"I'm Distracted. I've Got ADHD. Get over it!"

I was speaking in New York recently and was asked an excellent question by a man who has ADHD.  The gist of it was this:

“My girlfriend sends me emails all the time when I’m at work and then gets angry with me when I don’t respond consistently.  My reaction is to simply tell her ‘I’m distracted – I’ve got ADHD.  I often forget to respond to you.  Get over it!’  What do you think about that response?”  Here’s my answer:

1.     We forget in this day of instant communication that just because we send it does not mean that the person on the other end is in a position to immediately respond (or thinks that it’s important to drop everything to answer you.)  Is it really more important that your partner give you feedback on which restaurant he prefers than that he finish the report upon which his job performance reviews depend?  That he text you back during a big meeting that needs his attention?  Differentiate between truly important messages (i.e. a response before the end of the day, or immediately, is genuinely critical) vs. “nice to have” (i.e. ‘I want your input, but it can wait‘ if it has to.)  One way to do this is with a numeric code at the beginning of a text or in a message header.  We’ve settled upon ‘911’ to indicate when a message is an emergency – but in all of the years we’ve had the code ready, have never actually needed to use it.  Once you start to think of differentiating between “emergency” and not, it’s amazing how much stuff can wait.

2.     Remember that getting back on task from an interuption takes much longer than you think it does – 4-15 minutes, depending upon who you listen to.  This is particularly true of people with ADHD, who often have great difficulty “engaging” in a task to begin with.  You do your partner a disservice when you interrupt them unnecessarily.

Get those two points out of the way, though, and I would like to address the underlying hostility in the words “I’ve got ADHD.  Get over it.”  After you strip away the issues of good communication etiquette, what I really think is going on here is a power struggle.  Who will be in charge of how this man organizes his day?  Will he get dinged when he makes choices other than those that exactly match his partner’s priorities?

Furthermore, if this couple fits the profile of many I work with, the reason the partner complains about this man’s lack of responsiveness may be that she is feeling that it is symbolic of a larger lack of attention.  While she may not have thought of it as such, she feels that he ignores her or “forgets” about her more than feels comfortable.

So looking at his question from that point of view, I would also offer the following advice to the ADHD man who asked the question:

1.     Sit down with your partner and have a conversation about the underlying issues – 1.) whether or not you pay enough attention to her and 2.) that you are an independent person capable of making your own decisions about priorities while at work.  Ask her questions until you feel you fully understand the feelings that drive her to feel unhappy.

2.     Assess whether or not your partner’s complaints are symbolic of a larger problem in your relationship.  Is she feeling unloved or unattended to?  Does it have to do with your ADHD symptoms?

3.     Make sure your partner understands that when you are at work, work is most often your top priority – but that when you are at home, you know that home (and your partner) are tops

4.     MAKE SURE that you have enough time focused on your partner to satisfy her – and you.

5.     Be empathetic to her requests and negotiate a solution that works for you both.  The “your needs don’t count” attitude of the statement “get used to it” will hurt your relationship more than help it.



I agree that the phrase 'get used to it' is rude, but I don't think the 'get used to it' means 'your needs don't count' in this situation or many other situations where an NT is exasperated at an ADHD spouse for 'slipping' into an old pattern or forgetting something.  I think the 'get used to it' is simply saying, "every day I am required to do things that are out of my natural capacity, like a blind man forced to shoot a basketball through a hoop.  sometimes I will miss.  I think you need to be empathetic to this."


I would agree that the phrase

I would agree that the phrase is rude, but I disagree with the interpretation of "get used to it." Yes, we, as the non, ADD/AdHder must be empathetic to the condition. However, I do think there comes a point where the ADD/ADHDer had to stop using the condition as an excuse for why he/she doesn't do things around the house, doesn't listen, doesn't pay attention, etc. Should the ADD/ADHDer not also be expected to empathetic to the non-ADD/ADHDer as well and their situation? Both sides need to be empathetic of the other. That is just good common sense.

Speaking from the NT perspective, I do my best to be empathetic to my spouse's condition. but I don't think it should let him off the hook for not cutting the grass or picking his clothes up off the floor, etc.

not an excuse

I was by no means saying that ADHDers could use the condition as an excuse to NEVER pick up clothes etc...  I was just saying there may be a day when the symptoms break through and a sock or two might be forgotten.

