Small Example of Big Frustration

I fell like it is so hard to have even the simplest conversations with my wife, and it has become so frustrating. 

An example from last night:

Me, as we are about to watch a recorded TV show:  One more show and then bed?

Her, referring to the fact that it's a little earlier than our usual bedtime:  Oh good.  I can go in early tomorrow.

Me, wondering what time she will be getting up in the morning:  Oh, what time do you need to leave?

Her:  I don't need to leave at any time.

Me, thinking she must have misunderstood my question:  Oh, let me rephrase the question - what time are you planning to leave?

Her:  I don't know.

Me, still attempting to find out what time she is thinking of leaving in the morning:  What time are you thinking about leaving?

Her:  I'm not thinking about any particular time.

Me:  About what time are you thinking of leaving?

Her:  I don't know.

Me, starting to get frustrated that what I thought was a simple question, i.e. what time are you leaving tomorrow, is not getting answered:  You mentioned something about leaving early tomorrow when I mentioned going to bed.  I'm just trying to figure out what time you are planning on leaving.

Her:  I don't KNOW!

Me:  Why do you have to make everything so difficult?  I just asked a simple question!

Her:  I'm not trying to be difficult.

Me:  Then why won't you answer my question?

I never did get an answer.

I can't tell you how common interactions like this are.  It's become so difficult just to have a simple conversation with my wife.  I end up getting frustrated, and I know she does too.

And so, it's rare to have conversations that are pleasant.  One more thing I used to enjoy with my wife that I don't anymore.  It's getting so that I avoid talking to her unless absolutely necessary.

Any thoughts, suggestions?

Miss Behaven's picture

Did it not occur to you that

Did it not occur to you that she had not yet decided what time she was going to get up and what time she was going to leave that morning? That she honestly, did not know? That she might have been giving you an honest answer?


When I decide when I must wake in the morning I do so sitting with alarm clock in hand and count the math. It takes an hour for me to get ready, another hour to get the boys ready, a half hour to make breakfast, add 10 minutes of lee-way time, it takes 15 minutes to drive there. Sooo ... counting ... I will need to be up about 7am.

If someone just randomly asks me what time I am planning to get up before I have done this routine I am at a loss. The only answer you will get is "I don't know"

It is kind of embarrassing admit and difficult to make an NT understand but I struggle to figure out my morning routine and when to be up and out the door in any situation other than my routine. I will avoid having to figure it out in any situation other than my routine. I also HATE having to do the math and figure it out in front of someone. As it seems my routine takes too ling for the NT, who thinks I ought to just magically pop a number out of my head in mere seconds.

Why did you keep pressing her? Why not after the first "I don't know" could you not just say "Okay when you've figured that out please let me know" and leave it at that? Why was is suddenly so important to know this that you felt the need to ask many times and cause an issue?

That might be it

It's true, my wife has difficulty giving me a time when I ask her.  Maybe she IS experiencing what you describe, Miss B.  It didn't occur to me she couldn't just have said something like "a half hour earlier than usual."

My pressing her had more to do with my just wanting her to answer my question with more than "I don't know" and not about the exact time she was planning to leave.

It's very frustrating not to get an answer (other than "I don't know") to what I consider to be "simple" questions.

What I hear you saying, Miss B, is that what are simple questions to MW are not simple questions to HER.

Hmmm . . . . 

BTW - Good luck with your delivery and be sure to let us know how it goes!

Miss Behaven's picture

Thank you. We know its a girl

Thank you. We know its a girl and now we all have to sit around and wait for the little princess to decide to make her arrival. I am so bloated I feel like I am about burst and all I can do is sit around and wait. The last delivery was a nightmare and we are hoping for better this time. Then hubby is getting the snip. Three is enough for this ADD family!

Two Different Views

Hoping -- my husband and I had a *very* productive talk with a friend of my sister who has ADD.  One of the things she said is that *every night* she has to do what Miss B described and calculate time she needs to do everything (including things like shower, etc.) and work backward to figure out what time she wants to get up.  So I guess it is possible that your wife could express an interest in getting to work early, then not really have a good answer for when she wants to get in.

Miss B -- the reason that it's hard for non-ADD people to wrap our minds around this is because it seems like this is something that, even if it's difficult, would not change over time.  In other words, if I need to get to work at 9, I may have to do some math and figure out that I need to get up at 7.  Once I've figured that out, that's not going to change unless anything in my morning routine changes.  If something does change, and I need to get to work say, a half hour earlier at 8:30, then the math is very simple -- I also need to wake up a half hour earlier, at 6:30.  When the total time it takes to get from A to B is constant, then it seems like the math involved to make slight adjustments shouldn't be too hard, since you just subtract the same amount from both ends (I'm not making a judgment, just telling you how we see the world).

There was also a lapse in logic -- from the nonADD perspective -- in this conversation.  When someone says, "I'm glad to be going to sleep, so I can get in early," it seems like a perfectly reasonable response to ask, "Really, what time do you need to get up?"  For someone to answer that with, "I don't need to get up at any time" seems unresponsive and confrontational -- that's not the same as saying, "I'm not sure yet, I have to think about it."  There are a number of reasons that the time would be important -- to avoid a conflict with the bathroom in the morning, to make sure that you get to see your spouse/have breakfast before they leave, or just because you're interested in your spouse's life and what they're day is going to be like.  If there is not a more clear explanation (as you have provided) for why giving an answer is so difficult, the ADD spouse's refusal to answer really can seem like obstinant crazymaking.

Miss Behaven's picture

Interestingly to my

Interestingly to my perspective asking the same question over and over repeatedly when I don't have any answer other than "I don't know" or "I haven't figured that out yet" or "I need to think about it" seems like abusive crazymaking to me.

