My husband and I have been together for almost 20 years, married for 13. We have 3 boys and as they get older and their issues become more apparent it feels like it has brought our issues more clearly into the light. About a year ago my husband got an official diagnosis of ADHD. I was hopeful that a diagnosis would help improve certain things in our relationship that are consistent sources of conflict. These things are, poor time management, poor sleep habits- trouble waking, hyper-focus, lack of planning, impulsivity and distractibility. After his diagnosis he started taking Adderall, but that is all he has done, he doesn’t treat his ADHD with any lifestyle changes like a regular sleep/wake schedule or regular exercise. I feel disappointed because I don’t feel like anything has changed really, the only thing I notice is that the Adderall seems to help him hyper-focus on his work and his projects even more which actually makes things harder for me not easier or better, and the Adderall hasn’t helped with any of the things that cause problems in our relationship, like time management for example. When I try to discuss this with him he basically says that he feels like the medication is working and so any problems left over must be my problems, because he feels great- end of discussion.
I want to be clear I don’t think that I am perfect or faultless or that all of our problems are only because of my husband, but I also don’t think (like he seems to) that all of our problems are my fault or because of my issues. I would classify myself as a highly sensitive person and have issues with anxiety, depression and low self-esteem. I do feel that my husband’s behavior and way he interacts with me often exacerbates my issues. Our 3 boys are all difficult in their own ways (lots of ADHD behaviors, anxiety, etc) and so our household tends to be very chaotic, negative and dysfunctional. My family is like a boiling stew made up of poor emotional regulation, poor executive functioning, poor impulse control, high sensitivity topped with a generous portion of anxiety and ADHD! I can picture it being a funny sit-com, but the reality of it is completely draining.
My husband has always been very passive aggressive, but I only in the past few years have I really started to be aware of it and how it negatively affects our relationship. One thing he does a great deal of that causes a lot of conflict is he will say something in a critical/negative tone of voice and when I response defensively he then will accuse me of over-reacting. He will say in a completely different and calm tone, “All I said was, XYX” and when his words are said in a neutral or friendly tone it sounds completely innocent. He stuffs his negative feeling way down deep and tries to pretend they don’t exist, and then there is me, the highly sensitive person, so I end up knowing how he feels before he even is willing to acknowledge it to himself, sigh. Since he has started medication he has started to do a lot of gas-lighting when conflict between us occurs, even straight-up telling me that I am crazy. He seems to think that since he takes a pill twice a day that he is fixed, so if there is a problem then it must be me. This is one way I feel like the medication has made things worse because he now seems extra righteous that he doesn’t have a problem anymore, so now everything is all my fault.
One thing about my husband and my relationship that seems the opposite of what I have read about how ADHD affects a marriage is that he (the ADHD spouse) is the one who often treats me like I am incompetent. He is highly controlling about how a lot of things are done (basically anything to do with business or finances). Over the years I have just let him take over these areas of our lives because he does a good job and I don’t care how they are done, so long as someone does it and if I try to do it he micromanages me and criticizes me if I do things differently than he would. The problem is he now feels resentful that he has so many of these responsibilities to deal with even though he was the one who (because of his control issues) took over. I think it was a mistake on my part to allow him to take over because it has added to my low self-esteem, he sends me the message that I am incompetent and I go along with it. Unfortunately, I do this because it’s easier than dealing with him constantly checking up on me and treating me like I’m his employee, which also adds to my low self-esteem, It feels like a lose-lose situation for my self-esteem around him a lot of the time. Sometimes I feel like I’m the spouse with ADHD and he is the hyper-critical non-ADHD spouse that is constantly micro-managing me telling me that I’m not doing things right. I will admit that I do have some ADHDish qualities/behaviors (I interrupt a fair amount and have poor emotional regulation) but it’s not really enough for a diagnosis, although my sister has been diagnosed ADHD and takes Ritalin so it’s in the family.
As the years go by my husband works longer and longer hours making him less available both physically and emotionally to me and the kids (I stay home with the kids and take care of the never-ending domestic responsibilities- this is an area he does not take over and happily leaves every single thing up to me). He also fills any possible free time with optional projects, but once these projects are started they “HAVE TO” be tended to which in his mind excuses his unavailability. I think it’s a sub-conscious avoidance technique to not have to focus on or spend time with our family.
We have been to therapy multiple times. It seems to help when we are doing it, but it seems like my husband almost immediately forgets what changes are supposed to be happening unless he has someone besides me reminding him every week. Our last bought of therapy was this summer with a therapist/life coach and I felt like I had made good progress within myself and the therapist seemed to agree, but my husband didn’t seem to change or progress at all and remained stuck in the mindset of “I can’t change” and “I don’t want to change”. I could tell the therapist thought he was the one that needed to keep coming to get a more balance in his life between his work and family. I wanted us to keep going, but predictably he decided that therapy was taking too much time away from work and so he just wouldn’t do it anymore, that sort of says it all to me- he couldn’t even take a hour a week to focus on strengthening our relationship.
I am starting to feel little hopeless and I already feel extremely lonely. I am constantly trying to be a better me and do all the hard work to get there; eat better, get more exercise, have good sleep hygiene, be social, try to be mindful, drink less, smoke less pot (yes, I said it!). I feel like he is keeping me down. He is always encouraging me to stay up late, smoke with him, have a drink (he likes me better when I’ve had a few drinks, sigh). He doesn’t put any effort into a shared social life, because he feels fulfilled social from his work interactions. I am trying so hard to change things so that our family can feel good and happy, but he is so content with the way his life is (except for his annoying wife who wants things like attention, and quality time from him occasionally). I guess that is the root of our problem, he likes our life the way it is and I don’t. I know he loves me and under all the hurt and resentment, I love him too. I just wish loving each other made it easy. Unfortunately, now with 3 difficult children added into the mix it is hard most of the time.
I’m wondering how others have dealt with ADHD spouses who take meds but don’t do anything else to treat their ADHD. And is it typical for meds to help the ADHD individual, but not necessarily help with interpersonal issues?
I’m also curious if anyone else has a highly controlling ADHD spouse? And how to deal with a passive aggressive ADHD spouse?
Mostly I’d just like some support and encouragement. After having gone to therapy multiple times and not having anything really get better I don’t know where to turn, I feel like I don’t have anybody to go to for support anymore.