Join the Conversation Around ADHD Marriage and Anger

Every once in a while there is a forum discussion happening that is so relevant for so many readers that I note it in my blog and direct people to it.  We have one going on right now about anger and grief that I think is worth your time to read.  And I’ll add a few of my thoughts here:

Anger doesn’t help you or protect you.  Sherri is right when she says anger doesn’t protect you.  In fact, she doesn’t go far enough.  Anger not only doesn’t protect you, it hurts you.  The anger of a non-ADHD spouse is one common reason that a partner with ADHD says “I don’t need to pay attention to what you are saying – you are just angry!”  Put another way, the most common forms of denial that I see in ADHD relationships are the dual denial of “If he/she would only fix his/her ADHD then everything would be fine” balanced by “If he/she would only be nice to me, then everything would be fine.”  Anger justifies continuing to blame your partner.

Anger and grief about your past.  It is not fun to find out about ADHD as an adult or spouse and look back and say “if we had only known 10 years ago…!”  Part of your recovery as a person and as spouses will be to grieve over the fact that you didn’t know sooner.  But you didn’t – you did the best you could do at the time with what you knew (which didn’t include info about ADHD and your relationship).  Where you came out may not look pretty right now, but that doesn’t mean that your future has to look like your past.  I encourage couples to grieve for their past and then look to what their new knowledge can do to help them change their future.

Anger and hopelessness are connected.  It takes a HUGE amount of energy to stay angry…and it impacts every interaction that the two of you have – making them all harder to deal with (thus taking even more energy!).  When you eventually run out of energy from being angry all the time hopelessness will follow.  “I just don’t have any more in me…” is the common refrain.  Put aside your anger by stepping out of the cycle of anger (see Harriet Lerner’s book, The Dance of Anger for more on this) and you will have more energy.  Plus, focusing on creating positives in your future is a whole lot more interesting and energizing than focusing on your anger or on all of the bad things coming your way.

Anger and change in the ADHD partner.  The more angry a non-ADHD partner is, the less likely is the chance of real, long-term change in the ADHD partner.  Period.  No exceptions.  You simply CAN’T get a person with ADHD to make long-term, positive changes with anger.  Those changes have to come from within that person and if they are only trying to respond to your anger (and please you) then you set yourselves up for one of the worst patterns out there – parent/child dynamics.  You create a “demand” (with your anger or response) and the ADHD partner tries to respond.  Later, the ADHD tries to “anticipate” your demand, but most often this doesn’t work, and it sets up a huge amount of resentment in the relationship.  (The resentment on the part of the ADHD partner is that he/she has to always be trying to anticipate your responses – and often doesn’t successfully do so, so it turns into a lose/lose.  The resentment on the part of the non-ADHD partner is that the ADHD partner doesn’t seem to “get it” even though the non-ADHD partner thinks they’ve made their opinions or needs clear.)

“Everything is fine if I just shut up” is a resentful refrain I hear from many non-ADHD partners.  Let me talk briefly about the biology behind this – remember the two ADHD time zone, “now and not now”?  (see blog post on now and not now here).  If the pressure is off, then the conflict in question moves into the “not now” – so retreating from conflict actually feels pretty good for the ADHD partner.  However, it doesn’t solve the underlying issues, so the source of the conflict remains.  ADHD partners do better when they engage constructively (which means in a safe environment for you both – i.e. no anger).  “Just shutting up” doesn’t work for either of you.  But neither does being angry.  Instead, choose learning conversations (see my book), working with a therapist who understands ADHD in couples, or making an agreement to conversational rules that keeps each of you from hijacking the conversation with defensiveness or anger.

There is more, but I’ve talked enough here.  Go to the forum conversation called “Update, of sorts” and read the thread about anger etc.  (The forum topic goes into other things, as well, but you can skim to find the parts you think are interesting.)  Add your own thoughts, too...