Miracles in ADHD Relationships

This is a guest blog post by ADHD coach Kathy Sussell about her marriage and what has helped it over 32 years.

When my husband asked if he could take me out for a fancy dinner this weekend I was more than pleasantly surprised, I was absolutely shocked because it’s not the kind of thing he does.

“Why would you want to take me out for a fancy dinner?” I asked.  “Don’t you want to celebrate our 32nd anniversary?” he replied.

I thought to myself, “Miracles never cease.”  Here was my husband, the love of my life, the father of my children, remembering our anniversary for the first time in 30 years and taking the initiative to plan a date. This may sound like small potatoes but my husband has ADHD and he struggles with planning, initiating, remembering and other executive functioning skills.

He’s brilliant but he doesn’t always know what everybody else knows. He has trouble following conversations and hates to write things down, resists using a calendar and won’t wear a watch.

My husband can take the dog for a walk and come home without the dog. He’ll go to the store for milk and come home with everything but. He has no idea how to start our clothes dryer, or when our bills are due and he is always looking for his keys, glasses and wallet.

He is also the sweetest, most generous, hard working, kind and supportive person I know. Nobody makes me laugh more than him. He is always willing to help, go along with all my great and sometimes not so great ideas, apologize if he is wrong, and when his feelings get hurt he is quick to forgive.

The potential for an ADHD marriage to end in divorce is twice as likely than it is for non ADHD marriages. Poor communication and mistaking the symptoms of ADHD for indifference are contributing factors.

Here are a few communication strategies that have helped us stay together for 32 years. 

  • Never talk to the back of your partners head or mention something in passing unless you enjoy talking to yourself.
  • Don’t assume your partner heard you the first time. Be nice and say things twice without getting angry.
  • Check in during conversations and ask them to repeat what you told them.
  • Make eye contact and maintain it when you speak to each other.
  • Keep your sense of humor.

Over the years I have come to realize that my husband’s inattention and forgetfulness is not intentional and I’m sure he loves me.

As we celebrated our anniversary dinner I couldn’t help but ask, “How did you remember our anniversary?”

He answered,”I put it in my Google calendar and it reminded me.”

Another miracle.

Kathy Sussell is an ADHD coach in Brooklyn, NY. She helps teens, college students and adults with ADHD with time management, planning and prioritizing, getting started with and finishing tasks, organizing paper and objects and improving social skills. Kathy is the organizer of the ADHD Women’s Meetup Group that meets every month in downtown Brooklyn. For more information visit her website: www.bravolifecoaching.com or email Kathy at [email protected]



adhd and avoiding conflict

Hi:   I have adhd and have been married for 33 years, my wife and i are having problems, She does not like my business and what i do and i just lied to her about something that was not even worth lieing about but i thought it would be easier than dealing with it. I feel terrible. I also dont return some client calls or do anything that has to do with what i see as conflict.   Why is that and what do I do about it. Thanks   look forward to learning more about marriage and adhd.


I may be lying for any or all of these reasons:

  • you don't like conflict (it makes you anxious or stressed) so you lie in order to avoid it (you wrote that above with 'easier than dealing with it')
  • you are embarrassed about your actions.  When you have ADHD you do a lot of things - or make a lot of mistakes - that you wish you hadn't
  • you may have responded impulsively to your first response to "avoid" rather than taking a moment to consider that it would be better not to cover up.  Once you had done the impulsive action, you didn't want to compound the problem by changing direction

Men, in particular, have a physiological response to conflict which is hard for them to calm (elevated heart rate, higher levels of stress chemicals, faster breathing).  Research shows they are often not very good at self-soothing.  So they do a lot to avoid conflict.  The problem with this is that it has long term negative impacts.  Better that you make a mistake and fess up about it than that your partner learn that you are untrustworthy as a partner.  Since trust is a huge part of a successful partnership you want to avoid that outcome.