Example:  years ago I made a rib-eye roast, but when I took it out of the packaging and put it in the roasting pan with the potatoes etc. I did not see that the plastic lining thing was stuck to the bottom.  After a few minutes, i smelled the melted plastic and realized what I'd done.  Dinner was ruined.  After that, I was careful to check before putting the roast in the pan to make sure there was no remaining pieces of packaging anywhere.  But... in spite of my best intentions, a few months ago when starting dinner I smelled that melted plastic smell and realized I had done it again.  I cried.

Now....  you tell me:  was I using ADHD as an excuse to waste $12?  Really?  was I being spiteful and lazy?

I agree it shouldn't be used as an excuse.  But NTs must understand that (LIKE ALL HUMAN BEINGS) We will make mistakes sometimes.

We get less tolerance for mistakes

I think that as the ADD spouse, I probably receive less tolerance for mistakes than if I were not ADD.  I'm sure this comes from the sheer NUMBER of mistakes I have made, which creates frustration and impatience.  I know this is my own fault (really the ADD's fault--I am trying to learn to blame that instead of myself).  But ellameno's final statement 

"that (LIKE ALL HUMAN BEINGS) we will make mistakes sometimes" is interesting.

Sometimes I feel like I don't get the same treatment or understanding that "all human beings" would.  I understand this to some extent, because I do it with my own kids: I am much less patient with them than I would be with their friends who are over at my house or in my car, displaying the same behaviors.  Maybe because I know how many other times my child has done the same thing or how many times I have told them not to.  But some of our mistakes are just purely mistakes that anyone might make, and have nothing to do with ADD!  I just think that because we make SO MANY mistakes that ARE due to the ADD, the "normal mistakes" rarely get overlooked.

HOWEVER...I think many times it is actually MYSELF not overlooking my own mistakes!  My DH does NOT point out every error (thank goodness!).  But because when I mess up I feel like I have failed HIM, I project my own feeling of disappointment, frustration and anger AT MYSELF onto him, when he hasn't even said a word!  I know this because sometimes during an argument I will express anger or frustration at him for his unreasonable expectations about xyz, but then he will correctly point out that he NEVER SAID ANYTHING about xyz!  Oops.  But I think I blame him for what I ASSUME he is THINKING.  How unfair!  He can't win in that situation--if he says something, I will get mad; if he says nothing, I will assume that he is thinking it and wants to say something, and I will get mad.  Yikes.  Maybe he really is thinking it and maybe he's not...but he DIDN'T SAY ANYTHING so I need to give him credit for that!!  What else can I expect?  Oh my, we sure are hard to live with, aren't we?!  :)

Haven't been around the site lately

because one of the things I do when things are generally going really well is get busy in my real life and spend little time even on websites that I enjoy.  This subject and the responses really speak to me as to the general issues between an ADD/NON relationship.  I see hostility in this man's remark....definite rudeness and hostility.

I think the poster who felt that he might have meant

[quote]I think the 'get used to it' is simply saying, "every day I am required to do things that are out of my natural capacity, like a blind man forced to shoot a basketball through a hoop.  sometimes I will miss.  I think you need to be empathetic to this."
The poster who said what he meant could have been [/quote]

could be correct. I have no idea what he meant, but I know if I were this man's wife or had received this email there is no way that I would have gotten that interpretation.  I think this is often a fault of poor communication skills,  I know my ADD husband sometimes says things that I take as rude that he claims were not meant that way.  The fault is often in his word choice.  He will say things that are close to the meaning he wants it to be........such as "get over it" vs "I think this is something we are going to have to learn to cope with better as a couple", but we only hear what you say and the tone you say it in.  We do not hear what you mean. Sometimes I think this happens because it is much shorter to say the former than the latter.  I have a friend who says about her ADD husband that sometimes he speaks as if he is paying extra per word.  I understand what she means as mine will never use 5 words when he things 1 might do...though he is learning that 1 frequently doesn't do. Part of the ADD-learning curve, for us at least!

