limits of improvement & happiness together?

I'm new to this forum and have posted a couple of times.  My partner has ADHD (as well as other disorders). We've only been together 3.5 years. 


A friend told me that she regrets that she stayed with her husband.  She expressed concern for me (I think she was indirectly telling me I should leave my relationship and learn from her lessons).  I feel sad reading the posts that say while ADHD relationships can improve, they never become equitable.  And I feel sad seeing people stuck after decades together, afraid to leave or at great costs.  I'm not judging anybody's choices or experiences, just expressing my authentic emotional reaction of heartache.  I guess ultimately, many of the stories cause me to feel doomed in the long-run if I stay with my partner.

Financially, without me, I believe that later in life she will likely end up living on the streets (unless someone else decides to parent her).  I'm not interested in supporting (or probably more accurately 'enabling') her the rest of my life.  I'm relatively young and don't have kids, so it's a lot easier to get out at this point.  I haven't chosen to leave, but this forum is causing me to question if it's worth staying for in the long-term or how.  The stories from all of you who have more experience are shaking me up.

what can you do?

NT, I understand (left my spouse with ADHD 2.5 months ago--we had been together for 14 years). It is a scary thing to be in a relationship that is dysfunctional or unhappy and suddenly realize that it has the potential to stay that way, maybe forever. It is heartbreaking, and daunting, and depressing, absolutely. I think one thing that those with successes do, is mourn the relationship that they wanted or thought they would have, and then find happiness in whatever their relationship really is. I know it is possible for some. Is it for you? 

I can't tell what the state of your relationship is from your post here. Do you still love your wife? (I got to a point where my honest, painful answer about my own spouse was "no, I don't.") Is there something there to salvage and do you want to? Does your wife want to treat and work on these issues and find a way for you both to together? And do you have the fortitude and desire to do so? Can you tell her what you just wrote, that you love her but need her to do ____?

And I hear you also about her family--my STBX has a family that is generally well-meaning but they had come to completely rely on me to help and take care of him. Now that he is on his own, it is tough to get them to step in, but that doesn't mean I won't take care of myself and my kids first. He is capable of asking for them to help!

Only you can decide what to do. I was in an abusive situation and I had kids to consider, and leaving was the right thing. I am not a huge advocate of divorce being easy, but you have a right to a happy life. You choose whom you will be married to. At one point, the idea that I didn't have to stay became a relief rather than a sad fact. Hang in there. 

change and mourning

lynninny - Congratulations for having the courage to leave.  You deserve freedom, joy and ease in your life. You did the right thing, for you and your children.  

I still love my partner.  She wants to and is working very hard on the issues.  It's a big reason I stay.  I'm tired though... emotionally beaten up.  I had hope but feel at a loss right now because I'm beginning to see the real limits of how far and deep our relationship CAN'T go.  I've told her how I feel and what I need. I realize more clearly now the things she cannot and will not ever be able to do (no matter how hard she tries).

I'm at that place where I am mourning my desires, and letting go of expectations that she can't fulfill.  And then I will see if I can stay happily in a relationship without those things.  

It sounds like you've gone through all of that lynninny, and then accepted it wasn't going to ever be what you needed it to be.  Every story has a different ending and new beginnings.  You have a bright new beginning now.  I am going through one ending and don't know what new beginning is next.

Hanging in there, thanks, your words mean a lot.

have you considered?

Have you considered taking my course with your partner?  MUCH can be done to improve your relationship.  Mourning is appropriate (the relationship isn't what you expected) but the fact that you are mourning right now doesn't mean your relationship can't be much better.  Don't give up until you've tried more now that you know what ADHD can do...(I'm not promoting this to you because I make money on it, though I do, but because of where you seem to be right now, at least from this post.)

Bravo Melissa for seeing

Bravo Melissa for seeing 'hope'in the above mentioned post and encouraging a new approach. I think the glimmer is there too. 

ADHD w other disorders-course and/or?

Melissa, thanks for the valuable suggestion. My partner already suggested your course, we were going to sign up for it last year.  However, she didn't have enough money to share the costs, we were already engaged in other support, and she was/is overwhelmed with the commitments she keeps making.   

I will speak with her and see if she has any cash saved for the course later this year and if we can arrange a workable routine so that she will be able to participate.  We are both signed up for another ADHD course elsewhere already (and she's not fully participating - though I am).  

Just another quick note, I've already grieved many things in this relationship many times and I've adapted.  I just feel at the end of my rope with trauma after trauma now.  She also has other disorders that impact very fundamental aspects of intellectual and emotional comprehension, communication and socialization.  I am realizing that ADHD may only be one part of larger complex mental challenges so am lost as to what might best address it all.

Left your relationship? Mine's still needs convincing!

I read your post about leaving your relationship with the pie in the sky messy girl.  Can I relate!  My guy is always in his fantasy mind.  It even bends his fantasy past to the point that he truly believes what he "remembers" is reality.  After me saying, no more relationship unless and until he gives on 3 or 4 specific things, he is still in denial about what has happened over time with us - his fantasy past.  So, since he's still in denial that we are done, and tells me that the reality I see, that I do all the work for us, like travel to him, change my schedule around, don't do my life stuff, ignore my friends and family, and he just focuses on other people instead of me,  And he thinks I try to take over things all the time - and "that may be good in business but not in real life".  So, my new plan is I will stop taking charge of things, because he says that is bad.  And I will stop doing things and making the effort to make our relationship possible, because he thinks I don't do that.  And I'm going to wait to see how many months it takes him to see that what he has left is vacant space.  He could just get a grip now and leave me alone (or compromise on my 3 or 4 things) or he can take this slow painful death walk.  If you hear the echo from the canyon that used to be a relationship in a few months, it will be my guy speaking my name down at the bottom of the canyon on the back of a sad old mule as my guy wanders along wondering what happened to his great and loving distance girlfriend and where she could possibly be.  Harrumph!  

Selective posting

Keep in mind, happy people rarely post. We post when we are trying to work out problems. If I had known then what I know now would I still marry him? Probably but there would have had to be some ground rules and would have gotten help sooner. As the first comment said, your wife really has to own her condition and be willing to mitigate the negative symptoms. There are adhd people who thrive and have good relationships. Every marriage has its cycles and issues to work through. Ones with brain conditions are just more challenging to manage. Don't stay with her out of guilt for what may happen to her. Most adhd people find ways to survive. If you stay, do it because she still brings you joy.

happy stories help

I looked at the sections that were supposed to focus on the more positive aspects of relationship, but didn't find much.  Thanks for reminding me that happy relationships aren't likely to be found on the forum.  Does anyone know where can I find some examples?

If I had known then what I know now, I wouldn't have gotten together with her.  But now, I'm already invested so I'm still looking at if/how to make this work.  

I know it sounds cruel, but if we don't work out, I would probably not date someone with ADHD again.  I do appreciate how my relationship has caused me to set stronger boundaries and grow and I'm wiser for it.

Thank you for encouraging me to stay for joy.  It wouldn't be fair to her or me if I stayed for any other reason.  I hope there will be more joy.

If anyone has examples of positive and happy, healthy functioning relationships where there is ADHD please post!