Talk with your partner about your tendency to put conflict avoidance ahead of good decision making because conflict is so difficult for you emotionally.  Your partner can help you with this by making it "safe" to be honest at home.  And with both clients and partners it is typical that the behaviors being covered up are undermanaged ADHD symptomatic behaviors - so seeking more effective treatment is critical, too.

Deborah__'s picture

Desperately Need Help

After reading the previous post about "Lying...", I thought I wish I'd come across this message LONG ago. I'm married to a medical professional that has ADHD. The comment in the previous post was look at him in the eye to repeat what you'd just said. When I read that, it caused me to weep until I felt I couldn't stop. He is a "screamer" , constantly thinks the worst of me, twists everything I say to fit his narrative. Literally, I feel trapped. I'd spent almost 30 years as an Humanitarian Aid Relief Coordinator across four continents. (I'm a Christian and had been ordained in 1988 I have never come across anyone like this. Due to some very serious injuries while overseas...the bottom of my health fell out. This forced me to come back to the USA. (Previously, I'd come home for furlough, or some rest). I've seen the worst of humanity...war, famine, disease, genocide, etc. a couple years ago I was diagnosed with "Complex PTSD Syndrome", lesions in my brain, spinal stenoisis...etc. Things at home are make me feel worse,as the stress level is through and can never relax as I never know what mood he will be in. He tells me HOW TO TALK..."you should use this word instead of that word" paraphrased. Why are you so angry? He thinks everyone (not just me) is "picking" on him. This simply is not true.

Of course, problems at home are always said to be my fault...as that's what he says. If there is an argument, he says I said...''thus and so...etc, etc."...which are NOT even in my vocabulary. Plus, most of the things he accuses me of saying, I'd never have even have thought of...until he says it. Due to his medical degree he is ALWAYS right, he tells me. Several times, I heard with my own ears some things he's said about me to other people (none of whom I know). It left me utterly in shock. When I confronted him about this...he lied right to my face. The screaming, jumping up and down, whining...I've no frame of reference ...as I've never known anyone like this. In Ministry, I was responsible for just about 300 other people that were helping in the ministry...even though they were scattered across four continents. I spent time in each place...however, most of the time was spent in Eastern Europe and Africa and Russia. The one place that will remain forever burned within my heart was in Darfur (Sudan). It causes horrific sights, sounds, smells to me every day.

A while back, I had a "Hypertensive Crisis"...as soon as I got medicated for the situation...he left for a friend (I do not know him) 250 miles away. Forgive me, for going on and on...but there is no one to talk to here (other than my doctors). There simply is no one I've come across that I can relate to. His lying, screaming, jumping up and down and constantly being told "you're picking on me" makes me wonder if I shouldn't just "throw in the towel".  (I'm scared). I can't work and would have no medical insurance if I were not married.

I KNOW love is a CHOICE. I chose to love him...but don't know where to start. He constantly says he acts the way he does is that "I HAVE ADHD". This is his answer for EVERYTHING. He also NEVER looks me in the eye. When I asked him about this, he says "it makes me feels uncomfortable". I certainly KNOW ADHD is a medical condition, but can be worked around and ways of communication can be corrected. He refuses to DO ANYTHING! He simply says "I have ADHD". I feel like I'm fighting a losing battle. If you have any suggestions, advice...I'm listening (and feel desperate)


Got the t-shirt

If he's such an expert (and since he has a 'medical degree' then he has a certain amount of native intelligence) then he knows there is no reason to persist in having tantrums and behaving like a juvenile delinquent, unless he wants to. He can pick up a textbook and know what to do.  If he refuses to see a psychiatrist (or a competent professional who can prescribe, forget counselling at this point) then he should be left to deal with the consequences of his behavior, in other words consider yourself free to leave.  This is one of those situations where you cannot afford to give in and must stand your ground.  He probably knows very well that he is out of control but once the switch is tripped it's going to be hard to get him to acknowledge it.  I set an ultimatum and meant it, words to the effect of "Your behavior is unacceptable and you will visit a psychiatrist or I will leave". He knew I meant it and I made sure he understood every word.  And guess what, with the right meds - tantrums are finito. Gone. Vanished.  Your husband might easily be feeling that meds will "change him" - well he is going to have to take a leap of faith to find out that they won't. And since he can get short-acting meds, he can easily try them and never take another one if the effects are unacceptable to him and/or to you.

