Spouse deep in denial despite diagnosis

I am looking for some support and answers regarding diagnosis and denial.  A psychiatrist diagnosed my husband a few years ago with ADD yet my husband is in deep denial and refuses to seek treatment or see how his behavior affects others.  He believes he is "managing" just fine. After many arguments and broken promises, I felt I had no option but to enable him by taking on the finances, children, home, calendar, estate planning, investments, initiating sex, planning time for us to be together, etc. Many of these tasks cannot just go undone.  (I am a former English teacher and he is an attorney, he truly is better suited for some of these tasks.)

I became exhausted, lost my self-respect and lost my identity as "an equal." I became angry and bitter. In recent months, I have taken a different outlook.  I try to see my actions as self-care should I decide to leave him.  I must oversee maintenance on our home - or I won't be able to sell it when I leave him.  I must take care of the finances so I'll be able to get credit when I am divorced, etc.  This may be good "boundary setting" but it is lonely, unsatisfying work.  I have no hope for our marriage. Yet deep down, all I really want is to feel part of a team!

When I try to discuss my feelings of loneliness, disappointment and frustration, my husband passive-aggressively denies any responsibility.  He simply states, "I hear you saying that I am the sole problem.  You think I am to blame for all our problems."  He is very good at getting me on the defensive.

He recently agreed to go to Dr. Hallowell's seminar in June.  I thought if I could get him there, he might finally see the light.  Yet today we talked and he stands firm that I cannot demand he change.  He believes that since I married him the way he was, he is not obligated to grow or change. 

If he had a vision problem and couldn't see the road, I think it would be plausible for me to demand he get his eyes checked and get glasses if that's what the doctor ordered! Living with a spouse with untreated ADD, I often feel anxious and fearful like a passenger in a car with a blind-folded driver.  I don't feel safe and secure. I never feel we are on course. Living crisis to crisis has taken its toll on me.  I am a stay-at-home mom raising three young children.  In many respects, I have put my life in my husband's hands.

Is it fair of me to of give him an ultimatum?  "You must get treatment for your ADD or I am leaving you?"  I need advice because sometimes I find my strength waning and start believing I am being unreasonable.  In many posts, Melissa talks about supporting the ADD partner in his treatment.  I can't support denial.  I can't go on living this way.  I am so lonely and desperate for a partner in life.  I know I can't change him.  I know I can't make him want to change. 

1. Don't spouses/parents have a responsibility to get the best treatment for their ADD once diagnosed?

2. What benefits does he get by remaining in denial?


Thank you! 

PS:  His ADD was not evident when we were dating.  It was a "novel" time in our lives.  We had no dependents.  We weren't home-owners.  He didn't have a track record of broken promises. 


Sorry to hear of your struggles. I had to comment on your post as far as the question: What does he benefit? He gets you doing all the work...kids, finances, scheduling...!!! You are correct in saying that you cannot change him, only how you deal with him. Bravo to you for taking on those responsibilities with the twist of helping your future (I did the same). How about counseling for the 2 of you? Getting a professional opinion on how he needs to step up might help. Good luck!