I give kudos to hoping's wife as about halfway through that conversation I would have stood up, shouted that I can't think and need to breath and retreated to the bedroom for at least an hour ... to cry. These kinds of conversations are of the stifling, smothering, panic causing, brain hurting kind that cause my brain to freeze up and not be able to compute in any way that will bring about the requested response, leaving me feeling stupid, useless, anxiety ridden and attacked.

thank you Miss Behaven

Miss Behaven,

You wrote: These kinds of conversations are of the stifling, smothering, panic causing, brain hurting kind that cause my brain to freeze up and not be able to compute in any way that will bring about the requested response, leaving me feeling stupid, useless, anxiety ridden and attacked

I had no idea that this type of interaction could impact ADD so much and cause you so much intense emotion.  I just want you to know that NTers don't even know this is happening to you internally.  You are providing valuable information on this board for NTers, and your choice of adjectives are powerful ways to help us understand. As an  NTer I want to know these things so that I can be sensitive not to inflict emotional pain like what you have described. 


Miss Behaven's picture

I will cook the same meal

I will cook the same meal every Thursday the same way for years and still have to sit down and think about it. Do the math backwards to plan when one dish needs to be started so that everything gets done at the same time.

A year ago I started writing out the time it took to make stuff in my recipe book (I hand write out my recipes as it helps me to learn them) and do little schedules for meal planning. Roast beef takes 1.5 hours, mix Yorkshire pudding after 45 minutes, start potatoes 15 minutes later, put Yorkshire pudding in oven 5 minutes later and so forth. This helps a great deal. Though it does mean I have to hide my book from nonADD friends because they think its crazy that I need to work it out this way to the point of writing it down. Its downright humiliating to have a friend read my recipe book and look at me like some kind of freak. *sigh*

Not crazy

I don't think it's crazy to have to work out how long it takes to do things, or write it down.  I am very NT and still found it helpful as a part of trying to find more time in my day to do things to think about everything I do in the morning and write it down.  I put it on a little file card.  I realized that I really needed to get up about 30 minutes earlier than I have been in order to have the kind of morning I've been wanting to have, and being able to see it in writing helped to reinforce all of the small tasks I need to get done in the morning. 

If I may say so, there's probably much less judgment coming from nonADD people than you think -- though your perception is your reality, so of course it's valid.  I don't think that things like writing things down, making lists, setting up reminders/alarms, etc., is crazy -- a lot of nonADD people do them too (when I am cooking multiple things, I often set the timer to remind me to turn off the rice, put something in the oven, etc. because with two kids, I can get sidetracked too).  The judgment is usually coming, I think, as a reaction to the defensive posture from the ADD person.  As I mentioned above, the reaction "I don't need to get up at any time," in response to a perfectly valid question (the first time it was asked) would have made me feel very attacked, and condescended to, and, well, just plain bad.

I think Hoping will probably acknowledge that harping on the question was unproductive and not likely to generate a satisfactory response.  But at that point, she was probably just giving in to her need to feel like her original question was not crazy, or unreasonable, but a normal one that was entitled to a kind response, even if that response is, "I don't know yet, I need to think about it."  Unfortunately, once the feeling of being dismissed has been triggered (and I think non-ADD people often feel dismissed), the escalation begins.

I understand

I was reading both of your posts.  I really do understand how he is feeling because the same thing happens with my fiance and I.  Its a constant battle, unfortunately, to try to get any answers out of my fiance.  Eventually what I intended to be a decent conversation turned into an argument.  I know that I am wrong when it comes to my communication skills because I am with a man who has ADHD and I never was taught how to communicate with someone who has this condition.

I guess we all need to become educated on both sides.

That's very interesting. 

That's very interesting.  That's also kind of spooky as I've had that exact same argument more than a few times.

Of course, the situation is reversed.  I was diagnosed with ADD about 2 years ago, my S.O. does not have it and we've had that same fight.

Sure, one interpretation is the 'honest answer'.  That is a possibility.  Hounding someone repeatedly is usually not a great way to get the answer you're looking for.  You can ask the guards at Guantanamo Bay how effective that tactic of question is when it comes to gathering useful intelligence.  I am fairly certain you're not planning on waterboarding your significant other.

Based on the frustration you expressed in your post I'd say there's another interpretation.  I cannot say for certain that this is 100% accurate, but it's certainly plausable.  It's up to your own sense of 'benefit of the doubt' to come to a conclusion.  Mind you, the following assumes I'm right and I'm not saying I am.

Some time ago, as mentioned, I had the same fight.  As the argument progressed a little voice in my head said "Ask her about something benign and watch for the answer".  When we hit a 'calm' in the storm I switched subjects to something non-emotional, specifically about where her new shoes came from.  The answer "I don't know".

That same little voice said "Try it again, different subject."

So I did.  I threw out yes/no questions on several benign subjects.  Sure enough the answer to each was a non-answer variant:  "I dont' know", "What do YOU think", etc.  And that's when the lightbulb came on.

She would not answer yes/no to any subject at all.  That's a very classic control tactic.  I ended the argument immediately.  "I can see where this is going.  When you feel like talking to me, give me a call."

And I left.  Didn't take long to get a real answer to the first subject.

This is not so different as the old "whoever names a dollar figure loses the advantage" tactic used when buying a new car, except that a situation like yours is much more personal.

Listen, if you feel like you're stepping into a non-answer scenario, and you can't tell if the person is being totally honest "I don't know" vs. control of information "I know and I'm not going to tell you", the best thing you can do is stop.  If you press for an answer you will get one eventually, but it won't be to the question you asked in the first place.  And really, you have to ask yourself, is it worth it to find out?

You see, remember this little nugget of info.  If a person elects to not give you the information you need to make a decision, you are not in any way responsible for the outcome of the course of action you choose if the action was dependent on data withheld from you.

Use your own benefit-of-the-doubt compass to decide.

ebb and flow's picture

My idea as a non-ADDer

So, what I'm used to as a non-ADDer is light conversation going something as "simple" as this...


Person B- Oh good I can leave early tomorrow!

Person A- What time where you thinking?

Person B- I don't know... maybe around 8ish?

DONE! No frustration, no argument, no deep thinking the wording of your next response so you don't 'rock the boat'. lol

I would think the frustration comes from us neurologically typical's wish for "normal" conversation with our ADDer. It's so frustrating when you ask a "simple" question and get no response, a nasty response, or an "I don't know". Especially when, with most everyone else, the conversation would flow a lot more smoothly. It's hard to understand how the ADD brain works and how some things which are so easy for the non-ADD brain take more effort for the ADD brain and so the easiest answer is "I don't know"... Toss in a bit of frustration over the fact that the ADDer can't answer the question easily and you'll get a hint of nasty tone from them, even.