My opinion, based on my own,

My opinion, based on my own, unhappy situation, is that a happy relationship in which ADHD plays a role is possible.  However, I think that having such a relationship requires openness and honesty and willingness to communicate.  Not everyone with ADHD struggles with these behaviors, and not everyone without ADHD exhibits them.  I think you and your partner need to be able and willing to talk; you can't BS each other; you can't hide things.  I think the person with ADHD has to be willing to be reminded or told when risky situations or troublesome symptoms appear.  

I'm aware of when my partner is struggling.  But he's resistant to doing things in response to my warnings.  If he were willing to acknowledge the limitations in his self-awareness and engage in correcting behavior when I pointed out that things aren't going well, our situation would be much better.

llc's picture

lack of positive in this forum is painful

I am the one with ADHD and after scouring this site I feel a hundred times worse about Myself. I may not come back, but I am glad i explored because I am even more appreciative of my loving,patient and understanding husband of 15 years.

I feel crushing grief and guilt for having ADHD. I try to do everything I can to tell and show him I love him. I would be destroyed if he died or left. He thinks I am beautiful, kind, loving,funny as and way too hard on myself and he is grateful that bi do everything I am capable of to improve me and our marriage.. He protects me and reassures me he will never leave.

We have been through a lot of hell in our lives...a lot of it had nothing to do with me oir adhd. Our business failed, our son died I am just getting mobile again after a year bedridden from back has been Hard. But we are in the best place we have ever been and as I was just diagnosed and haven't started meds yet, I can only see things improving.

I am glad someone wants positive here, because truthfully....most seem to have nothing good to say about ADHD's like we are all trash that needs to be thrown away and there is a round of applause and good-for-yous for Eaving and putting the garbage by the curb where it belongs.

That said....people who marry into adhd have a huge amount of struggle and i don't discount that at all. But man is it nice to read someone who wants tho find a silver lining.



It can be a shock to come to these forums and hear how much pain there is in these relationships - this is why I post my "read this first" for new people  (to find this, you have to log out).  If you haven't read it yet, you may want to.  The typical pattern is that people come here in great pain and post about it (very hard for everyone to read) and then, in the most helpful threads, you get people talking about what worked or didn't work for them, etc.  I liked Aspen's post in this thread because she shows what the growth process can look like - you start out very angry and hurt (hence why you are here), get a bunch of feedback and sort through what works for you, realize it takes longer than you think to get things pulled together and WORK at it to do so.  For each couple what it takes to get things working again varies (in your case, it sounds as if self-esteem work might be in order from your description).  Typically, when people work things out they don't need the support of the forum and move on (Aspen being an exception in this case.)

This is a tough topic.  These relationships can be very difficult - not because they must be since ADHD is part of them, but because people are here BECAUSE they are in a tough relationship and happen to have ADHD.  The website self-selects. 

It sounds as if you have many really good things in your relationship and that your partner cares for you deeply.  As you read what is here, keep that idea FRONT AND CENTER and take away what you can learn that will help you look at your own ADHD and learn what might help you diminish symptoms that are in your way.  You are welcome here.

llc's picture

thank you

thank you for taking the time to comment. I had a really rough night last night, and what is the true pity is that most of it was due to an error on my part. After being diagnosed I read a book about women and ADHD that give me hope that all of this wasn't all my fault and then I wasn't as horrible person. These posts were the first things I read about ADHD aside from the book and it pounded me flat. I wasn't prepared for it all. It was late, I was exhausted and it hit all of my insecurities and self esteem problems (which as you correctly observed I absolutely do have and am starting to work on in therapy). My ADHD had not been fun and has caused problems but by dar the worst victim of it so far has been my self esteem. Despite being a fairly gifted person by other people's standards (opera singer and a lovely 8-year stretch as a professional blogger) my self worth is garbage at this point. I wasn't prepared for what I read. I hurt for the people posting but yes...I did read their words and became very distressed because I am afraid of how people will feel about me now. But my careless mistake made it much worse than it had to be! I didn't see the notice for first time posters, which is a pity. AND. . I realized at the very end of my marathon reading session that while *I* thought I had left the anger/frustration category (after George gave me a heads up after my first comment) and thought I was reading all over the forum in different categories, I ACTUALLY stayed in the anger/frustration section THE ENTIRE TIME. (GO, ME!) I thought that no one anywhere on the forum had ANYTHING good to say or find about people with ADHD! I was crushed and scared. Obviously, I was wrong. I am sorry if I caused any trouble. I truly felt torn because I have compassion for anyone in pain but I was also hurting for the team I bat with. And I was truly puzzled. I hope you all can forgive me. It was a rookie and foolish mistake. I am grateful to have discovered it and am glad for those who took the time to reach out to me. I appreciate it very much. Thanks again, Loralee Choate

Extremely happy in my ADD affected marriage!!

I am the non in my relationship. Husband was diagnosed about 5 years ago.  We had a rough year before diagnosis....we'd been married a couple years at that point and it was starting to become obvious that something was off in his commitment keeping especially.  I was thinking it was just honeymoon is over/he isn't valuing me kinda stuff, but he was sure it was something else.  Maybe part of what made a difference for us is that we both had an issue, but he really went searching for the solution.

I found this site a year or so later and I was ANGRY!!!  So angry that a post from me made it into Melissa's book (not my shining moment but definitely true of how I felt at the time).  It seemed like he got a diagnosis and started taking a pill and that was all that he wanted to do.  I felt like there was NO progress and I was climbing out of my skin.

We both had to really understand how the other was feeling.  He was overwhelmed and was making advancement, but it was sooo much slower than the pace I wanted.  His professionals weren't the greatest and we had to work to get new ones.

Through it all we kept our love and appreciation for the good parts of eachother strong.  ADD isn't a picnic, but it has been reduced mostly to no more infuriating to us than general male/female communication.

I tried to post yesterday but wouldn't post from my phone...would let me type it but not post it....and now I am rushing out to work, but I am happy to come back and answer any questions that you want.

We are FAR from perfect and have plenty of 'moments', but we love eachother and would both describe our marriage as VERY happy.  The first year post diagnosis is the hardest in my opinion!

p.s. another vital thing is for both partners to really think about where they are helping and hindering the dynamic.  It was hard for me to admit that some of our communication issues really were partly my fault is so easy to think it is all on the ADD partner and they are 'wrong' but that is seldom really true.

Happy ADHD marriages

I have seen a few successes, and by success I mean they consider their marriages happy and solid.

1) My in-laws. Married 60 years, most of them good. Wife ADHD and bi-polar. Husband has the amazing ability to go with the flow. Without being a doormat. Both had interests and commitment and no expectation of being top of the food chain. Plenty of dysfunction in the fa,ily but the relationship was solid. Not on stimulants, an anti-psychotic in recent years.

2) My dad and step-mother. Married 31 years, solid as can be. Wife with ADHD and husband also pretty go with the flow. I could not be married to this woman, she drives me dippy, but dad likes her. Both have similar interests and like and respect the other. Not on mess.

3 and 4) 2 sets of sibling in-laws have strong lengthy marriages. Wife in one, husband in the other. They both married flexible structured people that deal well with chaos. Here again, they keep busy, over scheduled, but like each other.

Common with them all is that they were willing to work through the hard times. They maintained respect for their partners. Kept busy social lives with outside interests. And they laughed a lot.

i am happy enough when I don't think about the lack of walls and the unfair division of labor, and tight money. When he's actively trying to improve and there's hope things are good. I know dh is a good man at his core and that the bad behavior isn't personal. We are making a concerted effort to have fun together. Play time is really impt for connection.