I have been married 15 years. 3 years ago, I could have written a very similar post. It really can be difficult to live with someone who has ADD (both my husband and I have it as well as my 2 children). We got to the point where we were signing divorce papers. I was at my breaking point and was ready to deal with my own need of learning different ways of relating to people and situations in my life but he was "managing" it just fine. I wanted him to begin this journey with me but felt I had waited for certain changes long enough. What made it so difficult was that I knew we loved each other but love wasn't enough. Now, I want to emphasize this was MY experience, it is what worked for me but as you know, each relationship is very different as well as each person even though there might be similarities in our stories. During this time, he had moved out and begun spiraling downward with drinkning and depression. He would call begging and tried to make compromises of every fashion except to return to a specific learning that we knew worked for us. It killed me! I wanted to take away his pain and say YES to him returning with no real changes because I was hurting too, but I knew that by doing so would be saying YES to the same pain that had gotten us there in the first place. Nothing had changed and as they say, "if you want a different result you've got to DO something different! " I couldn't do it living with him and I didn't know if I could do it living without him because I had NO idea what the heck I was doing! I was learning too! I was so scared. The main thing was I knew what WAS'NT working for me. I concentrated on doing what I knew was good and what worked for me and my children. I concentrated on learning boundaries with myself and teaching my new boundary setting skills with my children. I wrote down a few phrases to say when he would call and "tempt" me to take him back. I usually said the same thing and sounded like a broken record but no matter what he said (it got pretty bad sometimes) I assured him that I loved him but that I couldn't go back to our old life. Having ADD was part of the reason we had problems but now that we were diagnosed I wasn't willing to use it as an excuse to continue the dysfunction and pass it down to my kids even more. Sometimes I had to hang up on him after uttering "my phrase" because he would cry or up the drama in some fashion. He would call back and I would say it again and hang up, then I would turn the ringer off. I couldn't return to a marriage that I knew was dysfunctional. I kept my phrase short and sweet because as you know, we ADDers lose focus very quickly! I also made sure to say basically the same thing since we ADDers also can sometimes struggle with memory especially when we are in pain or anxious. OK- the point.....I worked on myself and I worked on myself. I cried and was angry at him. I was angry at myself for so many things and I had to forgive myself for so many things. By the way, did I mention I kept focused on my learning and application of new skills to have the life I wanted? I am a teacher and I chose me as my student. Once he gave up trying to convince me and once he said he would make true changes toward doing things differently. I told him OK- but actions speak louder than words and I prayed he would follow through this time. I decided to wait to sign the papers until I saw behavioral change sustained OVER TIME and ACROSS SITUATIONS. He didn't move back in for several months. I had to accept that I was hurting him in certain ways and I kept doing what I had already started . I worked on making behavioral changes in myself and he worked on himself. We messed up so many times and it was then I knew the true meaning of "two steps forward one step back" (sometimes, it was a HUGE step back! but I had to keep focused on the overall pattern and trust myself even when others I loved didn't agree). I reassured him of our progress but it didn't necessarily mean everything was ok. IT WAS SO HARD!!!! We made so many mistakes and still do because we are still learning and have decided to commit to our new ways VERY often and keep old influences out. We make jokes when we notice one of us "sees a shiny quarter" and gets distracted. I read a lot about all mental illness and don't get hung up on the stupid labels. As my husband says, everybody has ADD! I can now "accept" his jokes because I know he is no longer in denial and yes, no one focuses ALL of the time and everyone gets distracted SOME of the time! We are all human. YOU KNOW what is the right thing to do in your situation. You also know what NOT to do in your situation. You will also do things and THEN realize it's not what you should do for you. It's called learning so be patient with yourself because it can be the hardest thing to do. Trust your instinct. Be gentle and firm with those in your life including yourself. Good Luck, learningallthetime Recommended Reading: 1. Boundaries When to say Yes When to Say No by Cloud and Townsend 2. Getting the Love you want by Hendrix and Harvill 3. Anything by Dr. Hallowell !!!!!! He's my favorite- Dare to Forgive, Worry, and for kids with ADD, A Walk in the Rain with a Brain

supporting spouse in treatment

I do say that it helps to support your spouse in treatment...but your spouse isn't in treatment and that's the problem.  And, as the post below communicates, sometimes the best help is a consistent "no, I won't take it anymore."  Anyway, it's completely fair to give him an ultimatum if your situation is untenable.  Certainly there are plenty of ADD spouses who have written on this site that finally getting treatment was a real eye opener for them.  Not a negative.

What you say you went through mirrors the experiences of so many - the losing of oneself and self-confidence.  Good for you to recognize that there is so much at stake here for you personally.  Ultimately, you are trying to have a fulfilling relationship but that only happens if you are both fully aware.  As for the benefit of his being in denial - there are many.  He doesn't have to face his ADD, he can live feeling as if he's "okay" rather than "broken" (which is how many interpret ADD, even though another interpretation is "different"), plus you get to do all the work that he hates to do.  Granted, he also gets a wife who is cranky and unhappy and angry...but as long as he stays in denial he can convince himself that that's your problem, not his.  If he moves out of denial then he has to look his role in your marriage problems full in the face...which is really hard, and can be overwhelming.  It takes a great deal of courage to admit you've messed up that much.

I found the email below about the woman who set the ultimatum to her ADD spouse very moving (and obviously also effective in her case).  She really experienced a ton of pain, but her holding steady created a brighter future for them both.  That won't always be the outcome, but it can be.

Also, I suggest you email a copy of your post directly to Dr. Hallowell, along with any other information you think he might need as background about the two of you some time before the June conference (he's busy - so give him a couple weeks to digest).  He is very good at getting people with ADD to face how their ADD affects other people - he is able to do it without scaring them or making them feel judged.  So he can be a great tool in your arsenal...