When we do the best is when I hear a rude comment coming seemingly out of left field (as in we have not been fighting or irritated with each other) and I can calmly question why he put something in the way he did.  It will often be that he said what first came to mind, and while it wasn't totally what he meant, he felt it was 'close enough'.  Close enough is a frequent issue with us.

If we are arguing about something and I get a rude comment, I am much more likely to react to the rudeness without inquiring whether it was intended.  Then the argument tends to escalate. 

The man in the original post sounds frustrated to me, and I am sure sometimes that is exactly what he means..."I have ADD and you need to get over it", but that kind of comment is never going to help the communication with your mate.  The only thing going to help that issue is the steps Melissa mentioned.  He (and she) need to try to put their frustration aside and work empathetically TOGETHER with his wife, understanding her complimentary frustration, to resolve their issues.


I've been thinking about whether or not I agree with whether my husband receives less tolerance for mistakes.  I don't think it is true.  I do make mistakes and he is tolerant of them, and vice versa.  But the truth is he has made probably 100s of times more mistakes that negatively affect me than I have in our married life.  Is it a competition? NO...and who would want to win that one anyway as you both lose with that attitude?!?  I think the sheer volume of making the same type of mistake over and over is what causes the occasional intolerance in our household.  There are some things that might be funny once or twice, or sad once or twice, but after the 10th calm conversation about how doing X makes you feel, when it happens again I can go from 0-furious really rapidly with those.  I am not that tolerant of the over and over mistakes, but I really struggle with how tolerant I should be of them too.  I do agree that at some point they need to just stop happening almost entirely.


The mistakes he's worked hard to conquer and only show up occasionally no longer cause the immediate frustration because I can see how hard he is working on the problem.  Everyone should get cut some slack for the 'I AM HUMAN' type mistakes that we all make.

This hits very close to home

This hits very close to home for me. I am often told "you just need to either accept me for who I am or (else..i.e. some form of a threat that he's leaving, divorcing me, etc). It is always in a negative "you just don't love me the way someone else could" kind of manner. Same difference as "get over it", only done in a way that is aimed at making ME feel like I am 'less than enough'. I tell him "I cannot accept things that are hurtful just because it is easier for you if I do" versus him having to CHANGE his behavior. I am a teeny, tiny bit hopeful that he's getting this one..I haven't heard that in a while.

A) NO ONE should ever have to "just get over" or "accept" things in marriages that are hurtful. If you love someone, ADHD or not, then you should give a damn about what your actions do to those who love you and whom you love and do SOMETHING (compromise??) to help minimize all hurtful behaviors. This goes for everyone.

B) To me, his saying this shows a lack of respect or compassion for his wife's feelings...which could be a huge part of the problem. On the other hand, it could very well be a communication issue, but until that is identified and sorted through, it will continue to feel like a respect/compassion issue.

I was the queen of e-mailing every time my OCD brain took off in a direction that caused me to feel panicked or overwhelmed by my marriage. I e-mailed with the hopes that something I would say would 'get through'. It was extremely ineffective for us and only rarely did he even acknowledge the e-mails. VERY rarely. To get a response was even rarer. I have come to realize that e-mailing and/or texting him while he is at work is off limits especially if it has anything to do with our relationship and I never do it just to discuss mundane stuff. It took me a long time to gain the self-control to stop doing this and I realized it was disrespectful to him and his job too. I love the idea of written communication between us, since it is harder to 'fight' that way, but if it isn't ideal for him, then it just isn't ideal for 'us'. He HATES to discuss anything 'heay' through e-mail or texts.

Something else that also came to mind as I read this...I'm wondering if this man is avoiding conversations with her completely? At least meaningful conversations. "I have ADHD , get over it" is pretty much, to me, used as a way to say "I don't want to talk about XYZ because I have ADHD". We are at the same crossroads...where he essentially refuses to discuss our marriage, the problems we have, my unhappiness with things, etc. He wants to just act as if nothing is wrong and pick up and move on. I'm having a LOT of trust issues...which ARE 100% his fault (I will not take blame for this one...he lied to me for over a year about something..he did not cheat, for the record)...and he not only won't talk about it, he gets defensive about it, AND I feel is doing things just to intentionally prove to me that he feels I am wrong not to trust him...to rub it in my face. (like running around when he's supposed to be working, disappearing for 3 hours the other night KNOWING our marriage was hanging by a thread). So, yes, I do feel that the "get over it" "just accept me for who I am" lines are rude and inconsiderate and, even if misinterpreted, should never be spoken to a spouse who is needing more.