That's what I think. It's only my guess though.

Try asking a slightly more complicated question!

Me (non ADD): What would you like for dinner? We have A, B and C. Or I could go to the store and get D or E. Him (ADD): I don't care. What do you want? Me: I don't care either. We just had B so probably not that. Him: make whatever you want. Me: But what do you want? ....etc. Just try to get my husband and his (probably ADD) mom and her room mate to decide where to go for dinner. Usually, the room mate will just suggest something (because he's diabetic and needs to eat). Otherwise we'd still be dithering about where to go for Sunday dinner (and it's Monday!). I think it's the desire not to offend anyone by making the "wrong" choice. But ADDers really do seem to have trouble deciding anything.


That is very true, ADDers do have a hard time making a decision. I thought that it was just me, but the more i read the more I can relate it to the ADD.  I also didn't realize it was that frustrating. When I say it doesn't matter I really mean that it doesn't matter I am happy no matter where we go or eat, and I never regret it after. It's also true that I don't want to make the wrong choice and offend anyone. I will now make an effort to help in decision making.

change of tactic

a question to ask might be "WHY do you want to go early?"  from there you might determine the time to leave using the calculation methods mentioned above. 

I'm still wondering why it's so important to know what time she needs to get up?

It's really more about feeling a disconnect

The issue is NOT that it is important that my wife tell me what time she plans to get up and/or leave.  It was just ONE example of an ongoing problem - that I often feel a disconnect when I have a conversation with my wife.  My post wasn't really about questions not being answered, although that is definitely another issue I struggle with.

It's funny, you remind me of my wife by asking that question.  I will bring up some pattern we experience and give her an example to illustrate what I am talking about, and then she focuses on the example instead of the larger picture "pattern" it was meant to illustrate.

In fact, I find that often happens on this blog as well.  I raise an issue, and give an example to illustrate, and often several people with ADD will ask why that one example is so important to me, sometimes even suggesting I should just "let it go."

That misses the point.  Of course it is not so important that my wife answer that ONE question that ONE time.  And usually, almost any example I could give would seem trivial in and of itself.  Add them all together though, over time, and what was once trivial becomes huge.

Hence the title of my original post "small example of a big problem."

And when my wife focuses on the example at the expense of the issue I was raising about some "pattern" of interactions, I get kind of frustrated.  It's just one more instance where I end up feeling like I have not been "heard."  And that just does not feel good.

rapidly aging's picture


words cannot describe the depth to which I relate.  I cannot understand this inabiity to see the patterns one makes for oneself.  My husband has very few chores, because sometimes the struggle of reminding him  is just not worth the agony.  Yet, after 3 years every Tuesday night, despite driving down a street full of garbage cans he CANNOT remember to take the garbage out.  Yes, I have let it go and suffered through an extra week with too much garbage sitting around but it doesn't bother him.  Continuously stays up late, can't get up the next day, but will do it again and again.  Filling the gas tank , mowing the lawn....turning off on the floor, continuous misplacement and repurchasing of tools, falling asleep with contacts in, it all seems very trivial but it all adds up. 

Not feeling heard is

Not feeling heard is extremely painful, but in order to TRULY accept the condition your wife has and TRULY do your part to make the marriage work, you HAVE to accept that you won't always feel heard. I have found that on matters that are important, he does hear me but it often seems as though he refuses to admit he hears me when I'm trying to make him hear me the most. It isn't until later that he'll say something and I have a "he did hear me!" moment of joy.

Everything is about understanding. Everything is about having a choice. You want to be understood as much as she does, but sometimes it starts within. The more you stop pushing situations like this, accept that an answer isn't forthcoming and that it doesn't have to be the end of the world, and start understanding that REGARDLESS of her reasons, thought patterns or abilities or inabilities to answer, the better off YOU will be. In the grand scheme of things, although her vagueness is annoying as hell to you, it TRULY doesn't matter. At the end of this conversation, you're not even concerned with getting an answer so you can do something constructive with it, you're just wanting her to conform to your idea of 'normal' and answer your "simple question". What I am trying to get at, for YOUR OWN sake, pick your battles. You either care enough about your marriage, and she has enough good qualities to over look the small stuff (even though it does all add up) or you don't and you can fight over you. These are the types of things that DESTROY communication because a simple question lead to such a'll eventually stop asking questions and she'll eventually quit saying anything for fear that you won't understand her.

You choose to push a "simple question" to the point of frustration and hurt feelings. Do you feel better after you've had this 3 minute back-and-forth? Even if you'd feel frustrated if you just let it go after the first "I don't know" would it maybe be better if you just dropped it then?

I get, 100% where you're coming from...but it has taken me a LOT of years of counseling to realize that MY reaction to HIS ADD is killing me. For your own sake, learn to let things like this go.

it has little if anything to

it has little if anything to do with offending anybody - even if thats the verbal excuse some use


it has everything to do with us being a bit aversive to that type of thinking that is hard for us. 


its why we are bad at deciding on dates - and times to do something - or plannning our day. 


ask them to talk about how some ideal person would think about such a choice - what through proccess would they go through - i ussually think of the area i live in visually by roads and doing that has helped with those decisions a lot. 


but helping t hem understand how to approach the through proccess that leads to the decision can help in such instances. 

Miss Behaven's picture

A Clairifcation

Me, wondering what time she will be getting up in the morning:  Oh, what time do you need to leave?

Her:  I don't need to leave at any time.


This may have not been meant to be rude or dismissive as some of the poster here think. She may have simply been answering the question at face value. Literally.

She didn't need to leave at any time and she said so.

ADDers often think in the most literal sense. Meaning behind words can escape us. If someone asks me when I need to leave to go to work, I will think about the fact that I can leave at any time and therefore I don't need to leave at any time. And thus I will say that I don't need to leave at any time. In my mind there is no hidden meaning, no intended anything behind my words other than the black and white answer to a question. I don't need to leave at any time.

