One ADHD Man's Perspecitve: Turning Your Relationship Around

Melissa once asked her husband for his perspective as the ADHD partner on their experience turning their relationship around.  At another time, she also asked him if he was glad he went through finding out about his ADHD.  Both answers were very enlightening.

Turning the relationship around, in his eyes, consisted of three basic steps:

  1. learning you have ADHD
  2. finding out how much ADHD impacts those around you
  3. doing something about it.

Of those three steps, he felt that the second was by far the most difficult step.  When you have ADHD – and have always had ADHD – that is your world.  You experience the world with your ADHD and learn to deal with it as best you can.  It’s really hard to put yourself into the shoes of your partner to understand his or her more linear point of view.  And it’s harder to see the impact your ADHD has on your partner, particularly when your experience in the relationship is that someone is bossing you around a lot and is exceptionally unhappy with you.  That makes it look an awful lot like your problems are the unhappy non-ADHD partner’s fault.

Melissa and George went round and round about the impact of ADHD in their relationship for years.  Melissa felt the impact was significant, while George felt the issues had to do with Melissa’s anger and controlling (parenting) behaviors.  Finally, George had the benefit of working for someone with wildly uncontrolled ADHD.  The experience of being, essentially, in the role of the more organized partner really taught him about Melissa’s daily life.  He got to see first-hand the impact of wild behavior swings, tremendous inconsistency, last minute scrambling to beat deadlines, never knowing when the other shoe would drop, and impulsive changes of mind.  He eventually left that job, but his perspective was forever shifted.  And his takeaway was this – once you understand just how much your ADHD impacts those you love, there is no other choice than to do something about it.  What that ‘something’ looks like is, of course, is the topic of this book and others.

Is he always happy about the hard work he must do to be a better partner?  Honestly?  Not always.  He likes the outcome – their family has stayed together and his marriage is much happier than it was.  He’s back in love with his wife again.  But there is a side to it that leaves him a little sad, too.  Before, he was blissfully ignorant of the impact his ADHD had on others.  He felt invincible and wonderful about himself.  Once he got a more accurate view of the impact of his ADHD, he was forced to realize that he, like everyone else, has feet of clay.  He knows himself better now, and likes himself fine, but he no longer has that master of the universe feeling.  Every once in a while he mourns the fact that it is harder work to stay on top of ADHD than it was in that blissfully ignorant state.  The results are better (his first wife divorced him) but it’s not quite as much…fun.

George and Melissa saved their marriage.  The fun – or at least most of it – got put back in once the boundaries were strong, the bad behaviors on each side were under control, and they started to like each other again.  He’s accepted that he won’t ever find that ‘masters of the universe’ feeling again…and that’s an acceptable side effect of getting his life back in order.


hard to live with

it's hard for me to imagine how hard I am to live with.  I try to pay attention to my wifes complaints and come up with strategies to improve.  its an ongoing process.  thanks for this openness.  its helpful

When you have ADHD – and have

When you have ADHD – and have always had ADHD – that is your world.  You experience the world with your ADHD and learn to deal with it as best you can.  It’s really hard to put yourself into the shoes of your partner to understand his or her more linear point of view.  And it’s harder to see the impact your ADHD has on your partner, particularly when your experience in the relationship is that someone is bossing you around a lot and is exceptionally unhappy with you.

Hi Melissa,

This is absolutely true.  I still wonder (daily) whether some things I see as issues from his end are really a function of my disordered thinking.  He gets really frustrated and sad when he has to have the same conversation with me about what's important and what's not a priority, like he's not important enough for me to learn the lesson.  I wish I could make him understand that that is simply not how my brain works:  I don't pick and choose what's important to remember, sometimes it's amazing the stupid things I DO remember compared to what I don't recall.  He's said to me many times, "If it's important to YOU, you remember."

This is total nonsense, because he's important to me and I frequently don't remember.  I'd much rather remember and not fight with him than be the "random fact file," of things HE doesn't remember.  It would honestly be more useful to us both.

