You, Me & ADHD: ADHD Relationship Support

ADHD RELATIONSHIP SUPPORT

Much is being written online about ADHD relationships but few offer in-depth support and knowledge. That’s where this blog-poser series is different.

Welcome to the first post in the You, Me, and ADHD online book club. It’s not really a book club in the traditional sense. It’s a series of  first-person essays based on reading my first book, Is It You, Me, or Adult A.D.D.?

My friend, Taylor J, writes about her personal reactions to each chapter.  Taylor has a multi-angled perspective on ADHD relationships:

  1. She has late-diagnosis ADHD
  2. Her husband also has late-diagnosis
  3. Likely all four of her children have ADHD, too
  4. Her parents and at least one siblings have ADHD.

After she shares her own reactions to each chapter, Taylor invites you to join in by offering some discussion points. I hope you will participate—both to receive ADHD relationship support for yourself and to educate the public on these issues.

For one chapter, Jaclyn Paul, of The ADHD Homestead, wrote a personal essay drawing from her own experience.

There are 22 posts in all (not every chapter has an essay here). Consider them your first step in gaining support for your ADHD relationship.

By Taylor J.

We begin with an excerpt from the Introduction of Is It You, Me, or Adult A.D.D.? (the “I” here is Gina):

I wish I’d had this book 10 years ago, when the world was metaphorically knocking me upside the head, teaching me to pay attention to that human organ called the brain. Teaching me to view the brain, in fact, as an organ, vital to our every physical and emotional function yet oh so vulnerable.

At the time, my 84-year-old mother was slipping tragically into an Alzheimer’s-like stroke dementia—recognizing me as her “great friend” but not her seventh and youngest child. It broke my heart. But if her memory had remained intact, it would have broken her heart to see her oldest child and my brother, then age 60, rapidly succumbing to brain cancer.

Amidst these family dramas, I met my future husband. Over dinner one evening, this newly minted scientist, fresh from completing his doctoral degree at a neurological institute, sprang this unsettling idea on me: Everything we think, do, or feel happens due to chemical reactions in the brain.

The book’s introduction sets us up for a drastic world-view change. That is, we can link behavior  to biology on a level we’d never fathomed. Brain chemistry, diseases, and mental illness can drastically shape or alter a person’s behavior.

You Mean Behavior Is Biology? Yikes!

Gina acknowledges how uncomfortable that idea is for many of us:

I shuddered, alarmed at the thought of reducing the seat of the self, the seat of the soul, to a chemistry-lab experiment.

The experience, however, of watching a brain condition so drastically change first her mother and then her oldest brother left her open to a new possibility—that there’s more to our actions than our intentions, morals, and value systems. The brain is an organ, and organs can become sick or otherwise malfunction.

Alzheimer’s (most likely stroke dementia) meant Gina’s mother could no longer recognize Gina as her youngest daughter. Was this something her mother could control? Of course not.

Honestly, before discovering that both my husband and I had ADHD, brain chemistry never would have crossed my mind.

It never occurred to me that the problems in our marriage were anything but my fault, and something I should be able to control by my own willpower. After all, I

  • Was disorganized
  • Never followed through on commitments
  • Jumped from project to project
  • Needed reminders to do basic things—like showering and brushing my teeth

MATH AND ADHD

Meet Dr. Math

My husband, on the other hand, was brilliant. He’s has a Ph.D. in math. He writes flowing poetry, plays guitar, can imitate Sean Connery flawlessly, and sings Italian arias in a deep, baritone voice. If he didn’t pay attention to my needs (more about that in future posts) then obviously I didn’t deserve it.

When I discovered and started addressing my own ADHD, I thought our marital problems would go away, but they didn’t. The financial problems, the broken promises, and the neglect of my needs kept happening over and over.

I wanted to bang my head against the wall and scream: “How can a math Ph.D. not understand compound interest and negative numbers? That is, that we couldn’t keep spending more than we brought in? And, how can such a compassionate man be so utterly selfish?”

