Residual frustration after having improved ADHD problems

Non-ADHD spouses: When your partner finally "fixed" his/her behavior, what was your experience in letting go of all of the previous stress and frustration?

I'm an ADHD wife; my husband is non-ADHD. (We do not have children.)

After having driven my husband absolutely nuts for years, I finally figured out ADHD was to blame six months ago, got myself diagnosed by a psychiatrist, and have been on medication and having biweekly psychotherapy sessions ever since. At the time of my diagnosis, we read The ADHD Effect on Marriage together and felt hopeful about our future. I've been committed to working to resolve my ADHD symptoms that have caused him constant stress, and he has been loving and supportive to the best of his ability (though still sometimes exhibiting non-ADHD spousal failure to understand).

It's been a slow but steady process of undoing all of my bad habits, but I've been recognizing substantial improvement in myself along the way. Despite this slow improvement over the past six months, many of my habits have still fallen short of his expectations -- the main issue being a general lack of dependability (e.g., neglecting my share of domestic responsibilities, failing to run errands I'd promised to do, losing things) but also my tendency toward unwarranted bitchy remarks.

Three weeks ago, however, I made a sudden, significant jump in my progress. The thoughts and strategies I'd been working with for the past six months all came together, and I finally became capable of operating at the level of a fully responsible adult. I've been ecstatic to feel (for the first time in my life) compelled to keep up with household chores and other functional, dependable duties. My improvement in the past three weeks has been consistent, and it is finally dramatic enough that my husband has noticed the difference. He has expressed that he is very pleased with the change.

So now I just want to move forward with these positive changes, be free from the struggles my ADHD has caused us in the past, and be able enjoy the amazing experience of our love, happiness, and connection without any of the frustration.

But husband says, "This is the 'now/not-now' way you view time that we read in the book. I can't just flip a switch. It's been three weeks with you as the dependable partner I've always wanted you to be -- after years of stress and frustration. I had come to view you as an undependable person, and I can't change that entire perspective and get over all of it in an instant."

I realize I have caused him a great deal of pain over the years, but thankfully, my ADHD did not cause any other long-standing problems that we will need to continue to face in the future (we have stable careers and finances, so no debt/legal problems that are going to keep jamming us up). We have had lengthy discussions in which we have tried to sort through every feeling on every level, but he still feels he needs more time to let go of all of the stress and frustration I have caused him in the past. And I don't know how to handle that in the meantime. And I feel stifled by the fact that I'm "fixed," but he still holds a "broken" view of me.

As a non-ADHD wife, I

As a non-ADHD wife, I actually understand him. You said it yourself, you needed time to figure out your own problems with ADHD, why don't you allow him the same? 

3 weeks is not a long time for a non-ADHD person, I think he was actually right about the "now/not-now" thing. Non-ADHD tend to remember things (even when we should try to forget), and he seems to be willing to give you the time to prove that things can change. Try to have patience and keep up the good work! :)

Pbartender's picture

Your hubby's got it right...

On these boards, you'll find lots non-ADHD spouses who are trying to find a way to give their their "stuck" ADHD spouses a kick in the pants.

You also find several ADHD spouses who genuinely want to do better, but who have non-ADHD spouses who have given up.

You are in the enviable (at least around here) situation of being an ADHD spouse who's working hard and getting better, combined with a spouse who is willing to back you up, give you one more chance and support you through your improvements.  Here's a few things to remember...