Best wishes

good qualities, hard times, limitations, hope and loss

I have references for positive relationships that don't involve ADHD.  But not many happy references with ADHD. And because of that, it makes me just want to be with someone without ADHD.  Of course, there are ups and downs in every partnership, but it does seem easier when there isn't a brain issue to compound it.

My partner is gold when it comes to effort to manage her symptoms, though she's not always successful at it.  Also, she has other mental health issues, which I haven't talked about here, and it makes it tougher to work with for both of us.

We are very open, honest and communicative with each other.  She does have difficulties with some emotional and intellectual comprehension though, which is probably our greatest barrier right now.  I do feel I take responsibility for my role in our dynamic, and attempt to correct any enabling behaviors.  Setting stronger boundaries of my own is one of them, and it may very well go as far as separating but my hope is truly to stay together.

One of the aspects I'm grieving is the reality that she is limited in her capacity to emotionally empathize (and even feel at times).  I don't mean express an emotion, which is already hard for her sometimes, but actually feel it in the first place.  I don't believe this is related to her ADHD, but to another disorder. This issue was diagnosed by two different specialists.  At first I didn't believe it and thought that perhaps it was learned (dissociation as a coping skill due to childhood trauma) but we've been told since that it appears to be more an abnormality in her brain development. So it's ADHD with other concurrent conditions, which I understand isn't uncommon, but it does make it tougher!

We laugh a lot, we are goofy, we have outside interests and friends, and we are putting in our best efforts.  Then something happens and I feel traumatized all over again... so I'm stepping back some more, reassessing, responding differently, and am letting it take its course based on my own new behaviors as the non-ADHD partner.

Any other examples of what any of you out there (ADHD or non-ADHD partners) have gone through specifically to feel authentically happier in your marriages are most appreciated.  I need inspiration and hope. 

carathrace's picture

Inspiration and hope

I don't know what would give you inspiration and hope, beingNT, but I'll share with you what gives it to me.  I go over in my mind the things I love about him, and really feel the gratitude I have for being hooked up with someone who has those things.  Life is bittersweet and I have to take the bitter with the sweet, but I sure want to savor the sweet.  I also focus on the efforts he's making.  I have no idea what it's like to have actual brain disfunctions, ways my brain won't work, and every time he practices a healthy behavior - fights the tide of his ADHD - strikes me as brave.  I admire bravery.  The more I admire him, the more respect I have for him, the more love I have.

"Then something happens and I feel traumatized all over again" - yeah, I get that.  Those letdowns do wear you down.  At some point I think I sort of detached.  It was after our counselor told me a story.  He was helping a couple whose adult son had paranoid schizophrenia.  In spite of their best efforts, the son kept not taking his meds, kept harming himself.  They finally came to the point where they told themselves, If he ends up taking his life, we won't be to blame; it will be because he has an illness we can't control.  Now they could continue to love him and help him when he asked, even to enjoy him for who he was, and not feel like it was up to them to keep him alive.  He did end up committing suicide and their grief was great, but it wasn't as guilt-ridden as it would have been.  Anyway, after I heard that story I let go of a lot of anxiety.  I don't have to be the watchdog, or the mother or the boss of him.

I couldn't do it without my friends.  There's this group of 4 of us who all have our issues we're living with, and we get together every week to "Whine and Wine".  It feels so good to vent to these women and be heard, and to hear them.

the hard part...

I think what it's going come down for you is what kind of a mother is she going to be to your children and what would that look like if you did get divorced later. If you were to have children with her it would be hard to divorce her later because you would have to come to grips with the fact that you would get shared custody at best and then you are leaving the children you love with this person three days a week and every other weekend and you won't be there to help them cope with her. Also she may attach herself to a man who is abusive because of her illness and you would have a very hard time protecting your future children from that. My advice to you would be do whatever you have to do to make sure you don't get her pregnant until you decide if you really can stay in this relationship because if you can't you'll be trapped by the children. There might be hope but it could also easily go the other way because you can't control what she is going to do and she might do it for a while and then stop. I say that also as a child of a woman who is so mentally ill that she is in the state mental hospital now. Really... don't bring children into this mess. It will keep your options open and save them a mess of heartache.

Give treatment a go for a year... if she doesn't respond then leave.

focus on the positive and have a deadline...

carathrace- I'm doing my best to focus on the positive, and I don't know if it will be enough but my hope is it will help me to feel better.  I'm doing more stuff independently, and she seems to be responding in kind the last couple of days.  I mean that in a positive way.  She's not relying on me or taking me for granted as much because after I told her how I was feeling, I think she realizes what's at stake.  Mostly though, I feel better standing up more for myself.  

I love her so of course I worry about what would happen to her if I wasn't around.  But you are right, her life is her responsibility.

I saw a friend yesterday who also said something that was comforting to me.  He once hit rock bottom in his life and became homeless.  But he said that's where he learned to trust, that everything was okay and worked out.  I need to remember this for myself, but also for my partner.  That she'll be okay no matter what, and so will I.  

notavictim - I hear you on the responsibilities of children.  I don't plan to have kids and actually she doesn't want them either. But if she changes her mind, I'd leave before that happened!  As for a year, I don't know how much more time to give it.  I don't want to fall into a depression (again) over this... I may ask that we live separately for a while if things don't improve significantly by summer.  In the meantime, I'm just taking more space at home.


Re not empathizing

Regarding your comment about her not being able to empathize, but that you weren't certain it was a characteristic of ADHD:  I believe that it is a characteristic of ADHD.  My husband has this issue and in fact recognized it in himself long before he was diagnosed with ADHD, and he recently told me that he read the two were related (ADHD and low empathy).  For years I noticed that he is only sympathetic to individuals he is very close to, and oddly, to animals; but when someone in the general public suffers a loss, or some tragedy occurs, he is often fairly indifferent.  I remember being a little bothered by this trait of his early on, because I am extremely empathetic.  I'm finding now that things I might have once thought of as "character" flaws in him can be attributed to ADHD, and that reality is a bit more gray than it may initially appear.  I don't know enough about the disorder yet to say which types of behavior are conclusively not ADHD-related.  My point is, just because it's ADHD doesn't mean there still aren't traits in them to admire and value.  But I do think the decision to stay or go is a very personal one that you probably should take some time over.  Think it through, but keep an open mind.  Shared values are important and can override the annoying ADHD quirks sometimes, as long as they don't get too out of hand.  I think you are right to make this decision as cerebrally as possible nonetheless.  Maybe give her time to work through some of it and see how it goes.

ADHD's ability to empathize or not, and relationships

Lise, now that you mention it, I am reminded that difficulties with showing empathy are an ADHD characteristic.  And I also realize that whether or not the symptom is from ADHD or another disorder isn't really important at this point in my partnership (though the specialist feels it's stemming from more than ADHD), it's a challenge for me to be with my partner when I'm going through something meaningful and she doesn't get it or shows little support.  The solution we've found for now is behavioral.  If she sees that I'm crying, or happy about something, that's her "cue" to behave in a certain way, which she will.  It doesn't mean she'll experience empathy, but she'll act like she is.  So if I cry, her "cue" is to put her arms around me.  Or if I'm excited about something, that's her "cue" to say something nice about it.  It's kind of like her phone alarms, that give her a "cue" each day to tell me she loves me.  

