Adults with Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) deal with the upheavals and challenges that come with impulsivity, inattentiveness, and hyperactivity. While they have trouble navigating through these life obstacles the situation can be made worse by the “confines” of marriage.
When one partner ends up unwittingly taking the role of the ‘parent’ in the situation the marriage can start to become a toxic mess of blame, disappointment, and frustration.
Some couples have learned to face the problems head-on and have successfully found ways to build a healthy relationship. This often occurs when a diagnosis has been made and the couple is working hard to assist the afflicted party while still getting their needs met.
But often when an adult with ADHD is not aware of their condition the relationship can be harmed. When both partners have ADHD the situation could escalate into standoffs and accumulated trauma.
From Hyper Focus to Inattentiveness
Sometimes the spouse of an adult with ADHD will feel alone and ignored. In the early stages of the relationship, there was so much intensity that the spouse felt like they were the only person in the world to their partner. This is a familiar story where the partner with ADHD is in a state commonly referred to as a hyperfocus state where they shut out all distractions in favor of the object of their attention.
But this state can’t be maintained and once their focus shifts to another interest the spouse can suddenly feel left out. At that point, they can begin to feel angry and disillusioned by having to look after all of the household responsibilities while the adult with ADHD seems to get to do whatever they like without having to step up and do their part.
On the other hand, the partner with ADHD can feel like they have married someone who now “nags all the time”, who is always shouting at them, and micromanaging every aspect of their lives. If you are able to spot the symptoms of ADHD and take the steps to confirm the suspected diagnosis, there is a very good chance you will be able to turn a declining marital situation around.
The Consequences of Untreated ADHD
Another issue that plagues married couples, where ADHD is present, is a tendency for the non-ADHD partner to feel like they have to walk on eggshells, expecting a tantrum, angry outburst or excessively rude behavior.
Since they do not want to set their partner off, they become accommodating, passive, or disconnected, as they desperately try to second-guess what their partner is going to do. This is often the case when one person has untreated ADHD symptoms, and is stressful for both parties.
The Path of Denial
Sometimes even when a person has been diagnosed with ADHD they go into denial and have difficulty recognizing the impact on their relationships. Therapists often tell their clients that if they are skeptical about whether or not their ADHD has any effect on their marriage then they should always assume that it does and get assistance to honestly evaluate the situation.
Misinterpreting ADHD Symptoms
The challenge for the non-ADHD partner lies in not misinterpreting the symptoms their partner is displaying. Distraction and inattentiveness do not mean they are no longer loved but rather that the adult with ADHD is struggling to stay focused. Therapists often recommend spending more time together in order to better understand the symptoms of ADHD and how they negatively impact the relationship.
The reality is that a non-ADHD partner cannot force their partner’s symptoms to go away. They are not suddenly going to get more organized, become actively involved in chores or miraculously transform into a responsible contributor to the household. The harder they push, the more resistance they encounter and the higher the frustration levels will be for both parties. The adult with ADHD will feel increasingly demoralized by the constant criticism from their loved one.
The adult with ADHD often sees their spouse as:
- Impossible to please
- Unable to relax
They are left feeling judged and they end up withdrawing even further from their partner. The adult with ADHD experiences an inner restlessness and feels that their brain is racing faster and faster but that they cannot keep up. It is extremely difficult to keep their daily lives under control and they feel totally overwhelmed by the smallest things. These feelings are often kept secret.
With their spouses running the show, they can feel incompetent (whether true or not). These situations make them feel ashamed and can result in outbursts or the temptation to retreat. When everyone around them from the home to the office insists on them “changing” their behavior they can begin to believe that who they are is unlovable.
The Non-ADHD partners experience their spouse as:
- Exhibiting childish behavior
- Frequently failing to follow through on promises
They are left feeling tired, depressed and resentful. They can feel like, “I did not sign up to take all of the responsibility, be the ‘parent’, do all the household chores and deal with the backlash of constant impulsivity!”
After a period of time spent in the company of an undiagnosed adult with ADHD, the spouse can feel unloved, uncherished and emotionally blocked. They often feel constant stress as they can never drop their guard, and end up feeling constantly exhausted and depleted.
So what are some of the ways through this minefield?
Before a couple can find a way back to each other they need to start at the beginning and find out everything there is to know about the symptoms of ADHD (assuming that there has been a professional diagnosis). It is important to really see the person and not merely the symptoms.
The partner with ADHD is not “irresponsible” it is a symptom. In the same way that the angry, nagging behavior of the non-ADHD spouse is not their defining character trait, but rather a feeling that arises as part of this interpersonal dynamic. Researching ADHD is often highly empowering for both partners, and the non-ADHD partner finds they do not have to take things quite so personally.
