Required Reading for All Women Visiting this Site!

I have just read a book on the topic of anger and relationships that Dr Hallowell suggested - it's great and would be very, very helpful to any woman who is trying to make sense out of why nothing seems to change in her relationship even though she keeps trying to "fix" it.  (Men would benefit, too, but the book happens to be written with women in mind).  I have been trying to figure out how to communicate how to move from "stuck" to a more fluid place where couples can actually make progress.  This book does it, it's called

"The Dance of Anger" by Harriet Lerner, Ph.D and not only does she "get it", but she writes about this in an easy to understand way.  Her input will help you.  I try to explain to people WHY I spend so much time trying to get the non-ADD spouse to change direction, rather than spend time trying to magically change an ADD spouse.  I am getting a lot of feedback on the site lately from frustrated non-ADD spouses who say "I'm tired of always being asked to accomodate my ADD spouse...he should take responsibility for his actions..."  I agree completely, yet people insist on misinterpreting what I am saying and, instead, assume that I am telling them to just lay down and let their spouse walk all over them.  No!  Each person is responsible for their own actions, and by changing your own actions you can also impact those of others - if you do it right.  Describing what "right" is, of course, is the trick!  This book does this.

SO - READ THIS BOOK!  It's old enough that your library may well have it, but I bet it will be a book that you'll want to review a few times as you work through trying to do what she suggests.


Found it !

I found this book an a Belgian website and ordered it right away. It should be here in a week....I'm looking forward to read it.

Thanks for the tip Melissa !

Dance books

I checked on Amazon used and there were about 85 copies. Sometimes they are only 1cent plus the 3.99 shipping. I love it when I can find used books. The words are all the same, they just have a few 'eyeprints' on the pages.

Other places to find books

Check You can often find books in great shape for great prices, ranging from new to like new to very used. Choose your preference!

Read Lerner's "The Dance of Connection" Too!

Another very worthwhile book by the same author is titled "The Dance of Connection: How to talk to Someone when you're mad, hurt, scared, frustrated, insulted, betrayed or desparate." This book is as useful for its advice on what to refrain from doing when you're upset as it is for its advice on what to do when seeking substantial communication on sensitive issues. Sometimes it is what we do to try to connect when everyone is upset that drives both friends and family members away. I highly recommend both books. Both "Dance of Anger" and "Dance of Connection" are available as an audiobooks, read by the author. Our local library has both titles in both formats. As a final note: neither of these are long books, and both use humor and many anecdotes to make the author's points. The books are not heavy going; in fact, I found them a pleasure to listen to.

Great book

Thanks for the tip Melissa, I've got the book and I can't stop reading it. I especially love how she gives real life examples to address an issue. Plus it's an easy read and very recognizable.

And I agree, it is a must read for women who struggle with some of these anger issues.

mradhd's picture

My own prison

First let me say that I am so thankful for this website. I am finally realizing what my true problem is. Unfortunately, my wife has left me for all of the exact same reasons that every other spouse of and ADHD adult has written about, asking for advice & help.  She says that she still loves me but will not come back anytime soon. She is getting her own apartment & it really hurts.

  My problem is that I GET IT. I understand why this is happening. I am a pretty smart guy & see many things & understand a whole lot more. I don't blame her for what she has done, yet I am feeling so hurt right now. I feel that it's just not fair. What chance does a person with this horribly paralysing ailment have? I just feel a whole heap of different emotions right now. I can't even explain what my brain is going through right now. I hate the fact that I realized what has been holding me down & it has a very similar look, taste and smell of it being too late.  I know it's really not, but what can I do to stop the hurt? My wife & I were, and I hope still are the loves of our lives. Everyone that knows us often asked us how we did it. You can just imagine how surprised they were when they found out that she left. She is the most caring, compassionate, loving, considerate & thoughtful person I know. I guess that's why she put up with my craziness for 15 years.  She is a nurse & I couldn't think of any other occupation that would fit her any better. She's perfect at it. The question remains, why give up now? Knowing what is causing me to be so out of touch at times, I would have hopee that she would just hold me & say, "Now we know what's wrong & we're going to make you better".  It hurts so much. Don't get me wrong, I am remaining positive that now that I know what to work on, I will be the man that God wants me to be with the right treatment. I just wanted a fair shot. I know that I caused her much pain emotionally & financially. God only knows how many people we owe & how much money we are in debt.  But I never did any of it intentionally. I am human & I do make mistakes, as does everyone. I just wish that the vows of "for better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, til death do us part", was taken seriously.

