When our household chores get out of control I know I want to run for the hills! That’s why counseling for couples can be so helpful.
It can feel easy to slip into an overwhelmed mental state when it seems like the need is greater than our capacity to manage it…especially when Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is part of the mix. Disputes around household responsibilities are known to be the most common complaint during couple’s therapy when ADHD is present.Number one! This is important information for the couple where one or both are ADHD afflicted because it normalizes the problem, rather than criticizing it for being, “so easy, what’s our problem!?”
Itemizing, structuring, and accomplishing chores is a legitimate struggle for individuals with ADHD. Consequently, tasks can often get dropped or forgotten and the non-ADHD partner can become bitter over the unequal completion of household responsibilities. By the time couples come to counseling, resentment has often set in for both partners.
The ADHD partner can feel frustrated with himself/herself for letting their partner down, mad at their partner for offering seemingly constant reminders, or both. The non-ADHD meanwhile often expresses feeling letdown, unable to trust their partner with requests, and like they are parenting another child.
The non-ADHD partner is also often frustrated with himself/herself because they do not want to be “nagging”. And the partner with ADHD is often frustrated with themselves because they know what they want to be and should be doing, but are hindered by ADHD.
Often when we get into a behavioral response cycle, we lose our ability to think outside the box. We keep trying the same actions over and over when what is really needed is something different. If you feel like you or your partner are feeling disillusionment toward yourself or your partner due to unmanaged ADHD symptoms, I recommend seeking professional assistance with a trained mental health practitioner to tailor a treatment plan and restore happiness to your relationships.
Couples struggling in their marriage due to unmanaged ADHD symptoms may feel a desire to have the counselor hear their side of the story. This is, of course, your right, but to be completely honest, it does not help.
Yes, there is a time and place for your feelings to be validated but the cycle is not going to change simply by processing it. This sort of issue is best addressed through action. ADHD symptoms include poor time management, procrastination, and lack of follow-through, so if “talking” is overemphasized at the expense of action no change is likely to occur.
The following tips and suggestions will give you a concept of some of the behaviorally focused discussion we would address in session.
Make a Daily List
Start your day off right by writing down everything that you hope to get done that day. If you are like me, and perpetually overestimate the number available hours in a day, then take your list and immediately cross off the last three things on it. This will hopefully leave you with a more realistic list.
During my sessions when counseling for couples, I teach SMART goal setting. The acronym stands for: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timed goals.
While the SMART goal technique is often used for long-term goals, I encourage clients to apply it to their daily list making as well. If your to-do list is not specific then you may underestimate how much time it will take.
For example, fixing the leaking faucet may sound like a simple enough item, but if you need to first clean out the storage beneath the sink, run to the hardware store for supplies, view YouTube for additional instructions, and then put all of the items back in the cupboard, what was once one item on your list is really more like five items.
In a similar vein, double check your list to make sure that the items are measurable. In other words, how will you know when it is done? If your chore reads “clean bathroom” what does that include? Are you (or your partner) measuring job completion by it “looking clean” “smelling clean” or is success measured by whether the toilet/sink/shower is scrubbed, the floors mopped, the hand towels swapped out for fresh ones, and the countertops wiped down?
Next, make sure your to-do list is attainable and realistic. If your list reads, “pull weeds” does this include the backyard and front yard? Depending on the season, and state of your yard, this task may or may not be able to be completed within one day. Set yourself up for success.
Remember individuals with ADHD often get bored easily. Changing up the tasks and working for shorter amounts of time may help them accomplish the goal. For example, adjusting the to-do list to read “weed the right half of the backyard”, then the next day/weekend it could read “weed the left half of the backyard” and so on.
Lastly, be like Buddy the Elf, and make sure your to-do list includes a timeframe (e.g. – “make snow angels for two hours”, which in that case would double as your daily cardio). Setting an endpoint can help individuals with ADHD improve their time management skills and stay focused on a boring task because the requirements are clearly stated. In summary, make sure your list is written down (do not rely on your memory) and use the SMART goal setting technique.
Lastly, use your resources. If you like technology use your smartphone to set reminders or download an app to help you check off your to-do list. This can also help with jotting down tasks as you think of them. Imagine being at the grocery store and remembering that you had been wanting to clear out unnecessary/old paperwork the filing cabinet.
Take a moment, jot it down on your phone, and then review your list at a set time each week when you are laying out your weekly schedule; that way, items will not be forgotten.
Determine the Chore Timeline & Create A Check-In Weekly Routine
Different chores need to be done at varying frequencies. This may seem like common knowledge but keeping this fact in mind can help when creating a household chore list. It may be tempting to simply work from a master list of everything that needs to be done, but this could lead to arguments down the line.
