Both ADHD and non-ADHD spouses have a tendency to feel as if their own vision of the world is the way that the world really "is" - this feeling is human nature. We have many years on earth, we've learned certain things about how the world works and who we (and others) are in relation to what's around us. So it can be a revelation when we have the courage to step outside of our own view and try to see the world through our partner's eyes. Doing this can be very healing for a couple because in so doing you validate your partner. You don't have to agree with the choices your partner has made, but just acknowledging the validity of your partner's different perspective - that his or her logic is internally consistent and is a legitimate way to see the world - can start you moving in a more positive direction. This may seem basic, but it's amazing how much it gets in the way.
It used to be that my husband and I would work very awkwardly and contentiously whenever we tried to do something together. I wanted to check that project off the list, and from experience I usually had a very clear idea in my mind about how it could get done quickly and efficiently. George would invariably have a different approach. Instead of spending our time compatibly working together to get whatever it was done - each contributing in our own way - we would fight about how it would get done and whether or not all of the steps George wanted to take were necessary. For example:
Buying an item off the internet: I know a brand that is fine in my mind. A good approach, then, is to find it and buy it. George takes a different approach. Is the brand I have in mind the best quality? Is it the best value? Once he settles on the best value, where can he get it for the best price? He'll do a complete search for information until he comes up with the best, lowest price solution. My view of the world? Too many things to do in a day and I just want to get it DONE. His view of the world? Getting a good bargain is important enough to take extra time to do it, particularly when you have the internet at your fingertips (which is fun and easy to search).
Ignoring the validity of each other's approach means that we have this experience, which will probably sound very familiar to you: He feels I'm being bossy and unappreciative of his efforts - he becomes angry at this, and vows silently that he won't try to help me with any similar project again. I feel he's being obstructionist and not listening to my simple request, which ticks me off. Notice that each of us feels the other is not listening, or "hearing our needs". In point of fact, if either of us had been willing to acknowledge why the other approached the problem the way they did, we would have interacted differently.
Neither of these approaches is "correct" - they are just different. But when I said things like "Don't waste time doing all that searching, we don't need that, just BUY the damn thing!" I was negating the validity of his approach - diminishing him by not acknowledging that there is more than one way to do things. Once I was able to "put myself into his shoes" and think more carefully about how important getting all the details is to him I could then make some choices:
- Have him gather information until he was satisfied, then make the decision jointly using his input to inform us both
- Hand the project over to him completely so I wasn't party to, or frustrated by, his searching
- Keep the project to myself without involving him so that it got done quickly (but with no assistance of any sort)
Any of these approaches works - and all of them acknowledge that his way of doing things is just as legitimate as my own.
I've used a simple example above to illustrate my point. You can use your imagination to think about all of the ways "seeing through your partner's eyes" might create a new relationship for you both.
There are a couple of reasons people resist thinking from their spouse's point of view:
- It's hard! The logic may be internally consistent, but to understand that consistency you have to know a lot about what's going on in your partner's head. ADHD and non-ADHD people often see things quite differently, so this takes lots of "safe" conversation around who you are and how you think.
- It takes time. Generally speaking, the ADHD partner's way takes longer (for a number of reasons). Part of accepting and validating the approach of his or her partner, then, is to accept that efficiency is not your top priority.
- You think this means you must agree. This isn't true. You can disagree with the person's conclusions without invalidating how they got there.
- It threatens your sense of self. When you start seeing the world through your partner's eyes then it calls into question some of the assumptions you have always held as "true". It's a great way to "grow" and expand our view of the world and ourselves, but can be a bit scary to challenge the status quo.
So, how might you start putting yourself more effectively in your partner's shoes? First, by asking questions. Why is that important to you? How did you reach that conclusion? What would you do next? Second, and this is very important, by not making judgments about your partner's responses. His or her logic may not make sense at first (or may drive you crazy) but it is no less valid for that. If you find yourself thinking "wow, that's strange/different/incomprehensible" ask more questions until you understand it better. In your mind, pretend to be your partner and see if you can create the "next" step in the logic or recreate his or her logic.
Why bother? You'll both be enriched. You'll both feel more valued by your partner. You'll start to like each other better. You'll start to behave in more respectful ways towards each other (look back up at the 3 choices in the internet project - they are far more respectful than just trying to get my partner to do it my way). Your partner will have more desire to be engaged with you and work with you since you validate his or her "way of being". A final benefit - understanding the internal logic of an ADHD partner's approach to life helps keep the non-ADHD spouse from "feeling sorry" for the ADHD spouse. With understanding comes appreciation (and sometimes even awe!).
Remember, you don't have to agree with the conclusions, only accept that the way each partner gets there is valid and understandable. Can you think of ways in which you might be able to practice being in your partner's shoes?