lack of empathy drives me to my wits end

I'm a non-ADHD partner and my boyfriend was diagnosed as a young child with a severe case of ADHD. He was on Ritalin and Adderall as a child, which helped tremendously when he was young, but he went off medication as a teenager and has basically asserted that he no longer has it. 

We've been dating for almost three years and in my opinion, he very much has ADHD symptoms. The most notable manifestation is that he routinely cuts people off, seconds or even milliseconds after they start talking. We have very much fallen into the parent-child paradigm, where i nag him about things and i feel ignored when he cuts me off sarcastically. He also loses things all the time and is incredibly disorganized. In the past few years, he has lost 2 expensive fleece jackets from his parents, his backpack with all of his cycling gear in it, his $200 headphones on the plane, his phone, two baseball caps that he treasured, one expensive sleeping bag, and two expensive sleeping pads for camping. Before we started dating, his room was covered entirely in old beer cans and one time he drank from the wrong one, and took in a whole mouthful of mold.

The biggest problem for me is his general lack of empathy and concern for my feelings. I come from a culture where people are trained to notice other people's feeling or at least learn a pattern of behavior that is generally respectful and mindful of others' needs. Partly because of my background, I think i am particularly sensitive to his lack of empathy. However, I also think that it makes me less willing to be firm about the things that bother me, repressing hurt feelings until I explode in anger.

He is also very sarcastic. Whenever something makes him feel judged or criticized, he immediately starts making sarcastic jabs at me. Even when I am not being critical, he uses sarcasm against me. For example, rather than asking me if I want dinner, he says "I guess you don't want any dinner," and then storms off and starts cooking. Or if I take a long time to think about where to go for lunch, he will scoff and say "I guess YOU'RE not going to make decisions so I'LL have to."

We've been going to couples therapy and we've learned a lot about his insecurities. What gets me the most, is that not only is he incredibly rude and sarcastic but that this also stems from his insecurities. So he can dish it out but he can't take it. These kinds of interactions makes me mad and resentful and unable to be empathetic to him, and I find myself treating him the same way he's been treating me. And he knows that's the case, so he gets angry and say s "why can't you just be nice to me and eventually i'll learn from your example?,"which i find to be bullshit since I've already tried doing that for a year, but to no avail.

Today I confronted him about a bowl of mine that he broke (also, he doesn't own or buy anything in the house; all the furniture, household supplies, utensils, etc were contributed by me), to which he said "That's not your bowl," I replied "yes it is, it was given to me by a friend." Then he said "Why would you expect me to tell you about it?" and then "It's not like I meant to break it" and then "I'm sorry?" as a question as if he were filling out a multiple choice exam. 

I'm totally at my wits end and I am really wondering whether it's best to get out. His parents are actually in the process of getting divorced, because his mom is the same way. Thanks for letting me rant.

One reason

Give us one good reason why you would stay.....other than inertia.

good question

I think the main reason for me, is that he is highly intelligent, and we have a good intellectual rapport. We love talking about a lot of different topics together. He also has a lot of friends, which for me is a good sign.

At the same time, I think he uses his intelligence as a weapon and I respond in kind. My problem is that I tend to focus on unfairness and can't let it go..Once I get upset I have a hard time coming out of that stew, and his tactics really don't help me. My biggest problem is that I feel like when I get upset about a situtation, he tends to only see the implicit criticism of him, and not the hurt that I'm experiencing. Recently I've tried expressing myself by focusing on my own feelings, but he's so sensitive that that still triggers his anger and his sarcastic side.

Refusing brain glasses

"went off medication as a teenager and has basically asserted that he no longer has it"

So he has a short-sighted brain and is refusing to wear his brain glasses.   And he doesn't see this *because* his brain is short-sighted.  But if he is so intelligent then how can he not be aware ? Shame (cool kids don't wear brain glasses)? Denial and passive-aggressive defiance (my brain sees just fine thanks, by the way did you know you have a real problem dealing with people) ?  Unwilling to face up to reality (what happened to my parents will never happen to me, so there and did you know you have a problem) ?  Does it matter why ?  Does it matter ?  Sooner or later the short-sighted have to learn to put on their glasses or face up to the consequences (but he doesn't want to, he wants to blame you).

"his insecurities"
"his mom is the same way"

Your description did sound as though he has an undiagnosed/inadequately treated/in-denial parent.  And so it may be. He learned a great deal about relationships from his parents before even starting school. We all do.  So many people seems to struggle with ADHD because it wasn't diagnosed early, recognised at all, suspected but swept under the carpet in horror at what it might reveal about a parent. (My husband would say that this latter is what happened to him and a sister - their father would NEVER admit any 'brain' issues with anybody in HIS family, now his siblings - they had so many 'problems' but that was different (character problems) you see, one has to think of the neighbors and the Joneses)

All reminiscent of Philip Larkin:

They f-ck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

What a mess. Until he acknowledges that ADHD might be affecting his eyesight then there is not much anyone can do.  You cannot make him want to change.

"couples therapy"

Until the elephants are addressed (ADHD and passive-aggressive behavior) then I think it's a waste of time, sorry to be blunt.  He enjoys the guerrilla warfare and jousting - it stimulates him.  So do the friends, but he can adjust his dose of interaction with them while instead you are there too much of the time, insisting on interacting with him and pressuring him (possibly his view) and it frustrates and provokes him all at once.

There are many other intelligent fish in the sea.  Do you want to live his parents relationship?  It's where you're going until he feels a need to do something different because it isn't working for him anymore.  Right now he feels no need to change.


Hi there,

I don't really hear very much that sounds promising here. Perhaps your take is different, but I would ask yourself, what percentage of the time are you happy with this man? Is it 80%, 20%, something else? Kudos to you for trying so hard and engaging in therapy. Dear, my opinion is that it isn't supposed to be that hard. I hear about your compatibility and time invested, but I wonder why you would willingly bind yourself to someone who flat out is unkind to you. My own two cents, because I had my own spouse with untreated ADHD, but after years of defensiveness, sarcasm, and anger, I stopped caring why he was doing it. It wears on you to love someone who treats you that way. I am sorry for his issues, but you deserve better than someone who behaves like a jerk. Don't you?

Maybe the energy you are spending trying to get him to "see" and change would be better spent looking for a better partner for yourself. Best to you. 

I think actually I am

I think actually I am outwardly happy 80% of the time, but it's the 20% that when it gets bad, gets really bad. Like we are a merriweather couple. When things are going well, it's good. When things are bad, everything escalates.

Above all, I am just tired of being responsible for regulating both his anger and my own. When he gets angry, I'm supposed to be able to handle it well. And when I get angry, I'm also on my own in terms of dealing with my hurt feelings. When I try to talk to him about it, I get defensiveness and sarcasm, instead of empathy and an apology. That makes me less empathetic of him. And w hen I bring these things up, he always attacks me back: "Why is it that you're always pointing to my problems as the root cause of this? How come you can't acknowledge your own fault in all of this?"

It's not like I don't know that method of conflict resolution! It's just that if I try it on him, i don't get nearly the kind of self-reflection from him that he gets from me. I think part of it is that he's not used to people giving him empathy and hearing him out, so he doesn't appreciate it, says he doesn't need it, and hence doesn't give consolation or empathy to others.