Work With Transition Issues, Not Against Them

Transitions are often very hard with people with ADHD, and this can cause headaches for couples.  The typical response is that a non-ADD spouse expresses anger and disappointment that the ADHD spouse is never on time, can’t start or complete chores, and never seems to get into bed at a reasonable hour.  This doesn’t need to be the way things are, though...

You can smooth your relationship (and day!) if you work with the fact that transitions are hard, rather than against it.  I was reminded of this by a blog post in which a woman said she emails her husband during the day with their plans for the evening so he can think about it for a while.  A terrific idea!

The difficulty that people with ADHD have starting a project, transitioning from one project to the next or finishing something up is really easy to observe.  Just watch your ADHD spouse or child try to start something that doesn't seem like's torturous for them!  Or, try to get an untreated person with ADHD off the computer once he or she is engrossed.  The house could be burning down and he or she would likely stay glued to the screen!  (There are physical reasons for this, too.  Your brain "self medicates" with squirts of dopamine when on the computer playing games and doing other "fast" tasks, so this makes that particular disconnection even harder.)

So, what to do?  Here are some ideas that may make things easier for everyone:

  1. As our reader suggested, give someone with ADHD extra warning when you want them to transition in or out of something new.  A quick email or call during the day to let your husband know you are hoping he will join the family at the pool after work will take away the surprise, and give him time to wrap his mind around the upcoming change.
  2. Create specific routines that can be counted upon.  If your spouse needs time to decompress after work, for example, create a routine where she comes in the door and has 30 minutes to change out of her work clothes and pull herself together before needing to interact with everyone in the house.  Or, create a fun routine that you can both count on, like Sunday papers in bed with coffee and donuts.
  3. Expect that the ADD spouse may need several upbeat “reminders” to disconnect.  Don’t fret if you develop a pattern of “we’ll need to leave the house in about 10 minutes, why don’t you start turning off your computer now?” followed by “five minute warning until we have to leave!” etc.  As long as you both agree that these reminders are helpful and the tone of voice that they are delivered in is positive you can avoid nagging and/or oppositional responses.
  4. Be realistic about how long it takes to transition.  Don’t plan a series of projects or encounters that back right up to each other in a way that can turn into disaster if you start running late because it took longer than expected to shift gears from one appointment to the next.
  5. Recognize that some appointments are just not as important to one spouse as the other.  For example, one couple I know came to blows over her always being late to parties he wanted to attend (it took her “too long” to get ready).  An easy solution for this is to go separately – with no hard feelings.

Medication can also significantly improve how someone with ADHD transitions in and out of tasks.  If you are a person with ADHD who has trouble meeting deadlines or initiating difficult tasks, consider trying medications to help you improve in this area.  You may not be able to “see” a difference, but your spouse will clearly be able to tell you whether or not the medications help you start and stop more easily.


Being the judge

Hi Melissa, I've been reading through this blog over the past couple weeks. The first time I found it, I was overwhelmed. Other people are out there who are dealing with all this stuff! It's not in my head! There is such a thing as support for the nonADD spouse! What a wonderful gift you are giving us. I'm not sure where I should post my comments, so I figured I'd just put them out here, in this post. Everything, all the ADD stuff, bleeds together in my mind, and I don't know how to label my thoughts. I have several things that I'm dealing with at this point, but I'll just talk about one right now. First, a little background. J and I have been married for 12 years, tomorrow. We have four children, ages 8, 7, 4, and 2. J knew that he was probably ADD and we always joked about it, but it wasn't till about a year ago that he finally went and got evaluated and put on medication. He's now on Concerta (the third med he tried---the first one was horrid and the second was a dud), and I love it. (I'm normally pretty oppossed to meds, so for me to be in love with a pill is rather ironic and humerous.) The impetus for J to get diagnosed was that our 8 year old had been acting out dramatically and we were both working on our own issues in order to better parent him (our son has just completed an extensive evaluation and we will be getting the results in two weeks). J is very easily angered and we figured that might be part of the problem. I was taking a counseling class and read Driven to Distraction. Lightbulbs everywhere! Also, J's mother sent us his childhood medical/school records and reading them was like reading the examples out of Driven to Distraction. Now that J is on meds, he explodes much less frequently and that has helped a lot. Also, J is a wonderful person---creative, hardworking, high standards and values, trustworthy, respects me, loves us and is committed to us, intelligent, and all that. He's a real catch of a husband. Our marriage is not on the rocks. However, that doesn't mean our marriage isn't rocky! Okay, so here's the one issue I'll pick out to talk about for now. J easily forgets the big picture of what our life/goals is about and lashes out in anger at how he is inconvenienced. For example, we have a big garden. He knows and agrees with the premise of gardening---the health benefits, living close to the earth, teaching our children these skills, food tastes better, better for the environment, and so on. But then it comes time to haul leaves or get rotting hay or stake the tomatoes, he lashes out, saying he doesn't know why we're doing this, it's pointless, a waste of time, he can never do anything that he wants to do, etc. A day or two later he may get out to the garden and weed for hours and say that he loves it. Or he'll suggest that next year we plant a really big corn crop. See my quandry? How much do I listen to his anger? Or do ignore it and look at the big picture? I hate having all that anger directed at me, as though I'm the one causing all his problems. It's hard to stand up under that verbal assult. We've done all sorts of things (talking about it in the off-season and so on) and we come up with a plan and then he still gets angry. It's exhausting, and it debilitates me. I don't know if I'm being unreasonable. I'm constantly questioning myself, trying to figure up if I should stand up to it, and if so, how I should stand up to it. I'm placed in the position of judge and I hate it. And yes, we talk about all this a lot. It's just a part of living with him, I guess... I'm thinking that come winter we will draw up a gardening plan (and this is just one little area where we have this problem) and make a contract and sign it. Maybe I'll frame it. My hand might get worn out from pointing at it, but that would be okay---a paper judge would be a nice change. All that to say, how do you deal with being the family judge, deciding what's worth sticking to, what's not, etc? How do you not get blown to and fro by the whims of the ADD person and then stand up under the verbal attack when you don't budge? Jennifer