I Believe that was the case

Yes, I'm sure my wife was just being literal, as you suggest.  I don't think it was meant to be dismissive.

And that's a difference - her being SO, literal, and SO black and white, and me being just the opposite - that makes conversations so difficult.  I ask a question that she takes literally, missing the implications in the question that I think are so obvious.

(Please know that I am not suggesting I am right and she is wrong in the way we communicate.  We just communicate differently.)

But the upshot is, I often have to keep asking questions.  If she takes my question literally, I ask the question again, trying to be clearer.  As I did after asking "What time do you need to leave for work?"

Realizing she had taken my question literally, I changed it to "What time are you thinking of leaving for work?" (Or something like that.)

So part of my frustration is that it often takes several iterations of the question for me to actually ask it in a way that what she hears me asking is what I meant to ask.  So by the time that happens and she answers, we are already both a bit wearied by the exchange.

So then, if the answer isn't clear or specific enough to give me the information I need, we still are not any closer to my having my question answered.  If I pursue, I am grilling.  If I withdraw, I don't have the information I need.

If her answer was "I don't know."  Then yes, I can ask her to tell me when she does know, or ask if it's OK if I ask her again later.

But if her answer is too vague or unclear, even that tact isn't one that works.  Because I have to ask questions in a way to get her to be more specific.

Just writing this post has wearied me.  And this is what we seem to go through so often in our conversations.  Sigh . . . .

Curious if others have success

with the response to "I don't know" of saying "Ok, well please think about it and get  back to me when you do know".   I ask because my husband and I were recently discussing how that is something that thus far has not worked for us AT ALL.

He is often saying "I don't know"  not only because he genuinely doesn't know but also because he doesn't want to think about it.  The things he doesn't have a private resistance built up to, he'll generally think of in the moment and give me an answer.  The things he is more resistant to and seems to be kinda stubbornly saying "I don't know" about and that I ask him to consider and get back to me on, just fall completely off his radar.

He doesn't tend to meditate on a lot of issues on his own that he doesn't know the answer to.  If we talk it out together, we can usually get to the bottom of the issue, but if I leave him to think it over and come back with an answer........even when we set up a specific time for the answer to be delivered (like at our family meeting)........he generally hasn't thought about it at all and in fact has forgotten he was supposed to think about it unless I remind him by asking for his answer.

Miss Behaven's picture

It works in my family. The

It works in my family. The understanding is that you have been given time to think about, use that time wisely.

arwen's picture

"i don't know"

Aspen, my ADHD spouse used to do the same thing yours does, using "I don't know" as an attempt to get out of dealing with things (in addition to genuinely not knowing).

It took a lot of work, but we got rid of the "I don't know" because he didn't want to deal with something -- by forcing him to deal with it.  (It was pretty clear when he was giving me a simple "I don't know" that simply required some time to think, and when he was giving me a stone-walling "I don't know".)  When I was getting stonewalled, I insisted we just sit and do absolutely nothing else until he figured *something* out.  No meals, no TV, no reading, no chores, no phone calls, no *nothing* else (obviously, you can't do this if you have really little kids).  By sitting down *with him*, I was declaring that this problem had turned into a "federal case" (as my mom used to say), and it was now so important that it was the top priority for both of us until it got solved.  If he wanted ideas, I'd offer ideas.  If he wanted quiet to think, he got quiet to think -- but if five or ten minutes went by without him saying anything, there was a high likelihood that his mind had gone off on some other tangent, so I would eventually say, "well, you've been thinking about it for five (ten) minutes, what have you been thinking about?".  He'd throw out whatever few random thoughts were squirreling around in his head, and then we'd talk about them. And we'd go through as many iterations of that as it took to come up with some at least possible answer.  If he refused to co-operate, I went completely on strike. 

I admit, this is draconian.  But it made a clear, undeterrable statement that "I don't know" stonewalling was unacceptable, and he learned after time that it was less pain and trouble to make the effort to think than it was to go through this exercise.  (Yes, going through it was pain and trouble for me -- but sometimes you have to go through some pain and trouble for a while in order to get rid of other pains and troubles for good.)

That has left us with the genuine "I don't know" cases -- and with those we have little better success than you.  There's no doubt that my spouse does give the questions real thought -- but it seldom gets to a result or resolution.  For a while, I tried to keep after these items in our regular meetings, but eventually they would be overwhelmed by other more urgent or important things.  But the way I've looked at it is this -- if an issue recurs, I'll remember that it came up before -- and if it's repeating, then it needs to be elevated to a higher priority and dealt with (and I have done that a couple of times).  But if they don't recur, and they weren't important enough to stay on the radar screen, do we really need to go back to the question and resolve it?

Don't know if this will help, but maybe it will spark an idea.


"It matters not what someone is born, but what they grow to be."  Albus Dumbledore

Being literal

Hey Hoping4More,

I don't have a problem with my husband being too literal all the time, but when I ask him questions about things that stress him out he can be very abrupt. As in: "How is your mother?" "Oh she is fine" "When is she moving into her new house?" "Look, I don't know, I can forward her email to you!". Sometimes I remind him that I don't necessarily need him to report every detail of his communications with his mother, I am in fact just making conversation, and then he relaxes. He seems to freak out when it seems as if he has to come up with what he thinks is a complicated and detailed account; I wonder if he thinks I am going to reproach him for being imprecise.

I wonder if your wife feels the same - maybe she has problems getting to work on time or getting her work done properly. Her saying that she will be able to get to work early is perhaps just a way of expressing hope that tomorrow she will do better. But she doesn't want to talk about it because she might have to explain all sorts of things to you that are painful and bewildering to her. There are parts of my life that are like a pretty messy can of worms, and don't really like talking about them because of all the guilt and frustration. We build up fences around these areas; I guess a person with ADHD has to build more of them than the rest of us because their lives are so full of things they can't overcome.

