I'm the ADD partner and I'm the one seething with anger and resentment

So much is written about the non-ADD partner's anger and resentment. But I've found very little about what to do when the ADD partner accumulates these emotions. And that is where I live. Is this part of anyone else's experience?

We're coming up on 19 years of marriage, My wife and I have been banging away at ADD-related issues just about forever. It's been about six years since I finally responded to her prodding, bit the bullet, got diagnosed, got a good ADD-focused therapist, and a psychiatrist, and started trying the various drugs to treat my symptoms. We've read just about all the core books on ADHD in relationships, as well as a few of the core save-your-marriage-books. Have consulted about a dozen different mental health professionals all told. Did Ms Orlov's couples seminar two years ago and it was worthwhile, but real breakthroughs continue to elude us. Early on I was hopeful that we were going to turn the downward spirals around and save our marriage, but it's been very persistently difficult and things really don't look very good these days. We are now quite dug in, each putting up walls to protect ourselves from the other, each pretty disappointed, each with painful emotional damage, struggling with emotional disengagement. The drugs definitely help some but they are no panacea. My wife reports that she does not feel particularly angry or lonely, but I am deeply steeped in those emotions almost constantly. I feel like I have worked the many behavioral exercises in good faith with a fair amount of dedication, but my wife commonly perceives that I am not. It's hard to walk the line between appropriately practicing accountability for behavior and inappropriately keeping score and tallying grudges. We're told it's best to work on the process and not focus too much on the specific results, but when the task is to improve reliability and consistency ("improve my batting average") then we pretty much have to keep score. It's hard to shake feelings that I now live like Sisyphus striving eternally to earn love and intimacy, which is conditional, based on performance, and always more or less out of reach.

My wife is much more of a detail-oriented planner than I am. We are many years into the corrosive effects of an inadvertent parent-child dynamic that annoys the $^&@!! out of us both. Setting priorities, managing time, and scheduling our lives remain hot button issues. Over the last decade I've slowly and steadily accumulated almost unbearable amounts of resentment, frustration, and anger. I never in my life thought of myself as an angry person before, but I sure am now. I now experience wildly disproportionate rushes of just about all the negative emotions there are when my wife whom I love says or does a wide variety of little things. Anger, resentment, frustration, sadness, loneliness very noticeably affect my breathing, and cause chronic muscle tension in my shoulders and neck. When it's especially bad my skin just crawls and I can experience tension headaches. This all must be bad for my long term health.

I resent my wife's dismissal of my feelings, interests, and desires. I bitterly resent and am deeply saddened by the loss of romance and all manner of intimacy. I feel belittled, unappreciated, and disrespected when I try to talk to her about some interesting thing that I have seen or thought of and her only response is to prompt me to get back to work on whatever task she has recently assigned to me. I feel anger about the implicit assumption that at any given moment my wife must know better than I do what is important, worthy of my time and attention, and worth doing. I feel anger about what I perceive as my wife's impatience. I resent her near constant expectation that I can do most all tasks faster than I am generally able. I resent the way she routinely assigns me tasks to accomplish while she's away. I could just about pay for all my spendy meds if I had a dime for every time she asked me pointedly, "What happened?" when some part of my day took longer than she expected. I understand that polite people apologize when they are late (my wife really stresses this), but it's hard to go through life constantly apologizing for being late without starting to feel like a loser. I routinely sleep very poorly because it's hard to get all these feelings out of my body. Ongoing sleep deficits make everything worse. In the last year I've developed a very noticeable involuntary tremor in my chest that is triggered by stress, especially when in bed with my wife. As the tension continues to accumulate I find that it takes very little to push me into emotional overflow. I find myself starting to do things like breaking dishes or shouting wild angry screams of frustration when I'm alone. I try very hard not to scare my family but sometimes I scare myself. So far I've been able to inhibit occasional momentary impulses to break big, expensive things. I don't think I'm a danger to myself or others, but I might just lose it and shout hurtful words at them some day. I worry about the effect of our strained marriage on our teenage daughter.

I empathize with my long suffering wife. I understand all the things Ms Orlov and others write about how many ways a marriage to an ADD person can create anger and frustration for the non-ADD spouse. But I have heard relatively little about how sucky the ADD partner can feel. I've been hanging in for many years but I feel like I'm just about at the end of my rope. Sometimes I marvel ruefully at how much amazingly negative emotion can be generated by two dedicated people of good will in a loving marriage. With despair, I observe most of John Gottman's "Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse" creeping into our marriage over the years (no open contempt yet, but I'm beginning to think pretty contemptuous thoughts). I try to imagine our future together and it looks blank- It's hard for me to even visualize it any more. Can we really still save our marriage, and if we can't then could I ever expect to have a better relationship with anyone else?

