normal about our relationship. not even a sex life. hes the sort of person that wants sex none stop at the beginning of the relationship but now once a m onth is lucky and im only 26 :(... we dont go out together because we never have anyone to have the kids and i really dont know how we can make a start on rebuilding the mess we are in...xxx