Chapter 8: Explaining The Inexplicable ADHD Relationships

Explaining The Inexplicable of Unrecognized ADHD in Relationships

Explaining the Inexplicable. I used that phrase to describe the first “loop de loop” on the ADHD Roller Coaster. In other words, when ADHD goes unrecognized or misunderstood in a partner, we can look for all kinds of alternate explanations for confusing behavior.

For example, you and your partner agree to purchase nothing over $100 without checking with the other first. The very next day, your ADHD partner comes home with a robot vacuum. Huh?

Welcome back to the “You, Me, and ADHD” Book Club. Think of it as your online source of ADHD relationship support. You’ll find chapter-by-chapter first-person essays based on reading my first book: Is It You, Me, or Adult A.D.D.?

Here, our guest host shares her insights about Chapter 8. This chapter opens the second major book section. It examines poorly managed ADHD’s effect on the partners of adults with ADHD. This was the first in-depth examination of this topic anywhere.  Taylor J. really brings it home.

By Taylor J.

Chapter 8: Explaining the Inexplicable

Now that we have a better grasp on what ADHD is—and the mystifying twists and turns it can bring to life and relationships—we turn to the other partner who needs support: the partner of the adult with ADHD.

(Notice that Gina never uses the term “The non-ADHD Partner.” That is because plenty of us in the support group have ADHD ourselves. Opposites can attract, but sometimes birds of a feather flock together.)

As the partner of an adult with ADHD, what are you experiencing? What are your struggles? What do you need?

We are now in Section II of the book: Roller Coaster Whiplash and G-Force Confusion: How Many Plunges Before You Say, “Whoa!”

Struggling to Explain the Inexplicable

As the first chapter in this section devoted to the experience of the “partners of,” Chapter 8 covers “Explaining the Inexplicable.”

It’s a catchy way of summarizing how those of us in a confusing situation try to make logical sense of what’s happening to us. We try to understand it. To put it in neat little boxes. We try to reconcile the good parts of the person we love with the illogical behavior that’s smacking us upside the head. That voice in our head (and in practically all self-help relationship books) says “All relationships take work.”

Typically, we don’t wake up one morning and say, “Oh noes! I married someone with a mental illness who refuses to get treatment, is draining our bank account, and twists me in a pretzel to navigate all his double-binds while I churn out babies, work nights, and organize his collection of wrapping paper into scrapbooks!”

Rather, we say, “Oh, this month he forgot to pay the electric bill, so we have that one extra fee, and I forgot to get a babysitter, so I need to switch my work schedule…and dangit that leaves us $140 in the hole, so I have to figure out how to cut that out of our grocery and fun money…which means I won’t be able to go out with the girls’ group next weekend (dangit, that would have been fun)…and I’d better remind him to take the baby to her checkup, because I have to work, and if he makes me late again, I will get written up! Gosh, I’m so tired. ”

I didn’t set to do it. But check it out: I squeezed six out of the seven sections of chapter 8 into that one paragraph! They each describe, in detail, the ways we cope with inexplicable behavior.

Sometimes, I Lost It

It begins with denying and minimizing—and can end with becoming isolated emotionally and psychologically. Next stop, for some of us: depression, anxiety, addiction, and physical illness.

I never needed to walk on eggshells around my husband; he doesn’t have a volatile temper. But I’ll confess: He certainly walked on eggshells around me. I was wound up so tightly that I couldn’t move. Emotionally speaking, I couldn’t breathe. No matter how well I constantly juggled money and children and schedules and crises— I could never ever make anyone happy. Sometimes, I lost it.

If only I could go back in time to talk to my unmedicated self. I’d hug her, try to calm her down, and let her know that it would all be okay—and soon! I wish I could apologize to that confused, bewildered husband, who had no idea why his wife was so upset.

For some ridiculous reason, we humans need to believe everything is simple and normal. We don’t want to face the fact that something strange or bad is happening to us. We blame circumstances, childhood upbringing, the economy—or in my case, not being a good enough Christian.

unrecognized ADHD

Always An Alternate Explanation

After seeing several family members’ marriages fall apart, I was determined to be a good wife. I read everything I could find on Christian marriages, and how God supposedly designed marriages to function. The current trend in some theological circles is that husbands are supposed to “lovingly lead” their families, and wives should “choose to submit” to their husband’s leadership.


In every circumstance.

As life became more and more complex, the advice rendered to me from fellow Christians? Trust God to lead my husband. God would hold him accountable for his actions. It was my job to follow Christ and follow my husband.


In every circumstance.