Ugh... That got longer and more explicit than I thought it would. I guess writing this down was a good thing. If you read this far then thanks for indulging me.

Oh...my heart aches for you

Oh...my heart aches for you after reading this post.  It sounds like you two started out on the right foot...trying so hard to accept the ADHD, learn about it, adjust to it...but now it seems the crucial part of empathy BOTH ways isn't there anymore.  Ugh.  I ache for all the raw emotion you are feeling (and she may be as well....even if she doesn't admit to it).  I don't really have advice...I am no expert...but do the two of you still WANT to be married?  Both of you?  Is it possible (playing devil's advocate...not assuming) that after all the effort and trying, the two of you just aren't a good fit for whatever reason???

I hope getting your thoughts out helped ease some of the pressure inside of you.

Thank you...

Thank you for your compassionate reply. I think we're both disappointed that this seems to be as good as it gets. Although we have very compatible basic values, we have very different basic personalities. I've come to appreciate that these differences are harder to work with than I once imagined. There are many things about our lives together that we both like- our house, our kid, our town, our garden, our dog, the measure of financial security our pooled incomes bring us both... But there are also yawning voids where the unmet needs live. Our core problems have proved to be fairly intractable. I for one have gotten pretty depressed about it over the years. My wife usually says she'll hang in there with me no matter what. Over the years I've become quite ambivalent. I tend to conceal the extent of my dissatisfaction because it seems like it would be hurtful to discuss it. My wife is a good woman who gives a lot of herself. I think she really is loving me the best way she knows how. I'd like to believe the same of myself but part of having ADD is never feeling sure that you've really tried hard enough or smart enough. I do know that often I feel bad when I'm with her. I presume it feels bad for her too. I crave greater intimacy, but most of the emotion I have to share is stuff that no woman wants to hear her husband say. So I don't share it, and to her I feel emotionally remote. She really needs to feel cared for by someone, but it's hard for me to care for her in the ways that she wants because she's crazy organized and grew up in a family that equates punctuality with love, and I am often forgetful and tardy and inattentive. At times I have felt like an ungrateful schmuck for being as unhappy as I am. At other times I have derided myself as a wimp for not being more willing to throw down and take bold action to break up this logjam, leave if I must, and get on with the business of seeking a better life in some other way. There has been no infidelity. I think over the years I've been more vulnerable to temptation than she has. At the end of the day I've kept concluding that I need to hang on and keep a home together so I can do my best for my daughter. And no spouse wants to hear that their partner is only sticking around for the kids.

Are you sure??

I crave greater intimacy, but most of the emotion I have to share is stuff that no woman wants to hear her husband say. So I don't share it, and to her I feel emotionally remote. 

Those words stuck out to me...is this an assumption you've built up in your mind because of gender stereotypes or has she actually said she doesn't want to hear you...as a man...say those types of things (whatever they may be)??   I think a lot of women wish men could be more in touch with their emotions and ability to express them in a healthy way.


It would it appear you've

It would it appear you've done all you can for the ADHD with the diagnosis and medication, etc ... that your spouse would cut you some slack or at least have improved her attitude by at least some percentage. I know that I was extremely resentful and frustrated as the non-ADD spouse in the marriage, until the diagnosis for my dh was made. Then I learned to cut my dh some slack by accepting the diagnosis.

Perhaps the issues between you and your spouse are no longer ADHD specific, but rather the cycle of resentments by each of you are still spiraling by yourselves for these many years. Could you find yourself separating your wife's issues from yourself? After all, they are her anger or perfectionist behavior, her issues/problem.

I still feel anger or irritation with my ADD husband but I'm less available to take on his burden as if it were mine. It's liberating when I'm able to separate myself from my spouse's attitudes and behaviors. Whenever I come here to vent, it's because I've made it *my* problem because my reaction is one of anger (coming from within). It has less to do with my dh having done this or that in his ADD state.

So these dynamics run both ways. If your wife cannot come to grips with things, perhaps you can come to terms with her issues, and liberate yourself from that burden. Does this make sense?


Thanks for your thoughtful comments... Can you clarify a bit?