It's gotten a lot easier to see the impact of my behavior, albeit, frequently with his help, or "help," but I will always live life behind a screen that distorts my vision of reality to a certain degree.  I guess we all have our own "screens," ADHD or not, but this kind LITERALLY affects how I perceive reality in addition to simply being human.  I don't really know how to deal with that appropriately.  One of the most difficult things for me these days in our relationship is trying to figure out whether his points are valid, my points are valid, what's worth bringing up and what doesn't really matter.  Is that part of the "hierarchal" issue with ADHD?  It feels like it is... I also find if I bring something up that I initially perceive as an issue, a fact  frequently comes to light that changes my viewpoint, but by that time, we're already in a needless tiff.  That's one of my remaining impulsivity issues.  I get aggravated before I have a clue what's going on :(.   I've always been this way; just very reactive.  I've certainly made tons of progress here, but it remains a weak point for me.

I don't want my husband to feel like I don't care about him because I forget.  I don't want him to feel sad because I still struggle with some verbal impulsivity issues.  I don't want him to feel like I can't learn from these type of mistakes.  As much as I have improved, I sometimes can't believe how complicated, far-reaching and nuanced this disorder can be.  

Thanks for sharing, Melissa.

ADHDMomof2 :)

Sharing ADHD partner perspective

Thank you (and also to Doug, below) for sharing your "view" of this.  One of the factors in helping you both is if your husband internalizes that ADHD is not about HIM...your responses aren't personal.  As a non-ADHD partner, I know how hard it is to remember that.  I TEACH this stuff to couples and still sometimes find myself feeling pretty bad when my husband gets into distracted mode and starts ignoring me or, worse yet, picking on me because he's stressed out about something else and it just happens that I'm the closest target.  How we've learned to deal with this is by creating an environment in which I can say to him "hey, stop picking on me" or something like that, and he can stop and quickly recognize the point I am making without feeling defensive about it.  This has taken quite a bit of practice for both of us - for him to hear me and respond with an apology, and for me to accept the apology as real...not manufactured.  Ideally, of course, he would pay attention to me wihtout effort, but he has ADHD and is also very, very busy with his job - just exhausted all the time.  So this is second best.

Also, there are many ways to show your partner you care.  Whether you remember or forget is only one way.  Create reminders to reach out to him and show him you are thinking about him - and give him a spontaneous hug or kiss whenever you can.  This will help lessen the sting of your forgetfulness.

When both spouses have ADHD?

I too was diagnosed as an adult with ADHD and have been married to a man I believe also has ADHD for 20 years.  Out of those 20 years of marriage I would say that 20 years have been awful.  I've been going to a therapist off and on for the last 10 years and take medication to help with the ADHD and depression meds to keep me functioning.  In the early part of our marriage I am definitely to blame for most our problems that we had but now my husband can't get past forgiving or forgetting what I've done and I am at the point where I don't care if he does forgive me or not.  When we were first married I was impulsive and run up a debt amount of $75,000 in which I had to declare bankruptcy, not him only me.  Before that he had taken out a bank loan to pay my bills that I made then he refinanced our house to pay off the credit card debts. 

I'm not sure what happened when we were first married but I got depressed and would go shopping and started buying uncontrollably and it got worse when we started having children, a boy and a girl, now 16 and 18 and still live at home.  I do remember clearly when I started buying everything that I could.  We had moved into a fixer up house or as I like to call it "The Money Pit" and asked to buy some curtains because all we had were blinds and we lived close to the road and you could clearly see in.  I remember getting mad at him because whenever I asked to buy anything for the house it was always no and I remember thinking "I've had enough, we live in a half functioning house that will take forever to complete and I'm tired of living in a fish bowl why can't we at least buy curtains".  Whenever I would ask about buying something he would always would say either no or "what do you need that for". My husband is a planner and that's actually what I liked about him because I wasn't but it seems when we got married I realized how much of a planner he is, there is no spontaneity at all and he's all or nothing kind of guy.