Oh honey I'm in a similar

Oh honey I'm in a similar position, in some ways at least.  I have only found out a few days ago that my husband has ADD.  My first reaction was joy!  I thought, there's a reason he acts the way he does, it's not HIM, it's the ADD.  I thought it could be fixed and I could be happy.  But now...I'm so scared.  He may never change.  It scares me to death to divorce him, I have 2 young children and am a stay at home mom.  I can't see myself raising them alone.  I guess I'm weak, I don't know.  But from being married to him, I can tell he has a good heart, but it's like he never cared a lick about me.  Now I know why.  But as I'm reading all these posts and blogs, I'm seeing other people feel the same exact way I do, when having a spouse with ADD.  I'm hurt, lonely, overwhelmed, I don't feel secure with him.  So I just can't see myself being that unhappy for the rest of my life if he won't change.  Granted, we have yet to get him help, maybe he will get better, but I'm still so scared.  It's like...it's hitting me now or something.  Since learning of the diagnosis, I almost feel like I don't know him anymore.  Sorry for the TMI, but we made love tonight and I almost felt like I was with a stranger, my mind was just.....hazed.  I don't know how to explain it.  I'm almost dreading getting him help b/c i don't want to find out nothing will help him.  Then...then I will be in a black hole.  Like you, I'm so desperate for companionship.  I can't really answer your questions, but I was glad to read about someone who's going through this with me.  Good luck.

afraid this could be our future if he doesn't stop fighting this

my husband has been diagnosed recently. i too felt joy, because now there was an explanation and solutions for us. i am so ready to release the anger and work together. he'd rather focus on "marital problems." according to him, it's my temper and anger that are the real problem. he's a master of deflection and denial. there's no reasoning with him in that mind set. sometimes he's up to looking at this, other times he thinks its all bs. he keeps threatening separation, and to go off all meds and go untreated, or get treatment and then leave me anyway. the rollercoaster, blame, tears and responsiblity are making me sick.

we have an eight month old girl. he's a wonderful father. but he hasn't worked in a year, got a big-time DUI and lost driving privileges until next summer (i'm praying he gets his restricted license in a few weeks), has spent all of our money and credit trying to start a failing business and buying crap compulsively, destroyed our house with started-but-unfinished projects and only now may be finally getting a job...now that we have missed a mortgage payment and have no real money for food. and now that i have screamed, left him for a night, etc.

i just heard him leave a message at a clinic, so i'm hanging on hope. i love him so much, this is tearing me apart. i love his "madness" and energy and creativity. i just can't live within this mad, mad world we've created together, and i certainly can't keep my daughter in this volatile an environment for long. thank you for this site and all the words of encouragement and hope here. i am so desperate, so lost, so lonely.

Have him read

Have him read the post about the ADHD man's new life and "for the ADHD man who thinks it doesn't matter".  The second one starts to explain the connection between your anger and behavior and his ADHD.

Your wonderful posts/advice

Thank you for responding. Two days ago, I sent him a link to the post you mentioned, and then a few others in a separate email. He's been stubborn about not reading them, instead farting around on facebook all day, and trying to find ways to make me the enemy. However, I can tell he's slinking back to address this when he realizes i'm not backing down. i just wish i didn't have to get so angry to get him to respond. I understand how much he doesn't want me to be "right" but he wants care at the same time. I keep trying to get out of the way, but I can't give up trying to help him, and if I stop pushing, he forgets or thinks it's not that big of a deal. I feel like it's my responsibility to get him to the "water" and then I have let him drink. He's my spouse and my love, and he is sick right now, so I'll drag him kicking and screaming if I think it will save his wonderful life.  I have to try, I made that vow at least. It would also be cool if we could save our marriage and love for each other. I've read a lot of this site. He wouldn't have been diagnosed if it weren't for this site and a few friends who recognized my experience. It looks like some patience and diligence might win out. He has an appointment TOMORROW!!! yay!! With a real adult ADD specialist. I am afraid to get my hopes up because I've been disappointed so much, but I think he's on his way, albeit reluctantly. He's really such a wonderful and open guy.

I'm hanging on the hope this website provides and can't thank you enough for giving me some clarity. I really had come to believe this was all my fault somehow, that I was "ruining" him. I can easily imagine the sadness of all this if we had no one to turn to. We wouldn't make it. So, so sad. And of course, now that I have a new daughter, I'm grateful to be so aware, so if she has ADD and is blessed with it's gifts, she won't have to suffer needlessly. I'm sure you hear things like this a lot, but rarely has something in this world felt like salvation the way the words on this website have to me. Thank you, Thank you and Thank you.