Last week in the New York Times, I read research that suggests that women’s health is hurt by keeping things that bother them inside, instead of communicating to their partners. And, it’s not just the relationship that is hurt, but their hearts as well. Not just emotionally hurt, but physically. This is good news for women with ADD as we’ve never been accused of holding things in, We must have pretty healthy hearts!
Sometimes, though, as I discovered last night, we might think we are constantly communicating how we feel while we actually may be missing our target.
For about five days now, I thought I was communicating frequently and clearly to my dear husband that I had a stiff neck. I assumed he would understand that I was not just trying to give him a running narrative of my health like some 24 hour cable news program, but that I wanted him to know I was in pain. That I wanted some comfort and empathy, and that this was the reason I kept saying no to activities he suggested doing. Since he didn’t react or respond I assumed he just didn’t care or wasn’t listening.
I was incredibly surprised to discover last night that my husband actually didn’t understand what I meant when I wandered around the house for days muttering about my symptoms. It turns out he actually had no clue why I kept informing him about the condition of my neck. My thinking was, if I repeated the same thing to another person 5 times within a 30 minute period, the other person would get that something was very important. He, of course, accused me of being indirect.
In general, women need to process their thoughts and feelings out loud. Adding ADD to this can really create a problem in effective communication. The sheer volume of thoughts and feelings and connections, coupled with the tangents and inspirations - all expressed out loue - can lead one’s male partner to withdraw, or look blank and leave you feeling abandoned.
Sometimes women with ADD are flooded with a jumble of things to do and a tangle of emotions they can’t sort out any easier than the papers on the dining room table. They may feel like they are drowning in a vast cognitive sea without any driftwood to latch on to. Sometimes they just want to know someone hears them, like a life line. Sometimes they want someone to help tidy up their thoughts a little, like they would on their desk. At other times, though, they may need complete quiet and the best thing is for their partners to leave them alone for a few minutes.
It can be confusing for a partner to know what you need when. Sometimes, in a hotel room I need someone just to take over and help me pack. Other times, I do better when everyone just leaves the room for a few minutes and relieves the pressure. Even the best intentioned partners don’t always know what to do to be helpful even when they want to!
So what to do if they aren’t getting the clue?
First, you can notice when you are repeating yourself and it is not making an impact. You can understand that sheer repetition of the same thought in the same form isn't likely to have the desired effect.
Ask yourself –“What am I really trying to communicate? Specifically.
What do I want them to understand?
What do I want them to say?
What do I want them to do?
What would be helpful?
What can I request?
The more specific you can be, and the clearer you are in your own mind about what you want or need, the greater your chances of success.
For example things like
“What would help me is for you to spend five minutes listening to me and help me sort thru my thought and feelings. “
“What would help me is just for me to tell you how I am feeling and you just listen and give me a little hug”
“When I am freaking out what I need is for you to leave me alone for five minutes.
Or don't leave me alone…”
Keep talking- it will help your heart in more ways than one but if you aren’t getting a response, don’t shut down and give up. According to the paper and the research ” self-silencing” is the biggest risk of all for a woman’s heart.
Luckily, self-silencing isn’t a big issue for women with ADD! Just try to be more specific than you ever dreamed necessary.
I have to stop typing now… I have a stiff neck!..I know you’ll understand.
Sari Solden is a therapist and author of "Women with Attention Deficit Disorder: Embrace Your Differences and Transform Your Life" and "Journeys into ADDulthood". We appreciate her expertise, particularly in the area of how women can manage their ADD and what special issues they face.