On eye contact, it is very true that some people consider forced eye contact as a sign of aggression towards them. I don't know why the books advise eye contact as a one-size-fits-all approach. Even non-ADHD people re-act differently, especially men.  Maybe he has something other than ADHD going on - something else on the autism spectrum perhaps. If he says he's uncomfortable I believe him. Do not force him. When talking to him (to convey your wants or needs) do NOT force or persist in trying to get eye contact, it's clearly causing him problems.  The reason why can come later. Let him have his say or have his screaming fit without attempting to make him look at your eyes.  After he's done calmly repeat his instructions. "you will get to a psychiatrist" (or however you phrase it for him) and leave him to think on it.  Stand your ground.  He will probably find it very difficult to humble himself enough to be able to explain his behavior to a doctor.  It may take him time. But he's not stupid, he knows he has a problem.

Deborah__'s picture

THANK YOU, Sunlight

I'm beyond grateful that someone commented on what I'd written...Sunlight, bless you for taking the time to write!  Just about everything you said, I've already done...except leave. The medical issues I'm dealing with are serious...and some cannot be fixed. Since I cannot work, due to the medical issues my insurance is through the hospital he works. I've been hospitalized several times within a 12 month period...two strokes and once for a small bowel obstruction and a shattered right arm. Each time I came home from the hospital, our place looked as if a bomb went off in it. (I was shocked). He does see a psychiatrist and a therapist...yet, there is NO CHANGE. The reason he went in the first place...is exactly the reason you mentioned. "Get help...or you"re on your own". If there were any real effort something should have changed. He is scared to be by himself...yet, he also knows I can't leave. (I say "can't", due to the fact when I did try that, medical issues forced me right back here). This should not have surprised me...as my doctor had told me (for right now) stay put as I'm not medically stable enough to be going anywhere.

He'd told me he doesn't like to look anyone in the eye...so I already knew this and have never pushed the issue. However, I asked him if any of his patients have said anything about it...he said "yes". He has one daughter from his first marriage. She has broken all ties with him. She wrote and said she's "scared" of him. She, too, can't take the screaming and yelling. She lives several hundred miles from here in college.

Sunlight, this probably sounds crazy yet, he honestly thinks the problems are with everyone else...especially me. He constantly interrupts me and others. I say 4-5 words and he interrupts. I've brought this to his attention. He tells me "If I don't tell you NOW, I might forget, you know I have ADD and can't help it!". It took me some time to figure out what to do. However, when he interrupts me now...I walk away.

Doctors and Nurses don't work 9-5...like most. Often, he's 'on call'. There is one thing that is a constant with him. EVERY time the alarm goes off and he has to get up for work...he will find something to blow up at me about. I hate to say this...but the only time I have any peace is when he is not here. Due to his medical training...he knows all the right things to say. This is what led me (at one time) to let him come into the room with me when I have to see different specialists. Not any more, and I also took him off my 'emergency contact' list, and he has no right anymore to see any of my medical records without my permission (which he knows he won't get). After my second stroke, of course, I was hospitalized.He came to see me,I decided to let him know he will no longer have permission to view any medical records and my Dr.'s will no longer be giving him information regarding me. I'm sure you know how he acted.

I'm scared. Does any of this ever get better?