I wonder if you were happy that she was giving away some little piece of information about her life, and you tried to continue the conversation because you wanted to connect? That is how it is with us sometimes. I am hoping that by taking it easy around my husband and being very patient and attentive and NOT nagging, he will gradually feel more at ease to talk to me. It does seem to be working, albeit slowly. I don't know this for sure, but I imagine that life with ADHD is hard if you can't even be yourself when you are with your spouse, but have to meet too high expectations and reproaches at home. I am not saying you should not have any expectation around an ADHD spouse, but that they have to feel that they are basically not just OK, but in fact loved and forgiven by their spouse. That you love them just the way they are. We non-ADHD spouses just have to get over our resentment - I know it is hard, but I remind myself that being upset because my ADD husband doesn't take out the trash is like being upset because he doesn't walk on his tongue. It's actually a bit dumb, and puts my perception as the clever and insightful part of the relationship into perspective!

Sorry for this is a long rant, the third in one morning - I'm new to this list and quite excited about finding someone to talk to and share my experiences. It's great hearing about other people's experiences.

Yes! How do I connect through conversation?

"I wonder if you were happy that she was giving away some little piece of information about her life, and you tried to continue the conversation because you wanted to connect?"

Yes, Monkeygirl.  That's it exactly.  I said as much in a post above "It's more about the disconnect."

I am feeling VERY disconnected from my wife.  And for me, the most important way to feel connected is through conversation.

I experience all kinds of disconnects when in conversation with my wife:

- I ask a question which she doesn't answer = disconnect

- I am talking about something and I can see she is distracted by the look on her face = disconnect

- She is talking about something she is excited about so quickly that I can't even get in a simple comment like "Really?" and so I feel I am not a PART of the conversation = disconnect.

- She is talking about something in a way that she leaves out information I need to understand what/who she is talking about, and my attempts at getting clarification result in a very disjointed conversation = disconnect

I could go on and on, but the gist is, when I am in a conversation with my wife the degree of disconnect I experience is very painful.

And THAT is my main frustration.  It's not so much that she doesn't answer a specific question.  It's not so much that she goes on and on.  It's not that I don't understand her.  It's not even that I get bored, or whatever.

I have conversations with people all the time who are telling me about things I could care less about and it doesn't bother me because I am a PARTICIPANT in the conversation.  I make comments, ask questions, etc, and so feel connected to the person at the time.

I do NOT experience that with my wife, and I think it is at the crux of our problems.

I am not blaming her or saying her conversational style is bad or wrong.  The fact is it is different than mine and I haven't figured out a way to adapt my style in a way that results in my feeling connected.

So, the million dollar question, for me, is:  Does anyone know of a way we might change the way we are in conversation so I can feel connected?

As an aside:  when we were in the early stage of our relationship we had WONDERFUL conversations.  I suppose that was due to hyperfocus. 

Very sad, but then...

Hey Hoping4more,

I fully appreciate your frustration. My husband isn't hyperactive, but he has a very short attention span; I can rarely tell him a long story, and if he tells me something and I don't get all the details right, he gets frustrated.

Anyhow, it helps to remember that when he looks all restless and annoyed when I'm telling him something, it is out of genuine frustration because he has lost the thread. It's like being asked to dance the tango with a professional, but you never learned. Or some terrible language class where the teacher keeps wanting you to respond in French but it's only your second lesson. At least that is how I imagine it.

In the beginning of our marriage I often doubted that he loved me at all, and was even surprised sometimes when he showed me that he really did. He was really surprised at finding me in tears over our relationship when he thought all was well. Nowadays I remind myself that we are together because we love each other, and he never intentionally hurts me. It is hard to understand when he acts like he does, but then it is hard for him to understand that I take some issues so seriously and personally.

As for communication, I think that it is important that your spouse feels safe and cherished in the relationship. It seems that most ADDers are used to taking a lot of blame and rejection from people they love. They KNOW that they are hard to live with, and it may take them some time to get used to the idea that the person who loves them doesn't blame them or hold grudges. If that's what they think, then they are not going to want to communicate very much, because every conversation reminds them of their insufficiency. So in order to start talking again, I think you need to build up the trust and stop reproaching your partner (and I'm not even saying you do that a lot, but a little reproach goes a long way if the person already feels bad about herself). You can only do that if you truly understand that she is not trying to put you down and that she'd do better if she could.

I have also thought a great deal about connecting. I like to talk too, but I actually enjoy having a husband that I can just be around without talking. Again, it is a question of trust. I trust that he is happy to have me around. I trust that we are connected, talking or not. There is something between us that is bigger than every-day chat. Not having to talk all the time also gives me more time to go into my own world and think about my own issues.

To sum up, I think we actually talk more because I allow him a lot of space. It's difficult, but I think we will end up with a stronger bond than most people, even if at times it really looks like a very bad relationship.


Not enough info

This comment of yours really stood out to me - I haven't seen it mentioned before in these forums but I experience this all the time with my ADHD spouse

>>She is talking about something in a way that she leaves out information I need to understand what/who she is talking about, and my attempts at getting clarification result in a very disjointed conversation = disconnect

My husband does this ALL the time.  Most commonly, he will start talking about about someone named "Bob" in a very familiar way, as if I should know all about Bob.  In reality, I have never met Bob,  heard of Bob, or have any clue what or who he is talking about.  And even weirder, he tends to do this casual name dropping more often with famous people that he met DECADES ago, acting as if they are close friends when in reality they probably have no clue he is.

This always confuses me, although it is certainly one of the smallest of our problems. 

Speaking in Literal Terms...

My husband has ADD/ADHD (still trying to distinguish), he makes me crazy with his literal terms. It's absolutely exasperating to have a conversation with him because if you don't speak to using literal terms, he doesn't comprehend and almost attacks me as if I'm lying. For instance, if I say that you were 45 minutes late, what happened? His response is "I was only 40 minutes late!" He doesn't understand that you don't have to be exact when speaking, in order to get your point across. What's most upsetting is that I'm usually just trying to get an answer from him, but because he is so caught up with needing to be exact, that he misses the question entirely. He does it with everything in almost every conversation we have, that it's to a point that I get so angry, I don't want to carry on a conversation with him. If I use the terms "always" or "never" in a sentence, he immediately objects and loses track of what we are talking about, because he's now thinking about a particular instance where he did something, just to prove me wrong. For example, you NEVER wipe down the mirror, when you're cleaning the bathroom!" He doesn't get that I just want him to clean the mirror. His mind goes into overdrive on an exact date and time of when he did clean the mirror, just to negate my statement.

