Perspective of a woman with ADHD

I stumbled across this site this evening and read through many of the posts in the forum. Wow. I read a lot of experiences of women who are struggling in really painful situations with their spouses. Reading through this forum, I felt very sad. I felt sad about the pain and frustration that so many women are feeling in their marriages to ADHD husbands, and I felt sad about the generalizations I saw some of you make about people with ADHD. I wanted to throw in my two cents. 

People can be unkind and have ADHD, but that doesn't mean they're unkind because they have ADHD. It sounds like so many of you are struggling with partners who are either strikingly insensitive to your needs or downright abusive. That sounds miserable. But I beg you not to conflate this with ADHD. I have (severe) ADHD and know quite a few other people with ADHD, both incidentally and through support groups. My friends with ADHD have been some of the most caring, supportive, loving people I've known. We all know and are deeply pained by the ways in which we sometimes let down people we love because of our ADHD symptoms. We berate ourselves for being late once again, or forgetting a birthday once again, and we have to work hard to push through the shame and forgive ourselves. And we find other ways of showing our love to the people we care about-- spontaneous loving gestures, or deep listening, or thoughtful and creative gifts. 

Gender and the way men and women are socialized in our culture play a critical role in the dynamics many of you describe. I am in my early 30s and am not married, but have had several serious relationships, including one four-year relationship in which we lived together. I am heterosexual. I have experienced so many of the caretaking dynamics you described-- and I have been the one who was the caretaker. How many sitcoms and beer commercials have you seen on TV that depict a husband as a fun-loving man-child, and his wife as the long-suffering killjoy who keeps the household together? How many of you were given toy stoves as little girls, when your brothers were given toy trucks? This is the culture we have all been indoctrinated into.

ADHD makes it difficult for your husbands to perform the tasks of household management, but it's the gender roles of our culture that tell him it's okay not to pull his weight, and that tell you it's your job to pull it for him. Even in 2018. I have considered myself a feminist since I learned the word as a child, and I still found myself being the household manager and the caretaker so many, many times. "Did you remember to call the doctor about your back?" "I'll call and see if your prescription is ready." "Don't forget to pick up the bread." "Remember you have to be home for the plumber this afternoon." When I'm living by myself, I forget to do pretty much everything and live in a constant state of chaos. But when I lived with my boyfriend, I threw all of my paltry organizational energies into making our household work because somehow I thought that's what I was supposed to do. As it happened, he had ADHD, and I wasn't diagnosed yet. I thought, "Oh, I have to help him with these things because they're hard for him." I now know my ADHD is a lot more severe than his, and in retrospect I don't know how I failed to see it. He was profoundly supportive of me: he helped me with schoolwork I struggled with, and the emotional support and unconditional love he gave me were life-changing. He put time and energy into our home, too: he did all the cleaning (and my messiness really got on his nerves) and his good taste in furniture and curtains and such made our home beautiful. But I was the scheduler, the rememberer, the coordinator, the expense spreadsheet maker. I share this with you because if a card-carrying feminist with really severe ADHD took on that household management role for her male partner, there's something more going on here than "people with ADHD are irresponsible." These gender roles are hard to shake. If your husband is insensitive and unkind to you, to boot, that makes it that much harder. But it's not because of ADHD that your husband isn't pulling his weight. Even though I took on that managerial role, my male partner with ADHD was wonderful and supportive and kind, and it was an equal partnership.

I saw a number of you say, "How is it that you're supposed to manage all the organizational stuff for your ADHD partner but not enter into a parent-child dynamic?" I can understand that frustration. I have been on both sides of that. I think the most fundamental thing to remember is that your ADHD partner has gifts and strengths to offer to your relationship just as you do. That's why you fell in love with them in the first place. It's true that I really struggle with organizing and time management and memory. But there are lots of things I'm great at. I'm very outgoing, and I make friends easily and introduce them to my partner. I am loving and affectionate. I am spontaneous and flexible and I think fast in a crisis. I make boring things fun. I am warm and know how to make guests feel at home. I'm a terrific problem solver and find effective solutions to problems others give up on. I come up with fun outings for us to go on together. I am a compassionate listener, even though my mind wanders sometimes (I say, "I'm sorry, I care so much about what you're saying, but I just realized my attention was drifting for a little bit there. Can you rewind a few sentences for me?") A respectful relationship honors the strengths and weaknesses of both partners. Your partner has gifts that you don't have. 

That said, I know there is often an inherent parent/child or boss/employee dynamic to the managerial role in a household. And I know it's exhausting not to be able to rely on someone to remember to do an essential task, especially when really important things like your mortgage or your toddlers are at stake, or to have to say the same thing over and over. When other people do some of my executive functioning for me, the way they do it makes a big difference.

  • Not constructive: "Oh my God, how are you still not ready??! What are you even doing?? We're already twenty minutes late! HURRY UP!!"
  • Constructive: "Hey, I'm starting to get anxious-- we're already twenty minutes late, and it's really important to me to be there. How soon do you think you can be ready?" 

The first way treats me like I'm trying to make trouble on purpose and makes me feel ashamed. I feel angry and resentful and it's even harder for me to focus and motivate myself. The second way is respectful and motivating: it gives me the sense of urgency I need and empowers me to act on it myself. 

Finally, I think it's really important to remember what your partner with ADHD can and cannot control, and judge their commitment by their effort. Here's an analogy: if I'm short and you're tall, it's always going to be harder for me to put things away on top of the kitchen cupboards. Does that mean it's impossible? Of course not. I'd rather leave them on the counter for you to do later, because you can do it quickly and easily. But if you tell me "It is really important to me that you put these things away, and I feel sad when you don't," I can drag out the stepladder and take a few extra minutes to climb up and down with each piece of china and do it. It won't look exactly the way you want it to, and if one morning I am running late and my hands are full and I just don't have time to get out the stepladder, I might wait till evening to do it. But I'll do it. I don't just say "Nope, I'm short, no can do." 

Is your partner trying really hard and still letting you down sometimes, or are they not even trying? If they forget to do something you asked them to do, please don't accuse them of being passive-aggressive and trying to thwart you on purpose. We really do have poor memories. If they only remember to do 25% of what you ask them to do and you are (justifiably) stressed out by this, and you have a conversation with them about it, and you work together to research and try out some systems that will help them remember to look at a to-do list, and now they follow through on 75% of what you ask them to do, please give them some credit for it. Don't diminish your own needs, but don't think they're making your life hard on purpose. They have a disability and they are trying ten times as neurotypical people for a fraction of the result.

On the other hand, if you tell your partner "You often forget things I ask you to do, and it stresses me out," and they shrug and say "Tough luck, I have ADHD so there's nothing I can do about it," that's not OK. But in this case, it's not their ADHD forgetfulness that's the problem. The problem is their insensitivity to your needs and their unwillingness to work with you to find creative strategies to help prop up their poor memory. If your partner genuinely doesn't care about your needs and you blame that on their ADHD, you are doing a disservice to people with ADHD and to yourself. Don't go around saying people with ADHD are uncaring. That's insulting. We are every bit as kind and caring as the rest of the population. And don't stay with someone who truly doesn't care about your needs and doesn't make any effort to show you love. That's not about ADHD, and you deserve better. 

It is now almost 3am and that was several hundred words more than I intended, so I think I'll conclude this impulsive hyperfocus session right here. The end.