  2. No matter what happens...  Don't stop the positive changes.
  3. He's had years of stress, frustration and disappointment.  You've been doing well for weeks.  He's right...  It's going to take him a lot more time than that to work things through.
  4. He has a different point of view than you about your improvement.  Despite a dozen successes, a single mistake can trigger hard feelings for him, whether he wants to feel them or not.
  5. He has to work just as hard as you to change his thoughts and behavior.  Don't forget to recognize that, when he's being forgiving of your mistakes or compliments you on your successes.
  6. Don't consider yourself "fixed" until you can sustain this level of effort and involvement past the hyperfocus stage (you are arguably in the middle of one).
  7. Your needs to feel confident that you aren't going to give up and go back to old ways as soon as he starts reinvesting in the relationship.  You'll have to continue to keep up the improvements long enough for your husband to notice and recognize that they are sticking, before he can start doing that.
  8. Try to find a way to base your confidence and your happiness on your own accomplishments, thoughts and actions rather than his.  Take pride in the changes you are making.
  9. You can't change what he does or what he thinks.  You need to let him do that himself, in his own way and in his own time.  Focus on changing yourself and making those changes stick.
  10. Don't worry about changing for his sake.  Change for your sake.  First and foremost, these changes will make your life better and happier.  Both you and he need to be happy with yourselves separately, before you can be happy together.
  11. Patience and perseverance...  You've got a great start and you are both willing to work and give it a fair chance.  That's far more than most of have here.  Give it time and keep working.

If you get a chance, take a look at some of the threads and posts from me, YYZ, and Pepper...  All three of us are ADHDers who have struggled with continuing our treatments and improvements while dealing with non-ADHD spouses who are less than supportive of our efforts.  YYZ, if I'm not mistaken, recently had a breakthrough with his estranged wife, and it took him two years to work that out.

My wife has actually starting acting worse, since I started improving with treatment.

Good Luck.



Pb, thanks for these

Pb, thanks for these insights; your points are helpful. I'll also take a look through the posts you recommended.

I'm already adhering to some of the concepts you mentioned above, and I am improving my ADHD problems for my own sake (not just his). One thing I'm just finding so difficult right now is that any minor mistake I make is viewed by him as such a devastating manifestation of my years of constant mistakes. Even most non-ADHD people make minor forgetful/negligent mistakes occasionally, but when they do -- it's viewed as just that: a minor, forgetful mistake.

But I don't get the benefit of the doubt with any minor mishaps. I know I'm making great progress, and I want to continue to do so without feeling like I am walking on eggshells all the time. Overcoming so many bad habits and sticking with my new habits is hard enough as it is. Fearing that my husband is going to view any imperfection as evidence of failure makes it even more difficult.

Improving ADHD symptoms involves so much learning along the way because I don't even know how to do so many normal things correctly. A few nights ago, I was cleaning the kitchen counter of the remnants from chopping the vegetables for dinner (right after we finished dinner!), and he couldn't even bear to watch me do this because apparently the way I was doing it was risky (in that the vegetable bits could have fallen all over the floor). So even when I'm trying so hard and thinking I'm doing awesome, I don't even know how to do certain things effectively yet.

He reminded me last night of how he had warned me for so long that, at some point, he was going to reach his breaking point if I didn't get my shit together soon enough. He said he didn't even know what his "breaking point" would look like, but I didn't fix myself in time, and he reached it. And now that he's there, he said that reaching his breaking point turned out to mean that he came to view my ADHD flaws as who I am. Had I achieved this progress earlier on, this would not have been the case, and we likely would have been able to accept my changes as "real" and move forward together, celebrating this achievement by enjoying our happiness.

No matter how hard I try, I'm just continuing to make him miserable. Which in turn makes me miserable -- seeing the person I love so stressed and devastated as a result of my actions.

We both feel like, despite our current state of unhappiness, we have such strong love and devotion underneath all of these struggles -- that it's worth enduring the tough times for the hope of experiencing that together again. And having read the extreme difficulties other couples have faced on this forum, I feel so fortunate. I feel like we should be able to be happy so easily now. I never betrayed him, lied to him, or ignored him, and I didn't screw up our finances or anything. I did, however, make his daily life much more stressful and difficult than it needed to be, and I made him feel alone in running our household and keeping up with our responsibilities. And now that I'm finally making serious progress and he's actually been able to notice a difference, I want him to feel so relieved and happy -- excited to now be able to enjoy the partnership he's always wanted with me. He has always told me I fulfill him perfectly in every way he'd ever want -- except day-to-day domestic responsibilities. So now that I've gotten that one down too, it's hard for me to accept that we can't just roll with it and enjoy each other again.

