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.