I've been thinking a great deal lately about how poor communication contributes to the downhill slide of many relationships affected by ADHD. Here are seven basic ideas that will help you get along better with your partner:
1. Separate the ADD symptoms from the person who has ADD. The underlying person is generally a really good, often very smart, person who has had many hard-to-understand bad things happen to him before his ADD was diagnosed. Sometimes these bad events leave scars, such as defensiveness or fear of failure, that can impact your relationship. But ADD symptoms can be addressed with motivation and a good support system, letting the good person really shine through. In practice, separating the symptoms from the person means staying away from phrases that imply moral judgments, such as “you’re lazy”, “you’re mean”, “you just never get anything right”.
2. If you don’t have ADD, be humble. It’s human nature to look to your spouse as the reason why you are having difficulties, particularly when he doesn’t seem to be holding up his end of the marital bargain. However, it is 100% guaranteed that your behavior is contributing to the downward spiral of your relationship, as well. It always takes two, and your responses to what’s going on are just as important as any ADD symptoms your spouse may have. Acknowledge your complicity, and figure out what you are doing that irritates your partner. Ask your partner to do the same (but in a nice way, of course!)
3. If you do have ADD, be humble! You may resent the things your spouse is saying about how your behavior is affecting your relationship…but she’s right – it is. My husband (with a man’s ability to simplify things!) says there are three steps a person with ADHD must take to successfully transform a marriage: 1.) Learn what ADD is; 2.) Assume your ADD is affecting your relationship and figure out in what ways and; 3.) Set up a plan to make it better. Denial doesn’t get you anywhere – the only way to create a happy marriage out of a disintegrating one is to figure out what your role is and then work with your spouse to make it better.
4. Never, ever, assign blame. Blaming one person for difficulties is never productive. Rather, it builds resentment on both sides – a destructive emotion and one that is hard to overcome. So what if your spouse left the door open and the cat got out again? The immediate issue is that the cat is outside and needs to come back in. Neither anger nor blame will bring “fifi” home. At another time, if leaving the door open is a frequent problem, develop a plan (together) to help keep it from happening – perhaps hanging up a sign, or perhaps locking the door so that it has to be opened with a key will remind you both that the door needs attention when you go in and out.
5. Thoroughly educate yourselves about ADHD. The more you both know about ADD and its symptoms, the easier it will be for you to understand what is going on and where the naturally occurring, ADD-induced disconnects are going to be in your relationship. A solid ADD education will help you both be empathetic towards each others’ foibles and concerns, as well as help you understand tactics and strategies that are effective in managing ADD. When a spouse with ADD forgets to clean up, you’ll be able to say “that’s the ADD at work” rather than assume that he’s “just lazy”. When a non-ADD spouse gets angry that another chore has been forgotten, the ADD member of the couple will be more able to understand the source of that anger and respond positively to it.
6. Always “think positive”. Okay, when you’re mad, this can be hard to do. But ADD symptoms are very frequently misinterpreted and this misinterpretation causes great damage. A good (and all too common) example is that a person with ADD gets distracted and, therefore, doesn’t give his or her spouse as much attention as they want, need or expect. This lack of attention can be misinterpreted as “he/she doesn’t love me any more” when, in fact, it’s simply “he/she is distracted”. Another common issue is that an ADD person forgets to do a task he or she has been asked to do. A non-ADD spouse may well interpret this as willful desire to shirk work around the house (or being lazy), when in fact it’s simply a result of a very fast-paced brain that doesn’t have much interest in holding onto boring details such as chores. Thinking positively and trying first to determine whether or not the behavior is a symptom, rather than the person’s ill will, will create an atmosphere that will improve communication between you.
7. Keep yourselves, and your conversations, “in the present” – People with ADD have two time zones – “now”, and “not now”. Spending a lot of time hashing over what you did to get you to the bad place in which you currently find yourselves isn’t as productive as agreeing to accept that you both got yourselves there, forgiving yourselves, and then starting to love each other again. So, figure out what the hardest symptoms of the ADD are for you as a couple and work with a doctor to minimize those specific symptoms. Then, every day (that is, “in the present”), make it a point to do fun and happy things together. Wake up in the morning and spend 10 minutes holding each other and telling each other why you fell in love. Give yourself the leeway to be silly when the mood strikes you. Hold hands. Pretty soon, your string of happy “in the present” days will start to create a foundation for a new beginning.
Your turn! Have any communication tips you want to share? Post them here.