I wasn't trying to imply that

I wasn't trying to imply that you specifically were using it as an excuse. But lets face it, a lot do.  Should my spouse use his ADD as excuse for him repeatedly "forgetting" to turn on our 2 YEAR OLD son's programs in favour of his own which are clearly inappropriate to watch in front of a 2 year old. I have asked him plenty of times to not do this, and time and time again he "forgets". I understand that the non ADDer must be sympathetic to the condition. I get it. But why should the ADDer not be sympathetic to what their non-ADD spouse has to go through and put up with.  My life is sometimes a living hell.  I also have to think about our 2 year old son who idolizes his father.  Kids are very monkey see monkey do.  If he sees his father not do chores, or speak to me rudely, a 2 year old does not understand ADD.  He understands, that is my Daddy.

I guess I just get frustrated because in reading a lot of the ADDers posts (please no disrespect intended here) seem to give the impression that the Non-Add spouse should just get over their frustrations, etc and accept the ADD with no consequences to the ADDers actions. At what point do we non-ADD spouses get empathy and sympathy for what we put up with.  I understand that it must be hard for an ADDer in an non-ADD world. But cut us non-Adders some slack.

I have never been able to say

I have never been able to say to my ADHD husband "The house makes me have a panic attack so I can't clean it, get over it". The effect that ADHD has had on my marriage is outrageous. It has put me in a motherly position to my husband which only infuriates me, causes me to have less respect for him as an adult, completely turn me off sexually, and I resent him. I have never been able to use my severe anxiety as an excuse for anything and it's just as disabling at ADHD in my opinion. My anxiety doesn't let me get out of scheduling daycare, paying bills, cleaning and cooking 95% of the time, scheduling HIS appointments and the children's. I am not looking to divorce him, but I think "get over it" is a way of saying, look just accept that I have this problem. I go to counseling for stress management, anxiety, and now my marriage because I also have to work full time night shift to pay for his impulsive spending. I hope "get over it" doesn't come out of my husband's mouth because it might be the last straw.

I'm anxious, too.

Hi. I just posted for the first time on this forum. Then, I went looking around. Your post immediately caught my eye. You see, I suffer from PTSD, OCD (anxiety related), an eating disorder (again, anxiety related), and low-energy depression. My ADHD fiance has actually  implied that I just need a diet. (He did it with the best of intentions, but still ....) I can't tell you what kind of a binge that sent me off on!

We live apart. If we lived together, my anxiety, like yours, would be ceiling-high. I live with much anger and resentment toward him. However, I am learning that much of my resentment is that I am struggling to keep an image of him alive that never really existed. When I met him, I thought he was my knight in shining armor. He was attentive, masterful, amorous, etc. Soon, that fell away. I saw the depression, the latenesses, the distant emotions, etc. come into being. However, worst was the self-centeredness. Wow. It's all about him.

Yet, I've stayed. You see, despite what I've said above, he does have "my back" when I'm in trouble. We are also often (not always) great companions. I am still grappling with letting go of the image I once had of him. I know that he will never be wholly dependable. He'll always be sporadic with lateness. He'll ALWAYS struggle with depression. And, yes, I'll always have to be the one in control. So, I've had to look on the bright side. I have found that I have learned how to handle situations that nobody I know could handle. I've learned to plan for his not following through on promises. In fact, I've learned that it is best to just do most things myself. And you know what? In its own way, this lesson has given me some peace. I figure that, when my happily married friends become widows and fall apart, I'll know exactly what to do since I've been left pretty much to my own devices all this time.

Another thing: I have learned through therapy to carve out time for myself. I walk ALOT. I drive ALOT. I'm about to take up meditation. (I also talk to myself alot. But that's another story.)