Gina’s experience with her husband echoed my own:

His brain worked brilliantly much of the time. But when it didn’t, when some inexplicable glitch snagged the system, the glaring disparity defied credulity. The fact that he typically failed even to perceive any such glitch, confidently insisting that I had misspoken or forgotten, gave me even more reason to doubt my perceptions

The idea that someone could be as brilliant as my husband but have a biological problem that kept him from hearing me—from remembering me—was so shocking. Before, I’d just thought he didn’t love me enough to care about my needs. I was prepared to accept my own diagnosis, but not his.

Ironically, it was my diagnosis and treatment that allowed me to start seeing our life together with more clarity.

ADHD Relationship Support

Finding No Answers in the Marriage Books

For years in the past, I read everything I could on marriage. I see now that dozens of books described the behaviors of ADHD—but did not name them as such. They also described in detail how relationally damaging they could be. But none of them suggested the behaviors were attributable to something biological—namely, ADHD.

Gina writes,

[M]ost of these books offer scant advice other than coping, detaching, or leaving. Some books even blame readers’ dysfunction for making such bad choices in a mate, and others insist that these troubling mates act willfully and are consciously abusive.

After reading this passage, I pulled every single relationship book off my shelf and scanned their bibliographies to confirm: Did any of them make reference to treatable conditions such as ADHD. They didn’t. Was there any ADHD relationship support?  No.

Yet, every single one of them made at least one reference to some book that called ADHD a myth, a cop-out, or an over-diagnosed drugged-out nightmare.

All this time, without realizing it, I’d been reading books on how to cope with ADHD, and not one book on how to treat it. Until now.

Discussion Points:

  1. How did you come to understand that your own or your partner’s problematic behaviors were biologically based, as opposed to a moral, spiritual, or character failure? What was your journey?
  2. When you shared your insights with others, did you encounter opposition to the idea that behaviors can be brain-based? From whom?
  3. What other issues did this introduction bring up for you?

We welcome your thoughts below in a comment; there are no annoying codes to enter.

Your story will help others. While it is useful to have read the book’s introduction first, please feel free to join the discussion even if you haven’t.

The primary goal here is offering ADHD Relationship Support.

Here is the next post: Chapter 1: ADHD Myths Vs. Facts

Gina Pera

38 thoughts on “You, Me & ADHD: ADHD Relationship Support”

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  4. I’m late to this convo, but thought I’d still comment anyway.

    1. How did you come to understand that your own or your partner’s problematic behaviors were biologically based, as opposed to a moral, spiritual, or character failure? What was your journey?
    –I have a degree in psych/school counseling, so I had enough knowledge to tell something was off, but not enough to diagnose my partner. 😉 His symptoms really started becoming more noticeable after our first child was born. It wasn’t until our son was 4 or 5 that someone diagnosed him. I think it was our family doc. DH still doesn’t agree with the diagnosis because he thinks it means admitting his personality or character is flawed. He has been on/off medication for 7 years. Currently on but as others have mentioned, the behavior has left so much damage and hurt in its wake. He has begrudingly agreed to marriage counseling again, so I’m calling marriage counselor #3 tomorrow.

    2. When you shared your insights with others, did you encounter opposition to the idea that behaviors can be brain-based? From whom?
    –as I mentioned, DH is not convinced. And while I *know* his behavior is brain-based, it’s hard to separate them from the deep hurt that they’ve caused in our family and in our relationship. I’ve talked about it a bit with a friend going through similar issues with her DH and she wasn’t entirely convinced either. She’s walking a similar road and her DH who was previously on Adderall is now on Zoloft and is doing tons better, so who knows what’s up there.