Flailing around

"He does see a psychiatrist and a therapist...yet, there is NO CHANGE"

It sounds like he's not telling them the truth.  I'm not saying anything you don't know, I suppose. As you mention elsewhere he thinks the problem is with everyone else (while simultaneously he admits he has ADHD, a logical conundrum but he doesn't want to think about that).  He also probably wants to please (in the instant he's going to say and do what makes everyone approve of him and be happy with him, that gives him warm fuzzy feelings) and he certainly doesn't want to tell other medical professionals that his brain is broken. After all his brain must be good. It must be excellent in fact (from his point of view), it's what got him entry into a high-status profession.  He does not want to think that it's broken (even though it's not broken, he probably is ashamed of it).  It would be the ultimate humiliation. He also might be wary about drugs affecting his work, maybe even to the extent that he fears that if he revealed some things the psychiatrist might have to take measures such as alerting the board of the hospital? Who knows. Would taking stimulant meds cause a problem for him at work? Have you asked him?  If it would then a psychiatrist's options might be limited. For this reply lets' assume he could take whatever a psychiatrist would prescribe.

If he IS being honest to the psychiatrist then either (1) the psych is no good (2) the psych is being deceived (3) the psych has nothing left to offer.  Taking 2 and 3: has your husband tried out multiple drugs or drug combinations? If he taking meds now?  Have you ever seen them make a difference?  He must take them consistently and he must give accurate feedback to the psychiatrist, an obvious problem when his perception is one of the very things severely compromised.  Since you've already stopped him getting access to your medical information, he probably wouldn't take kindly to your getting involved somehow? Even writing notes eg "noticed a decrease in anger on dose x of y".

"He is scared to be by himself..."

There is your leverage.

"yet, he also knows I can't leave."

And there is his counter to your leverage. But at the same time, do you think he is happy? He doesn't seem to be. Something I kept emphasizing with my husband "If a drug can make your life better wouldn't you try it? Just once? What if it worked?" It took a while but he got over his fears eventually.  Could that (future happiness) be a carrot to go with the ultimatum stick?

"my doctor had told me (for right now) stay put"

Your doctor knows the situation? Or is the screaming and yelling a dirty little secret?

"this probably sounds crazy yet, he honestly thinks the problems are with everyone else...especially me"

It's not crazy, it's sounding like fairly severe uncontrolled ADHD combined with pride and fear of humiliation.

"If I don't tell you NOW, I might forget, you know I have ADD and can't help it!"

It sounds like this might be the absolute truth. He is afraid he WILL forget and then he'll never get to say what he is trying to say and then his brain will burst from frustration.  And the more he has this in his mind the more likely it is to happen.  The yelling and screaming could stem largely from built up frustration, not just from the immediate trigger but from hours, days, weeks, years of frustration and rage that his brain is letting him down.

"However, when he interrupts me now...I walk away"

Yes, but at the same time don't shut him down completely.  That contributes to a later outburst.  Somehow he has to feel that he can talk to you.  Something else I meant to mention, is that when you're trying to convey what you want or need - try to avoid using the "I" word if that has been a trigger in the past or if it may be.  A lot of the advice seems to be to make simple statements "I need you to..", "I am unhappy when..." etc.  But if he has problems with eye contact he may have problems with "I" statements - he might be feeling like it's another thing you're going to dump on him and he really doesn't understand at all how you think or feel, so it's setting him up to head towards frustration, feeling unable to cope, and straight into overload.  Rational calm statements may work better.  Silly example, instead of "I need you to stop screaming .." or "I need you to fix that fence, it's been that way for years" something like "We know we have to fix garden fence so what can we do next with that broken post?".  No imposing "I's", no blaming, just logical statements.  Some people respond better in the heat of the moment. And to him while unmedicated (or on wrong meds) conversations where you're trying to state your needs *are* the heat of the moment for him, he's struggling to understand you and to not interrupt and to not forget what you said and it all gets very frustrating and, and, and.. and it's tiring for him in an unmedicated state.  Removing the personal "I", "you" etc can sometimes calm things down.  Worked here anyway (though with the meds the need has gone away).

