Was it the drinking? The ADHD? Is it him? Is it me?

Sorry, this is long as hell. But I'm just at a loss as to what to do. Maybe someone can help.

I am the ADHD spouse. My husband and I have been together for 13 years and married for 10. We have a 4 year old son who is our whole world. We have gone through marriage counseling on three separate occasions: early in our marriage for a few sessions, but husband wasn't in to it, midway through our marriage after I had an emotional affair he wanted to save the marriage, then again last year after my alcoholism got out of control and I got blackout drunk and slept with an acquaintance who I'd known for about 2 weeks. Again, it was he who really wanted to save the marriage. At that time, however, I was the one who was not really in to marriage counseling. I wanted to put my focus into working a recovery program. And honestly, I was a real confused mess right then and there and I just couldn't take in what was happening. 

That awful incident a year and a half ago was the last time I drank. I have been sober and actively working a program of recovery ever since. In the last several months especially I feel that I have made immense strides towards becoming a better wife, mother and human being. I know I was awful for about 2 or 3 years leading up to that last drunk. My mother died in 2010, and after she died I began to really hold back from love. Then soon after my mother's death my grandmother, who I was extremely close to, also died. It pushed me over the edge, and I numbed out and pulled away from my marriage, afraid to ever feel the pain of loss again. I didn't take care of my child like I should. I was gone a lot. When I was home, I was drunk. My hangovers were a weekly occurrence. My husband really did have to take over so much when I was this way.

Once I got sober, he began to read books like Melissa Orlov's wonderful book, and "Is it You, Me or Adult ADHD." He thought the ADHD was playing a huge role in a lot of our problems. I got more serious about treating my ADHD and had my psychiatrist adjust my meds so that I'd have some medication "coverage" at home instead of just in the morning at work. It definitely helped. About 4 or 5 months ago, I was at the end of my rope, and he asked me to read Melissa Orlov's book for myself, which I did and I did gain a lot from reading it. But here I am, 4 or 5 months later, at the end of my rope again. 

The biggest problem in our marriage is the parent/child dynamic. We both acknowledge this. I feel disrespected overall. He gets little "digs" at me in, like this morning when I said our 4 year old reminded me of me in that he is shy, and he said, "and he can't listen, and he's always distracted." This morning we got in a huge fight (our second huge fight this week, yay!) because I took 5 minutes longer doing meditation than I said I would. He didn't immediately say why he was even mad. Of course, I'm thinking, "Oh, well we're not even late, great! I rock." He stewed for a good half hour before telling me why he was mad. I apologized and said that since I am new to meditating (I'm on day 4) that I was just trying to get into a groove. I don't know what else I could have said. I said I was sorry. He was mad because I hadn't realized immediately that I did something wrong and that I "never take responsibility for anything" and that it's always "his fault" when he's a jerk. I got very angry, I tried not to, but he just pushes me like no one else. Right before we departed for our respective jobs, I said something really nasty and made a b-line for the elevator. 

So this morning pretty much fits the pattern of what usually happens. He gets mad because I do something, I get mad because he's mean about it, he gets even more mad because now I'm supposedly blaming him, I start to feel intense shame and start to feel horrible about myself, almost suicidal, and usually I walk away (which really makes him mad, but it's better than saying something I regret), cry or lash out. 

In no other relationship I have ever been in has it been this intensely negative. I promise, anyone you would ask who knows me would say I am a really positive, upbeat person. But he brings out this really ugly side of me. Sadly enough, my son has even seen this ugly side. My marriage makes me feel horrible about myself. It makes me feel like if I get a divorce, I should probably just get an apartment and a few more cats and never torment someone with my disorder like I've tormented him. But another part of me knows that I'm not a worthless piece of crap and that maybe he's the one who needs to do some work. How much work can I even do? I'm in recovery, I am starting and sticking with a meditation program, I'm in a 6 week "love yourself and accept everything" art journaling course. I am actively working towards self-improvement. What else can I, personally, do? Meanwhile, what's he done? He went to one Al-Anon meeting and was like, "meh." I asked him to join me in the art journaling course, he said yes but then never did it. I asked him last night, maybe each night before bed we can say one thing we are grateful for and one thing we appreciate about each other. He said no.  He went to therapy for awhile but he says they told him there was nothing they could do for him because nothing was wrong with him. And yet I see a very negative, frustrated, borderline abusive person who is in desperate need of some serenity. Even his own mother thinks he is mean to me. And she's thought that since before I even started getting wasted all the time. He once went through a period about 7 years ago where he didn't want to say "I love you" to me anymore because he said "I should just know." Sometimes I'm scared that he's messing with my head and trying to make me think I'm crazy. I want serenity and joy for him, when I pray I pray for it and when I "make wishes" on stars or wishing wells or whatever it's always that he be happy. But how much more abuse can I take? To hear him say it, I am the one causing all of his problems. I have no idea why the hell he wants this marriage to work so badly, but he does. He says he loves me, and I believe that, but he certainly doesn't like me.. I think he's more worried about the financial implications of a divorce and what it would do to our child, and probably what people would think of him if his marriage failed. 

