Should I Be Frightened For My ADD Relationship?

I have read a couple of posts recently that have noted that reading all of the posts in the forum makes people frightened for the future of their relationship with a person with ADD.  “Do we have a chance?” these people ask.  The answer, unequivocally, is YES!  Let me share one of these posts, which I think really clearly states many of the issues in ADD relationships, and then tell you why and how I think this couple can (and will) succeed.

“I just want to say that this forum is an eye opener. I have been dating my boyfriend for three years and we have been best friends for more. He is such a sweet, fun, and loving guy. I fell in love with him because of his "energy." Prior to reading the posts on this forum, I had no idea of how much of his ADHD contributed to his personality.

Melissa, you are so right. I love and dislike so much about him because of his ADHD. The positive things in our relationship: he is fun, genuine, loyal, intelligent (he has one very incredible memory), and he is very cultured. He is such a sweetheart. He really appreciates and loves me for who I am and he loves my family. He is my first love.

The bad things about him -(common to many of you): he is very disorganized, he is late, blurts out things, forgets things, and I often feel IGNORED and NEGLECTED. (Melissa, until I read your post about feeling neglected, I had no idea his ADHD contributed to this. Like you said, he tells me he loves me more now then ever. I was hard for me to understand that until your post connected me to see it. I questioned why does he never have any complaints about me when I have so many about him?)

My boyfriend is an attorney and he is very busy. However, I, too, am waiting to be a lawyer and am just as busy. This is why I often nagged, got angry, and got very upset at him for not making enough time for me. I often asked myself, "I am so busy but am so willing to make time for him, why can't he?" Like you said, I connected being "ignored" to "him loving me less." This was really hard for me. . . because until I met him, I hardly ever argued with anyone. I am not confrontational.

For past several years, I tried to keep it all in. However, I've hit my max when I was studying for the bar exam. I really needed him and I felt so alone. (I know part of it has to do with that we are in a long distance relationship). All I needed was a phone call but sometimes he even forgot that due to his very hectic work schedule. However, after our serious discussions, he has been making an effort to be better. I can see that. I can feel it. He fully acknowledges his condition and he is on medication. Also, he doesn't have spending problem (rather frugal) and he works very, very hard.

My question to you is: could we have a successful marriage? I am so scared. I've been reading more on this so that I can be better aware of ADHD. However, the more I read it. . .the more nervous I get. I feel so horrible because I knew it all along, even from the start, that he has ADHD.  I have a feeling that he is going to ask me to marry him. I am sure it is coming. Could we do this? Is it possible? Can we be happy? (Despite our troubles , we've been doing great in our relationship. We have been committed to each other and we are battling through our long distance relationship.)

I am worried about our children . . .and whether I could be a good supportive wife. I am also ashamed that I haven't told anyone in my family due to a fear that they may judge him somehow.”

First, let me say “thank you” to this reader for sharing her story.  It really does cover many of the contradictions that people early in ADD relationships share.  My response to her, and to anyone else who comes to this site and is frightened by the hopelessness and anger that is often expressed in the forum, is that the hopelessness is almost always a result of many, many years of going through the relationship with blinders on.  ADD won’t ruin your relationship.  Not treating the ADD, and not knowing the specific patterns of misunderstanding that develop in relationships affected by ADD symptoms, is what ruins relationships.

Let me say it again.  ADD won’t ruin your relationship.  Ignoring (or being ignorant about) ADD symptoms will.

Assuming that this couple likes living together (which they haven’t tried yet, it seems) I think they have a very good chance of not only surviving, but thriving.  Here’s why:

  • Both members of the couple are aware of the ADD, and appreciate both the positives and the negatives.  She writes that she loves his energy and describes her partner as “sweet, fun, and loving” (characteristics that many ADD men, including my own husband, share)
  • Both members of the couple understand that ADD symptoms need treatment, and he is, in fact, treating his ADD.  Hopefully, both also understand that treating ADD is something of a moving target.  This woman’s newfound understanding that ADD symptoms can affect her relationship will bring new information for the two of them to work through.  As long as they can do it together, with a shared goal of creating the best relationship possible, they will likely succeed at finding those tactics that work best for them both.
  • They’ve been dating for more than the infatuation period of 20+ months.  This means that they are more realistic about each other.  Furthermore, she describes them as best friends.  This friendship, and the autonomy that it suggests, is critical in healing any rifts that may come up.  When my husband and I were at our lowest point, it was our underlying friendship that actually saved the day for us – we just plain liked each other, and respected each other, once we got the “junk” out of the way.  Friendship, as a foundation for love, is a great base for a strong, long-term relationship.