I'm writing here because I don't know how to stop this roller coaster of emotions. I understand, yet it hurts. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, but it hurts. I know why she's doing this, BUT IT REALLY, REALLY HURTS.

I have so much more that I could write, but I just can't bear to think about it anymore.

Thanks for listening.





Sorry I didn't get back to you sooner on this.  First, you need to immediately find a psychiatrist who can both treat you for your ADD and start helping you move through the grief of learning to accept it and do something about it.  Your wife is also grieving right now - you had something good and what you were doing before as a couple wasn't working.  You're not the only person grieving.  Also, none of this "I just wanted a fair shot" self-pity stuff...come on, you were married for 15 years - that's a pretty fair shot.

Your wife's leaving you is causing you a ton of pain, but it is also an opportunity.  It is an opportunity to change your life.  You must deal with your ADHD for your own sake - whether or not you stay married to this woman you love so much, some day you will come across relationship issues and ADD again.  You want to have a fabulous relationship, but without getting hold of your ADD you diminish your chances of doing so.  So consider her leaving you a gift, albeit one that is painful.  She has given you the INSIGHT you needed to learn the hardest thing of all - your ADD not only sucks for you, but it sucks for your spouse.  Get it under control!  It's your responsibility.  Would it be easier if she were standing there by your side and trying to help you out?  Maybe...but I'm betting she hasn't just been standing around for the last 15 years with her hands in her pockets.  She's a nurse, for heaven's sake!  She takes care of people for a living.  I'm pretty darned sure she's also tried to help you.  But, guess what?  Only YOU can help you.  Her leaving gives you reason to be motivated to help yourself.  And you CAN!

Her leaving you may end up being the best thing she could have done for your marriage.  If she really, truly, is the love of your life (and you hers) then perhaps she will be able to see and RESPECT the you who is able to get your act together.  To fall in love with you again.

Don't blame the ADD - now you know you have something to make it not interfere in your life anymore!  She's not the only one who said "'til death do us part".

I'm guessing that she says that she's not coming back any time soon because she has tried to help things change in the past and nothing seemed to change.  She's EXHAUSTED.  Okay - it wasn't changing because YOU weren't changing...but now it can.  She's stepped out of your life for a while for the very purpose of renewing herself AND for the purpose of giving you the opportunity to renew yourself.  Don't blow it.  Take up the challenge for YOU, then see if you can (or still want to) earn her back.


I almost left

What a relief it is just to know what the heck is going on with my new husaband of 4 years, he was diagnoist 3 month's ago with ADHD.He is on meds, we have marriage counseling too, not too much is changing with him yet, he's slowing down a bit....but Ill tell you, for a while there I couldnt take it any more, I dont need to go into all the "crazy" stuff . Im sure you know what Im talking about but, it was making me so angry I thought I was going to lose my mind. I didnt what to leave him nor do I , I love my guy, yet the emotional stuff was getting to me that I almost put aside the "till death do us part" . Then the diagnoisis came, the theapy, and the books, thank you for Driven to Distraction, and your site,. I understand so much more than I did before, and can forgive. . I have the book The Dance with Anger, and will read it . It made all the diffrence in the world just knowing what we were dealing with.

MELISSA, I am confused,  I

MELISSA, I am confused,  I read the book, The Dance of Anger, but I DON'T get how I am suppossed to deal with something he is suppossed to take responsibility for.  If I were needing more attention from him, that would be a me issue that I need to take responsibility for...I get that, but what about his not being able to fix a problem between us in the relationship.  He is responsible for that.  What about me telling him that something is very important to me and him disregarding my feelings and needs?  How do I deal with that in context of Dr. Lerner's book?  I can't change what I'm not responsible for.

I second this

What happens after you read the books, work on the counselor's suggestions and scrounge around the internet for advice? My counselor said that my husband needs to read etc along with me. How do you convince a person with a procrastination/attention/etc problem to do these things? If I read to him, recite what I read/etc, he tends to take it as nagging or preaching.

My husband has time to read his novels, but not the marriage books.