Because you have children and a live-in mate, you are more restricted. However, I encourage you to please, please, please find a little space & time for yourself. If you can take a class, go for a walk, or just go and sit in your car and listen to soft music, do it. Get away for a little while. It helps.

Peace be with you.

Never considers my anxiety disorder either!

Hi Jeka, just read your post..I am new here but sooo glad I found you all! Your comments resonated with me as I work daily on my anxiety disorder and have spent the better part of about 16 years educating myself,working on it and understanding it. I am resentful that I've worked so hard on my GAD general anxiety disorder...so that my family can proceed as normal. My husband makes no effort and still denies that it isnanproblem in our marriage. I see zoo much of his add traits in the many posts here. I have given him an ultimatum to find us a marriage counselor or I am moving out. I am sad and hurt that he appears to not care in the slightest what our lives would be like if I let the anxiety beast take over my life. Work, travel, running kids everywhere etc. He is depressed and refuses to seek help for that either. Basically says things like "why should I see a therapist who will tell me to change? There is nothing wrong with me. This is who I am. ". Sadly, I don't hold much hope that he will find us a counselor and set the appt. We have been married for 16 hrs and have 2 teen daughters. When is enough? I am sick of the projects that he puts off for 10yrs or more, he refuses to let us look for a different house with less chores...yard etc. To manage. Basically, anything I suggest or want, he tears apart and I see now,,,get excited with that add reaction thing. Annoying enough to try to keep him from a rant or on track. He works 50miles from home and hates his job. He comes home late and turns off and is no good to anyone. He doesn't get that his choices have affected ALL of us. Since he can't make a decision to save his life, I know I will be the one to file for divorce. Any thoughts fromothers with depression or anxiety who have to baby their spouse who's in denial?
DF's picture

Bella & Jeka

I'm not being defensive, frustrated or accusational so please do not take it as such.  I agree there have been posts I've read form over a year back that I did not relate too and I could agree with some of what you say.  Many of the others I actively engage with here are more in line with the person I am today - the one that always sees failure, experiences constant defeat, but refuses to give up.

I am angered by my behavior over the years with my wife.  The parent-child dynamic was in the fore front of much of my marriage and I suffer that knowledge everyday.  I can't explain to my wife that ADD(HD) is not an excuse or a crutch, because I don't know how to explain it myself.  I just found out I had it two months ago and it took more than just me knowing I had a problem to accept the challenge to fix it. 

I get just as frustrated as you when i read about ADD(HD) spouses that are in denial or give up after a short time.  My diagnosis has been a short time ago, but my fight has been a very long one.   But we are all here because only one spouse accepts the problem and the other is either struggling or not interested. 

As easy as it is for you to know what needs to be done tomorrow, it's just as easy for us to not know anything about it an hour after you tell us.  I don't know how I got this far in life without knowing.  I'm frustrated with what my wife had to put up with.  I have stayed away from this blog because it has not applied to me in a long time, but I can see you are frustrated and it sounds as though you should be.

I don't know what it would take for someone with ADD(HD) to accept it and work hard on it.  My wife told me she brought it up some time ago, but I honestly don't recall that time.  I believe her, but I also know that had she not given up in the way that she has, I would never have taken the major effort it takes to really want to control this madness.  I hope it does not come to that for you.  Up until 2 months ago I thought i was no different than anyone else.  I was wrong.

I must say, that is nice to

I must say, that is nice to hear. My hubby FINALLY booked the doctor's appointment for a physical.  We have a new family doc and well, the nerves are high for the first appointments.  I think I may have finally got through to him.  I think he got it when I told him that with me looking for part time work he was going to have to look after our little guy more often by himself.  I was honest and said I knew that he loved him, but considering how easily distracted he gets, I was worried at how well he could realisticly look after our little man.  Our little guy is a fast, go getting little 2 year old who gets into everything and climbs everything in the blink of an eye.  You definately can't let your guard down for even a second. I don't have ADD/HD, and even I have a hard time sometimes.  I admitted I was worried. Our son could get into something he shouldn't, or hurt himself in the blink of an eye if he didn't pay attention properly. 