Pressing the Reset Button
The next step is to deeply reflect on and acknowledge the hurt both parties have endured due to the symptoms of untreated ADHD. Both adults have to take responsibility for their part in the equation and should not dismiss their partner’s complaints.
Then you can start on the journey towards compromise and cooperation. The balance of power in the relationship often has to be addressed and the parent/child dynamic has to be dissolved. Set some rules that each person needs to adhere to – such as no nagging, and no disrespecting of the others person’s genuine concerns.
Be generous with your praise and seek to create positive patterns in place of negative ones that have kept you both in a harmful cycle. Acknowledge that you have different perspectives and view the world in different ways.
Wherever possible do not revisit old wounds and start to play the blame game. Rather, identify what you love about each other and look at each other’s strengths. Understand that you have to develop an entirely new way of communicating with each other.
Great Communication Skills Include:
- Expressing your emotions. Get them out in the open before they fester and make you ill. If you don’t speak up the issue cannot be resolved.
- Avoid assumptions about what your partner is thinking or feeling. Instead ask them directly.
- Eliminate accusatory language. They only trigger defensiveness in the other partner. Instead, try using an “I feel ____________” statement.
- Maintain a healthy sense of humor. Learn to laugh through all of the miscommunications to relieve built-up tension.
- Try to communicate face to face. Phone, email or text does not let you read all of the non-verbal signs your partner will be giving off.
- Avoid interruptions
- Pay attention by asking questions. Avoid the monologue.
- Ask the partner to repeat something if your mind has wandered off and you have stopped following the conversation.
- Practice constant encouragement when each of you reaches a milestone in changing old patterns.
To-Do List for a Successful Marriage
When looking at ways to accomplish the teamwork needed to solve the marital issues you will find that a lot of the solution revolves around scheduling. You need to divide up the household chores and tasks and make sure that each person does their part. Assign them according to each person’s specific skills.
Plan a weekly sit-down meeting to address any issues that might have arisen during the week and remember to praise each other for what has been successfully executed. Take a long hard look at the division of responsibility in the marriage and make sure that the workload is distributed equally so that one person is not having to do way more than the other.
If it is exceptionally difficult for the partner with ADHD to get through their list, one option is to outsource certain tasks (when finances allow). For example, you could hire a cleaning service for your home, a nanny, or set up automatic bill payments so that nothing is forgotten or neglected.
It’s all about setting up a solid routine with set times for meals, sleep, chores, exercise. Use sticky notes and calendar reminders to keep the to-do list at the forefront of both of your minds.
It is also advisable for couples to explore all of the treatment options available in order to see if medication will help the spouse with ADHD to lead a more fulfilling life. Nutrition and regular exercise have also demonstrated a positive impact when it comes to managing ADHD symptoms. Lastly, counseling can help you to identify harmful patterns of behavior and ways to change them.
Christian Based ADHD Therapy
Therapists can assist couples to find healthy ways to recalibrate their marriage. They can help the adult with ADHD understand the symptoms that are propelling their inner restlessness and offer ways to overcome their marital issues. Christian therapists that work with adults with ADHD approach the disorder from a number of different angles.
They offer talk therapy to listen to the individuals’ struggles that have been a result of their disorder. The traditional psychological approach assists the person with plotting a way through the chaos to find solutions to the most debilitating aspects of their condition.
For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace. — Romans 6:14
They also offer spiritual support. Individuals might have lost all hope and faith in the power of God to walk them through this difficult journey, but the Christian therapist is able to nurture their relationship with the Spirit through a more holistic approach.
The Bible offers solid wisdom to put the sufferer back on the path to self-understanding and alignment with God’s purpose for their lives. Strong faith brings inner strength and trust in God as you seek to live in accordance with his word.
The Christian therapist is able to steer you back towards faith in God, who will provide inner resolve to see you through the challenges of your marriage and the rebuilding and maintaining of positive relationships.
If you are an adult with ADHD who is experiencing marital fallout, I can help you to find a workable schedule and spiritual solution. I am in the Seattle area. We will examine where your “downloaded messages” are coming from as well as understanding Christian culture versus the Biblical world in our pursuit to find answers to the challenges you face in your marriage.
Do not underestimate your need for grace in order to escape the burden of your disorder by finding solace in the Holy Spirit. My life’s work is to aid clients with their personal and spiritual maturity. I believe in prayer as action and prayer with action and would love to help you find a way through the challenges of your ADHD.
“Falling”, Courtesy of Ashley Bean, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Eggshells”, Courtesy of Greg Reese, Pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Minefield”, Courtesy of Dimitris Vetsikas, Pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Marriage”, Courtesy of Taylor Hernandez, Unsplash.com, CC0 License