Turning ADHD Intentions into Actions

Do the two of you have the experience of the ADHD spouse talking about all the great things he/she would like to do, but then not turning those things into reality?  When the ADHD spouse wakes up in the morning thinking "I have to get control of my day" but then doesn't really know how?  You may well.  Here is one specific idea to help the ADHD spouse turn the ideas into reality.

This concept is about taking general ideas and turning them specific so they get done, and I'm going to propose a simple daily way to approach doing so.  First, though, what do I mean by general ideas?  That's the "I would love to go skating" or "my work is really out of control" kind of idea.  Taken at face value, these ideas don't provide specific direction.  More specific versions of the same ideas might be "I need to sharpen my skates and call about free skate time" and "tomorrow first thing I need to meet with my boss to discuss my new assignment."  Both of these ideas include specific action steps.

If you don't tend to think in terms of action steps, you can create a habit of doing so.  One way is to start each day with "what am I going to do today?"  If you answer that with "I would love to go skating" you haven't gone far enough.  You're still thinking in generalities.  So how to bridge the gap?  One approach would be to set aside 10 minutes at breakfast to work through creating your daily action plan this way:

  1. leave a pad of paper on the counter where you'll see it first thing
  2. using the pad, write the answers to these questions:
  • What must I do today (it's already scheduled or high priority)?
  • What can I do to improve my relationship today?
  • What can I do just to make myself happy today?

For each of the last two questions, write up to 3 options (no more) and then look at them to assess which option seems the best one.  For question 2 you might ask your partner (but aren't required to)..."I'm thinking I would like to do X, Y or Z today.  I'm leaning towards X - what do you think?"  Your partner might have an opinion...or might not.  If he or she does, then it's great to hear it.  Why not do something that's important to you both?

Things you can do to improve your relationship are quite varied.  You might write "have that discussion my partner really wants to have about taxes (yuk!)" or "plan that weekend ski trip we've been dying to go on" or "do whatever my wife most wants to do."  Once you've picked the ONE item that you will tackle that day, then you need to figure out the steps.  Write them down first in any order, then order them later.  And, (this is important) try to create steps that rely on you most of the time.  Rather than having a step that is "ask my partner when it might be convenient to go skiing" consider "look at the family calendar to find open weekends."  Once you've done that, THEN you ask your partner to see if a specific weekend might work.  Don't misunderstand this comment - communication with your partner is good.  But dependence upon your partner is not.

Once you know your steps, put the ones you are doing soon (today and tomorrow or as is appropriate) into your reminder system (calendar, alarms, etc).

Keep this worksheet, by the way, for you can use it for quite a number of days.  Each morning the "MUST" list will change, but ticking off the steps in the second and third questions may happen over a series of days.  The point is this - by describing the specific action steps you create a way to accomplish what you want rather than staying in "generalization limbo"...and that's GREAT!

One final thought.  Non-ADHD partners can get tired of "assigning" tasks.  One of the benefits of asking yourself these questions each morning is it helps move you from being a reactive partner to being a proactive one.  This can have a very positive impact on your relationship.  (If you don't believe me, or don't know what I'm talking about, ask your spouse!)

Good luck with it, and let me know how it goes!


angry outbursts

For years I have been walking on eggshells afraid of another angry outburst from my husband.  It always carries a character assassination of my thinking, my feelings, my behavior, my family background, my intelligence, my opinions, my political choice.....on and on and on.  I've kept the anger alive by fighting back to defend myself.  I am learning, slowly, that if I don't fight back or defend, his anger will fizzle out.  He doesn't do anything to understand himself or to combat his behavior...just says he's sorry after the storm passes.  I have started to say:  "It's ok honey.  I know you can't help it."  He is not fond of this response.  But, at least, I find some forgiveness in that.   I find myself either waiting for the next attack/outburst or I'm distancing my self after the last one. So our relationship lacks the positive side of loving.

Responding to Angry Outbursts

What you are doing is taking control of your side of the situation, which is the right way to deal with it.  A good resource if you want to learn more about dealing with anger is Harriet Lerner's The Dance of Anger.

One way to start the positive feelings flowing again is to find what you can validate him for, and have a conversation around validating you.  So his character assassination was a way for him to invalidate you (perhaps for the purpose of shoring up a fragile self-esteem, or to make him feel "justified" in his anger since he couldn't control it.)  There may well be things that are positive in how you feel about him or things that he is doing that you can show appreciation for (for example "I liked that you did the dishes tonight. Thank you" or "I like the way your sweater fits you.  Very sexy."  These things don't have to be hugely meaningful, but when couples start noticing these things again their partner is greatly relieved - it's like living in a desert without them.  I in no way suggest making things up or lying - just opening yourself up to the idea of verbally noting things that you like, rather than not.

Why should YOU have to do this, you might ask?  You don't.  But it's in your best interests to warm the relationship up.  It becomes a better relationship for you as well as him.  And the next time he is angry with no provocation it becomes much harder for him to hide behind something he says you did.  Or, perhaps not.  But at least you have the satisfaction of knowing that you, at least, are living in a generous and giving way.