He has time to play online games, but not visit sites like these.

He is always going to start working on things "tomorrow". Seriously, if I hear him say "I have intentions to..." one more time, I might just do something irrational!

I understand that people will only change when they want to. He may want to but he is choosing not too. I cannot force him to help himself. HE has to grow up and be the adult handling HIS side of his ADHD problem and so far, he hasn't tried beyond going to counseling sessions and saying all the "right" things.

And if I may ask: I am working on my anger issues but I find that when I apologize for being angry or saying mean things, he is giving himself license to continue with his inconsiderate actions. How would you handle that? I feel like the end of my rope slid by about a year ago. I do not believe in divorce for this kind of a situation but I really feel that the "for worse" part of my vows has become my marriage, life and existance.

Thank you for your input!


arwen's picture

good intentions

My husband used to give me the "I intended to" business all the time.  I finally told him, "Please listen to me very carefully. I'm * not * interested *  in * your * intentions.  I'm interested in what you actually do.  All the good intentions in the world are *totally worthless* if you don't follow through.  How would you feel if I intended to cook dinner or go grocery shopping, but never did it?  Would you be less hungry because I had good intentions? So don't talk to me about intentions, I'm sick and tired of hearing about your intentions but not seeing any results."  This was very surprising to my husband, he hadn't thought about it this way ever before.  He understood my point and did try to follow through more.

Unfortunately,  this happened before my husband was diagnosed (in his early 40's) and so he wasn't on meds, and the idea only "stuck" temporarily. But later, when he had been diagnosed and had begun taking medications, and I repeated my sentiments, he really "got" it.   I can't remember if you've mentioned in your other posts whether your spouse is taking any medication or not -- if not, I urge you and your spouse to consider them, they certainly have helped my husband focus, plan and follow through better.

Also, we now have formal meetings three times a week to discuss logistics, issues and projects -- this has helped him convert intentions into actions because we actually schedule his follow through during these meetings. I make sure he makes a concrete commitment, and then check status with him at subsequent meetings.  When he knows he is expected to make progress and report on it, and he knows he's going to be in trouble with me if he hasn't at least made some reasonable headway, it's a real motivation to get things done.  Eventually the habit has become established so that I don't have to supervise him nearly as much.  He has learned to use a PDA and other computer software to help him keep track of the things he needs to do and due dates.  And while it's true that he still forgets to follow through on things sometimes, he never offers "I intended" as part of an excuse -- he knows it doesn't cut any ice.

I can appreciate that some people feel that by asking him "when are you going to do it?" and checking status, I'm taking responsibility for things my husband should be doing.  I don't see it that way myself.  A lot of times my husband is actually pretty good at following through, *once he has gotten started*.   But he sometimes has a really hard time getting started.  He has a hard time thinking on his own about when he will get something done -- but if I ask him "when are you going to do it?", he is able to think about it and come up with a reasonable answer. 

I guess I see this situation as being very similar to a horse being led to water.  If you want the horse to drink water, it doesn't do any good if you tell the horse to go across the stable and get a drink of water, or you point to wherever the water is -- you're going to have to lead it to the water.  Of course, even then, you can't make the horse drink -- it has to want to (although you can of course make the horse thirsty).

You may want to consider whether guiding your spouse a little further in the direction you would like him to go may be worthwhile.  Instead of telling him about this site, you might ask him to sit down with you and read together -- not *to* him but *with* him.  (It may help to get him to agree if you tell him that it's really important to you to share this with him, and mention that your counselor has recommended it.)  If at first you let him choose which posts to look at, he may get more interested.

Good luck!

Good Intentions indeed

Dear Arwen,

You are so enlighting on this! Thank you! I never thought that he would need to be led to the water. The analogy of making the horse thirsty is great. :)

When you have your formal meetings with your husband, what role do you expect/does he play? My husband tends to not do that much talking and will wait for me to start the conversation or say what I think should be done/how/etc. I have purposefully waited (without judgement or meaningful glances!) for him to start the conversations. We usually end up staring at each other. :)  Do you think this is just another thing of which I must lead? I want him to have some ownership over our marraige as I think that would make it more valueable to him. Any ideas on how to handle this? I think if I led all the time he would start to see these meetings as nag sessions.