I worry that with his current mentality, nothing can change. With the view he has of me now, everything I do is just going to be interpreted as worse than it is now matter how much I succeed. And that's just going to keep both of us miserable.

We should be able to be happy now. We have so much potential to have a great marriage, I can't bear to waste that and fail to enjoy it together. But I don't know how to move us forward.

Not to minimize the

Not to minimize the sufferings of people who have PTSD because of truly horrible events, but I think that the nonADHD spouse sometimes suffers from a form of PTSD.  I feel as though I'm always waiting for the chair to get kicked out from under me again, as it has been done so many times by my husband.  At some level, I feel as though I would be stupid to not expect that he is going to hurt me again, because it has happened so many times.  I don't know the best way to get past this feeling, this lack of trust.    

Re: Residual frustrations ...

Hi Greenpang,

I wish I could make time to talk with you regarding your frustrations and fears, but as Pb knows, I should be getting my work done, not hanging out here. I just become stronger and learn so much each time I read and/or respond to posts. It is hard to stay away for long. Anyway, in order to get back to work, I will briefly say, "hello". Keep doing what you are doing, but find a way to exercise even more patience and understanding while keeping the frustration and resentment at bay; trust me ... it is hard to do! This is what I struggle with every day in order to give my non ADHD husband time to notice the changes and trust that they are going to stick. We seem to be so compatible and I feel like he wants to be around me, but as you will see from my posts, we are in a constant state of being one argument or setback away from truly separating. It is a real tough place to be in, but as you said, "you both feel like, despite our current state of unhappiness, we have such strong love and devotion underneath all of these struggles -- that it's worth enduring the tough times for the hope of experiencing that together again". Pb and I are not getting that mutual effort or any support from our spouses, but look how hard we are trying to bring our spouses up to speed about our progress and ADHD. You've got a strong foundation to build on, so don't give up your love, commitment and efforts over the fact that it is taking so much time for your husband to catch up with you. Give him that peaceful place at home, enjoy each others company and keep working on yourself. Oh, and those actions that have caused stress and devastation for your husband are symptoms, so let the guilt and blame you feel go. You were cheated of happiness and emotional well-being by these symptoms too! I guess all we can truly hope for is that our spouses understanding, love and trust returns before we exhaust all of our patience and give up. It is especially challenging when "any minor mistake I make is viewed by him as such a devastating manifestation of my years of constant mistakes." This can turn a good moment, morning, afternoon, evening into one of the worst ...

Keep checking in whenever time allows, and try to take negative thoughts and actions out of the equation. Do what you can to stay in a positive frame of mind and to project happiness and positivity outward, so your husband can see and feel it. It is so difficult for our spouses to see all of the improvements we are making on the inside.


PB has great insight into

PB has great insight into this issue. Even though I am non-ADHD, I echo his sentiments completely. It has taken me about eight months of bi-monthly therapy with my ADHD husband to get back some of that old feeling that I had when we were dating. As recently as the last two weeks, I feel like things have finally come together. We were in therapy yesterday and we discovered that it's because we are supporting each other for the first time ever in our four year marriage.

But with that being said, I woke up at 4 am this morning totally freaking out because he wasn't home yet. That's not unusual--he sometimes works 3rd shift but is definitely an insomniac so he'll stay out until he feels tired. But this was different because he started school this morning. I was panicking that he wouldn't get enough sleep and would miss class. Well he didn't get enough sleep (he came in at 6:30am and had to get up at 10am) but he did make it to school on time (more or less). I wish now that I had remained calm instead of tossing and turning until it was time for me to get up for work. The point of all of this is that it's hard not to revert back to my previous view of him. It's my (or any non-ADHD spouse's) battle.

All I can say is to not take your husband's misgivings personally and know that with continued, sustained improvement, he will begin to trust you again. Just the fact that he has acknowledged your changes to this point is a good sign, IMO.

Keep up the good work and best of luck! 

Keeping your eye on the prize

If it is of any consolation I am in exactly the same situation as you.  I have taken much time to reflect on it, and the reality is that our partners have been burned, over and over, we have worn them down and our emotional roller-coaster has drained them to the point of exhaustion. They are wary, suspicious and distrustful, and it is our past actions and behaviors have conditioned them to be that way.  In short they are protecting themselves from hurt and the truth is if we look at objectively it is completely understandable.