I know now that we both changed when we got married I wanted a husband who would take care of me and spoil me like my father did and he wanted a wife who would take care of him and agree with everything that he wanted like his mother. I was used to a father who worked at least two jobs the whole time I was growing up to pay for our bills and needs and the second job was for the future and for the extras and my husband at first would take on extra jobs and work on improving our house but since I got us in financial trouble he stopped doing that because he said I didn't appreciate it and wouldn't help him with anything.  In all fairness I might of been like that but I honestly don't remember but at the same time I was home raising two little kids. We both came from families where the father's ruled the roost but I did not want that.  I just left a home that was just like that and there's no way I wanted to go back to that lifestyle! It seemed like I got too independent and selfish and he got controlling.  My husband doesn't know that word cooperation it's his way and not at all.  If he would of said hey what if we get some cheaper curtains now and more expensive ones later on but the answer is was just a flat out NO! He simply does not know how to communicate!

From that point on I remember thinking that this man is never going to allow me to buy anything and at this time in my immature mind I thought if he loved me that he would know and do what it took to make me happy and I'm the only person that can make me happy. This when I started to shopping my heart out. The kids always wore the best clothes, I took them places all the time, we were definitely living above our means, the part of the house that was complete was decorated to the max.  During this time I knew that I couldn't do this forever and there would come a time when I would have to stop and when I realized that I exercised all my sources of paying back I knew that I had to declare bankruptcy.  Because the laws were different back then I was able to declare bankruptcy without my getting my husband involved which again I thought immaturely that my husband would be proud of me of not involving him.

At this time since I didn't have any credit cards and I wasn't getting any help I was just writing checks out till our overdraft protection was used up and I started using my husbands credit cards.  This happened quite a few times before my husband cut them up and he even couldn't use them.  I was in such denial that even after he closed our joint checking account I would sneak his checks and write checks out.  I felt that since he wouldn't give me any money that I felt that since I'm his wife I was entitled to it. I was totally in the wrong and I didn't see then but I see it now.

Now from the beginning my husband was never calm about my shenanigans over the years and more times that I can count he would get mad throw things at the wall or at me, yelling so loud that our neighbors could hear him yelling and swearing at me, break things that of course that was always mine.  Over the years he has broken a microwave, our dining room table, three light fixtures, chairs, a computer screen, tv remotes, etc.  There are so many marks on the wall from him throwing things that I can't count.  He has grabbed me by the throat so many times to get my attention, grabbed my arms that left bruises, pushed me, shoved me, thrown things at me.  Never an apology, all I heard was that I pushed him to it because I wouldn't listen and did he really want to these things?  He told me that he wasn't allowed to punch me so that's why he did those things too. Why did I let this happen? Because in some ways I felt that I deserved it because of the financial ruin I put my family in and I thought he should be mad at me I would be if it was home doing what I was doing.

Through all of these years it's like I'm not allowed to ever go shopping again and it's gotten to the point that if I shop now I still hide it from him.  I don't want to hide it anymore that's what got us in trouble in the first place.  I want to be open with him and honest but he still has bad feelings about the past so I have to walk around egg shells.  One of our biggest problems is we both been hurt from the past and we don't trust each other.  We have separate checking accounts, he pays most of the bills, I pay the rest (he makes more), he does most of the grocery shopping (and honestly I love it because he's a better shopper than I am), I pay for all the extras doctor bills (both kids have ADHD), school & sport fundraisers & functions (proms, school & senior pictures), whatever extra groceries we need, my car maintenance, anything for the house (trust me it adds up). I refuse to show him my paycheck but I've tried to show him what I spend it on and sometimes he looks and sometimes he's just like 'I don't want to know".  I know if we put our money together he would take over and want to control everything and I absolutely refuse to let him control that part of my life. I understand why he's the way he is and I'm mostly to blame but if he would have given in a little when we were first married I don't think our problems would be this huge. 