Thanks for your thoughtful comments. I think I hear some truth in your suggestions that "it's not all me." But I'm not sure I fully understand the process you propose as a solution. "Separating myself from my spouse's attitudes and behaviors." What does that look like exactly? Are you suggesting that if I conclude and practice embracing the belief that my spouse's beefs with me are primarily of her and not of me, and kind of tune her out when she's getting on my case, that this will improve our lives together? Maybe I do not perceive your meaning accurately. If I start blowing off her expressions of anger won't she just get angrier? Do I need to persuade her to own more of our problems and back off? Or are you suggesting that I leave my spouse and feel OK about it? I'm interested in your ideas- can you clarify a bit? Thanks.

It's not going to happen

It's not going to happen overnight -- I don't mean for you to blow off her anger or criticisms, nor tune off, nor leave.

Hear her, and see her upset for what it is but not fight fire with fire. You can allow her to vent but if it becomes remotely abusive, you need to take a stand and tell her she needs to figure out a way to work that out in a way that is meaningful for her. Do not engage in battle. Basically detach with love (i love you but i won't own your anger which is yours to deal with). Obviously her angry comments seem to sound more like a broken record and perhaps you will notice she finds something strangely familiar with that way of communicating.

I can't tell you specifics but something in your dynamics with her has to change. When she is angry, she is likely hurting, or feeling ignored. Can you at least acknowledge what she is saying to you. Perhaps acknowledge her frustrations. Will she accept a peace offering, or a hug? But you should not allow her to blame 100% of her frustrations on you. She may be of that personality who is super hard on herself because of her upbringing -- and her husband becomes a reflection of her, and she is unable to separate criticism of herself and criticism toward others (you).

My dynamic with my ADD dh when he was in a "rage attack" was/is to engage him to discuss, in turn it made him even more hostile. At one point, I started detaching -- I did not cry or get angry in response (still working on this therefore I vent here on the forums), when his anger is focused on me, I usually ask, "so what do you want to do about this?" or "what do you propose we both do about this?" Some times he will decide he will take care of it himself. It's more about him wanting to be heard, and my acknowledging his words. This change in attitude applies to both parties.

Linsy's picture

You write very well!

Thank you for sharing that, I am sure many ADD partners feel that way too. I commend you for going through the diagnosis and getting all the help you can. What I want to ask, and please don't be offended as this is based on my own experience, is are you an independent adult? Could you move out tomorrow and support yourself financially? Could you care for your daughter by yourself, making sure all her needs were met? Or would you need support? If you are an independent working adult, with a good career and self supporting, then please feel free to tell me to .... off. But if you are in fact your wife's dependent, then this is what must be looked at. This is why I don't live with my husband - I could not bear having an extra child who would never grow up - in his case he refused even to acknowledge he had ADHD (both our sons and his sister have now been diagnosed and treated successfully - and believe me that is not easy in the UK). \he defended his wholly unacceptable behaviour with frightening rages and violence when even slightly challenged, and that is what brought about the end. That and his inability to cope with the children's oppositional behaviour (which he blames for our break up). Look at the 'parent child' relationship thing again, and see if that is where the problem lies? Women like men. I would take my husband back tomorrow if I could trust him at least to face up bravely to the problem.

Oh yes, I am financially independent.

Hi Linsy, Yes I am an independent adult. I've held my current job for 12 years and it pays quite well enough for me to live on. I probably could not afford our current house payment and also live on my single income, but if I downscaled my life I could certainly go it alone in some rather less desirable digs. As for providing for my teenaged daughter's every need, that would be a challenge. I could cover a lot but imagine I'd be organizationally challenged enough to just about guarantee some slipups and shortcomings would occur. I don't think that would benecessary though- I imagine thet'd be joint custody with my highly organized (ex) spouse. The situation you described sounds awful. I'm glad you found the strength and wisdom to get out.

Yes, I'm the one with ADHD and I'm angry!

YES, YES, YES, I totally get you!! I understand that it must be frustrating for the people who are married to ADHDers. But what about us? I was actually diagnosed back in the 70's, when I was about 4 years old. There's a genetic link in my family as both my father and grandfather are/were ADHD (I'm the youngest daughter). I understand that I was a troublesome child and very hard to deal with at times (okay, most of the time). I was put on Ritalin for a few months and my mother said I was like a completely different child. Pleasant and attentive, calm but not at all zombie-like. Just a normal kid. Well, like I said, this was the 70's and my mother just couldn't stand the thought of her child being on "drugs." I was taken off of the medication for the summer and never put back on. I ALWAYS had behavioral issues in school but excellent academic grades - until about 4th grade. From then on I nearly failed every year but my teachers would miraculously find "some points they had missed" so that I would pass. 