I am definitely going to give him the "intentions" talk. It never occured to me that he wouldn't see it as I feel it.

Thanks again Arwen! And good luck with your marriage!



We've had the *intentions* conversation too...

I genuinely think that some men with ADD--I know it is true of my husband--genuinely feel that if you just appreciated that they honestly *meant* to do it and forgetting was entirely accidental, that you won't be mad.  I had to tell him very seriously that I always new he wasn't forgetting on purpose, but now I need him to do something concrete to help him remember on purpose.  He looked at me with such this was an entirely new idea!  Sometimes I shake my head at the craziness of us stumbling along trying to figure out the best way to deal with some of these issues.

I feel you have a lot of insight as far as tips/tricks to up the success of communication with an ADD spouse, and I thank you for this.  I find when I ask my husband about things you've learned from your husband, he often says he didn't think of it that way but that is indeed at least somewhat his feelings on the matter too.  Thanks very much for that.

I'm not challenging what you are saying about *leading him to water* as I do think at times that is what we need to do, but asking how the checking in with you issue relates to your general attraction for him in your marriage.  My husband and I are mid-30s, married 8 years (diagnosed for about 2.5), and he is not nearly as severely ADD as most of the mates referred to on this site.  If he'd never got diagnosed or on medication, I feel confident we'd have muddled along semi-happily.  Fortunately for our marriage and my stress levels, he diagnosed himself after researching his symptoms because he couldn't stand being the cause of so much frustration.  Then he got himself right to a doctor.  He really wants the meds to be his magic bullet though, and further progress has been in fits of starts and stops.

We have a weekly meeting as far as high priority things we are each trying to get done and to coordinate schedules etc. making sure we're on the same page, but then I basically turn most of the follow through over to his ADD coach (which he's in the process of trying a new one).  We've gone this route because when he was accountable *to me* for his committment it seemed to put a real parent/child dynamic into our relationship that impacted our intimate life & our attraction to eachother.  He just didn't feel romantic toward a person who he basically felt like was a *boss* in some ways even when he verbally acknowledged that the situation was for the good of our family.  And I also didn't feel attracted to a man that I felt I had to lead along like a child.

Since the coach has come up our attraction and intimacy levels are back where they belong, but we've struggled with finding a good coach.  He had a fairly terrible one, is currently trying group coaching at least temporarily until he finds out later this week from his new ADD doctor if she was able to get him into another coaching situation paid for by insurance.   Our ultimate goal is attraction and intimacy for us while he and a coach work out the logistics of his follow through and accountability.  How do you make all that work together?

arwen's picture

coaching and intimacy

Aspen, my husband does not have a coach in the typical sense.  He sees a counselor regularly, and the counselor does perform some of the functions of a coach, but when my husband was looking into getting a coach years ago, he could not find anyone that was conveniently situated that he felt comfortable with.  I had read that it's often a problelm for the non-ADD spouse to act as coach, so for many years I declined to play that role.  He's a very gadget-oriented guy, so he decided to use a PDA that would interface with his computers at work and at home to do some of the functions of a coach. When things got really bad in our marriage several years ago and my husband and I separated, his counselor suggested that we set up formaly meetings several times a week.  I try as much as I can to avoid coaching, and try to get him to shoulder as much of the responsibility as possible for having an agenda, providing status and determining how to go forward, but as I've said, he has a really problem sometimes with getting started, so sometimes I have to provide a bit of a shove.  So, the coaching function is kind of split up between the counselor, the PDA and me.  This seems to work fairly well for my husband most of the time.

As far as the impact of my coaching on our relationship, it really hasn't mattered either way.  Our intimacy has been a problem for 20 years, long before I started accepting any role as a coach.  My husband had a really frustrating tendency to think that if we had sex, it meant that we didn't have any problems any more, and he'd stop doing whatever better behaviors he had implemented because (in his mind) they obviously weren't needed any more.  I tried and tried to overcome this perspective with no success, and finally had to tell my husband that I couldn't continue having sex if it was going to completely undermine everything else we were trying to improve.  Since we resolved our separation, we have been working at restoring intimacy in our relationship, but it has been difficult as my husband's current meds have a negative impact on his arousal (but we hate to change them because they work so well in every other respect and it has taken us a long time to find a combination that does work well).  But the coaching really hasn't had any impact on this.  We have a great deal of affection for each other and we do express it daily.