Ugh, I don't know what else I can say. Maybe someone has been in my position before, or his position before, and can help? I want a divorce, I really do. I just want to be happy and not have to feel horrible about myself for something so stupid as being 5 minutes later than I said I'd be. I feel hopeless and sad, and I feel bad for my son, who has to listen to him put me down, and who I have lashed out at verbally when my husband has put me down and I'm in that place of deep shame and anger. I don't want to go back to marriage counseling really. It's expensive and it requires us to find child care and why would the fourth time work? I'm not sure this marriage was made to last. We fought our entire honeymoon, for crying out loud! We don't have anything in common and we really never have. 

If you made it through to the end, thank you for reading. 

Hang in there...

Hi there,

Your story resonated with me and I wanted to take the time to reply quickly. I have been with my husband for 13 years and married for 10 years. We have a 4 year old son as well (and a 1 year old daughter). I am the adhd spouse. I am also a recovered alcoholic. I have been sober for 11.5 years.

Since getting diagnosed with ADHD a few years ago- I have embarked on a total wellness program. Medication, exercise, fish oil supplement, high spectrum light therapy, cognitive behavioural therapy. I have also read everything I can get my hands on about ADHD. During that time period, I have seen some pretty tough changes in my spouse. We always had a high-conflict marriage- lots of fights and intensity- and it used to be both of us participating and escalating things. However, I have totally changed my behaviors. I am far less reactive and emotional. When he pushes my buttons, I try to remain calm and walk away. Instead of decreasing tension, this has somehow made things worse. My partner will often escalate things on his own and ends up screaming and swearing at me (over next to nothing), while I am silent. sometimes this is in front of the kids.

This is what I think is happening: We had a long-standing pattern of behavior and interaction and he is still unconsciously clinging to that pattern and trying to recreate it because it feels familiar. I have suggested therapy (individual or couples) and he refuses. I have suggested he work out or eat healthier or go out with friends. He takes any suggestion from me as an attempt to either mother him or control him and has refused to do anything proactive to change his behavior or to work on himself. My therapist has suggested that maybe my husband felt comfortable being the stable, healthy spouse and somehow relished the role of cleaning up my messes and keeping me in line and bestowing forgiveness on me. I think this is true. I think that he was always harsh with me and a little bit bullying and I always took it without question because I never felt good enough, knew I was defective, etc... But now that I feel good about myself, am not making messes and am in better control of myself I am seeing his behavior clearly without my usual guilt and shame and recognizing that it is rather abusive. And I won't accept that. And I won't have my children seeing that, replicating it, etc...

Recently I stopped trying to change him and decided that it's in his hands. I will continue to work on myself because I want to be healthy and happy and I want my kids to be healthy and happy. But he has to decide for himself that he wants to change things. I can't do that for him. Having said that- I will not tolerate any more abuse from him and, as much as I love him and want my family together, I will initiate a separation if things reach a point where it's more damaging to the kids to stay than to go. 

A few more thoughts for you:

Your husband sounds like he has put up with a tremendous amount of bad behavior from you. Cheating would be an immediate dealbreaker for lots of people- but he stuck around. Alcoholism is devastating and he stuck around through that. I'm sure there has been a lot of other things and incredibly damaging hurtful comments made (on both sides).

I think you owe it to yourself, your husband and especially your son to give it a really good shot and give him more time before you pull the plug. I commend you for all your positive changes. They are NOT easy. But you have to understand that you've only been in this process for a relatively short time. Your husband probably has a lot of warranted built up anger and resentment at you that he needs time to deal with. If he can't ultimately forgive you for the past and move forward trying to create better dynamics, you may be right that divorce is the best option. But I don't think you are there yet. For one thing- you've only been sober for 18 months. I can tell you that for me- it took 3 years of sobriety for me to really start to get to know myself again and to create a new normal.

It's great you are working on yourself and starting to feel better- but try to have some patience for your husband to make some changes and work through things at his own pace. In the mean time, try to treat him with love and respect, even if he isn't following suit. Get a babysitter and plan some date nights (even if the last thing you feel like doing is hanging out with him). Try to ignore the little digs he is sending your way and just realize that he has been through hell with you and there is a lot of stuff he has to churn through to come out the other side.

If things don't improve for the better in 6 months time or 1 years time, maybe you're right to consider moving on- but please give it a little more time. I know it's hard and it hurts- but there is too much at stake for your family to rush into a decision of that magnitude, especially in the wake of some major life changes on your end.

Great work on the sobriety and the other changes you are making! I know how hard all of that is.

Best of luck with everything. :)


Thank you

Thank you so much, I really needed to hear those things. I emailed him at work and said I was sorry for the mean thing I said. So we're talking again. I think I will reconsider counseling, but this time we'll go with a counselor skilled in adult ADHD. I found one on the adhdmarriage.com website I'm hoping to connect with. 

Thank you again :)