Growing up, family/teachers/etc. would say things like "you must like getting in trouble because you're always getting in trouble and you don't listen. You always do things without thinking!" To this day my mother will talk about how if she had THIS MUCH less self control I'd be dead, or how she used to want to grab me by my feet and swing my head up against the wall. Yes, she actually said that. I'm so tired of always being the bad child.

So...to the marriage. My husband has never really understood the whole ADHD thing. I think, in his mind, I'm just forgetful, lazy, or I just don't care. For the most part, our marriage is very good. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that I go above and beyond to try and please him. I think it goes back to the constant berating as a child and the fact that I really want someone to be proud of me. I have developed a filter over the years and don't put my foot in my mouth nearly as much as I used to, but my husband still feels the need to tell me how to talk and act. This is where my anger and frustration comes in. Stop telling me what to say or not to say!!! Stop telling me how to act or not act!!! Stop telling me what to do all the time!! Stop shushing me and telling me I'm too loud!! OMG, will it ever end? He's constantly asking me to do things and then gets upset when I forget. He never does anything for himself, but asks me to do it! Whether it's calling someone, paying a bill, contacting the insurance company, whatever! So I feel like he's setting me up for failure so he can be disappointed in me. 

I am a responsible adult who can hold down a job, and have always had a job. I'm not out doing things I shouldn't be - I'm really a homebody. I have always done all the cooking and cleaning and taken care of the kids. So why does he still feel the need to treat me like a child? I could understand if I was like some of these other spouses I have read about, but I'm not. I don't ever put myself first (that's him, and no he's not ADHD, just self-centered and very self-confident). Even my family still treats me like a child at times. I'm just done with it! You are my husband, not my father! GRRRRRRRRRRRR!

Okay, that felt pretty good. 

Linsy's picture


I am so completely not  an expert but my experience with my boys, one 21 and one 12, had convinced me that medication not only makes their lives so much easier, but also the lives of those they live with and who try to teach them, guide them, and generally interact with them on a day to day basis. The medication has been used successfully for many years, and is honestly a family life saver. I went through a period of wondering if it was me who had the problem, as this is what husband told me constantly, but I am reasonably organised, although messy. I do think I have some of the traits, and I think ADHD is in my own birth family as well as my husband's, but it does not seem to cause me too many problems. Although of course I ended up choosing an ADHD partner as that is the only kind of man I knew well (father and three brothers with varying degrees of traits). The thing about it that seems to very different and interesting is that in all cases it comes with originality and an interesting approach to the world, the trouble is when this spins out into destructive eccentricity and dependence on others for your keep. Youngest has been freed up by his meds in the classroom in particular, and has discovered a real talent for drawing, now he can concentrate long enough to practice. He is also learning the piano successfully, having stood on his head on the stool first time round, unmedicated. I am so grateful for Ritalin, I must say. I also spent an afternoon with husband after we parted when he was still open to the possibility that ADHD was the root of his problems, he had been given Ritalin by a friend and was completely delightful and reasonable all afternoon. No mood swing, no blurted weird comments, no impulsive risk taking, no tapping and bumping his knee up and down, no furious response to even a perceived 'criticism' (attempt to discuss what went wrong). But then he retreated back into cannabis and the whole thing being all my fault for objecting to being let down ALL THE TIME. Marble angel on a tomb would have been the only kind of woman who wouldn't have.

marijuana- the drug that mimics ADD.

Linsy, It's great that your kids have found so much therapeutic value in Ritalin. I like that one too, though the short-acting nature of it is unfortunate. Concerta gave me chest pains for some reason, so I've been using Vyvanse for several years now.

As for marijuana- I used it recreationally on and off when I was younger, and then it pretty much lost its appeal to me. I haven't touched it in decades. Looking back with what I know about ADHD today, it strikes me that marijuana kind of mimics ADD symptoms. I would become massively inattentive when I smoked pot and it was hard to complete many kinds of simple tasks under its influence. It seems today like it would be taking me in in exactly the wrong direction. It would sure be great if your ADHD-afflicted son could find a way to emerge from the haze of chronic pot use and get his life back on track. A couple of my very smart friends are chronic stoners and they are among the least productive really smart people I know. The good news is it's not physically addictive, so quitting can be fairly straightforward for a person who wants to. Good luck helping him want to quit. I wish I had any kind of specific advice for you about how to help him do that.