Is leaving a spouse with ADHD like leaving a spouse with some other disability?

I've been married to a wonderful man for 4 years, together for 6. Like many non-ADHD spouses, I was attracted to the spontaneous, child-like, fun qualities of my now-husband and felt that "opposites really attract". However, since being married, the effects of his acknowledged (but untreated) ADHD had corroded our marriage and turned me into a bitter, angry, sad, and anxious wife who is ready to leave. My husband teaches students with behavior disorders, so he knows all the signs and coping mechanisms to deal with his own ADHD, but as of yet, refuses counseling, medication, or strategies to make our life better. I'm a total type-A person who has taken on the majority of responsibility in our lives, and have become someone I barely recognize... I never laugh, never smile, and generally think depression is a factor in my life. I now want to have a child, but can't fathom the idea of having a child when I feel as though I'm already raising one, and do not want to bring a child into a home that is so disfunctional and broken. He is a good man, with good intentions and a good soul; but his habits, lack of motivation, and inability to follow-through has driven me to the breaking point. I feel incredibly guilty for thinking of divorce, because if ADHD is really a disability (as my husband claims), than I am a rotten person for not staying to support him? I feel as if life is too short to be this unhappy, and I sincerely doubt my ability to support him long-term with these challenges. I've tried many suggested ideas, such as lists, schedules, reminders, etc, but nothing seems to work and I just don't want to try much more. He says I've checked out of the marriage, and I think he's right. He says if I just love him enough (more) things will get better. I think it will take more than love; from reading other posts, it seems like it takes a lifetime of patience, extra effort, and more patience, which frankly, I've never been in high supply of. Any thoughts on my predicament?

I sincerely feel your pain.

I sincerely feel your pain. I also have been married for four years and have 2 children with my husband. I felt the same way when we were dating, he was fun and spontaneous and then I soon realized that you can't really live that way all of the time. My husband was diagnosed as a child and suffered through some treatment ( w/ medication), however as an adult he has developed chemical dependency and I am ready to walk out the door. Yes ADHD is a disability and addiction is a disease but I have two very young children to raise and I find myself struggling to keep myself out of the deep pit of depression. If he continues to refuse treatment for his conditions, I will have no choice but to leave. At what point is it TOO much to bare? If someone didn't have use of their legs and refused to use a wheel-chair, but continued to try and walk, how many times do you watch them fall before you just give up? There has to be a solution somewhere - I hope you find it.

I feel yours too

I feel your pain too. I really like your analogy about the wheel chair, it would be different if he would do something to try to help himself and me. Not only do you have to watch him fall over and over, you also have to pick him up and carry him around on your own back some of the time. Gets heavy. Personally, I feel like I'm serving a life sentence for something I didn't do, I was just an innocent bystander and got caught in the crossfire.

Same boat

Wow, it seems as if we are in the same boat, you and I. You mentioned your husband has developed a chemical dependancy as well - mine too. Worse yet, mine hides it (very badly, I might add) which lends to a general distrust between us. I recently told him that I can't imagine having a child, and trying to raise it to be responsible, thoughtful, and task-oriented if I can't even get my husband to do those things? It seems like it would pit us against one another to have polar opposite people trying to raise a child. He claims he would change for the child, but what about me?? Am I chump change? Because I am the adult, I get to put up with it? Seriously frustrating. I'm with you... how much is too much to bare? My husband is now claiming that he's going to find a psych, try the meds for the summer, and see how it goes. I want so badly to believe it, see a monumental change, and have our life renewed. But the GIANT skeptic in me says this is just another ploy to keep me in the marriage. What I think is likely to happen is years of med changes/inconsistencies, lack of follow-through, and finding myself stuck in a pit of depression. I'm 32, and don't think I should wait too much longer to figure this out. tick tock, tick toc . I feel better knowing I'm not alone and not crazy. Thanks.

When to Leave

If there is a benefit to not commenting for a while, it's coming back to the forum and seeing a rich conversation going on like this one!

The situation that you all describe is the quintessential issue for ADHD relationships.  That may not make you feel any better.  But the issue is, where do you draw the line?  I tried to get at that a bit with my last post, though I struggled to write it, and still don't think I said exactly what I wanted to say.

But here are some thoughts:

  • First and foremost, you all have a right to a happy life.  This blog tries to give people the tools to find that life with their ADHD spouse, but I don't encourage giving up your life just to stay with someone who won't take responsibility for their ADHD
  • If your husband is willing to try meds, etc. great.  But the issue isn't trying the meds, it's fixing the biggest issues between you.  Meds are only a tool, not an ends.  He needs to try to find a med that will help him manage his worst symptoms (worst for your relationship, that is) AND THEN ADD BEHAVIORAL CHANGE TO THE MEDS or else he is doomed to fail from the start.  A good doc will tell him that.  Unfortunately, too many don't.
  • Don't have a kid until this is settled.  Which gives him a timeline - perhaps a year to make significant enough progress that you feel comfortable.  After that, if you decide you must leave, then do so.  You'll know in your heart what feels right and how committed he is to you.
  • "I'll change after we have kids" is a lot of crap, as you saw.  First, his main responsibility is to you, his partner.  Second, kids make living together much, much harder.  A man who can't manage now will have all that much more difficulty after kids.  Don't fall for that line!