Several years after declaring bankruptcy, I got a job (I was a stay home mom for the first 10 yrs.), I had no access at all to his credit cards or check book and I started seeing a therapist again I began to see what damage I had done but I had to stop this abuse. I felt that I had improved but I also came to resolution that even though I did do some bad things I didn't drink, do drugs or cheat on my husband that I wasn't truly a bad person like he made me think. I needed to set up boundaries where I didn't let him talk to me the way he did or treat me the way he did.  So even though the bills were almost paid off and we weren't really making any new one's he still treated me the same.

What really made me wake up and realize that he would probably never forgive me is from the time I declared bankruptcy my husband stopped working on the house and slowly he stopped doing anything for me, like changing my oil in my car, working on my car if something was wrong, if something was broken in the house I had to figure it out myself on how to fix it.  He told me that I was making money then I should have it fixed. I basically can't count on him to help me at all and the implication was that every time I got myself in trouble that he had to bail me out and who did he have to count on? No one!  According to him I counted on him for too much! As my oldest child a girl got older and she started acting spoiled and didn't appreciate the things that we do for her we stopped doing things for her to make her realize how much we did for her and that made me realize that my husband is doing the same thing to me and boy did that make me mad.  I finally realized that he's treating me like one of the kids and I supposed when I was younger I deserved it but I don't now and I'm tired of trying to prove myself.

As the saying goes if the other person doesn't want to get help then you need to help yourself which I did so I guess for three years I basically I told him that I wanted three things from him: 1.) Marriage Counseling, 2.) Finish our House & 3.) Treat me Nicer.  So for three years I didn't get any of them and I slowly withdrew from him to the point where he finally agreed to marriage counseling which we've been going to for almost a year now and I think the only reason why he's agreed is because he thinks that this will make me see my wrongdoing and fix me. We can be good for a while then something will happen and one of us gets mad and stays mad.  Whenever he gets mad he starts yelling, swearing and always, always he brings up the past of what I've done and it's my fault that the house isn't done and don't I realize what I've done has affected the way he treats me.  Sometimes I fight back but most of the time I withdraw because what he's saying is true but I'm tired of repeatedly of being in the wrong and the I'm reason why things that are bad for him, me, us. Plus if I try to defend myself he always brings up the past and I can't win with him.  I know I've done wrong and I've apologized so many times for it and I've really tried to make things better and change myself but it's never enough. He also says really sarcastic remarks to our kids about me and he's started not do things for the kids and tell them to go ask your mother or go tell your mother. Why doesn't he see how wrong this is?  I always feel that he's playing tit for tat with me and I want to finish playing this game.  

Since going to therapy things are ok for a while then we're back to square one.  Even though we have been going to therapy I'm so hurt about what's going on that I still don't like getting intimate with him because I know from past experience that he'll be okay then a bad day will come along and he'll resort to his old self. Don't get me wrong I know my faults and I've been working on them and will probably continue to work on them all my life but if you were to listen to him go on about how he's kept the family going and he held a job all these years and how I've never had to help him out of trouble. Yes, he's been the more stable one in the relationship but honestly that's all he's done.  On his days off all he does is sit around in his PJ's and watch TV and be on the computer.  We live in half of our house because the other side isn't done and it's not the money anymore he's told me. So that tells me that he purposely not completing the house because I guess I'm not doing what he wants me to do and he won't do what I want till gets what he wants which he says is a normal wife which he means sex. With years of abuse behind us I'm just am not interested in sex right now. I know that he can be a mean and vindictive person and that turns me totally off. What I want is a husband who loves unconditionally instead of always putting stipulations and rules to his loving. He's always telling me to be more responsible, what about him taking responsibility for his actions and not laying the responsibility for him being happy or wanting to do things for our family on me. He seems to forget that there are four of us not just him. 