It's a bit hard for me also, because like you, I'm extremely empathetic.  We've found solutions for now though she doesn't always remember what to do when she's cued.  There are other situations where her lack of empathy does make things difficult.  For example, another characteristic of ADHD is an inability to anticipate consequences or project far into the future.  And so, if she makes a choice that might be hurtful to me or someone else down the road, she doesn't anticipate the damage it might bring (and lacks the empathy that would prevent her from making the destructive choice).  I hope that makes sense.  

I am looking at what the rewards are to this relationship, and the costs.  I'm trying to keep an open mind.  Some ADHD traits are just "quirks" I can override and have been.  Some are really traumatizing for me.  

You sound like you are happy in your relationship.  What makes it work most for you?  What do you love and appreciate about your husband?  How have you gotten through the toughest times?


Not exactly happy - but working on it

Ok, so I have to admit that sometimes my husband has stressed me out to absolutely no end, to the point that I sometimes wonder why on earth I've stayed with him for 15 years.  He's always had trouble finding the "right" job for himself, and still does.  He has had impulsivity problems, can be been inattentive to the relationship (not particularly affectionate or complimentary), has had serious motivational and self-esteem issues, and has been a binge drinker off and on until he finally got on both Lexapro and Adderall a few months ago.  He's now got motivation, and I am happy for him for that.  But he has years of catching up to do because he's switched fields so many times-- and he still doesn't know what he wants to do for a living.  He's fixated on the notion that once he finds his ideal career, things will fall into place for him.  At least he's not drinking-- hopefully that sticks.  He is seeing a counselor, trying various means of self-help, going to the gym almost every evening, and making progress in many ways that I might not have expected possible from him in the old days.   Our main issue right now is his constant negativity, which is why I originally posted on this site, to get some advice from others who had this issue with their spouses or significant others (SOs).  Ms. Orlov did interject to say that negativity is not a symptom of ADHD.  It may not be directly attributable, but in my husband's case at least I'm quite certain it is comorbid due to his numerous ADHD life frustrations having created a "why bother" attitude towards many typical life challenges.  So yes, I have to say that has been very difficult for me to live over the years.   When he is down and negative, he is incapable of conducting any sort of meaningful relationship with me or anyone else and can barely get through his days.  There are many times when I've been frustrated, lonely, disappointed, fed up, and ready to call it quits because of his job issues and his determination to find a scapegoat for everything that doesn't go his way.  That sort of thing casts a black pall on your day-to-day functions and for me it's been really hard to shrug off. 

But  - in his case, he usually generally pulls himself up and out of it enough that I end up letting it go, and then things are ok for a while again.  Even for the meds, he was able to do that for varying lengths of time.  Re what does work for us and what I do like about him:  we share interests and values (music, art, politics, animals, the outdoors), and we're from similar small mountain towns in CA, so very similar culturally in some ways.  He is quiet and laid back, "no goals" person, while I'm more type-A, on-top-of-things, with lots of responsibility in my professional life, so maybe some balancing out there.  He's not a slob, we're both neat.  He can be very amusing to me at times.  He is good at helping with housework, groceries, the pets.  I get stuck with the "hard" responsibilities.  I guess we have shared cultural backgrounds and are compatible enough overall that what I know now were ADHD-related problems took a back seat at the beginning of the relationship.  The problem is that they don't go away-- they can wax and wane, just like any other type of problem, and they feel more chronic and inherent than temporary/resolvable.  Seems worse for him as we've gotten older (he is 45).  And that is frustrating, I won't deny it, because the idea is that you want some peace and understanding and solutions over time.  Like everyone, I have issues of my own-- a bad temper, some anxiety. I think ADHD is just a particularly stressful set of issues, for the individuals as well as their SOs. 

Anyway, I wanted to relate to you that in my opinion I think it's okay if you aren't sure this person is right for you to spend some time thinking and considering.  Once you commit,  it becomes harder and harder to back out, kind of like yanking roots out of the ground once the plant is established.  But then again, maybe the problems are of the type you can deal with.  Nice for example that she is making an effort with the cueing to act sympathetically.  I'm sure she does empathize with you a bit in that she cares for you and seems to want to try to meet your needs.  I remember telling my husband's counselor that he hardly acted like I mattered to him sometimes.  The counselor told me, well, you matter to him, but don't expect him to tell you about it, because he's not gonna do it.  I won't say I'm thrilled with that thought, but I deal with it better than I do with the constant b*tching.  I guess it has a lot to do with your relationship expectations.  Make sure they are realistic and grounded.  You have to find what works for you.

loving, living, leaving, letting it be

Lise, it sounds like you love your husband very much.  All relationships have issues, and our lot happens to be ADHD and whatever else.  You seem to have tolerated quite a lot, so I imagine you also have a strong bond that has caused you to hang in there, and still enjoy your spouse. 

I don't think it's always easy for our spouses either.  I mean, I see how much mine gets frustrated and down with herself, and her own symptoms.  She talks about how she wants to be able to [fill in the blank] but just can't.  I mean literally, there are things she just can't do, no matter how hard she tries.  A lot of people with ADHD suffer from depression or addiction as a result of other factors too.  I'm blessed that my wife tends to be optimistic (I'm sure her anti-depressants help, as does the happy-go-lucky aspect of her ADHD).  She also has had trouble holding jobs, and thus her finances are in dire need of repair as well, and she has her own other ways the impulsivity shows up and so on.  It's amazing how much in common we all have on this forum.

I go through similar feelings of things getting really difficult, and then see my wife do something to either make up for some destructive behavior or put more effort to manage her symptoms because I've let her know that I'm not okay with it.  I mean, I can take some ups and downs, but I have my limits too!  Thank you for acknowledging that its okay to choose whether or not to stay.  Just having you say that helps me to feel less alone.  I still feel scared sometimes, because I do love her.  But I also need my sanity and health!

You said your husband's symptoms are getting worse.  I think it's so important to take good care of yourself as that happens.  My wife is approaching menopause and she already suffers from PMDD, so I do have concerns for my own emotional safety (she has some anger management issues - ADHD related).  I think I'll put up a separate post asking questions about ADHD and aging.  As far as I can tell, there isn't any hard clinical research on ADHD and aging, but indirect speculation.  We all age, and the brain naturally has trouble with memory etc. so theoretically, ADHD will get worse.  My hope is if/when it happens, my spouse has more skills in place to mitigate that.

I'm happy to hear all the wonderful things you can enjoy with your husband.  I'm trying to stay focused on the good stuff.  It's definitely a life line right?


Again, I don't believe that lack of empathy is related to ADHD.  Distraction is ADHD, and lack of focus, so perhaps that is coming across as not being empathetic because the person isn't focused on you?  If you have a specific study that connects lack of empathy and ADHD, I would be interested to see it.

feeling emotions & empathy, expression of emotions & empathy

Melissa - I'd also be interested in any legitimate information that connects or refutes "lack of empathy" with ADHD.  If you have any articles come your way, could you post it to me?