These theological circles also encouraged women to be stay-at-home mothers, and even to home-school their children. Somehow, it was still my responsibility if my kids lacked for clothes or food. It was still my responsibility if my bills weren’t paid. Otherwise, I wasn’t being wifely enough to inspire my husband to take up his manly mantle.

The message was clear: Be more positive! More encouraging! Trust God more! Submit to my husband’s leadership and trust God to provide.


In every circumstance.

These theological circles have their own “mental-health experts.” They believe that anyone struggling with mental health is really struggling with sin. Taking medication for mental illness equals denying responsibility for sin.

How I Explained the Inexplicable

My way of “Explaining the Inexplicable” was simply to be a better wife, repent of sin, submit more, and trust God. …until I awakened and realized: God had never approved of this course of treatment.

I believe in sin! I believe in right and wrong! Moreover, I believe in God, that temptation is real, that the devil is real, that Jesus actually rose from the dead. Yet I also believe that none of that has anything to do with biological brain disorders  affecting people I love.

ADHD is a brain problem. It can become a marriage and parenting problem. It shouldn’t also be a faith problem. I should not have been put in a position to question whether God exists, or whether I was disobeying God by not obeying my husband, simply because I got us both access to good mental health care.

Yes, the human tendency is to “normalize,” to rationalize experiences in neat little boxes. I learned the hard way, however, that some dudes with a masters in divinity may proclaim that they know more about the brain than neurologists. Sin may be a problem, but the brain may be a problem as well.

“Explaining the Inexplicable” may mean that, like me, you realize your faith leaders (or therapists, or physicians or…) do not have all the answers about every part of life. It may mean that you learn and grow and stretch your understandings of certain things in painful ways.

Discussion Points:

So, for this chapter’s reading:

  • Which of the seven coping mechanisms of “explaining inexplicable behaviors” did you experience? Denying? Enabling? Carrying around a fire extinguisher?
  • If you have a belief in a Higher Power, how did that help or hurt you as you tried to navigate the ADHD roller coaster?

Up Next

Chapter 9: Managing the Unmanageable

Read More in The You, Me, ADHD Book Club Series:

Below you’ll find a 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.                              

Part One

From the Tunnel of Love to the Roller Coaster: Could Your Partner Have ADHD?

Section Introduction

1    Who Has a Ticket to Ride? Spotting ADHD’s Surprising Signs

2    Laying the Track’s Foundation: What Is ADHD, Anyway?

3    Deconstructing Your Coaster: Why Each Is Unique

4    Financial Loop-the-Loops: “It’s Only Money, Honey!”

5    Driving While Distracted: The Roller Coaster Hits the Road

6    Peaks and Valleys: ADHD in the Bedroom

7    More Mystifying Twists and Turns

Part Two

Roller Coaster Whiplash and G-Force Confusion: How Many Plunges Before You Say, “Whoa!”

Section Introduction

8    First Plunge: Explaining the Inexplicable (this post)

9    Second Plunge: Managing the Unmanageable

10  Third Plunge: Breaking Down in Illness—Or Through to Truth

Part Three

Your Relationship and the Art of Roller Coaster Maintenance: Four Success Strategies

Section Introduction

Success Strategy #1: Taking Care of Yourself

Introduction: The Amusement Park’s Emergency Room

11  Strategies for Right Now

12  Solving ADHD’s Double Whammy

Success Strategy #2: Dealing With Denial

Introduction: Roller Coaster? What Roller Coaster?

13  Psychological Denial: The Fear Factor

14  Biological Denial: Not Unwilling to See—Just Unable

15  New Ways to Broach “The Conversation”

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

20  Making Connections Between Brain and Behavior

21  Rx: Treatment Results That Last

22  Maximizing Lifestyle Choices, Minimizing Rx Side Effects

23 Catch Your Breath and Take Five

Appendix A:

Adult ADHD Evaluation and Diagnosis

Appendix B:

“But I Heard That…”: More Background for the Unconvinced

Appendix C:

Three Views from Decades on the ADHD Roller Coaster





21 thoughts on “Chapter 8: Explaining The Inexplicable ADHD Relationships”

  1. I think the marriage counselor gets it. He recommended we check out Russell Barkley’s work after our very first appointment. I will be sharing your book with him soon. There is progress being made, albeit slowly, so we press on.
    Thanks for your important work, G. 🙂

    1. Oh, that’s good, Deb.

      Even if he knows Barkley’s work, though, he might not understand the couple issues.

      Dr. Barkley asked me to contribute the first-ever chapter on couple-therapy to his “gold standard” clinical guide. It was published in 2014. Maybe your therapist has a copy and can check out that chapter.


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