Good article from the Wall Street Journal today on marital nagging.  It's not specific to ADHD, but the nature of the problem and the recommendations are just as valid (or perhaps more so!) in an ADHD relationship.

What I found really interesting about the article was that the most important behavior for the one making the requests seemed to be to find a way to *not put pressure* on their partner.  Exactly how one accomplishes that will depend on the nature of the individuals involved.

Now, I have to admit, I'm very "allergic" to pressure myself, even though I don't have ADHD.  So I can understand *why* somebody with ADHD would not like being pressured.  What can be harder to understand is how someone with ADHD can feel pressure about something that most people wouldn't feel pressured by, or at least prefer to be aware of, even if there was some pressure involved.  If I've forgotten to take care of something my boss has asked me to do, I sure would appreciate somebody reminding me, no matter how pressured it made me feel.  So what makes folks with ADHD feel pressure so differently, so often?

The hypothesis I've come up with is that when non-ADHD partners are actively nagging, we are effectively communicating to our ADHD spouses that they *ought* to be able to remember whatever it is we are nagging about.  We are conditioned by societal norms to expect that "memory problems" don't exist per se outside of Alzheimer's or amnesia, that the problem is solely a question of interest, or will, or affection -- and sometimes this conditioning even overcomes our conscious awareness of the ADHD-partner's known memory issues!  But, of course, the truth is that memory issues is one of the hallmarks of having ADHD.  Regardless of whether the ADHD spouse understands or acknowledges this situation, they at least usually have some level of awareness that they frequently get into trouble about memory issues, and that they usually end up on the short end of the stick of such conflicts -- so they understandably wish to avoid what they suspect they can't handle well again.  Failing can be scary and upsetting for *lots* of people, whether they have ADHD or not.    Failing at things that are important to a key person in your life can be even more scary and upsetting, and can scare and upset them, too.  (Think about that.  From the ADHDer's point of view, we non-ADHD nagging spouses are demanding that they do something that they feel strongly is going to end up failing and being scary and upsetting to their  non-ADHD spouse.  If they don't grasp the differences between how an ADHDer thinks and how a non-ADHDer thinks, is it any wonder they sometimes believe we're irrational?)

Surely we folks who don't have ADHD can understand the feelings of a person who feels pushed into a situation they really doubt they can succeed in.   However, it seems to me that it's much more challenging for someone with ADHD to understand how annoying it can be to a person with a good memory, when the ADHDer forgets.  Most people with ADHD have never had the experience of a good memory -- how can they possibly stand in the non-ADHDer's shoes and feel what we feel?

So, it seems to me that resolving this paradigm requires the non-ADHDer to take the first steps, and those steps need to involve restructuring the situation so that the ADHD spouse doesn't feel that once again he/she is being forced to put themselves into a situation where they're going to fail and upset both parties.   There are any number of options of how to restructure that I've tried.  I can stop being upset when my spouse fails to remember, "yet again".  I can stop sounding naggy when I make my requests, and make them without emotion or criticism or other pressure.  I can help him see that my feelings and reactions about the situation are different from his, because my memory works differently from his, so that what seems irrational to him really isn't to me.   I can use humor to defuse frustrations.  I can try to avoid requesting him to handle high-failure-risk tasks.  I can go to the extreme of never requesting anything.  I'm sure there are other methods I'm not thinking of.

Obviously, there are obstacles inherent in any of these approaches.  If I don't get upset when he forgets, how will he understand that his forgetting is not a good thing?  If I don't pressure him when I make my request, how will he understand its importance to me?  When my husband and I were dealing with this issue in years past, I had to find *new ways* to put this across to him.  Our regular meetings, three times a week, was one very important vehicle for communicating these kinds of things.  I could unemotionally ask, "So, where do things stand on the taxes?" and if he'd told me for six meetings in a row that he has forgotten to take care of them, even he will be able to remember enough to realize that he should have done *something* by that point.   At most I would have to say, "OK, honey, this is becoming a problem" -- stating a simple fact he's already seen for himself --  he would know that it matters to me (or I wouldn't be asking at all) and he'd know he needed to take a different approach to getting them done, because what he'd been doing wasn't working.  And then we'd discuss alternative possibilities and form a plan and move forward.  The WSJ article offers other ways of handling such concerns.  You may have found some of your own.

Once my husband didn't feel like he was failing all the time, once we restructured so that he was more likely to get things done (and done more on-time and more completely), he was less and less likely to feel pressured by reminders.  This was real progress, yet it was also a dangerous time -- we were both so encouraged that we became overconfident and began to expect he could do more than he really could handle.  Yes, it's appropriate to push the boundaries a bit, we should all be challenged and grow -- but it has to be carefully considered whether the expectations are realistic or not.  We eventually found a very good balance.


"It matters not what someone is born, but what they grow to be."  Albus Dumbledore