Another issue we frequently deal with is his frequent "memory loss". All too often, he makes a statement during a conversation and then if I recall the said statement later on, he contends he never said that. It could be a day later or 5 minutes later, it doesn't matter and then we spend a stupid amount of time fighting over that. We could be in a room full of witnesses, with a court stenographer dictating the line back and he still contends that he never said that. It's ridiculous and causes more arguments than necessary. Are there any tips, someone can provide to combat these issues, aside from carrying around a tape recorder?

Literally makes me crazy..

I have learned to be more specific when I talk with my husband. For example, If I would ask him, “ Did you take care of the water bill today?” he would say no (in his mind he did not pay it today; he may have paid it yesterday, or be planning to pay it later but I only asked if he paid the bill today.) Therefore I may rephrase the question as, “When did you or when are you planning on paying the water bill?” The literal aspect sometimes makes me crazy. It may not be intentional but it is frustrating. Almost like talking to an attorney who pounces on a word or nuance to deflect from what you are asking/discussing. And memory loss, yeah sometimes conversations are like falling down the rabbit hole in Alice in Wonderland.

Russell Barkley

Hi All, I am a non add forum newbie married 37 years to my best pal just dx with  ADHD plus an added bonus of a  kind and wonderful son with schizophrenia.  My main coping style is education.    Today I was reading one of Russell Barkley's books on ADHD and I wrote down 2 of his statements on what he thinks we can do to help.  I thought this thread might be a good place to discuss what he said.

"Consequences must be made more immediate, increased in frequency, made more" external" and salient, and provided more consistently than is likely to be the case for the natural consequences associated with human conduct.  YIKES ( that is  what I said).  

He also said" Provide more feedback more often is the resulting conclusion, more accountability, not less, are the watchwords in helping those with ADHD."

These statements were in his 3rd edition " Attention Deficit Hyperactivty Disorder A Clinical Workbook,".  Russell Barkley also has some outstanding video's on an ADHD web site in Canada ..goggle caddac and listen to the "Excutive Function" lectures by Russell Barkley...he really explains "point of process" which was helpful for me to understand.

On a lighter note....Yesterday I left an ADHD book in the bathroom hoping my ADHD pal would read it and instead I found an empty cupcake wrapper lying on it with crumbs all over the floor near the John.  LOL...I took a picture.  The title of the book was " Answers to Distraction" . The cupcake was chocolate. Best Regards td 


Td, this is a very funny post, and it reminds me of many moments in my marriage where I just had to accept that there are times when all your logic and cleverness just don't work. It makes me laugh at myself, and that's good! The essential thing is: do you love your spouse and do you trust that he or she loves you. If you have any doubts, then you just have to try and trust him or her some more.

Russell Barkley

You know,  the more I think about it the more these 2 statements ring so true.  Waiting on natural consequences and waiting on the accountability to come  just doesn't  seem to work for all parties involved.  I'm learning to nip things, no matter what they might be, in the bud as soon as possible.  This appears to be working better for us because it gives us less time to dwell on things and prevents anger, resentment, frustration, etc. from building up any more than it has too.

being so literal is frustrating

I agree LizMarie,  My husband of 32 years is same,  I have to really think before I speak about times and numbers, as all he does is focus of that figure, and argues the point, rather than taking the point as others would do.  However I have noticed that nearly always, when he is telling people about something he has done, it is usually either widely exaggerated or totally under reported, depending on what is being said e.g.  like how many time in 32 years he has helped with housework or taken kids to sport, that will be significantly exaggerated to people whereas if he is late or forgotten things it will be be 1 or two times and he can say it with a straight face too.  And will often argue to the point of being ridiculous, when most people that know him well, know the truth.  The memory thing is also very frustrating, I feel my brain is so full of trying to remember everything for me, the family and everything in his life as well, including his mothers and family members birthdays.  I left for work today, reminding him to make one phone call, but to my dismay, forgot.  I dont have too many expectations of him, but I do get very frustrated and tired and his expectations of me are very high, and when I sometimes just dont cope, he will always let me know how angry, disappointed in me he is because I didnt do that one thing...I just sigh now

Never and always

The only thing I can think of is patience, and gentle eye-contact that reminds him that you just want a problem solved and are not out to diss him. Just admit that you may have forgotten about that one time when he did wipe the mirror, or that you may have miscalculated the time - and that you are not seeking an argument, you just want this problem solved because it makes you sad and frustrated. But it has to be true, you can't tell him you are not upset or nor seeking an argument if you are actually really mad at him. That is where you have to be patient with yourself as well and remind yourself that you love each other and that he did not choose to have ADD. I think a lot of problems can be avoided if he gets used to the idea that communication with you is safe. Once that is in place you can explain what the problem is.

At least this is how I try to go about it when communication gets difficult. It does seem to help him understand me better, and I guess it has made him think of taking the trash out or do the dishes, a couple of times....

Oh and one more thing. I don't think there is any benefit in using words like NEVER and ALWAYS when talking about your relationship, because there are ALWAYS exceptions, and when someone uses NEVER and ALWAYS, I think it immediately reminds you of the one exception to the rule, and then you think the other person is exaggerating, and you feel insulted and on it goes. Try: "Darling when did you last wipe the bath room mirror" "well don't you think January last year is a bit too long ago when you have promised to do it every week?"

Speaking in literal terms

Wow. Just Wow. Who knew someone else was having the EXACT same types of conversations on a several-times-a-day basis! Prior to diagnosis, I used to analyze these patterns and decide they were some of his many "techniques" used to avoid discussing ANYTHING that sounded to him like he could even be a fraction of one percent (do I dare say the forbidden words...) in the wrong? That his behaviors DID, somehow, negatively affect those around him? It's as if it's more important to destroy the other person (me and/or the kids) than to even entertain those thoughts. Every single word I oh, so carefully chose received that same scrutiny. I would even say, "You pick the word," because I was so frustrated at never being able to bring up any concern. In his mind, because he never INTENTIONALLY does something with the motive of hurting, the only possible answer is that it either didn't occur at all, or my thoughts/feelings are completely ridiculous and are not even worth acknowledging. Yes, it is MY fault. Again.

