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Married to ADHD

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Married to ADHD

Most of us think of ADHD as a disorder of childhood, and generally speaking, it is.  However, ADHD can last into adulthood or even be first diagnosed in adulthood.  Often, adults are finally getting a diagnosis and understanding of problems that they have struggled with for many, many years.

It’s not easy having ADHD as a child, and it presents yet another set of problems for adults.  When you were a child, it was your parents and teachers who had to learn about your ADHD and live with your symptoms.  When you are an adult, your ADHD has a profound affect on your spouse.

Spouses often complain that their partner isn’t helpful, can’t remember anything, and never does what is asked of them.  Naturally, they interpret this as a lack of caring and believe that their partner’s failure to do what would please them is personal.  I often hear, “If he really loved me, he’d try harder or remember to do XYZ.  He just doesn’t seem to care, and that is really hurtful.”

In reality, nothing could be further from the truth.  Your partner is trying to please, and really wants to be able to please you, but the ADHD brain is getting in the way.  Hurt feelings, blame, and resentment start to build, and then it becomes a troubled marriage.

If you both want things to improve in your marriage, you BOTH have to practice acceptance and empathy.  Everyone has their flaws, and when you get irritated, you might not be reacting in the kindest or most helpful ways.  That being said, it is important to recognize the differences between things that one has control over and can change, and those that one does not have control over and likely will not change.

When a person has ADHD or numerous other diagnoses that literally reside in the way the brain is wired, they won’t be able to change that, no matter how hard they try.  This is where people with ADHD are so often misunderstood, and this is why educating yourself about ADHD can be really helpful.

Most often, your spouse wants to please you, tries to please you, but seems to continuously fail at that.  It is difficult to understand that he is not failing at this purposely or to upset you or because he doesn’t care about you.  Like most people with ADHD, he feels like no matter how hard he tries, he can never please you, and it makes him feel like a failure.  When you then criticize or berate him for these failures, can you even begin to imagine how he must feel?  It becomes an incredibly difficult and painful situation for both of you.  I do believe, though, that you each have total control over how you speak to each another, and the amount of love and empathy you can show one another.

You must learn to accept each other’s flaws and communicate effectively, rather than in a disrespectful or condescending manner. It can be very helpful to learn new ways to channel your frustration and anger, rather than taking them out on your partner.  While your feelings are valid, how you handle them is critically important, and can be the difference between saving your marriage or not.

Criticizing your partner does nothing to help your marriage.  You are likely far more organized and particular than your spouse.  Can you accept that?  Can you find things he IS good at?  If you allow trivial things to bother you, and express your frustration in a damaging way, you are literally destroying your marriage.  If you are feeling resentful because things aren’t being done as you wish, and you are personalizing it, imagine how your partner must feel.

Could he be feeling resentful because of the way you are treating him when he fails to do many of these things? It seems like this is a losing battle. Ask yourself how truly important is each of these things?  Is it worth losing your marriage over?

If you want to improve your marriage, there are things that you can each do to facilitate this, but only if you choose to.  You must stay focused on yourself, and the changes you can make.  You cannot change another person, no matter how hard you try.  On the other hand, if you dig your heels in and blame one another, defend your position, feel sorry for yourselves, or make false equivalents and excuses not to take responsibility and make changes, the marriage will suffer.

Neither of you will ever be perfect.  Nobody will ever live up to unrealistic expectations of the other.  Why not change the expectations to more realistic ones, and work on loving one another even with all your flaws?  Why not focus on each other’s strengths?

This starts with choosing your battles, making a conscious decision to be respectful to one another, taking responsibility for your own part in the problems, and changing the things you do have control over.  Once you do this, your partner will likely be more able to focus and concentrate, thereby doing more of the things you want him to do.

When a person perceives he is being attacked, he tends to get defensive or shut down.  If he feels accepted and loved, he can stay calm and present.  Once he starts doing that, you will be happier, which will also make him happier, and then everything starts to look different.

Don’t be afraid to go first.  Don’t get so hung up on what is fair or not fair.  Keep your goal of improving the marriage as the priority rather than what is fair, who is right, who is the victim, whose fault it is, who started it, etc.  Talk about your feelings with a trusted therapist or even a friend. Learn as much about ADHD as you can.  Find a support group of other spouses just like you.  Once you understand more about ADHD, you will be better able to improve your marriage.

Lori Freson Lori Freson is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Southern California. She has been working in the mental health field since 1997, and has been a licensed therapist since 2002. Lori currently works in her own thriving private practice in Encino and Sherman Oaks, where she serves the San Fernando Valley and Los Angeles areas.
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