When people with ADHD suffer from other concurrent symptoms or disorders it's hard for me to distinguish what's what, especially because my spouse's case also appears more complex.  In the end, the labels don't matter to me, but I do hope that my wife is actually able to feel and express a higher degree of empathy, and that ADHD isn't preventing that. As far as difficulties feeling empathy or expressing it (which I distinguish as two different functions), I guess I associated it in part with ADHD because ADHD symptoms include a greater sense of "self-centered-ness" v.s. thinking of others more often or first.  And yes, lack of focus certainly would play a part as far as I can tell as well.

I, too, think that labels

I, too, think that labels don't matter.  What I notice in my husband, who has ADHD, depression, and anxiety, is that he certainly has feelings and can name those feelings and tell me about them, but he has a much harder time acknowledging my feelings and responding without turning the conversation or topic back to his feelings.  Example:  He is away from home right now, on his weekly sojourn at his parents' home.  I emailed him a question on Friday.  He didn't respond.  I emailed him three or four more times, both seeking the information again and then expressing my frustration and sadness that he wasn't responding.  This morning, I sent him a short message in which I said that I feel very bad when he ignores my messages.  His response?  That him ignoring my messages makes him feel crappy, too.  

To me, this isn't empathy.  

Empathy and Sympathy

I tend to think that ADHD people can feel a great deal of empathy, often not appropriately.  My DH tends to feel empathy regarding other people rather than for me in regards to how his behavior makes me feel.  If there is an issue that has his attention, he can see how behaviors will impact the other people involved.  He does tend to assign lesser value to how his behavior affects them than how their behavior impacts him.  His family blew up because of poor behavior on many ADHD people's parts but my DH felt he had been wounded the worst, and would not acknowledge that each of the other people likely felt just as worse off. 

In a way it is empathy that makes him say that he feels badly that he made you feel bad by ignoring your messages.  It's unfortunately not enough to say that.  It would be nice if he would follow up with an apology, explanation and plan for not doing it again.  And then not do it again. 

Also, my DH's "empathy" isn't always a good thing.  It can be paralyzing because he will agonize over all possible outcomes, assigning people's reactions based on how he thinks they will react, even though he tends to not assign realistic outcomes.  And that agonizing over it leads to him not taking any action.  That may be anxiety exacerbating ADHD.  in any regard, if the ADHD person has no reason to pay attention to the issue where empathy would be appropriate, he or she isn't likely to.  Something shinier is likely to pull them away. 

You hit the nail on the head,

You hit the nail on the head, Shelley, especially concerning what kind of response I would have liked from my husband.  1) "I'm sorry.  I can see why this made you feel bad."  2) "As to your original question, here is the answer: ...."  3) "I'll try to respond to your messages from now on."  

Instead, what I got was, "I feel crappy, too."  It's better that he felt bad about his poor behavior in the situation than not feeling bad about it, but feeling bad wasn't sufficient.  In fact, given the choice between him feeling bad but not rectifying the situation and him rectifying the situation but not feeling bad, I'd choose the latter.


OMG.....That is crazy making.  Sorry.  I wish you well.  You are strong.

When I asked my spouse

When I asked my spouse specifically whether he had done the thing I had asked about originally, he said no, he had not done the task.  I would have been mildly annoyed to learn that he had not done the task (for which he volunteered, after I told him that I was feeling stressed by all the other things I had to do, almost all of which I've since completed).  But that would have been it, mild annoyance, and then moving on to have one or the other of us do the task.  Instead, by engaging in omission and nonresponsiveness, my husband broke my trust.  

ignoring messages

If you put on the ADHD hat for a moment and don't think about it from an empathy standpoint, the situation could be read differently.  You send him a message.  He's distracted - sees the message and thinks he wants to respond but he'll come back to it...he forgets.  You send him another message.  He's overwhelmed with stuff coming at now he knows he forgot to answer your first message, so he puts it off just a little bit...and forgets again.  The next time you send him a message you are expressing your frustration and he knows he's in now he starts avoidance behavior because he's ashamed that he didn't just respond like a "normal person" would to your previous message.  So this time he decides he can't handle getting into conflict with you or disappointing you and decides not to send you a message back.  You get more and more frustrated, he hides further and is more embarrassed, perhaps becoming anxious about when he will next see you...and wanting to just make the whole thing disappear if he could.

When you ask him about it, he says he feels crappy about it, too.  And he's being honest, he does.  He may or may not mention the shame he feels.  In that scenario (which is one I hear played out over and over again with my clients), it has nothing to do with empathy and everything to do with the complex web of behaviors introduced by ADHD - first the distraction/forgetting, then the shame, then the avoidance.

Run this by him and see if he thinks it sounds familiar.

Hi, Melissa.  I'm sure this

Hi, Melissa.  I'm sure this would sound familiar to my spouse.  I believe that I can accommodate to some of his behaviors but I shouldn't have to accommodate to all, especially if he has shown no interest in or willingness to deal with the behavioral change "leg" of dealing with ADHD.  And he hasn't. He still seems to think it doesn't matter.


That may be so - in which case he is not responding to you well.  But the scenario I laid out - that he is deeply ashamed of his symptoms, is not the same thing as not being empathetic, which is a different thing all together.  That was my point, since the thread was about people interpreting the actions of their ADHD spouses as not being empathetic.  I was simply trying to provide a different (and common) explanation.  I like to make sure that people are "diagnosing" the issue correctly as it tends to lead to better strategies and outcomes.  Lack of empathy would lead to one set of responses.  Dealing with shame is a different set of responses.

Thank you, Melissa.  I do

Thank you, Melissa.  I do appreciate your input.  But also, as you can tell, I'm very frustrated by our situation and my husband's condition, which seem to require lots of analysis, understanding, and accommodation on my part, and none on my husband's.

None on his part

Though the way it may be playing out right now is that he is not responsive to your requests for change, I urge you to not move to the idea that you are the only one who needs to be accommodating (even as frustration speaking).  This isn't the case.  I know you know this.  Your frustration, as expressed to him, will hurt your ultimate cause.  Instead, think of yourself as "lobbying" to get him to pay attention to the fact that you are unhappy.  I used to tell George that "if I have a problem you have a problem by definition...and right now I am deeply unhappy.  We need to talk about what is going on."  If you haven't read any of John Gottman's work, I encourage you to explore it.  He has many great ideas, based in research about healthy couples and what makes them healthy, that may help you figure out how to approach your husband without putting him on the defensive.  This is when you are most likely to get him to consider your points.  An example - start a request with a complaint rather than an attack.  So "I'm feeling really sad right now because I feel lonely when you are distracted" is less likely to put your husband on the defensive than "you never pay attention to me and that hurts."  Things like that.

Many couples find that taking my course provides completely different insight for the ADHD partner about the impact of ADHD on their partner.  I'm not giving another live one until October, but there is a recording if you can't wait until then.  Some non-ADHD spouses simply ask "won't you please do this with me, just because I'm asking you to?  It would mean so much to me..."  Harder to say no to that than to "I think you need this course..." (response:  no I don't!)

There are some things that you simply CAN'T give in on for the sake of accommodating him - and you need to make sure you understand what those things are - else you "lose" yourself in your relationship.  See my chapter on setting boundaries...

Best to you...

"I'm feeling really sad right

"I'm feeling really sad right now" elicits from my husband, "When you say you feel sad about my behavior, I feel guilty, and when I feel guilty, my brain shuts down, and I am unable to do anything productive."  OR "When you say you feel sad about my behavior, my brain makes me want to do the opposite of what you'd like me to do."  My expressing my feelings is treated as the cause of my husband's negative behaviors.  