Same with mere differences of opinion. In his words, I am "putting on the gloves and coming at him, eager for a knock-down, drag out fight." Honestly, it could be over the most insignificant thing that we just looked at in two different ways. Different ways are okay. It doesn't mean one is right and the other is wrong. But instead, it turns into accusing and proving, regardless of the cost. When you mentioned how your spouse so completely leads you away from the original topic of the conversation, all I could hear was my husband digging his heels in just to "win the battle" or "prove how much I 'constantly exaggerate'". According to him, it's my constant exaggerating that infuriates him and is the cause of all of our problems. Although he strongly believes he NEVER gets angry, the most he will concede to is "frustrated". He hyper-analyzes every word to determine if it could infer even a fraction of a negative connotation, and then vehemently denies it could ever apply to him. After all, he believes he is the most easy-going, even-keeled, mild-mannered, fun-loving person on the planet and I am a raving maniac, who's "May I please..." questions are "just looking for a fight" because I am SOOOO moody that HE has to walk on eggshells. Never mind the 22+ years of me having to scrutinize every word I chose (before, during, and after a conversation), in hopes of avoiding this seemingly unavoidable scene.

I am sooooo exhausted and my brain just hurts. Counselors and family tell me to "Quit trying so hard to choose my words and just say what I'm thinking." Frankly, I would give anything on the planet to be able to just have a "normal" conversation with him, like I can with other "normal" people in "normal" circumstances... Heaviest of sighs.

I hear you, regarding having

I hear you, regarding having "normal" conversations with our spouse.  I, too, long for 'normal" but it never is.  I have to keep reminding myself that my spouse is not "normal".  I've also learned to just let it all hang out and speak my mind which actually gives him a little of his own medicine, as this is how he has operated most of our life together.  I think this is opening his eyes to what I have had to put up with for all of these years.

"Normal" conversations

Can you give me some examples of what "letting it all hang out and speaking your mind" might sound like?  Also, when he supposedly gets a taste of his own medicine, how does he react/respond?  Does it really "open his eyes" and does it make any difference at all, or is it just asking for more of the same heaped back on you?  Frankly, even though I'd love to, I probably am no longer even able to have a "normal" conversation with him.  He and I have trained me so well over the years that the hoop could be on fire and I'd probably still jump through it!!  Sounds tempting, though, if the price to be paid (both short and long term, mind you) is not too high...

Sorry it took me so long to

Sorry it took me so long to reply, it has been a rough week at work.  Several years ago we hit our brick wall, see our story in Anger, Frustration & ADHD, "Where do we go from here?'.  This tells of the first time I was actually able to be bold enough to speak my mind after many, many years of being afraid to because of what I might have to deal with after the fact.  Fortunately or Unfortunately, I guess finding out that he was having an emotional affair, at the time, made it much easier to speak my mind since we were heading in the direction of divorce.  It gave me the opportunity to let him know exactly how I felt about our life together.  It was the best thing I ever did for myself.  I could feel the stress leave my body and a peace come over me.  Just recently I had to speak my mind again to protect my sanity and peace and while someone else may think it was mean, I was looking out for myself for a change.  Short history, we have always had animals... dogs, cats and birds...  28 years.  Guess who has had to be the main caregiver most of those years!!!!!  Well, a few months ago we lost one of our dogs, which happened to be my husband's pride and joy.  While we are both sad that he is gone, my husband, very soon after the loss, started talking about getting another dog.  I had made the statement years ago, when we were down to one dog and one bird, that I was really getting tired of taking care of animals.  Well, of course, with the problems of him not listening and his way of manipulation with things and my not standing up for myself, we were again up to three dogs and one bird.  Now, we have two dogs and I have had to remind him again that I do not wish to add any more animals to our family.  In fact, I told him that if he wants another dog he will have to find somewhere else to live.  I believe he has decided against another dog but who knows what tomorrow will bring!  Deep down he knows where I am coming from and has acknowledged that he has ignored most of our responsibilities our whole married life. 

My husband actually is getting a taste of his own medicine with a new friend of his.  The guy is just like my husband used to be with the manipulation, smart remarks, he's right everybody else is wrong, his way or the highway, etc.  My husband gets very frustrated with this guy and he will ask me if he was that bad.  Now, since I am able to talk to him without him getting angry, I tell him very often that he was the same way.  Yes, it has opened his eyes and I do believe he is very sorry for the way he has treated many of the people that have cared for him. 

Trust me, most of our conversations are still not "normal".  At this point, I don't see that ever changing.  I still look to other people for my "normal" conversations. 

I had the same experience

I had the same experience here with my spouse.  Every time I'd tried to directly address a specific issue, he would deflect it either by focusing on one word he found to be "inaccurate".  For example, for most of our relationship I paid for 80% of the living expenses because he was unemployed or underemployed.  So every time I would mention that he was forcing me to support him, he would ANGRILY object, because in his mind his 20% contribution to living expenses meant that I wasn't TOTALLY supporting him. 

Also, he would CONSTANTLY accuse me of "just looking for things to be unhappy about" every time I brought up a behavior of his that was driving me nuts.  This would absolutely infuriate me.  Here I am, with a legitimate complaint about something totally messed up that he has been doing without any regard for my feelings, and he won't even address this issue...instead he accuses me of looking for something to be unhappy about. UGGGHHHH!!! That one would always push my buttons and bring us into a screaming argument.

I also have this problem with

I also have this problem with my ADHD husband.  He is EXTREMELY averse to answering any questions that involve time.   He won't even tell me what time he is scheduled to go in to work or get off work.  He will either claim he doesn't remember, or didn't look at the schedule, or will say something like "We have to stay until the boss says to go home, there is no specific time."

