What is ADHD’s Double Whammy? I use that informal term to describe a common phenomenon. That is, ADHD symptoms themselves can impair self-awareness about problematic behaviors. Even when there is ready acknowledgement, though, ADHD symptoms can also sabotage one’s attempt to pursue an evaluation and treatment.
Many partners of adults with ADHD (diagnosed or not) face this doubled-edged quandary:
- Their partners don’t recognize their ADHD-related challenges. They might blame other factors (including everyone around them, childhood, etc.) or simply not perceive the issues. Instead, they “deny and minimize”—and sometimes deflect blame, too.
- ADHD key traits such as disorganization and poor initiation can make it really hard to “get off the dime” to seek, select, and follow through with an evaluation and solutions.
This is off-the-chart complexity. No “tips and tricks” are going to break the logjam. A solid ADHD education. Getting validation for your perceptions. That’s all very important. But so is one thing largely not acknowledged by mainstream mental health workers: The best treatment results often come from teamwork with a spouse or other loved one.
Welcome back to the “You, Me, and ADHD” Discussion
What is this virtual discussion group? It is a chapter-by-chapter essay based on reading my first book, Is It You, Me, or Adult A.D.D.?
Taylor J., a wife and mother of four children, has late-diagnosis ADHD. So does her husband. This is a dual-ADHD marriage. With several children diagnosed as well. I asked her to write these essays for two main reasons:
- Strong writing skills!
- Her situation demonstrates that an ADHD-challenged marriage isn’t an issue of ADHD vs. Non-ADHD. (In 20 years, I’ve never used that adjective.)
Here, Taylor writes her memories of first reading Chapter 12: Solving ADHD’s Double Whammy. In that chapter, I explain why pursuing an ADHD evaluation and treatment often involves teamwork. This runs counter to cultural therapy-speak that says, “Adult should take care of themselves” or “Don’t parent-i-fy your partner.” This is not yet another manifestation of the parent-child dynamic I first explained in 2008.
Rather, once we understand the nature of ADHD, we realize this can be an entirely different ballgame.
Taylor J. Takes It From Here
My husband: “I don’t have ADHD. I can’t have ADHD. I’m a super-important, intelligent, successful, capable person who couldn’t possibly have ADHD.”
Me: “Yes, you’re super-intelligent. You’re super-important. You’re definitely capable. Yes, I love you with all my heart, and would never, ever want to live without you. My love, ADHD has nothing to do with your intelligence, importance, desire, or capability. ADHD means that you can’t always make your intelligence work when you want it to work.”
Sigh. My husband still didn’t get it. Okay, well. Now what do I do?
Stop Banging Your Head Against the Wall
When we as partners of adults with ADHD hit the wall of denial, it’s very, very tempting to bang our heads against that wall.
Instead, we must remember what Gina calls “ADHD’s Double Whammy”: That is, the brain impairments troubling our ADHD partners can also inhibit their ability to accurately perceive, much less solve, those problems.
Underline that. Glue glitter around it. Make it your screensaver. Do whatever it takes to keep that thought in front of you.
(Okay, dear readers do not have ADHD, you have an easy time remembering this stuff! Well, not me! I have ADHD, too. And, sometimes I still forget that my husband isn’t doing these things on purpose.)
[advertising; not endorsement] [advertising; not endorsement]
Sure, maybe you’re frustrated with always being “the responsible one” or “the adult” or “the one who fixes all the problems” that your ADHD partner creates. But guess what? Your actions and input might be the most effective way to turn that situation around—and help to ensure a competent evaluation and treatment.
The Trouble With Many Mental Healthcare Providers
Chapter 12 (and heck, every other chapter in the book) brims with stories from support-group members whose ADHD partners received rotten treatment because the mental healthcare provider:
- Didn’t “believe” in ADHD, as though it were Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy.
- Concluded: “You’ve made it this far in life, so you’ll be fine without meds.”
- Said, “Why reach for labels?” or “All men/women are like that!”
- Here! Take this medication and see how it goes.
- And many more potential responses that fathom belief.
Third-Party Information: Often Critical
Let me tell you about just one of the all-too-common obstacles to getting a proper evaluation. That is, the mental health provider relies entirely on the patient to provide accurate information. Overlooked? The need for third-party corroboration (from a partner or other family member, close friend, etc.).
I remember once, when we were seeking counseling for our oldest daughter, the therapist asked my husband if there was any history of mental illness in his family. He said, “No.”
My jaw hit the floor.
I was already resentful that he tended to think of the “mental illness” problems being solely on my side of the family. Yet, I managed to simply state: “Well, what about your uncle who takes four hours to wash his hands and shave?”
“Oh, well, yeah, there’s him.”
“What about your grandmother, who checks the light switches fifteen times upon leaving a room?”
“Oh, yes, her too.”
