Someone please tell me it's worth fighting on

I am a non-ADHD husband and I am really struggling to find any kind of hope to keep me motivated to stay positive in my marriage.  If it weren't for our two gorgeous boys, I think I would be long gone. After years and years of feeling like it's all up to me, I think I've finally reached my limit.

My wife was diagnosed with ADHD nearly 6 months ago and while it was a sense of relief to finally have an explanation for so many years of frustrating and unexplainable behaviour, it hasn't really helped our situation or provided any resolutions to so many ongoing issues.  From reading the posts on this forum and so many other ADHD articles, my wife could be the ADHD poster girl.  I can't tell you the number of lost items (phones, keys, sunglasses), or forgotten appointments or wasted time or poor financial decisions we have been through or the classic "anti-social" behaviour she exhibits regularly.  At times, I feel like I am her parent and she is an unruly, unreliable, self absorbed teenager, only concerned with what interests her.

For so many years my wife has been searching for an explanation for her issues and as a result we have paid a fortune ( tens of thousands of dollars) in counselors, guides, therapists, mentors, social advisors - you name it, she's tried it and we are still paying a fortune now for ongoing psychiatric therapy.  This in itself is an issue and a cause of frustration for me, because we are a one income family now, all of my life savings is gone from paying off her debts and numerous therapies and I feel like it will never end.  Add to that my wife also seems to have an ever growing list of other needs.  It's like after every session, there is a new disorder or challenge and all of which require therapy too.  We have dealt with anxiety disorders, depression, unfulfilled birth expectations, unhappy childhood disorders - the list feels like it is never ending.

Our situation is complicated even more by the fact that our four year old son was diagnosed with Autism last year.  He is high functioning, but still requires a lot more attention than his younger brother, who is neurotypical. To be fair to her, my wife has been amazing at dealing with that and managing the majority of the work around his needs.  Which again is another frustration for me - why can she be so attentive and focused on this task, but completely unreliable and erratic on so many others.  But the fact that she focuses the majority of her energy on our son with Autism, means so many other things go unattended and I am just expected to pick up the slack.

Our biggest issue is communication.  I feel I can't even have a normal conversation with her anymore.  She is so entrenched in the therapy mind set that everything has to be categorised or be able to be given a therapy label for her to put any real effort into it.  Even the way we talk has become "therapised".  I feel like I've had to try to learn an entire new vocabulary just to speak with her.  I think what I find most difficult is the reflection of blame (as I heard it described in an article).  She will do something due to her ADHD, it will frustrate me, I will try to talk to her about it civilly, she will dismiss it, I will be annoyed at that and then she will tell me I am just as much to blame for the situation because I have played my part in the problem as well.  I will admit that I am sure there have been times where I have enflamed the situation out of pent up frustration, but I find this "you're just as much to blame" routine, so unfair and to a degree, irresponsible. I feel like it would be like the alcoholic husband telling his wife he is fed up with her chastising him about being drunk all the time.

I just feel like this is my life now.  Until the day I die, I will have to contend with all of the repercussions and symptoms of her ADHD and expect that I will be made to feel like I am equally to blame for those situations, while the entire time, making sure that our home life is maintained.

We have been to marriage counseling, but stopped when she started taking Ritalin.  It was like someone flipped a switched inside my wife.  She became this unbelievably attentive, hyper-focused and responsible woman and actually commented about the fact that so many things I had raised with her, that she couldn't see or comprehend before, she could totally understand what I meant and acknowledged how frustrating it must've been for me.  I felt like I was the luckiest man in the world.  Unfortunately, it only lasted around 7 weeks and then things went back to the way they were.  She doesn't seem interested in going back to marriage counseling or trying an alternative medication, because in her mind, I am just as much to blame for all of our issues, the ADHD is not the cause and besides, now she is on a new crusade - a journey of self discovery.  She says she feels like there has always been something missing from her life and she needs to find out what that is.

I really just need to know our marriage is worth fighting for, that there is light at the end of the tunnel.  I came from a broken home and I always swore I would do everything in my power to not put my kids through what I went through when my parents broke up.  At the same time, I don't want our children growing up in a home full of misery, arguments and uncomfortable silence and right now that's exactly what it is.  My friends and family have all expressed concern over the changes they have seen in us and in particular that I never seem happy any more.  I feel like I have so many other things to contend with right now, that happiness just doesn't make the list.

Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

Hello there, Your post was

Hello there,

Your post was pretty heart-wrenching to read... I really feel for you and your whole family. I wanted to make sure that I took the time to respond.

First of all- everything you describe feeling is totally normal, given what you've been through. You are most definitely not alone.

Having said that, I want to offer you another perspective...

I am a wife with ADHD, so I can relate to some of what you are describing in your wife. I have been married for over 10 years. We have an almost-5 year old boy (likely with ADHD- too young for an assessment- but I think he has all the signs) and a 1 year old baby girl. So we are kind of in the same place you are... dealing with your kids, working hard, trying to keep it all together...

I don't lose things and forget things that much- I am more the hyperactive type, than the inattentive type... but I certainly relate to your wife's obsession with therapy and self improvement and your son's autism... since I would do the exact same in her shoes... and I am doing so to some degree with my son's issues. That's called hyperfocus- and it's a hallmark symptom of ADHD... You can browse around the forum to read more on that.

It sounds like you and your wife are going through a really tough time right now. And only the 2 people in a marriage ever know if they can stay in it and keep trying and so on... So please take everything I am about to say with that in mind. These are just my opinions...