"EVERY time the alarm goes off and he has to get up for work...he will find something to blow up at me about."

Yes, know that well.  It's not you, you know that.  A mood leveller could help.

"Does any of this ever get better?"

It *can* get remarkably better. Night and day better. But we're just speculating here, response to the medication is highly individual and to a degree genetically determined. It does probably need meds, if he's anything like my husband. And he has to be honest and you would both have to be patient - he'd probably need a combination of meds and it may take months to figure them out.  Maybe he is afraid that he will lose himself & his personality or not be able to function at work.  He *really* needs to be discussing that with a psychiatrist.  Always presupposing, again, that all meds would be available to him.  Maybe, maybem if it could be done, he could be persuaded to confide in someone who has ADHD and who is being treated successfully. I get the impression he's probably frustrated and frightened but he really doesn't want to be thought vulnerable. 

Just a view from an anonymous person on the internet, probably worth exactly what you paid for it :)  Maybe nothing I've said makes any sense, that's often true !

Deborah__'s picture

You're Right!

Everything you had to say was correct. You mentioned not putting "I" into things...this was learned the first year of marriage. The doctor and therapist he's seeing are very good. However, I really don't believe he's telling it the way it is. Yes, he's on medication. They have been changed from time to time...also titrated up or down if a higher or lower dose is needed. You were also absolutely correct when you said he wouldn't want to appear vulnerable as he is highly respected in his field. No one would believe he acts the way he does. Earlier, I'd mentioned his own daughter doesn't want to see him. She's afraid of him, and she told him this. (This too, at first was blamed on me)

Forgive me for jumping from one thing to another. I've not had opportunity to discuss my marriage in depth to anyone...but I did tell my doctor. He knows him, as they both have hospital privileges at the same hospital. The only reason I had the courage to tell this to him is due to the fact I've known him for decades. He was shocked (as they know each other)...but only at first. 

He comes from an abusive background (first wife). Nothing was ever done right, he's a loser etc etc etc...he heard these things every day. It's not that he told me this at first...but due to the fact they have a child together, I wanted to get to know the ex-wife since their daughter was often with us. I wanted to make sure I didn't do something contrary to what she had already set in place.  I called her. However, she began tearing my hubby down to ME...his wife. The things she said were vile and untrue...it's never stopped. He is afraid of failure, since she constantly told him he is a failure (which he isn't). His ex-wife is in the same profession he. Prior to him working at this hospital...she already worked there. She told such horrible things about him...it was as if she was on a "mission". A few months later...one by one...co-workers would apologize to him for not being friendly, etc to him. One thing that each told him was that it was his wife (they were still married) that had created such a toxic environment concerning him. He is beyond kind to his patients and well respected by his colleagues.

When he began to go get help, I let him know how proud I am of him for taking that step. He is also showered with little love notes in hidden away places for him to find...even from our little dog, I put her paw prints on those notes. When he interrupts me, I told you, I now walk away. I did not mean to give you the notion that I shut him out. He knows when he calms down...I'll always talk to him. One thing he does that has hurt him in countless ways is that he wastes so much time...and this is every day. He lies about so many things...things that don't even matter at all. This is one of the reasons I do not trust him. He knows it, as I felt I should tell him.

You were also correct when you said he may be afraid he may not be able to function at work. He rarely, if ever, does what he says he will do...then lie to cover up the fact he was wasting time. One thing you said to me regarding his blow-ups when the alarm goes off, was that it wasn't me...NO, I really did not know it wasn't me he was angry at. I would go over and over things in my mind to figure out what in the world I had done that had him so angry at me every day when it was time to get up. THANK YOU for letting me know the truth. You've lifted a weight off me, and I'm very appreciative.

You asked if he is happy. He says he is happy he married me. I wonder if it's really happiness or if what he really means is he's captured and caged the bird he desired. Good-night for now. I'm profoundly grateful for your advice...and I will put into practice.