For example, one partner might feel that the carpet needs to be vacuumed daily while the other partner believes that once a week is sufficient. These different expectations (often inherited from one’s upbringing) can lead one partner to believe that the other one is completing their task only 1/7th of the time.
A comprehensive chore list should include how often each item is excepted to be completed. I suggest that couples sit down together with no distractions (let the children play outside, put the phones in the adjacent room).
Set a kitchen timer for 30 minutes and with pen and paper draft an initial chore list. First, write down every chore that would ever need to be done around the house. Then put a D, W, M, 2xM, Q, S next to each item, where:
2xW= Twice a Week
2xM= Twice a Month
Q= At the beginning of each quarter
S= Seasonally as needed (e.g. cleaning the gutters)
Then take turns picking out an item, repeating until all of the items are claimed. Try to accomplish an overall balance between partners and be sure to play to your strengths. If you are the partner with ADHD, mowing the lawn may be more appealing to you because it requires more movement, while folding laundry may feel especially daunting.
If you have children, you should delegate chores to them as appropriate to their age or even have them join in on this part of the discussion. After the chores are divided, stop the exercise and plan to return to it in a couple of hours after a mental break or snack.
By wisdom a house is built, and through understanding it is established – Proverbs 24:3.
When you and your partner return to the making of the chore list, jump online and briefly explore lists/whiteboards that would work for you individually or for the household. Whichever you choose, make sure that it can:
1) be displayed visually,
2) includes some type of “check off” or tracking system,
3) details which member is responsible for which task, and
4) the frequency that it should be carried out.
During this second phase of making the chore list, you may also want to create or download some description lists of the cleaning supplies need for the main rooms.
I have found that it works most smoothly when the cleaning supplies are put in strategic places around the house so that when you see something that you need to take care of and have a moment to do it, then you do not have to overcome the additional hurdle of grabbing the supplies and possibly getting distracted in route.
During this second phase 30-minute meeting, you will also want to agree on a regular “check-in” meeting time that you can sit down with your partner at the same time every week to assess task completion (and other household discussion points, such as weekend plans and upcoming holiday boarding for the dog).
A regular check-in meeting allows both partners to feel like the other is engaging in the household responsibilities, which enhances the team perspective and often leads to a boost in partner satisfaction. The weekly meeting also sets the foundation for consistent dialogue so that resentment does not build up.Regular praise and mutual appreciation can be expressed at these meetings, and rewards can be decided upon. You should also update the list for various seasons during these meetings.
From time to time, you may wish to provide feedback to your partner. Remember to use “I-Feel Statements”. For example, “I feel overwhelmed when I have to make breakfast in the morning for the family and the dishes were accidentally not cleaned the night before”.
During a neutral time, you can ask your partner how they prefer to receive feedback. Pre-plan ways to handle the conversation if something does not get done. Being intentional in how you speak to your partner, rather than allowing emotions to impulsively take control in the moment, can go a long way toward healing a relationship. The routine nature of these check-in meetings also helps with memory and follow-through.
Make Cleaning Enjoyable! Well, at Least Not as Boring
Okay, I know this one may sound corny or even frustrating to some of you. You may prefer to do your chores throughout the week, or quietly on your own, but feedback from individuals with ADHD consistently tells us that they find boring tasks easier to do when they feel like they are not in it alone. As a household, you may decide to plan a weekly time where you all do your chores and then reward yourself afterward with something that you find relaxing and enjoyable.
Alternatively, many individuals report that when they can turn an otherwise boring task into a competition they are more likely to complete it. For example, when I fold the laundry I race myself (in my own head) to see how fast I can match the socks in pairs and find the appropriate clothing home for each item. The little jolt of adrenaline helps keep me invested in an otherwise mind dulling task.
Another option for making chores more enjoyable is setting out to solve a problem that engages you, in your mind, while you do the dishes. Some have tried dancing while sweeping, or putting music on and getting their “steps” in while earning their chore completion reward. Or bribe yourself with a treat after each phase of the task is completed.
The other day I just learned of someone who took a picture of their closet as a “before” image and then looked at the closet after they cleaned it out, the visual aid helped them feel immediate gratification for their hard work.
Do all things without murmurings or disputings. – Philippians 2:14
The essential point is to get creative. Use your resources, organize your tasks in advance, track your progress, and reward your success. These suggestions sound small, I know, but trust me, they go a long way toward restoring trust in a relationship that is slowly eroding due to unmanaged ADHD symptoms.
“Chores,” courtesy of Orin Zebest, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY 2.0); “Getting it Done,” courtesy of Cathryn Lavery, unsplash.com, CC0 Public Domain License; “ADHD Scrabble Tiles,” courtesy of PracticalCures.com, Flickr Creative Commons 2.0, CC0 License; “List”, Courtesy of Hannah Olinger, Unsplash.com, CC0 License
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