When I first got together with my wife, I told her about my ADHD, she listened, she took it on board and she did an amazing amount to try and reach out and support me to be a better me.   I in turn pushed her away by rejecting her help, why?  Well I think we ADHD folk carry a whole life of suspicion that all relationships carry an expectation of ultimate rejection, and at least me personally I have a knee jerk defensive reaction to being told I need to be other than who I am.  I tend to see this as the first indicator that the other person doesn’t accept me for who I am, but who I *could* be if I wasn’t me, at this point I subconsciously start to protect myself from what is coming by disengaging.

This sense of being different we seem to all feel, at least for me I think is that we can’t just “be”.  We need to be constantly looking over our shoulders, thinking about how we should be, what we are not, how we should have behaved, what is the “normal’ thing to do.    Non ADHD people don’t have this, they just exist the way they are, for the most part social norms once pre-programmed in childhood come to them without a constant exhausting struggle.     The automated executive functions that most people have, the core of what drives functional daily ordered life are entirely manual for us, if we don’t consciously drive it daily,  our lives are in constant chaos.

Like you I have been working on being more involved, or “present” as my wife likes to put it, rather that locked away in a perpetual distracted state, driven by my racing thoughts, neglecting the basics.   Like you this has only been for a relatively short period of time and I too feel frustration that my wife doesn’t just forget the past and see me as I am right now.  After all I am working so damn hard, she could at least throw me a bone right?    Well no.  Unlike you and I our non ADHD partners have a good grasp on time. They remember the past, they see the now and they project into the future. We don’t.

We see now as forever, this moment is it, so if at this moment we are “better”, doing all the things we are expected to do then everything is good.   You and I need to somehow come to grips with this so that we can see minor progressions,   keep our eyes on the bigger picture.  Our partners simply don’t see things this way, they see and feel a catalogue of hurt and disappointment that we have bought down on them over a long period.     We can’t make them see it our way, and we can’t see it their way, no matter how hard we try.    We simply don’t have the same neurological function, and we look out at the world in fundamentally different ways. 
So, how then.  Well unfortunately for me (and my family) I have found that nearly all stimulant medication does not work,  it just makes me feel drugged,  strung out and anxious,   however I have had some success, at least from a mood stability perspective with  Cymbalta. 

I really think medication is very important, I wish I could manage without,  and feel ripped of that I need to drug myself to be “normal” but  that is life, the alternative is wreckage and carnage, I have come to terms with needing to be medicated for life.
Secondly, I need to externalise the functions that non-add people have that I lack, specifically time.   I don’t set goals internally; I don’t fix my eyes on the prize and mentally graph a method to achieve that goal.   I don’t tend to plan or even dream of the future.   Non ADD folk need this, they can’t live without looking forward, because the motivational drive to achieve goals is core to how they go about their life, and again this is an executive function we lack.  We live for immediate stimulus, they can’t do this.
Thus by being with us our non-ADD partners feel they are stuck in time and not progressing as every cell in their body tells them they should be, we are an impediment to their natural inclination.   They get frustrated, disappointed, angry and confused and it turn we feel under siege and become stressed and even more prone to disarray.

So I have begun to adopt some project management methods, our life together is a project and as a substitute for the executive functions I lack,  we brainstorm and have milestones,   resources and timelines etc.
This way I can visually map action to progress and time is laid out for me.  Milestones can be things that I/we enjoy, things that stimulate me, whatever that may be.
There are some novel methodology for project management  that I think may be applicable,  particular AGILE  (scrum)  where you break time periods down into “sprints” and  have a list of goals called a backlog  that you prioritise  and organise into these sprints.   

And lastly, try and resist the urge to talk it out, I tend to be over analytical and  I find this keeps dragging up the past rather than allowing us to focus on the future. 

Anyway I have gone on long enough. Good luck and keep it up, to me it sounds like you are going great.