Shutting Down

Shutting down is just an alternative to his engaging with anger - neither is productive for you.  My preference is the shutting least that can be worked on over time.

I don't think that anger is

I don't think that anger is off limits.  Physical aggression and abuse should be off the table, but I don't think that feeling or expressing anger is against the law.  Some things are worth getting angry over, and if the anger is endlessly repressed, I don't think anyone benefits.


I think you may think I was saying you couldn't be angry.  What I was trying to say is that if you have to choose between a partner shutting down or getting angry, I personally would choose shutting down because I find that it is (eventually) easier to figure out how to work around...Sorry if I communicated that poorly.

Hi, Melissa.  If neither

Hi, Melissa.  If neither thing happened often, I'd probably prefer the shutting down.  But it appears to be my husband's main behavior, or so he says.  I've tried very hard to get him to realize what an obstacle the shutting-down behavior is and I've encouraged him to get help from his therapist with this issue.  So far, no progress, despite five years of effort on my part.  At this point, an expression of anger would be a huge emotional and behavioral breakthrough on his part, I think.

complex web of behaviors introduced by ADHD

Melissa, your comment of dealing with the complex web of behaviors introduced by ADHD really struck a cord with me and shined some light on a challenge within my own marriage.  My ADHD hubby absolutely goes through these steps but has lately added a new one after his ultimate avoidance...anger which has really led us down a destructive path.  Any thoughts/advice on this additional step?  I cannot not tell you how many times a day this scenario plays out in our marriage.

lack of empathy


(please forgive my english, I'm not born english speaking). :)

I just wanted to comment on that.

I think that lack of empathy and adhd often go together because adhd in childhood (with racing thoughts inside etc.) often complicates the attachment proces between mother and child. Therefore mentalization, the process by which you learn to understand your own and other peoples feelings and calm yourself is somehow distorted or underdeveloped. This could explain why some adhd'ers have difficulties with empathizing. They have not received the necessary support from the mother in early childhood (0-2 year) to learn to focus and learn these skills.

Just my thought. That is what I think happened to my now ex-partner with adhd. He did grow up very isolated and with lack of friends, egocentric etc. and developed a personality disorder. But is was not his adhd as such that caused it. It was more the fact that adhd seemed to make it difficult to learn to attach and mentalize (the mother had adhd too). So he got an attachment disorder.


best wishes to all



Empathy and ADHD

Both of my grown children and my father have ADHD, with no other co-existing conditions. All are very empathetic and soft-hearted -- frequently to a fault. You may be seeing anger overriding their empathy, or maybe there are other co-existing conditions. I have seen no evidence that ADHD itself causes a lack of caring.

empathy and ADHD

As far as I know, there is no diagnostic criteria that suggests that people with ADHD don't feel emotions.  Just the opposite, in fact, there is research that suggests that people with ADHD can be emotionally reactive more quickly than those without.


Yes I think you're right. Adhd'ers are usually more emotional reactive. But it is very primitive emotions: anger, joy, resentment etc. It is often not more sophisticated emotions which demand more empathy and being able to see more in depht, and evaluate emotions, which demands more use of cognitive abilities. As far as I see it. But of course every individual is different. It is just that the people I know with adhd who are untreated way into adulthood, seems to be more childlsh regarding emotions.



emotional regulation

My understanding is that people with ADHD have emotions, but can have trouble expressing and regulating them.  Hence, anger management is often an issue, lack of empathy, and mood swings (ADHD is often diagnosed as bi-polar or vice-versa).  My spouse has gotten better at managing her emotions, with therapy, behavior modification, medication, self-help and neuro-feedback.  

I agree with this. If

I agree with this. If anything- my emotions are more intense than most people... But I have learned to temper them pretty well. The difficulty comes in trying to express myself without overreacting. When I feel misunderstood and like nothing I say is getting through, that tends to set me off... So I try to express myself as calmly and accurately as I can to avoid being misunderstood. If I am having a go-nowhere conversation where no one is listening to each other (myself included), I've learned to shut it down and walk away and try to address it later when things are less fraught.

i've also learned not to attribute my own bad mood to my spouse. Sometimes when I have a bad feeling inside, any conversation will be awful- so I tell my spouse that I just need a little alone time and that it isn't personal. Of course he can't always be perfect either and it makes him mad when I walk away- so sometimes he follows me and insists in getting into things... So I kind of have a choice to make him mad by being too intense and emotional or make him mad by shutting down and walking away. The middle ground is kind of hard to find. Then again- with a 7 month old who still gets up 3 times a night, I am sleep deprived. When my husband does even one night of the night wakings (maybe 10 nights in the past 7 months), he is way grumpier than me on any day and seems to want a medal for having been up with our daughter. It's easier to just do it myself and avoid the verbal abuse.


I think this is a case by

I think this is a case by case thing. But I don't think it's right that ADHD people have more primitive emotions. That makes us sound stupid or base. We're not. I think the difficulty is in expressing and articulating the nuances in our thoughts to someone else... Personally I find that when I am explaining and am misunderstood, I get upset. I happen to be very articulate and I still have this problem- so if the person with adhd isn't much of a talker or isn't someone who likes to talk about feelings, then I imagine it's even harder.

But don't mistake lack of proper articulation for lack of having deep or complex thoughts and emotions. I'm sure we all have them- but it's harder for us with adhd to express them calmly and accurately.


At a strange juncture -

I can sympathize with what you are saying about needing to see some light - for years I have been hanging on with some decent times and some very bad times, but mostly a rather hurtful relationship.  I see now that I was working through a progression, where I gradually realized all that I was doing to try to change the relationship was useless, then realizing something bigger was going on with my husband, through to an understanding of what we were dealing with and a diagnosis... and now we're well into the treatment.  Through all of that I had hope that there would be answers and resolution to our problems but it has dawned on me that this is what it is.  

I don't think there was ever what I thought our relationship was about.  A while ago he admitted that he married me for safety, to gain some respect with his family - not for love. It's been 10 years and I think I am emotionally done.

All this to say that through the tough stuff when I knew what he had and since diagnosis, I wanted to know that there were people who had beat the odds as mostly what I saw were people who were miserably together for ages, one hurting the other over and over.  It's good to hear the good stories, I have had moments in our time together when we were doing well and I thought we could do it, but then he would pick a fight or go into a funk or start being a jerk... and it was back to where we started.

accepting this as a norm?

I've never been in a relationship with this many problems before either.  I'm scared that I've lost important pieces myself, and my higher standards.  That maybe, I'm settling for less.  My sense of worth has slowly been whittling away and I didn't know it.  I have moments of hope, and then moments of real despair. I do know I can't keep living on a roller coaster, it's not healthy for me.  I've made some changes to stop the enabling and am feeling better.  

Karly, I've learned that relationships don't have to be about being in love.  Obviously, your husband sets one example of a reason to marry.  His reason may be right for him, how about you?  Emotionally done?  So what to do now?  Accept it and keep going "this is what it is"?  

It sounds like there are people who have beat the odds, but I don't know that they are on this forum (except maybe Orlov herself).  I'm seeing a lot of people struggling here, just like me and you.  And quite frankly, after learning so much about ADHD, I actually question if a balanced relationship is even possible with someone with such a condition.  I've become very skeptical of that.  When my partner and I spoke with our therapist, she said that it's possible to be happy together, but it will always have more difficulties than "normal" relationships.