I think the contract is a

I think the contract is a great idea. Putting things in writing makes it easier to remember that both parties were on board with a plan. I still wonder what your husband's specific problem with the garden is. Is it just that sometimes he's not in the mood to deal with it and he's expressing that in an unpleasant way? Can you work with him on finding less unpleasant way of expressing his frustration? In my marriage it's been helpful for me to understand how my reactions affect my wife emotionally. There are some things she can just laugh off; others bother her and I need her to tell me that. Folks with ADHD need to express their frustration but there are lots of ways to do that.

Gardening and the Like

I LOVE this series of posts not only for the visual imagery that they bring to mind but also the specific details and ideas laid out!

A couple of thoughts - First, while your husband's anger may be a result of his ADD (particularly if you see unexpected blow ups in other areas of your life), his desire not to garden on certain days probably is just that -too hot, too tired, or just not in the mood.  I put away a fair amount of jam in the summer, and there are some days that I just can't bring myself to make another batch, even as the fruit (over)ripens...

So, dealing with the symptom of anger is important here, but there are other ways to get the weeding done.  A great idea might be to hire a local high schooler with strong muscles to join you in the garden in late July and early August on a project basis.  Why do you need to do it all yourself when you can get cheap, and ready, help?

As for anger - this needs to be addressed with your husband's doctor.  Meds may be able to help...or, at least, have a conversation about how hard it is for him to communicate with you when he is angry - you shut down and it hurts, so you would like to find a different way for him to express his ideas with you.

I have more, but will have to come back to it calls here in the form of my impatient daughter!

Melissa Orlov

Melissa's Garden

Hi Melissa, I had to chuckle at the garden scenario. I go through this every year... and the garden is MY idea!! I'm the combined type AD/HD member of the household, a woman in my middle-aged years, daignosed 2 years ago and also on Concerta. I LOVE gardening when: it's still an inspirational creation, it is cool outside, is a physical respite from the long, boring winter, and feels nuturing to my soul. Yet, year after year, your scenario plays out in my backyard. I start the growing season with gusto but by the end of July the story changes. When the weeds are back AGAIN???, it's too darn hot, I have no idea why the cucumber and zucchini leaves are mildewing, and am beyond frustrated that the promising seedlings I bought at Home Depot are only bearing one sorry looking eggplant, I think, "Oh no, not again!". I have reached my dead zone, that mental and physical point where I am unable to make myself do things like drag myself into the garden to pick the ready to rot veggies or pull the surrounding avalanche of encroaching weeds. My fiancee of three years has asked me each summer why I'm not picking the veggies or spending time in the garden weeding and I can't answer him. I've asked myself that same question every August for years! If he were to verbally judge my odd behavior, hound me and point to a contract I signed when I was filled with energy and possibility, I would get even more depressed about my situation, feel his words as yet another blow to my lowered self-esteem, and promise myself never, ever to garden again, (which of course, I might forget by spring when I am so enthusiastic again). Instead, he says something like this, "Did you see the nice tomatoes in the garden?" Now it might take me two days to look, but when I do, I see a beautiful, heavy tomato, inching it's way down to a mat of weeds. I pick it, eat it for dinner and then start to feel badly that the tomato plant is struggling. Another couple of days might go by where all I feel is a sense of dread and lethargy as I see the garden as a gigantic mountain of monotany I simply cannot endure. Then, maybe a few days later on a cool morning, I might glance at the garden and feel a renewed sense of energy. All of a sudden I'll feel a desire to give that tomato plant another chance so, tools in hand I head for the garden. Utterly focused and with missionary zeal, I can weed non-stop for hours. Feeling successful, I think, NOW I can finally stop this weeding crap, the same thought I had six weeks earlier. How can you change or influence change in your AD/HD spouse? I don't think you can with a contract. A contract may well have a boomerang effect, coming back to haunt you in unforseen ways. If instead, you figured out how to make gardening a game, teasing him, partnering with him, or cajoling him, you might experience greater lots of fun. As to insights, I've come to realize that I encounter several major gardening obstacles in late July and August. First, the heat saps all my energy. Add to that the idea of harvesting and I am mentally overwhelmed because we never have enough room in the fridge for all those veggies that ripen all at once. Secondly, I detest repitition and since I've already weeded the garden several times already, I just don't want to do it again. Finally, I have a sneaky suspicion that my energy spirals downward due to the start of the declining hours of sunlight, and my body, noticing the change, enters a lethargic period of adjustment (my hens slow down at the same time I do, laying fewer eggs). AD/HD is like a garden. In the early energetic, creative stage it is joyful and delightful, in the boring, weeding stage, it is an irritating pain in the butt. Good Luck!

thank you, and do visit...

Upon reading the title of this blog, I immediately think that you would love to read my recent article: Thank you for keeping such a blog like this! I'm the ADDer in the family, in a country where people are ignorant of ADD. I'm glad to have stumbled across this blog...I'm glad both for my husband and for myself. Thank you! :-) And do visit my article. :-)