    3. What other issues did this introduction bring up for you?
    –Just feeling a little like maybe our marriage is too far gone, that even if DH finally gets good treatment, maybe the damage is already done and it’s too late. We’ll see…

    1. Hi Deb,

      Thank you for continuing the discussion. It’s meant to be “evergreen” so no one can be late. 🙂

      I hope that your dh can finally find — and be willing to accept — good treatment. Maybe, as you say, it might be too late for your marriage. But it won’t be too late for your children, and co-parenting will be a forever relationship, right? At least that’s how I’ve seen it go.

      best,
      g

    2. Hello, I am looking for support as a partner to my husband who I believe has adult ADHD. What is the best way to be a part of a support group or blog. I have read Gina’s book, Is it you, Me or adult ADD.
      I would like to be in a support group for partners. I apologize if this is not the correct place for this request.
      Best SS

  5. I’ve read Gina’s book many times; it is still the “Bible”, as far as I’m concerned, on adult relationships and ADHD.

    I’d like to make two somewhat sad comments about the nature and state of ADHD in relationships, as I see it: The first is that there is still a paucity of qualified therapeutic relationship resources in the community, at any cost, for ADHD couples and especially for the non-ADHD partner. In my opinion, this is due in part to lack of demand – only a small fraction of adults with ADHD have yet been accurately diagnosed, lack of interest on the part of therapists – long-ingrained problem ADHD behaviors can be devilishly difficult to change, and lack of energy on the part of the non-ADHD spouse – who has time for therapy when you’re the only one keeping the wheels from flying off the bus?

    The second comment is that this thread is typical of those in the non-ADHD support world, from what I’ve seen, in that the posts from non-ADHD partners are largely from women and not men. My opinion is that this is because women are more likely to stick it out for the long haul, and to continue to look for solutions and support, even when the situation is not improving, possibly for financial and/or family reasons. I also think some men find it easier, emotionally, to move on when the relationship is not improving or not improving as fast as they’d like.

    For myself, and for the present moment, I’m still in the game.

    I’ve seen many similar versions of my story on the web: my beautiful, young (20 years old at the time), smart and silly wife and I were married 28 years ago. Her brilliant idea for a business led to our financial security; I very early on had to remove her involvement from critical functions, though I didn’t understand why she couldn’t pay the bills on time, etc. At that time adult ADHD did not exist, certainly not for women. Weird things happened from time to time. I kept my head down. Decades passed.

    About 5 yeas ago, partly to help deal with the stress of the financial crisis, I learned meditation and incorporated that into my daily routine. Part of a Zen lifestyle is reducing intoxicants, so I quit drinking alcohol. My mind began to clear, and I woke up from a 25 year dream, realizing that I was intensely lonely and covering up my feelings with alcohol. My wife was caring for her mother and niece a few towns away, and not coming home until the wee hours several nights a week. She was impulsively spending on shoes and clothes and beginning to fill the house up with stuff. She had long ignored routine medical and dental care. I forced her to have weekly meetings where we would address these issues and agree on solutions, which were immediately forgotten or not acted on. After googling “what does it mean when my wife can’t be on time”, or something to that effect, I came to the realization that she had a neurological problem. At first I thought BPD, but then settled on ADHD. I eventually had to put the phone in her hand and dial the doctor’s number to get her to make an appointment for an assessment.

    Fast forward to today. My wife has been in treatment for 2.5 years, but I still have to insert myself on a regular basis to right the ship. She doesn’t give the doctor the full story, so I have to show up and give my two cents. Soon I will be attending to try to figure out out why she’s staying out late again. I have a hunch she’s quit taking the wellbutrin along with her vyvanse (she hates taking her meds, imagine that). Also, it’s time to go back to work looking for a good CBT therapist – they are in short supply. Yup, the rollercoaster rolls right along. But she’s now getting up in the morning, exercising regularly, eating well and her medical/dental care is all up to date – she has a strong foundation to build on.

    As for others, it turns out that a few of my friends and siblings also have ADHD partners, diagnosed and treated and otherwise, so I’ve been lucky to be part of a small network of mutual support.

    1. Dear Larry,

      You have definitely been on a decades-long roller coaster.

      And you’re right: There are never as many men as women in the support groups for the partners of adults with ADHD. At least, it’s not a representative number.

      One small study did, in fact, show that women are more likely to stick it out with the male ADHD partners, because they feel they are helpful or want to keep the family together.