I think that one of the reasons that the coaching hasn't affected other aspects of our relationship is because my husband and I have been "compartmentalizing" our relationship for a long time now, and not playing traditional roles.  When our first child was born, my husband stayed home and cared for him during the day and went to college at night, while I worked at a large corporation and was the primary breadwinner.  During this time, my husband was the "boss" at home.  Later, we swapped roles, and I became the "boss" at home.  Still later,  when I went back to work, we were both employed at the same company doing very similar jobs, and we had to keep our professional lives separate from our personal lives, since we did interact at work from time to time.  We worked very hard to make sure that we treated each other at work exactly how we would treat any other colleague.  None of these different roles affected our sexual relationship in any way.  I think having had all this practice made it possible for my coaching role not to affect our sexual relationship, either.

I don't know how I would deal with the situation you have, but I probably would follow the route you've chosen, it seems pretty sensible to me.  I don't know if this answers your questions, but I'm afraid it's all I have to offer. 

Yes, as usual your comment was very helpful!

Arwen, I appreciate your prompt response--sometimes my greatest frustration here is how long it takes to get a response, but when they come they are truly well-thought out and helpful.

Whenever I read that someone else is taking a different route, my immediate thought is "I wonder if that would work better for us" many years of perfectionism rearing it's ugly head and saying maybe there is a BETTER WAY!  I'll never forget my husband wearily asking me a couple years into our marriage, "Why does it always need to be better?  Why can't it just be *good enough*?"  I had never experienced such thinking up close and personal!!  HAHA

I think I'm with you as far as your last comment about sticking to the route we've chosen for now.  I'm not ready to lose out on one of my favorite aspects of our marriage due to joint resentment over taking on what we feel is too much of a parental role.  It is frustrating at times because I was doing the job better than he previous coach--light years better as far as getting things done, but it was too damaging to our relationship.  His first group session was pretty positive yesterday--and since he said he wanted to work on procrastination, they have chosen the test balloon of getting our shed roof actually repaired rather than tossing up more tarps and boards over the hole!!  Feeling very excited about this.

good enough

There are lots of things in life where "good enough" is perfect.  For example:

  • good enough housecleaning:  messy is okay as long as you can find what you need
  • good enough cooking:  doesn't have to be gourmet every night as long as it's healthy
  • good enough filing:  All my filing goes into one bin.  Once a year I sort it out, throw out that which is outdated and file the rest.  In the meantime I can find anything I really need, more or less in chronological order
  • good enough dates:  go out with some frequency.  Try new stuff.  Some will be special, others a snooze.
  • good enough laundry:  if I run out of socks this week, it's not a crisis, just inconvenient
  • good enough holiday cards:  do your friends really care if it arrives in January?!
  • good enough repair job:  may not be perfect, but the patch works for a couple of years
  • good enough reading:  maybe an audiofile, instead?!

ADHD places very real limitations on people.  My daughter, bless her, simply can't read as quickly as others.  She has a quick mind, but will never read a book as fast as I can.  So for her, "good enough" reading means fewer books, but choosing those that interest her (or are required for college).  She takes her time and enjoys each one.  She also did some eye therapy to help her eye tracking on the page, which did help.  But if it were important that she always "be better" she would likely have stopped reading all together by now in protest of the pressure that put on her.

"Good enough" in MANY situations can, in fact, be perfect!

P.S.  Sorry that it takes so long for a response...I'm busy book writing and dealing with life, but I have vowed to be on the site more and get back faster.

I agree with you Melissa, but

I agree with you Melissa, but it was a really shocking thought to be faced with in that way by him.  It's been good for me to relax on some of the perfectionistic tendencies I have--one of the many ways being married to a laid back guy is good for me!

I do still feel that in all the areas of my life that are important to me, that the whole purpose is to be reaching forward and improving--that is a well-lived life in my eyes.  Even where he agrees intellectually, my husband doesn't always feel the same motivation to work toward those things.  Open-ended things are hard for him...he likes to feel that things are *done* vs in a constant state of being done or needing to be repeated over and over.  I sympathize, but at least for some things he may as well try to live in the real world with the rest of us....laundry gets dirty again,  dishes will have to be done most every single day, and personal growth never stagnates entirely.  We are working on it and we try pretty hard to at least meet eachother part way on anything important to them.  