I don't believe that it is

I don't believe that it is possible to have a balanced relationship with an ADDer.  Not even close to possible.  I read an article a while back that was titled INTIMACY IS OVERRATED.  I know for a fact that I will never be emotionally fulfilled with my husband so I have no expectation of it.  Lowering most of my expectations has allowed me to stay in the marriage although many times I feel completely cheated.  BUT, I know if many non-ADDers who have been married 3-4 times.  I think I have decided that the devil that I know is easier to deal with than the devil that I don't.  I can't even imagine trying with another man at this point.  Maybe I am too old (54) or just have come to believe that happily ever after just doesn't exist.

Two Can be as Bad as One

I'm an ADHD husband, and hearing a story like this is scary. Is your husband willing to work on things? I love my wife desperately, and I have to believe that I can mitigate the destructive symptoms of ADHD and be the man she wants rather than the man she settles with. The idea of a relationship where one spouse has settled for an unsatisfactory life is painful, and the chance that some degree of this is the best possible outcome terrifies me.
A balanced, 50-50 distribution of responsibility is probably not realistic in a normal relationship, but the ADHD 95-5 or 99-1 norm just has to be improvable. I'm only about 1/4 of the way through Melissa's book, but it seems like her husband was able to re-engage. husband is a kind husband is a kind man, but as with many of the ADDers written about on these blogs, he is just not capable of being a real partner.  He knows what the problems are, and on most days makes an effort, but he always slips back into his old patterns.  Especially if he is stressed or depressed.  And I have come to believe that there are levels of ADD.  My husband's seems to be on the severe side, and it has worsened as he has aged.  You don't mention how old you are.  If you are young enough and determined enough, I believe that you can overcome this "disease" for lack of a better word.  If I could give you one bit of advice...stay away from the television.  My husband can only seem to relax if he is zoned in on the TV.  And if you have a hobby, make it something your wife can enjoy.  I had to learn to ride a motorcycle to be with my husband.  But even after that, on the first out of state trip we took, the minute we got to the hotel he turned on the TV and I ceased to exist.  It took me a very long time, but I finally gave up on having any sort of emotional connection with him.  Talk to your wife.  Ask her how she feels.  Communication will make you or break you.  I wish you the best of luck.

I'm 29, we have three kids

I'm 29, we have three kids and have built our entire lives around one another. I feel a determination the past month or so that I haven't felt before, and honestly posting here helps to keep the initiative alive. I'm trying to work out the best medication as well. I don't really watch television with any dedicated interest, but I'm in IT and various computing devices could offer the same kind of escape. My wife and I talk about posting here as well as some of the books I am reading on ADHD, so I think we are making some sort of habit discussing our issues outside of arguments. I become more and more convinced that we need to get into couples therapy as soon as possible.

I'm sorry that your relationship has developed this way. I expect if he is detached enough to stamp out any kind of emotional connection he is too detached to be upset by your resignation for any significant length of time.

Be careful

Be careful not to equate that the marriage didn't work out because it didn't start out right (i.e. he didn't love you in the first place) with failure due to ADHD.  And it saddens me to hear people talk so completely about the failures of their relationships here as being related to ADHD, with the under-the-surface suggestion that ALL non-ADHD relationships will be better.  The marriage research does not suggest this is the case.  In fact, satisfaction with marriage drops off sharply in the first year and goes downhill from there...everyone has their issues and most couples have to work really hard to make it work, ADHD or not.  The particular challenge with ADHD couples is that the symptoms are generally unrecognized at first, and are confusing and difficult to manage...but on the other hand, though they are difficult to manage, they are not impossible.  In fact, ADHD treatment has a very high rate of working.

What is important is who you are at your core being and whether or not you can get the negatives of the ADHD symptoms out of the way so that each of you can love each other fully.  This really IS possible, in spite of the general negative flow of this particular thread (thank you for expressing these negative feelings in a respectful way, at least!)  But to do it, both partners must be fully aware of ADHD, it's impact, and the non-ADHD partner's responses to ADHD.  It is not ADHD that causes divorce.  It is denial that causes divorce.  If you feel the person you are with at their core is a great person whom you love and admire, and who loves you back (NOTE that!) then it's well worth the effort it takes to make the relationship work. Like the man grieving about the breakup of his relationship above says, he will never find someone else with some of the specific characteristics he cherished in that partner - it was her lack of awareness of his needs (and their problems in being together) that caused problems.  How would he have felt had that particular partner been willing to look at the relationship and his hurt and work on it?

After an ADHD break up

I thought I would write my update, it may help others to think about the consequences before jumping out of relationships.

As I posted recently, after reaching the end of the rope on numerous occasions and with no coping strategy in place - largely because my ex girlfriend flatly refused to accept any responsibility for her actions/inactions, I quit our relationship after a year. I was at my wits end when I stormed off. My head knows it's the right thing for me long term but my heart aches likes crazy. I feel deep loss and sadness now that the finality and after shock has kicked in. I did actually contemplate if a difficult ADHD relationship is better than no relationship but deep down I don't want to return to the same problems and be storming off again in a months time. I know that I am lamenting over the relationship that I wanted it to be, not the one it actually was. Above all, there was no doubt that we had deep love for one another and shared many happy and memorable times together. She has some wonderful qualities that I may never find again in another, it's a terrible pity that ADHD came between us and destroyed our chances.  

My ex girlfriend on the other hand, responded to the break up in an indifferent and unemotional manner. She appears to have learned very little from our experiences and simply launched herself onto a dating site. I cant imagine it will be long before she has someone new in her life and then it's down to them to figure it all out. It hurts me very much. It's made me realise how different we are in times of crisis. There is something missing in the way she fails to register pain or sorrow.  

The point I am making, is that I've read a lot of posts about people concerned about about leaving their ADHD partners and worrying about the possible effects it may have on them, but in my case I seem to be the one suffering from the fall out trying to make sense of what's happened, feeling tremendously sad at the loss and upset that things didnt work out as I initially thought they could. I am sad that problems persisted that I couldnt even mention let alone try to resolve and sore that I put a lot of energy and effort into the last year and ended up with very little. I'll be wondering for a long time to come what I could have done to make it happen. It's certainly been an extreme experience for me, while she appears to have had no difficulty in dusting herself off and moving on.

Land on their feet

Simon I'm very sorry you are suffering.  Please don't take her rebounding personally.  Just as her ADHD symptoms weren't a reflection of you, neither is the rebound.  And don't worry that there was something you could have done to make it work, while there are ways the non-ADHD partner can help, without the ADHD person doing so as well, there is no long term solution.  I'm sure that in time the pain will be behind you and you will be thriving on your own or with someone that can be the partner you deserve.  Best wishes on that journey.

Your emotional investment in

Your emotional investment in your last relationship will be indicative of the time it takes to heal from that relationship. The more you had put your soul into it, the more you will suffer the heartbreak. The less your partner put into it, the less she notices the emptiness and moves on.  As you invested a year on your ex partner, then understand it is likely you will feel sadness for at least several months to a full year, it is the same as with any typical relationship, except instead of the betrayal of an affair, you had the betrayal of basic reciprocal empathy or insight.