He's about what he's getting out of it, instead of doing thing for his family for the pure enjoyment of doing things for us. For example when we were first married we redid our bathroom but for last 7 years the bathroom has had slowly overcome with mold.  For three years we had in house a tub/shower kit, bathroom sink, all the fixtures and his parents would buy us new flooring once we were ready because they didn't want it sitting around like the carpet my parents bought for us over 10 years ago that's still rolled up unused. All we needed was new dry wall, paint and a new window but he would always tell me that he told me that he didn't have the money to finish it and trust me I know he's been putting money aside every since I got a better job.  So the counselor actually talked him into finishing the bathroom and I guess I didn't show him enough appreciation so that's why he doesn't feel like I appreciate him enough and maybe in a sort of weird way maybe he's right because I know for a fact that it wouldn't cost that much to finish it and it could have been finished a long time ago and it wasn't like I wanted the bathroom redone just because it had outdated fixtures it had black mold on the ceiling and walls, it absolutely needed to be redone for health reasons.  Before that when I would ask him about finishing the bathroom he would complain about how instead of buying things for myself or the kids why didn't I buy things for the house so after he said that three years ago I went out bought the sink, lighting fixtures, faucets, mirror and accessories but he never acknowledge what I did and in fact complained about the sink I bought because he didn't like it because it was not the right color of wood and it was in the way.  I honestly bought it because I absolutely loved it and I thought was helping out at the same time. His martyrdom is nauseating because he's proven over and over that when he does do something bad like grabbing me he acts like it never happened.  Convenient for him but I'm supposed to forget about it and it's truly not like I want him to forget what I've done, I would just like for him to acknowledge the improvements that I have made and move forward in our lives not go back.

The final straw is right before Thanksgiving he got mad at me and said he realized that I don't care for him, that I don't appreciate him, I just use him and that he isn't the man of the household and he can't be a father to the his kids . He was crying while he saying this and he never cries.  At the time I knew he was serious but I thought I'd let him cool off and let him come to me when he's ready.  Well come Thanksgiving he tells me that he's not going to my parents because he doesn't think we really don't have a relationship and why should he go. Since I've been back home he really hasn't spoken to me and that's fine with me because I'm really upset with him.  I've tried to talk to him but all I get is a dirty look and if he does answer me it's always sarcastic or hurtful and he's always done this....he always says smart and sarcastic things to our kids or tells them "go ask your mother". I sent him a text since he wasn't talking to me telling him that I'm sorry if he thinks I don't appreciate him and I'm sorry for everything I've done to our family but he still hasn't spokenn to me yet.  I think he gets off on being miserable and making me pay over and over.

I'm tired of the head games. He always tells me if you do this I'll do this (ex. work on the house) but I do it and he just gives me another excuse or he falls back on the excuse of how I've caused financial trouble that I've caused.  Again I've known I've done wrong in the past but how does what he's done any worse or any better than what I've done. Why doesn't he see the hurt he's caused. Each time he's yelled and screamed at me, gotten in my face, each time he's thrown and broken something, grabbed a hold of me.  I know that causing financial trouble you can actually see but the hurt he's caused you can't see I truly understand that I've hurt him and our family but how do we move on from all this vicious cycle.  I've really have tried to do better but he won't let me and each time he acts this way to me, I lose more and more respect and love for him.  It's like we've traded places and he doesn't want to stop till he says so.  I've decided that if he want's to leave he can leave because I'm truly tired of being unhappy and walking around on egg shells. Maybe with some time alone he can see what we've both done and it's not all me and he'll want to truly work on our marriage and not try to fix just me.

I'm sorry this is so long but this is 20 years going into this post as you can see I'm at my wits end and need some advise before I make a final decision.

Final decision?

This is a long post - you have a great deal of painful history.  You say "before I make a final decision..."  What, exactly, are you talking about?  I may have missed it, but I don't see a specific reference.

It seems as if each of you is waiting for the other to change.  And after so many years of really awful interactions changing for a short period isn't going to do it.  So I'm going to ask you some painful questions, and hope that you'll respond to them honestly.

When was the last time you bought something for which you could not pay IN FULL within 30 days?

When was the last time you told your husband you appreciate all of the work that he has done to help support the family?

Are you taking your medication for ADHD regularly?

What other treatments are you doing for your ADHD (in detail, please)?

How do you describe your husband to other people?