In my observation, it is both partners who need to be invested in fixing the relationship, in part because it takes developing good communication - by definition something that happens between two people, not one.  The non-ADHD spouse cannot organize the ADD spouse unless that is part of a larger plan for how the couple uses their various strengths to make the whole marriage work.  "Organizing" a spouse in order to get them to "do better" is always a losing proposition - one that engenders resentment on both sides, and one that also gives the ADD spouse an opportunity to depend on the non-ADHD spouse.  On the other hand, the role that the non-ADD spouse can plan (and should, in my opinion) is that of cheerleader and supporter.  Change is hard, and it is easier if you feel your spouse is in your court.

So, what that means is this - if you are going to ask your husband to try for some period of time longer, then make sure that you aren't checked out from the process.  Don't interfere, but don't abandon him, either.  Let him lead the process of change, but be a sounding board for him.  An example of this, ask if he wants your input about behavioral observations as he tries out various medications (often takes experimenting to find the right one).  Your input can be useful in this.

If it gives you any hope at all, my husband and I were in the exact position of all of you in this thread, with the exception that we had two kids (the reason we decided to keep trying a bit longer).  We finally did have the breakthrough necessary to stay together and work it out and now I can't imagine we could be happier...so it can work out, though won't always.

The important turning point for me was deciding in my heart that the most important thing, bar none, was to be myself - happy, outgoing, thoughtful - no matter where that took me.  This decision unhooked me from the thought that I had to stay married for my kids or that I had some obligation to the struggle we had been having other than to behave honorably and as I would want to be treated.  It freed me to change my behavior from resentful and angry back to the "true me".  The result was that my husband noticed the change right away.  As we worked through whether or not we wanted to stay together he saw the person whom he had fallen in love with orignally - a person who had disappeared under the stress of our ruined marriage.  He decided to try one more time and we were both able to clear out the ruins of our past and reinvent the relationship.

That may sound backwards, and I didn't decide to be true to myself with the goal of staying together in mind.  I just decided I was better and stronger than staying in an awful relationship and fixing the relationship happens to be where that decision took me.

Be true to yourself, and if that includes compassion for your husband, who knows where it will lead you.  But you cannot support him forever - either he decides to be the person with whom you fell in love or he doesn't.  Marriage always does include compromises, but in my mind that doesn't mean that you become someone you don't like.

Melissa Orlov

leaving him

I'd like to know the same thing. I am totally given out. 18 years of trying to make this work when I am the only one really trying has worn me down. I want to leave but I do love this guy and I know he will have a hard time making it on his own because of the severity of his ADHD. But I cannot face the thought of growing old with this man. He knows he has ADHD and thinks because he "tries to focus" that he has resolved it. I could tolerate almost any of his symptoms except the main one which is that he is so full of anger, he is already pssd off about everything in the world and any little thing sends him into a rage. Don't tell me he needs counseling, believe me I know that. He scoffs at that, says he doesn't want to slog through all the issues and is going to tough it out for the rest of his life. I can't do that. (I go to counseling sometimes just to try to keep myself sane.) How can I send him out into the world on his own? Am I being co-dependent here and just thinking he can't "make it" without me? Is that self-aggrandizing? He's in his fifties, I just don't know how he could do it. Just holding down a job is a major effort for him that takes both of us keeping him at it. I'm just so tired.

Wow...how I feel your pain

Wow...how I feel your pain and frustration. I too, am married to an ADHD man and to throw an extra kink in the mix, I'm ADD. Our two kids have recently been diagnosed with ADD as well. Things get pretty "exciting" to say the least. The chaos is overwhelming at times. He and I have been married for eleven long years and threats of leaving come up quite frequently these days. He knows he has ADHD and needs to stay on his meds, but doesn't. He's angry, moody, berating, and just down right depressing to be around. It seems to be getting worse. The other day, his boss told him to slow down and not rush through his work so fast---rushing is another irritating thing that keeps the fires fueled. I do love him and see so many talents, love, and compassion--something very notable about ADD--but rather than channel this energy towards a positive, he continues to drive it to the negative. I'm at a crossroads. I teach Special Education and I have more patience with my students than I do him. The one saving grace, is that he drives a truck for living. My kids and I actually have "settled" time. Sad isn't it? I'm going to seek counseling in order to help myself survive. I know what you mean when you say you can't see living the rest of your life like this.

My Story too.

I am approaching 20 years (and 2 teenagers to boot) with a 10 year diagnosed ADHD spouse. MEDs mis-management, poor educational background, will not work at home or outside the house (If I go get a job I am leaving you) etc. Just like many of you experience. BTW - both teenagers are ADHD diagnosed as well. Marriage really fell on the rocks a few weeks ago after a real issue with one of the kids. A lot of counceling and soul searching discovered my CO-DEPENDENCY role in this. It was shocking and helpful to see my "negitive contributon" spinning against her anger and narsissim against me. My world is the Blame-Shifting Hall of Fame. (last week a blemish on her face was "my fault".) So now I am trying to restabalize and save what should and can be saved. I do NOT want the family to break up for the kids and all others concerned. My thoughts are to 1) get individual help, 2) resort priorities and boundries, 3) communicate with your ADD spouse clearly and motivate them - or leave. Any ideas or advise would be very welcome and you will be included in my prayers!