I think every marriage of any length goes through tough times. It's a marathon, not a sprint. When there are little children around, especially ones with special needs like your son, that adds a tremendous amount of pressures and stress. ADHD or not- most marriages would be in a relative low in your circumstances. Add in the ADHD symptoms and it's pretty tough.

Having said that- you mentioned that your wife only received her diagnosis 6 months ago. If that's true, I implore you to wait a little longer before tossing in the towel. 6 months is like the blink of an eye to make real change. When I first found out about my ADHD, I was in a similar situation to your wife- I had always known that there was something different and 'wrong' with me, but I had never been able to figure it out. My diagnosis shocked me and I had to process it before I could shut the hell up about it. I still talk about it way too much, since that is my way of working through something... it was the same when I quit drinking, when my brother came out as gay, when I discovered the Myers Briggs personality test (I am an ENFJ!)... Currently my husband is depressed and I had been hyperfocusing on how to help him- which is not helpful at all to him... since he hates therapy talk etc... So I have pulled back on that and am just focusing on myself.

With regards to your wife's attention on your son... It's wonderful your son has such an attentive caring mother. All the autism research (my nephew is on the spectrum as well) shows that early intervention is crucial and can make an enormous difference in the child's life and functioning. Your wife probably knows this and is pouring everything she can into this. That is freaking amazing, if you ask me. Moms everywhere are programmed to do that and good for her! She can significantly improve the quality of your child's whole life by being very diligent and involved now. This is something that you should be entirely supportive of. And it sounds like you are. But... you said it frustrates you that your wife can be like this- but is not like this in other areas... Well- do a little reading on hyperfocus and that should explain some of that... 

With regard to your wife and you being in a bad place and fighting and having awkward silences... that takes 2. It sounds like you might have expected a miracle when your wife started ritalin... but the truth is- her diagnosis is 6 months old. Medication can only do so much. She needs therapy. She needs exercise and proper diet and sleep and cognitive behavioural therapy. This takes time. This is a massive thing she has learned about herself and she is trying to learn all she can and incorporate that into her narrative about herself and her life. And if you shut down every time she brings it up, that sends a clear message that you don't care... That is at least how I interpreted it when my husband made no effort to learn about my ADHD and didn't even read the book I gave him about it (2.5 years ago). If he had cancer or asthma or ADHD or whatever, you bet your ass I would read everything! And he doesn't care enough to listen to me talk or to educate himself on the basics of the condition. Maybe that's what your wife is feeling.

You and your wife had a long-standing pattern of interaction before her diagnosis. She is now trying to make changes to her patterns and if you are not willing to look at your part in things and work with her to change the patterns, you are going to have conflict. This is not all on her. You should take a clear inventory of yourself and how you treat her and respond to her needs. Are you cold or dismissive or angry? Do you participate in your son's autism treatments or is that all on her? Do you still make unsolicited gestures of kindness towards your wife or are you focusing on how she isn't meeting your needs?

You and your wife both need to work  on the marriage if it has a hope in hell. Perhaps you could let your wife know that you miss her and you feel that you guys need to connect and have fun and have some nights out where you don't talk about your son or ADHD or any of that! And I bet your wife would love it if you had other times when she could talk about her progress with her treatment and about your son without you putting up an invisible wall immediately and recoiling because that's become such a hot button issue for you.

The truth is- having small children is HARD. It's just a tough time. It's harder when someone has ADHD. It's harder when a child has special needs. You and your wife should give yourselves a big break and a massive pat on the back and try to recognize that you are teammates on this journey. Maybe instead of getting back into therapy, you should get a weekly sitter and go to dinner or bowling... That is HUGE.

Finally, what supports do you have outside your family? If you can, consider going out with friends once a week and getting into the gym or a hobby or something. Your wife can't fill all your needs. If you are looking at her as the cause of your unhappiness, maybe you need other things to fill your happiness meter on the side during this hard time. She should do the same. We are all responsible for our own happiness.

If your wife had been diagnosed for years, then my advice might be a little different, but you guys are seriously in transition right now. 6 months is nothing. Please consider giving it more time. Sometimes change is extremely painful, but necessary. It sounds like right now you guys are readjusting the way you communicate and engage. It hurts because you are disconnected and don't feel loved and understood by one another. But if you hang in there and really do your part to work on yourself  and your behaviour- then you will see amazing things happen.

Since you are a guy- I will give you my husband's way of thinking about this... Upside vs. downside.

What is the upside of staying and giving it a real chance (12-18 more months) and really engaging and being optimistic and participating and trying to work on yourself? Maybe you save the marriage and strengthen your family and discover some stuff about yourself and fall back in love with your wife? There is no downside- because if it doesn't work you can leave, albeit later.

What is the upside of leaving now? Crickets... I guess you stop your immediate pain from living in the situation... but you trade it for the fresh pain of having a broken home, not seeing your son every day, etc... And the downside is that you've thrown away your family without giving it a real chance to improve...

Anyway- those are my 2 cents.

I know it's been very hard for you and you probably have a lot of old baggage from living with your undiagnosed wife for years... that must have been incredibly tough. But it also caused you to develop your behaviour towards her in a certain way... a way that likely needs to change now as she's changing. And that's painful. And you may need your own support for that.

I know having an autism spectrum child is very stressful. My sister is my hero. So congratulate yourselves on the efforts you are making there and realize you guys need care too and you need a break! Give yourself and your wife a big fat break.

 I said above, no one can judge you if you decide you can't stay. And I certainly don't believe in living unhappily in an unhappy marriage for your whole life. But I just don't think you are there yet to get divorced.

I am sorry you are going through this and are in so much pain. You sound like a good person with a lot on their plate. Please take care of yourself and give this some serious sober thought before doing anything rash. Best of luck to you!!

:)