“And your sibling, who just got diagnosed with ADHD?”
“Right, I keep forgetting about that.”
Here’s the Bottom Line:
It all comes down to this: We cannot expect a person with Executive Function deficits to give a reliable account of their own Executive Function deficits!
As Gina emphasizes: Our actions and input as partners can be crucial to helping our ADHD partners benefit from effective treatment.
The chapter quotes ADHD expert and psychologist Michelle Novotni, PhD:
Over time, the ADHD partner will be able to assume more responsibility for his or her own treatment. That, however, should be a goal in treatment, not a demand for beginning it.
I couldn’t force my husband into treatment, especially if he didn’t see that he had a problem. However, I did continue to learn about and adapt coping mechanisms for my own ADHD. Some of those technique just happened to “spill over” into my interactions with my husband.
Examples of New Approaches:
- “Hey, is it okay if I call you to remind you to pick up the kids today?” Sure enough, he’d forgotten, or lost track of time, so he was thankful for my call.
- “Don’t forget, you have to leave a half an hour early tomorrow. I’ll get your lunch together, set the coffee, and make sure you wake up in time.” Wow, thank you honey! You just made wife of the year! How did you think of all that? “It was in ADD-Friendly Ways to Organize Your Life’” (Then I’d get the stink-eye.)
- “Okay, I know you’re mad, but I don’t think you saw how you acted toward the kids. Can we go over it step-by-step?” Finally: “Stop using your ADHD coaching techniques on me!” “Ooookay…fine,” I said. “Then you go deal with the kids’ meltdown.” He responded: “Um…okay, let’s go over it step-by-step.”
- “Wow, I can’t believe I got all of that stuff done! The medication is really life-changing.” My husband: “I don’t want to hear it—I’ve got a ton of grading to do today.”
I couldn’t actively recruit him to embark on the Good Ship ADHD. Yet, by showing him my better life after my own treatment, I was able to help him — as Gina puts it — “long for a vast and peaceful sea.”
My Jaw Hit the Floor Again
Fortunately, my husband eventually was evaluated by my psychologist. That way, there were no “skips and gaps” in either of our evaluations. The psychologist could see through any wool either of us might try to pull over his eyes. Intentionally or not.
Eventually, he said to my husband, “You have the most severe case of ADHD I’ve ever seen. I have no idea how hard you had to work to get a PhD.”
My jaw hit the floor again.
Remember, before I was diagnosed and read Gina’s book, everything was my fault.
Discussion Points on ADHD’s Double Whammy:
- What’s been your experience with your own or your ADHD partner’s evaluation treatment?
- Did the clinician solicit your input during the evaluation or treatment process?
- If that happened, do you perceive it as making a positive difference?
- How did the clinician respond when you or your partner asked that you be involved in the evaluation process?
An earlier version of this post appeared February 15, 2015
We welcome your thoughts below in a comment. This is how we have a virtual discussion, and it’s open 24-7!
Here is a hyperlinked list of all the posts in this series:
Read More in The You, Me, ADHD Book Club Series:
And now for the preview of the chapter-by-chapter lineup: the book’s table of contents. Chapter titles appearing as hyperlinks correspond to an essay in the Book Club. Click to read.
We stopped at Chapter 20. Would you like to submit your own essay to the Book Club? We welcome it! “Finding Your Voice” is an essential part of slowing your ADHD Roller Coaster.
From the Tunnel of Love to the Roller Coaster: Could Your Partner Have ADHD?
1 Who Has a Ticket to Ride? Spotting ADHD’s Surprising Signs
Roller Coaster Whiplash and G-Force Confusion: How Many Plunges Before You Say, “Whoa!”
Your Relationship and the Art of Roller Coaster Maintenance: Four Success Strategies
Success Strategy #1: Taking Care of Yourself
Introduction: The Amusement Park’s Emergency Room
12 Solving ADHD’s Double Whammy (this post)
Success Strategy #2: Dealing With Denial
Introduction: Roller Coaster? What Roller Coaster?
16 More Solutions and Strategies
Success Strategy #3: Finding Effective Therapy
Introduction: Calling in a Consultant to Help Retrofit Your Ride
17 Why the Wrong Therapy Is Worse Than No Therapy
18 Therapy That Works for ADHD
19 More Solutions and Strategies
Success Strategy #4: Understanding Medication’s Role
Introduction: Tightening the Brakes on the Roller Coaster
This post from Jaclyn at The ADHD Homestead touches on a range of issues within this section on medication
21 Rx: Treatment Results That Last
22 Maximizing Lifestyle Choices, Minimizing Rx Side Effects
23 Catch Your Breath and Take Five
Adult ADHD Evaluation and Diagnosis
“But I Heard That…”: More Background for the Unconvinced
Three Views from Decades on the ADHD Roller Coaster