He also won't answer any questions that require him to estimate a number.  For example, I ask him for an AVERAGE of his nightly tips over the course of one month, so I can work on our budget.  He will ABSOLUTELY refuse to give an average.  He repeats over and over that it is impossible to give an average because his tips depends on how generous the customers are being.  I reiterate that I don't need an exact number, just an AVERAGE, and I also try to explain what the definition of AVERAGE is, but he still won't give me an answer. 

He also will not estimate a time of completion if he is working on a project.  For example, if I ask him how long it will take him to finish painting something, he will not give me a straight answer.  Instead, he will start delineating all the challenges that his painting project poses, and then start talking about possible methods of completing his project, and then start talking about some other project he also wants to do, and then start talking about the stuff he needs to buy in order to finish his project, etc, etc.   If I try to cut off his meandering conversation and pin him down on a time of completion, he will start to get angry and say it totally depends on x, y, and z, and there is no way to give an estimate. 

Oddly enough, he will sometimes VOLUNTEER his opinion of how long a project will take, but ONLY when it is a large scale project that has not yet been planned or conceptualized, and he has not started actually working on it, and usually he is not the sole person responsible for doing it.  And in these cases he always MASSIVELY underestimates the amount of time needed.   He will flippantly say "Oh, we can finish that in one day" when in reality it is a week long project.

I could be wrong, but I think this is not a symptom of ADHD but rather a coping mechanism.  My spouse has probably been conditioned against making time commitments because he is never able to keep them and gets criticized when he doesn't.  (I am his 4th wife, so clearly his previous spouses weren't able to deal with it either)  So it is easier to just avoid making commitments altogether.





RE: Also deal with...

My husband does the exact same thing when it comes to attaching time to any chore or project. There are times when the only thing I ask him to focus on is touching up paint on a wall or cleaning out the car (tasks that I would consider a non ADHD person to complete within an hour or so). He will do fifty other things instead and still not ever do the original requested task. He more often than not underestimates how long it will take to complete a task and often runs out of time and doesn't complete it at all or he'll spend an inordinate amount of time on a task, so the whole day is shot. For example, he recently installed a ceiling fan in a bedroom. I estimate a project like that taking a couple of hours at best, given that he knows what has to be done, instead it took him upwards of six hours. I know I don't have ADHD, but I can't understand how so much time can elapse and it goes unnoticed by him. I mean the sun can rise and set around him if he's focused on something and he doesn't notice.  We've tried setting alarms to help with keeping the time to a minimum and we've also worked around meal times, so that if he starts a project after breakfast and he has til lunch to finish, it's a definitive amount of time to work with. Both exercises have gone by the wayside and usually result in the project being left unfinished.

Is it possible that

Is it possible that COMMITMENT is just too scary for the ADD/ADHDer?  That COMMITMENT is too concrete, if you know what I mean!  My husband commits to alot of stuff but very seldom follows through on the commitments.  He always finds some way to get out of them mainly by telling little white lies.   Heck, I think deep down he is even scared to be totally commited to me.  It has been a strange relationship in that respect.  I guess that is why ever so often the "D" word comes up and we acknowledge that he can go that route whenever he is ready.

I do that too.

My dad - who is probably adhd - does that too - not to the extent yours does but its hard to get a definitive answer when it comes to time and things like that. 

calculations - like averages can be similar 


ive done that too with time and calculations ( im adhd) 


I think it has a lot to do with not wanting to sit there and focus on something and manipulate something in your head. = as every one of those involve the executive functions we tend to struggle with. 


im curious if your husband is medicated as it wont fix the problem but if he is willing to work at it, it might allow some progress.

Thank you

thank you for reminding me how hard it was to communicate with my ADHD spouse.  I am grieving the loss of my marriage but it is helpful to remember just how hard it was to communicate with him.  10 yrs of struggling.  I stopped talking like you, problems got bigger and began to fester.  I began letting unacceptable behavior slide because I was too tired to deal with it any longer and communication became impossible and he would lie and never take responsibility for his actions or behaviors..  As a result I endured years of humiliation which took quite a toll on me.  All I can say is over time I became mentally and physically exhausted and depressed.  He did admit in counseling that his behavior "made my wife feel like crap" but when asked "then why are you doing it" his response was I don't know.

That interaction in marriage counseling haunts me.  Do they really not know why they are hurting us?  So many of the hurtful things I experienced and he did not know why he was hurting me.  I felt "when did I become your enemy" "when did I stop being your friend?"  Untreated it gets worse and worse and worse.

I often wonder if I took a harder non-tolerant approach to this bad hurtful humiliating behavior would it have made a difference.  I will never know.

Bless your heart.  I just

Bless your heart.  I just went to my first separated/divorced bible study/support group last night.  I am so on the cusp of asking for the separation that I feel the time will be right very shortly.  After massively agonizing over "what else am I doing wrong that I need to work on for myself" (did not want to be someone who refused to take responsibility for their part), my counselor and others are now telling me (yes, over and over) that even if it is so totally the add, he STILL has to make a choice for his behavior and what he is or is not willing to do about it.  Yes, 22 years is a long time, and frankly, I'm scared to death of all the crap that would lie ahead after taking this leap.  The group said it takes 2-3 years to grieve the loss of a marriage and another one or two to completely heal so as not to make similar mistakes next time or risk the rebound effect.  I just shudder to think of how ugly he'd get.  Your words rang true in my head, as I have said countless times, "I am NOT the enemy!"  He never got that one.  But a spouse should be able to trust enough that the one who loves them is looking out for them, and that they DON"T need to scratch and claw for everything for themselves cuz no one else will do it so they have to.  It's exhausting just thinking about it.

Question:  May I ask anyone's thoughts on how they first broached the subject of separation/divorce??

Your comments blow my mind

Your comments blow my mind and it never ceases to amaze me how we are all talking with the same person!  After 22 years of never being able to figure out why (except figuring that he was just deflecting to avoid any hint of anything sounding like he might be "to blame" and finding ways to spin it around to blame me), here I find out there are other people that do EXACTLY the same thing.  Again, wow.  Just wow.