Here are some things that I think could make this particular relationship even better, right away:

  • The woman needs to let go of her disappointment over his lack of support during her bar exam and forgive him for this.  Chances are good that his not calling at the right times was largely due to his ADD symptoms (distractedness/forgetfulness) not a reflection of how he feels about her.  Next time she gets into a situation where she needs more than normal communication, she should “make an appointment” with him for calls – however he remembers to do stuff (alarms, calendars, whatever) he should put into place to remember to call her.  Doesn’t sound romantic, but it’s effective.  And it respects who he is (someone who forgets easily) without creating a “must lose” situation (i.e. one in which he is expected to overcome the “test” of contacting her at the right time).  Sometimes he’ll still forget, but if she can laugh about it a bit, they’ll both be much better off.
  • Don't "hold it all in".  Rather, find constructive ways to communicate your needs and take into account the needs of your partner.  Holding it all in breeds resentment...as does always dumping on someone, so you have to find a good balance and (most importantly) good ways/times to communicate about things that are bothering you.
  • She should appreciate the fact that he cares enough about her to try very hard, and make sure he knows that she appreciates it.  With people with ADD, honey definitely works better than vinegar!  (But faking it doesn’t!  So don’t praise someone to manipulate them.  Rather, make sure that you express positive feelings when you feel them.  I often get asked the question “I don’t get praised for what I do, why should I coddle him by doing so?”  The answer to that question is “what goes around comes around”.  The more you express your positive feelings, the more he’ll express his.)
  • Make dates.  If you aren’t together, make online dates or video-watching dates, or phone call dates, or…  This woman needs to make sure that she is not feeling neglected, at least within the realm of what is reasonable for a long-distance relationship.  My daughter (who is sometimes wise beyond her years) solves this problem by being the “wake up call” for her boyfriend each morning.  They get an expected 7:15 – 7:30 time to say nice things to each other to start their days, even though they are 500 miles apart.  A quick IM during the day can also help you stay “connected” (my husband and I do this many days – 60 seconds of a quick “I’m thinking about you” does wonders for how you feel.  Just don’t use it as a place to work out any issues – not the right medium for that!)
  • Understand that people express their love in very different ways.  One good book on this topic is “The Five Love Languages”, others note that men and women communicate quite differently (“Why Men Don’t Have a Clue and Women Always Need More Shoes” is a funny look at this) while others suggest that “not talking” is often a good way to connect due to ways that men and women see things (“How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It”).  The woman in this couple probably needs different things to feel connected than her partner does.  This is not specific to ADD couples, but to all couples and deserves further research.
  • Both members of this couple need to be careful of that period when they do start living together.  One of the great issues in ADD relationships is the inability of the person with ADD to follow through on chores and other household related tasks.  Too often, this person gets distracted and doesn’t help out.  Particularly in home where both spouses are very busy, this can lead to nagging, disappointment and hard feelings.  They’ll want to set plans for getting things done that acknowledge that they are both busy.  Pay for cleaning services, organizational services and the like.  (Hint – finding a person to help you clean and tidy up twice a week for 2 hours is more effective in an ADD household than once a week for 4 hours…)  Don’t expect an ADD person to become a non-ADD person (thank goodness!).  And, don’t expect the non-ADD person to do all the scut work just because they are better at it (also thank goodness!).  Not fair in either direction!
  • They should seek professional help when/if they need it.  His prescribing doctor might be a good resource for finding a therapist who is sensitive to the needs of couples dealing with ADHD.

So, my advice to this particular couple is this:

“Jump in with both feet”!  All the groundwork is there.  This is, even by your own admission, a very strong relationship.  Fear should not drive you to behave differently.  Rather, look at the “half-full” side of the glass.  You love each other, appreciate your strengths (while acknowledging some weaknesses), are developing ways to deal with the issues you have together, and developing strong communication patterns.  It’s a real recipe for success!  Yes, there will be set backs.  There are in ANY relationship, ADD or not.  But if you work at it, you can not only keep the love you have, but learn how to very effectively manage the ADD symptoms that may have previously affected you and your partner.  When you learn how to understand “what is ADD” and “what is me (or my partner)” then you’ll be able to fully love the kindness, fun and energy that you can share.

And think about that home, where you understand each other, love each other for who you are (not some picture of who you should be) and communicate well…  Won’t that be a great home in which to raise kids?