      Many men whose wives have poorly managed ADHD are up to their eyeballs in work and family responsibilities, but that’s also true for many women I’ve encountered. The difference might be that it’s not as easy for the men to recognize that they need help, that it’s not just a matter of “manning up” and “gutting it out.” That there might be sources of support.

      Also, though, how much support would some men receive for complaining that, “My wife can’t get dinner on the table” or “My wife’s a messy housekeeper and shops too much.” These are the narratives of 1950s-era comedians, not husbands in the 21st Century. They’d hardly be tolerated.

      But guess what? Same-sex couples of both genders experience the same issues.

      It’s really important for men with female ADHD partners to tell their stories. Thanks for doing so here, so effectively.

      I’m glad the roller coaster is leveling out a bit, for you and your wife.

      g

    2. Larry,
      “She doesn’t give the doctor the full story”

      My DH is the one with ADHD and this is SO TRUE!!! Therapy has not yet worked for him because he shows up for his sessions and tells his therapist everything is fine. *facepalm*

  6. There is much familiar in the comments regarding the book club.
    My undiagnosed father, brothers, and a diagnosed nephew ) have it. (It was my nephews diagnoses that led to my early 50s diagnoses.

    There was the “logical” rage yelling when I was growing up. ” Why don’t you,”, “Why can’t you”, “go figure it out on your own”, “What were you thinking”, “Go to your room and think about what you did, and don’t come back until you can understand why you shouldn’t blurt out ” open the (name of wrapped gift)” at a birthday party, or accidentally drop a heavy object on a friends toe at my birthday party, or other known and unknown, at the time, actions and situations, rightly and wrongly attributed to me.

    It became a habit for those around me and a habituated, “I want to be good but I’m bad or stupid” groove scratched into my inner brain.

    At 4 or 5 years old, I remember sitting outside on the front steps of the house I was living at , thinking. “Why can’t I understand things or people in the same way or as quickly as everyone else does.” “What’s wrong with me”. Why do people seem to like me , but don’t ever seem to get close to me, unless there is an immediate advantage to them for being so.

    The past two or three hours . I went to lunch, alone as usual. People, whom l know, and who knew me, exchange greetings in passing. Now that schools out, my normal routine is gone, which is rarely a good scenario for me. Anyway, I drove to a couple of stores just to stay occupied, and not again, fall into a state of hopelessness, from the amount of things I could be accomplishing for myself, that I seem not to be doing. And the lack of doing things for others, which works well in formatted situations, where I am somewhat protected from getting taken advantage of, feeling used, or never feeling like I am doing enough.

    I went to an electronics store, “maybe a new computer will get me into a motivated state, though I already have a laptop and an old computer that would do the tasks I am contemplating, but perhaps I need a clean slate. Figuring out things about a new computer might kick my brain into action regarding other things. It might be another good temporary fix. There’s the rub, temporary. I looked at five dollar videos, “that would be fun to see again”. I looked at new gadgets, “those would be neat to have”, but let’s wait until I figure out what I can do to do something that might help me do something to earn some money and feel useful. Did I mention I’m alone.

    I switched to Concerta at 18 mg, from 20 mg methylphenidate, 2 months now $200 + applied to deductable, but not reduced any longer. I pay 3 to 4 times what I paid in January. The dosage seems consistent but not near as effective. I need to go back to my physician, talk to him for another 10 minutes, tell him what I think might work. That means Paying for another office visit. (I do like him). He, like many others, who are not familiar with ADHD, but are willing to learn, is supportive. I have found him more helpful than others who seem to be so sure of themselves to the point of absurdity. I wish there were people like Oren Mason (who I met at my first and only Chadd Conference in Atlanta, as well as Gina around here.

    I’m looking at what I’ve written now. If I was to condense it and edit it, I could make it read much better, but it wouldn’t give you the feel for ADHD that I really want to convey from the patterns that seem to derive from it. It is truly déjà vu all over again. If I was to convey what my life with ADHD is like, the above concepts in my writing all have the same high priority, and focus, all at the same time, Unless, of course, something new, with an immediate solution happens to come to mind.