When was the last time you made a disparaging remark about your husband to your children (for example, "You Dad never wants to go out and do anything fun with us...he's just going to sit around and waste time."

When was the last time you had to defend yourself against your husband touching you in a way that you didn't want him to?  (i.e. grabbing you, hitting you, etc.)

I look forward to hearing your answers, if you don't mind responding.

Final Decision?

No I don't mind being truthful. I'm at the age now that I know I'm missing something obviously going on but I'm too close to the subject.  I'm very private person so I don't talk to a lot of people about my problems. My family and one friend of mine only know what is going on but they don't know the extent of our problems.  I do take my meds every day and right now I'm only seeing our marriage counselor before that because of insurance reasons I was just seeing a therapist by myself.

I know that I don't tell him all the time that I appreciate that I'm thankful what he does for the family but when I got upset over Thanksgiving I sent him a text (because he wasn't talking to me) telling him that I'm sorry and that I do appreciate all that he does for our family but he never responded and still hasn't talked to me yet.  Truthfully I've been gun shy about telling him these things because he thinks I'm being insincere.  I will say I guess I don't tell him more often because I feel that he's an adult and that's what's expected of him just as I don't expect him to compliment me on everything I do for the family. 

I pay cash for almost everything except for the bigger items. I no longer go shopping unless it's for the holidays or birthdays.  I no longer go shopping at our downtown stores because I know I will be tempted. I basically stay away from all stores or vendors to keep temptation at bay. 

I really don't describe my husband to people. I just started to be more open and a little honest with friends about my husband. I don't lead on that he's perfect like I used to. With my family I don't go into detail about what he's done. I used to make it sound like we got along great and that he treated me good because I didn't want to cause problems with husband and family and now I tell them what he's done but I don't bash him because I know that people remember things and I always think in the back of my mind that we're going to get along better and when we do I don't want to defend him all the time.

I am guilty of sometimes making disparaging remarks to my children and I know it's wrong but I have an 18 year old daughter and she sees what goes and he treats me, I do say things because I don't want her to think that what he does and says is right and I don't want her think that I think it's okay for any person to treat her that way.  The same with my son I don't want my 16 year son to think it's okay to treat or talk to women that way.  When you have your teenage daughter say to you when your trying to give her relationship advise "why would I listen to you when you can't even take care of your relationship".  That hurts a lot!!! 

When I say before I make my final decision I mean before I ask for a separation. I've been with my husband for over 24 years and the only reason why I've stayed so long with him is that I know that deep down that there is a good person in him and I've been hoping and praying that that good person would come out and stay out. I'm 44 years old and I'm not getting any younger.  I want a marriage that I can be honest and loving with that person not watch everything I say and do around them. All this arguing and trying to stay on my toes is aging me and wearing me down. 

I have to say that I've put off separation or divorce because we have two children that need their parents and I truly want to work on our marriage but I believe that my husband is depressed, has anxiety and has anger issues. None that he will admit to or do anything about. If he's depressed it's because of the financial ruin I put our family through.  If has anxiety it's because he want's to be cautious and and take his time making a decision and if he has anger issues it's because of again the financial ruin I've put our family through.

What my husband doesn't understand is that it took 20 years for us to get this way and we're not going to get better in a couple of months.  I know that this is going to take work and there's going to be a lot hardship to heal but I'm willing (or I was until the Thanksgiving episode) to work at it. Unfortunately I think my husband finally agreed to marriage counseling because he thinks I need the help and not we need the help. I've finally realized that my husband doesn't want to change to make things work why should he when he thinks it's all me.  

Like I've mentioned I've been going to counseling by my self the last 5 years and I've gotten to the point that I'm okay with myself and what I've done in the past and I've come to the conclusion I'm not a bad person, I've done some bad things and unfortunately with my ADHD thinking I thought it was okay but I've been trying to get better and learn from my mistakes.  I'm also not saying my husband should totally forget what I've done but I would like to move on with our lives and live but if he can't forgive me and try to move on what more can I do.