I have also had to lay down the law about the household chores.  Everyone is afraid to talk to him because he can't take criticism and blows up and makes us the bad guys. So consequently his family and friends all come to me about what he has done (or hasn't done as is usually the case). He does something and I get the backlash. I keep telling everyone, "Don't tell me. Tell him. It will go farther." But he can barely remember 2 minutes ago!  I sometimes feel like there is no way on God's Green Acre that we should even consider having another child, when I am being parent to both him and my son.

When will the maddness end?

To all previous posters

Everyone wrote too much I only read part of your posts.  I apologize if this is not a cogent response.  I am ADHD, get over it!  Kidding = ).

As I was not reading your entire responses I heard a common theme and thought I could impart wisdom that might help.  I believe in the mantra of "motive over action".  Do not focus on what your partner is doing focus on why.  If an act originates in love and ends catastrophe.  It was still an act of love.  Period. 

Important Note:  A marriage is a joining of two people into one person ADD/ADHD - using the term people instead of a man and a woman is an attempt to be politically correct and non-offensive, not a political/religious statement.  If your spouse has ADD/ADHD, so do you.  Both parties have an equal role in the architecture and maintenance of the ADD/ADHD control structure.  Control one, no communicating with ADD/ADHDer while said person is engaged, unless it is an emergency.  If the information did not grab the attention and elicit a response from the ADD/ADHDer it was not an emergency.

How not to be an enabler

After 38 years of marriage and suspecting my husband has ADD for most of these years ... after reading several webpages over the weekend, my daughter and I are convinced that this is what he has ... we have been in and out of marriage counseling through the years ... spending thousands of dollars out of pocket ... wi th little change ... and now that we are in our retirement years I am having more difficulty coping ... we believe he has ADD without the hyperactivity ... he is very passive .. and passive aggressive ... I have felt more like a parent then a wife through the years and even more so now since he retired (6 years ago) ... he has no motivation ... sits in front of the TV for most of the day ... he does help around the house some but mostly if I "assign" him a chore ... he just doesn't do the guy things ... I am the one who maintains our home inside and out ... I am the one that paints the exterior (luckily I don't have gable ends on my house) and can do a lot of it on a step ladder or with a pole attachment from the ground .... I paint the interior ... I landscape the yard (although he will mow but won't edge) I put down the mulch ... i keep track of the ponding of water in our yard and do what I can to keep it away from the house ... (Florida) ... I trim the branches on the trees with a pole prunner ...  I have back and knee issues and instead of the two of us doing things as a team he sits back and lets me do it.  I am in therapy for my knee and can't get down on my knees right now and last week I wanted him to plant a small plant in the ground for me ... it was such an ordeal for him that I ended up doing it myself.  I manage our money ... wanting his imput but getting none ... paying someone to help is out of the question as our pension is limiting.  He is somewhat anti-social ... so we have no social life ...

I love my husband ... but was never prepared for becoming a mother to him ... most of the 38 years has been very lonely.  And I know the next 20 are going to be even more challenging as he ages.  Please pray for us ... and for me.


we married the same man (almost!)

I've been married 28 years and my husband was told he has ADD/ADHD 4 years ago.  We found this out in marriage counselling.  He too is very passive...but sometimes I wonder if it isn't passive aggressiveness.  We have no social life and my days are spent cleaning up after him.  He doesn't take any medication for ADD but does take Zoloft and Wellbutrin for anxiety.  I'm not sure why the Dr perscribe the two together!  It helped at first but now he seems like he is getting worse.  He has a Dr app soon and I want to go with him to talk to his Dr about this.  Don't know if I can, some Dr's don't like wives to interfere but I can't trust him to do it either.

Have you noticed as your husband get older his ADD gets worse?  I have, or at least it seems to.  I have had to be the mother, wife, repairman, bookkeeper, cook and house cleaner for the last 28 years and I'm sooooooo tired!

Wish I had some answers for you but I can totaly understand where you are coming from...You are not alone! : )

Medicine seems to change a

Medicine seems to change a lot over the years. Some make him mean, some make him tired, some make him focus better and some make him hyper. They all seem to stop working at some point. Dr. Keeps changing them based on his feed back and mine. Crossing fingers for you.