As far as the waiting for responses comment, that wasn't directed anywhere in particular--we understand how terribly busy you are & this is hardly a *fluffy* website.  Really it's more of an acknowledgement that truly helpful information takes some time to think out and type out.  I wish it was more immediate....but then I'm also working on my patience!

open ended things

One of the things I've noticed is that many people with ADHD feel easily overwhelmed (perhaps it is the noisiness of their brain, or perhaps that "organizing" is such a big task for them).  In any event, breaking even repetitive chores (such as laundry) down into discrete, more manageable tasks can be a very good coping strategy.  When one feels overwhelmed, one gets stuck.  So, while you might be comfortable with the "constant state of being done" perhaps you can find a complementary state of "done" tasks for him (i.e. "Monday's laundry" vs. "this week's laundry" or just "laundry").

It's a small thought, but useful for many.

arwen's picture

"breaking up is hard to do"

Melissa, I couldn't agree more with you on this point.  When my ADD guys need to clean up their rooms, or work areas, or whatever, they are definitely overwhelmed by the magnitude of what's needed.  I experience that sometimes myself, without ADD!  so I can imagine how much worse it must be for them without my organizing skills.

But I found that my ADD guys struggled with breaking a big job up into smaller pieces, because they usually can't perceive what would constitute reasonable divisions.  They don't see that many jobs naturally break up into subtasks, and they could never get started.  Once I understood the nature of their problem, I suggested a couple of strategies that have worked very well for them over the years:

  • Start with the biggest stuff (as long as the big stuff isn't super hard to deal with).  Once this is done, it cuts the remaining work down to size and it's easier to cope with.
  • Start with the easiest stuff.  This gives a feeling of accomplishment quickly, to reinforce the good actions, and provides motivation to continue.

Some tasks don't lend themselves to these guidelines, though.  In these cases, I usually end up suggesting a strategy for breaking the job up, since they find "breaking up is hard to do".  Over time, my son has gotten the hang of it a bit better, but he still consults me at times when faced with what seems to be an overwhelming task.

Apology and moving ahead

I used to be shocked that I could tell my husband how important something was to me and it would go completely over his head.  Then I got used to that pattern and got mad, which sounds like the pattern you're in.

A potentially effective approach is to follow up on his ability to say the "right" things and request (demand nicely) that his "actions" be measurable.  (Turn words and intent into action.)  Measuring progress is a concept most people are familiar with from their business lives.  Since ADHD people do better with things they themselves initiate, and because you're trying to get him to take the lead in any event, he should choose HOW to measure your progress...then the two of you can track it.  What he/you choose will depend upon your specific issues and goals, but here are some measurable ways to demonstrate that he's serious:

  • read a chapter in a book or listen to an audiobook
  • find three blog posts he thinks are interesting and print them out to talk to the counselor about
  • schedule and attend four chore scheduling meetings with you (1 a week for a month)
  • go to the doctor to update his meds
  • fill out a worksheet or questionnaire you've found on an important topic for the two of you
  • develop three questions to talk with you about that he thinks are relevant for your marital issues
  • plan 2 dates in the next 4 weeks without any input from you
  • initiate sex
  • etc.

As for apologies.  No one "deserves" to have anger thrown their direction, so your apology is apt.  HOWEVER, it is perfectly fair to say "I apologize for the WAY I said what I did, but my NEED remains.  It's important to me that you start thinking about/ doing X".  That makes it clear that the behavior is what is being apologized for, not the underlying need.

Your counselor should be willing to work on getting measurements in place, and willing to help your husband understand that if he finds he can't meet the specific goals that he sets up it's likely due to ADHD symptoms and brain wiring (rather than intent) and indicates that he needs improved treatment so that he can start meeting his/your goals as a couple.


I read "The Dance of Anger" about 5 years ago and it was incredibly helpful to me with my ADD spouse.  I used a lot of the techniques described to change the cycle of our communication/arguments.  It is so true that you can't change the other person, but you can change how you respond to that person.  When you change how you respond, it can't help but change the outcome.  Be ready though, it will be new, uncharted territory.  You have to be on your game every minute to maneuvre through it.