A Lifetime of Interruptions...Interrupted!

This is a wonderful story of how learning about ADHD has led one couple to much healthier, less exhausting interactions around interruptions.  This woman’s insight, and her husband’s recognition of its validity means they are able to work together to lessen what used to be a really negative interaction between them.

Here is their story.

"One struggle we have always had is that my husband with ADHD is interruptive, makes assumptions and starts moving his body towards action before he has even heard what I say, convinced that he has "got me right'. Much of my time has been spent saying "no, that isn't what I meant/said/asked etc." I have told him it is rude and time wasting, but he persists, even though it drives me nuts. I can often barely get a sentence out before he is off and running and usually in the wrong direction for the wrong reason. He also has a habit of assuming that he hasn't heard what was just said and says "What did you just say?" a lot. In all of this I recognize his wanting to please and be helpful, but the assumptions/interruptions nevertheless are an annoyance and time-waster.

Recently I had a flash of insight when he interrupted and assumed what I was in the midst of saying, (wrong assumption of course), as to WHY he interrupts and assumes so much: It is because he uses these methods to "get himself back on track" or to re-focus and catch up to what he missed when I started talking and he was not yet paying attention: By assuming and finishing my sentences for me, he gets me to respond and in my responses I correct his incorrect assumptions, i.e. - "No, what I meant was this."  Or I repeat myself, or ask him to sit down and not rush off to do what he "thinks" he heard; he gets INFORMATION from me that puts him back in the conversation without him experiencing the feeling of being lost or "out of it". It helps him save face as well. Interrupting also serves a need for him in a similar way: I start over and re-explain (so he gets a 2nd chance at hearing me, a chance to focus) without admitting he had tuned out. We've had many fights because I have been so fed up with being interrupted, having to correct his wrong understandings of what I have said, but NOW I understand WHY he does this, and as you have said in some emails you send, education (understanding) is everything.

I told him on the spot about my insight and he saw it in himself right away and was dumb-founded to realize that he had been using these strategies (unaware) all his life in order to compensate for "tuning out", and had also developed the habit of NOT listening because he expects to have most people close to him to repeat things at least 2x. Often he will say "what did you say?" without checking himself to see if he really heard or not, he just asks me to repeat and of course, this annoys me. My husband says he "relaxes" with me and doesn't do these behaviors so much with others, such as with his clients and I believe him.

Some strategies I use now to prevent my annoyance and help him break his habit of interrupting, assuming, and not listening:

  • When I perceive that he is asking me to repeat when he has not yet checked himself to see if he has heard, I pause before I repeat, sometimes I just won't repeat and he thinks and then he realizes he DID hear me; or I say "What did I say, I think you heard me?" and about 50% of the time, he thinks for a second, and realizes he did hear me.  Slowly, very slowly he is learning to pause for a moment and think before he asks me to repeat; I use this judiciously, not to punish or make him feel bad. When I perceive his mind is elsewhere for an important reason, I just repeat. I don't do this in front of other people.
  • When something is very important to me, I ask him before delving in, "Are you able to listen now?" so he knows that he needs to focus for a moment or two;
  • When he interrupts or assumes, I cut him off (softly and politely) and say, "What did you miss?” or "Where did you get lost?” or "Please share with me your understanding of what I said so far.” In other words, I acknowledge that the ADHD is at work and cut to the chase of HIM dealing with his inability to attend, because I find myself exhausted from re-explaining, repeating myself, or when it goes really far, helping him to manage the chaos his incorrect assumptions have caused, etc. . Lovingly "cornering" him about it forces him to see what he is doing, and he is (very slowly) starting to say "Sorry, I wasn't paying attention" BEFORE he starts to interrupt or assume what I am saying. It saves us time for sure.

The ADHD belongs to him and while I may understand and even admire the strategies he has developed to manage the inattention, at some point they put a massive strain on ME, and I have handed that piece back to my husband.  This makes me feel less powerless, less frustrated, less irritated with him, and gives me back some personal time, while encouraging him to manage his ADHD without draining me so much. Surely other ADHD partners use conversational interruption/assumptions in the same way..."