    1. Hi Paul,

      I’m really glad that you didn’t “condense and edit.” Your story is quite moving, and it eloquently relates the mind-state of a child who doesn’t know that ADHD is affecting his life.

      Much of the public has no idea. They decry the “labeling” and “drugging” of a child. But they have no empathy for children who are really struggling, and then internalizing blame for their difficulties. This is the most challenging part of Adult ADHD psychotherapy, helping people to let up on the self-blame and re-frame their difficulties around ADHD.

      re: Concerta, can you try getting it through a mail-order pharmacy? It’s usually cheaper, and you get a larger supply. I’m not providing medical advice, but I will tell you that some people on such a low dosage (18 mg is the minimum for Concerta) will take two pills, to see if there is an improvement. Your physician should have kept increasing the dose until side effects outweigh benefits. If you don’t have another physical condition contraindicating this, maybe you can phone and ask to try it.

      Good luck!
      g

  7. I figured out that my husband had ADHD when our son was in first grade and having so many problems that his teacher suggested I get him “tested”. Tested for what, I asked, and that’s when I learned about ADHD. My son was tested, told he had it and the rest was left up to us, so, I started to read books on ADHD. I remember thinking as I read, aha! that explains so much about my husband like:

    why he talked about things that he wanted to do, wanted desperately to do, but never did

    why he was so disorganized and distracted

    So I told him that I wasn’t sure about my son but these books were describing him to a tee. This was life changing. He went to a Dr. and went on Ritalin, but more than anything else, he began to forgive himself for the things that he thought of as his failings that he’s been hearing about all his life, You’re so smart if only you’d apply yourself, type of comments. Over the last 15 years, he’s gone back to school and graduated with straight A’s, and stopped drinking so much to dull his feelings. He’s become a better husband, father and best friend. And, he’s happier.

    Now, our problem is the son who was 6 when he was diagnosed and is now 20 and drifting, distracted, decided he doesn’t like himself on medication. He always struggled in school.

    We felt lucky he graduated HS and weren’t surprised when he couldn’t handle college. It’s hard to help him and we worry.
    That’s our story.

    1. Hi Wendy,

      Thank you for explaining your discovery of ADHD, on both counts.

      It embodies a phenomenon I’ve seen far too much. That is, the late-diagnosis adult who carries around so much “emotional baggage” and embraces treatment, along with the child who received early intervention (and thus forgoing the undiagnosed “baggage”) and yet now spurns the diagnosis and treatment. It is a problem that I’ve noticed for a long time, but no one else is talking about or studying.

      I hope that as your son matures, he will come to recognize his ADHD-related challenges on his own, and follow his father’s example.

      Thanks,
      g

  8. Kidlet-
    I think the betrayal from ADHD is more traumatic than other betrayals. My ADHDer was not indicating any issues between us. We went to MC and he told me everything was fine. We didn’t have the usual struggles. Then BAM! I find out that he was using the babysitter I pay for to go out and visit ‘professionals.’ I discover he is using my co-workers as the cover. I find out that his infidelity was ongoing for over a decade, while he tells me he is going to study groups, working late, or seeing a retiring friend. It was an unbelievable shock and trauma.

    I am wondering, like you, how much lattitude you give. ADHD isn’t an excuse, but it also gives you pause. You wouldn’t ask a person with a physical disability to do something they could not. Is it fair to ask a non-neurotypical to behave honorably?

  9. Thanks for joining in, Kidlet.

    I’ll say it again: Understanding that some behaviors are “brain-based” does not mean excusing them. But it does mean finding an explanation for inexplicably hurtful or confusing behavior– and maybe finding a way out.

    People are complicated. ADHD treatment is not going to treat personality disorders, for example. It might even make a person with a personality disorder be more organized about it!

    But the more you learn, the more you find out what treatment might do—and what it might not.

    The economy is better these days, though perhaps not in your area. Maybe it’s worth re-vamping your resume and testing the waters.

    take care,
    g

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