The only suggestion I have is to try to go through it as best you can, even if it is taking it one hour at a time. It doesn't matter what she does now. It is not in your control and you know she isn't able to give you what the very thing you desire unless she comes to some kind of light bulb moment. You just have to remember she might be hyper focused on getting you back at one point, but it is very possible that it is temporary as she is focused on getting her needs taken care of again by you and nothing more. You need to find out what a (neuro) typical relationship feels like before you can put this completely behind you. I hope this helps a little.

hope you feel better soon

Your story does help - thank you for sharing it.  I'm sorry it's been so painful.  As you said, like others, I worry about my spouse if I were to leave, and I also have had the same concerns that you've been experiencing since your break-up.  Your description is a good reminder that it's important to take care of ourselves.  In my case, knowing how ADHD can impact relationship, I even went as far as asking my ADHD partner if she'd remember me if we did break up cuz she so easily forgets me (within our partnership!)  

I think it's important to remember, not to take your x's reactions personally.  You are a strong person to let go of something that wasn't working for you, knowing you deserve better.  That's self-worth.  You are better for having it and not losing it.  Your x-gf's reaction isn't because you didn't have meaning or value in her life, but a reflection of her own capacity (or lack of it) for intimacy as well as dealing with crisis and emotions.

It's sad that ADHD, when not managed well, sabotages what otherwise might be very fruitful relationships.  You are not to blame.  No one is.  Seeing her reaction helps you to learn more about her also, so it sounds like you are grieving those discoveries too.  I hope she's able to find happiness and I know you will get through this.

They do feel it but they may not process it until much later

Ok, I am posting this without fully processing what has just happened to me this week but I had a visit from an x-bf, who did pretty much the same thing as Simon's.  I went through a horrible time grieving about what had happened and it seemed like it never phased him at all.  Well it did catch up to him and it was strange. At first he had forgotten what had happened between us and remembered us just being friends and then it hit him what did occur and he spent some time addressing it.  I had no idea at the time that he was ADD.  Knowing just that took what was left of the "sting" out of it from all those years ago (the whole don't take it personally, they got distracted thing).  I'm sure she stuffed it down and is trying to bury it the best that she can but it will hit her one day how much she did care, even if she never is able to express it.

The other part of what I realized is that I have a "type".  It's men with ADD/ADHD.  I think they are attracted to me as much as I to them.  I love to control chaos.  It's where I do my best work- something is getting out of control, in I go and put out the fires, straighten it all up and then leave it in order.  I did marry a man with ADHD. Things are not perfect, but they get better everyday.  The things that I've found to be successful is to take the threat of leaving off the table.  No one is leaving- this makes things "safe" to say the truth.  No matter how hard or how hurtful neither one of us is willing to give up (probably just our stubbornness and determination).  Then realizing that I have to give my DH time to process everything.  I will "plant a seed" of a conversation that I would like to have.  About 3 days later he is willing to sit down and work through it.  3 days is a long time, but it's something I can work with.  I'm a planner so I just plan earlier than I would do with someone with out ADHD.  We don't purchase or move quickly on decisions (if we have to I do it and work after the fact telling him why I had to move quickly).

Lastly I did grieve for our marriage.  It will never be what I expected.  But maybe what I expected was unrealistic in any event.  Instead I've stopped and focused on what I need and how I'm going to get it.  I am responsible for my happiness not my DH.  He does things that make me crazy but he doesn't mean them, I'm sure my personality (Type A big time) drives him crazy at times too.  I think just noticing how we are both flawed and giving grace for our shortcomings makes the day to day difficulties seem less important.  I didn't get here over night.  We didn't fix our marriage over night.  I read Melissa's book, I identified with the non spouse, but what happened is that I read the parts about how the ADHD spouse felt and even though I wasn't in a place to digest that, it did sink in.  One day I woke up and a little nagging thought happened, where I was yelling at DH and I realized- he's beating himself up over this, I need to stop yelling.  The next time I realized it before I started to try and yell and each time I get better at making the interactions successful, even with out him having to change one bit.  I feel so much better, more like the person I was and want to be.  Now it's not all rainbows and unicorns, we still have our issues, but I can approach them from a place of peace rather than a place of reaction.  I hope this helps and I hope this gives someone else hope that it can be done.  It is "harder" than what "normal" marriage is, but what exactly is "normal"?


Thank you all for this thread.  It really speaks to some of my concerns about starting a relationship with someone with ADHD.  It will take me quite awhile to sort through all these observations but I will just say initially that I think that there is a process at work when it comes to empathy or the lack thereof that some people without ADHD may have in common with those with ADHD.  I found very useful the observation made by fempartner about the attachment process between mother and child, how ADHD impacts that, and how emotional development is hampered. I believe that there are many points in development where one has the opportunity to learn &/or unlearn empathy - the earliest phases of development being most crucial. 

In the case of my friend, I think that he cares perhaps more than he would like to about things.  I think that I, too, have felt this way - maybe for different reasons, but that this similarity is part of why I feel so drawn to him and have respect for his "apathy", after coming to understand that there are good reasons why he is "apathetic".  I think that he is, perhaps, afraid to invest too much emotion for fear that he will suffer and that other people will place too high expectations on him.  In his particular case, there was one marriage that lasted about 10 years (they have a daughter).  That marriage was quickly followed by another marriage that lasted a year (they just got divorced and had no kids).  Having been in a 9 year relationship with a partner who had ADHD, I feel a certain kinship with his ex-partners.  I tend to believe that they must have loved/still love him the way that I am coming to love him.  I also understand why he sometimes seems apathetic.  In my own case, life experiences (including my past relationship) have certainly inspired what I like to think of as "detachment".  I was fairly emotionally isolated for the eight years after leaving my relationship, but I also realize that some people have equally valid and equally irrational reasons for jumping right into a new relationship while still mourning the previous one.

I don't feel that I have an attachment disorder, but I wonder if he does.  All in all, I certainly understand why anyone would be hesitant to fully embrace a relationship, ADHD or no ADHD.  The potential for loss and pain is so great.  I surprise myself that I have the degree of feeling that I do for this man.  I am hoping that the fact that this currently impresses me as a small miracle will help me to stick it out if and when our relationship develops to the point where I will be discussing our rough patches on this site. I also take it as a good sign that my guy seems to want to patch things up with his first wife enough to co-parent their daughter effectively and to, possible, negotiate a financial compromise that will make his life a little easier (re: hopefully he won't have to pay as much spousal support, and therefore won't have to work as many hours).

     Thanks for listening.  I feel very supported here and my heart goes out to y'all.


OP, you guys should try and

OP, you guys should try and figure out a way to pay for the course through this site. It's really opened up out communication a ton. I don't know if it will fix everything permanently, but it's opening my eyes to ways I can help my ADHD husband deal with his symptoms and has helped me accept that I can't "fix him" and that the only control I have is over my own life. we have 2 kids so I wanted our marriage to work out as much for the kids as for each other. Would I have married him had I known what I know now? I don't know. But just like any marriage, love is an action not a feeling, and there's lots that I love about him, and there's lots I don't love. I'll bet he could say the same about me. We've been married 9 years and are on week 5 of the course. Lmk if you have any questions  I got to the point before counseling that every time Id try and sit down and talk with him, I'd start shaking and crying the whole time because I knew he'd get defensive and I didn't know how to talk to him. Now we talk, slower and with more care in our words and I never feel shaky or teary.