“I Wish I’d Known Earlier About Adult ADHD”

I wish I'd known earlier about Adult ADHD

“I wish I’d known earlier about Adult ADHD.”

That came through loudly as the recurring theme of responses to the ADHD Partner Survey question:  “What do you wish you’d known earlier about ADHD?”

[Note: I conducted the ADHD Partner Survey as part of my research for my first book:  Is It You, Me, or Adult A.D.D.? My methods were rigorous—not simply post a survey on the Internet for anonymous people to complete.  You can read more about the methodology at the link above.]

Even now, more than two decades after Adult ADHD was declared a medical diagnosis (in 1994), ignorance remains. That means millions suffer in isolation.

In this post, partners of adults with ADHD detail the cost of that ignorance.

You Might Find This Post Painful

I do not share this information glibly. Knowing that it might painfully re-open old wounds, I must have a higher purpose.

I share it for one reason only: Validation is critical to the healing process.  To push back these feelings, to deny them entirely in favor of sugar-coating? I’ve rarely seen that to end well. Instead, it seems to prolong misery and isolation.

Instead, when we finally receive validation of our long-denied reality, we begin to cope more positively.

If you are past the validation stage and don’t need painful reminders, then just please skip this post.

Question: What do you wish you’d known earlier about ADHD?

ADHD Partner Survey respondents completed the sentence stem “I wish I’d known earlier:” in these ways:

• What ADHD is and how it could affect me.

He seemed to be able to live with it quite well, except for the fact that all his girlfriends eventually run away screaming. I guess he never learned because there was always a line of new ones. He’s very handsome and charming. At first.

• That there was a medical problem.

I wouldn’t have taken it all so personally – and he wouldn’t have felt like such a jerk. Over the years, if other adults are like my husband, untreated ADHD causes people to make excuses for their behaviors and blame others for them. It erodes their self-confidence and generally destroys relationships they value most. My husband believed for years–and still does to some extent–that I was the cause of all of his unhappiness. Of course, there was the self-medication: loads of diet Coke, alcohol, E-bay and prescription pain meds. For years I put up with the “random” behaviors, but what finally threw me over the edge were his mood swings and verbal abuse.

• That ADHD has so affected everything.

I always suspected something else was wrong. But because he is able to keep his cool around everyone outside the home, it was me who looked unstable. I wasn’t. I was overwhelmed.

• Not to trust my husband’s mom, the psychologist.

Her golden boy had no problems; he was gifted! Now, I really struggle with anger about how long this went undiagnosed. Her blind narcissism didn’t help any of us, least of all her son or her grandchildren.

• Not to dismiss ADHD years ago as another “disease of the month.”

I now see ADHD among friends, family, and co-workers and have a greater understanding of how this affects all family dynamics. Even society at large. Even politics and business on the highest levels. Greater awareness will bring adult ADHD “out of the closet” and allow us to discuss this openly without encountering ridicule, ostracism, or fear from “educated” people who don’t have a clue. And don’t get me started on the therapists who tie all the symptoms to childhood. Talk about clueless!

• That medication can increase creativity, not diminish it.

With treatment, my husband has become more able to negotiate the “everyday world,” where things get done and people pay attention. This has supported, not diminished, the unusual, creative side of his brain that I was so attracted to in the first place.

• That knowledge would have helped our now-grown children’s relationship with their father.

Knowing about my husband’s ADHD when they were young would have prevented many upsets over his impulsive spending, irritability, and poor judgment of time. It’s hard for children to not associate these behaviors with lack of love, which sets up so many difficult dynamics for them later in life. If we’d known, we all could have supported him in getting some help and my children would have learned different lessons about love and family.

•How full of nonsense these anti-medication blowhards are.

I used to think they had a point. Now, I suspect most have considerable mental problems of their own. I want people who have ADHD to understand how much better things will be for them and their loved ones if they only seek help and honestly deal with their challenges. With my eyes now opened to how common these “minor” disorders are now, I can’t tell you how much undiagnosed and untreated mental illness I observe! Disorders that cause the person – and the world – trouble. Some people will admit that they think they have a problem. But they are scared to seek help because of the anti-medication hysteria. I see these people throwing away so much potential because of their unfounded fears.

• That ADHD could affect our sex life…

…as it has for so many partners in the group, that he would lose interest in sex like the rest of his “hobbies.” What a disappointment.

• How badly public awareness of ADHD stinks…

…especially the campaigns by various groups about how awful it is to give people medication. My partner and I continually encounter people who don’t “believe” in ADHD, as if it’s the tooth fairy. They should live it. And those adults who have ADHD and don’t know it–but do a lot of “self-medicating” with tobacco, alcohol, marijuana, sex, or speeding on the freeway—should learn about it.

I know that having untreated ADHD deeply affected my partner’s health. He used to get so exhausted just getting through each day, dealing with the stress of trying to function “normally” at work and lapping up way too much coffee, sugar, and adrenaline. Medication helps him to function better and work more efficiently so he’s not continually exhausted and he gets better sleep.

• That as a teacher, I knew appallingly little!

People are going through so much unnecessary pain. Facing retirement now scares me — I won’t have my office and coworkers to escape to, and he will be around 24-7 disrupting the order.

Knowledge gives me hope, though. I see ADHD in so many of my friends’ husbands. We need a serious, national information push.

• That many divorces occur because of this “secret” condition.

We almost ended our relationship many times before my partner was diagnosed. Now we try to have a sense of humor about it, and there is a lot more understanding.

• That ADHD means more than these folks couldn’t sit in their chair.

Little did I know that was the least of his problems!

• That a whole lot of pain stemmed from the fact that I believed that his brain worked essentially like mine.

That means I kept viewing his actions through my frame of reference. Wrong-oh!

I wish I'd known earlier about Adult ADHD

Simply: I Wish That I Had Known

Some respondents expressed a global desire, to have simply known about ADHD at all.

I wish:

• My wife’s parents had known.

She and her siblings bear huge emotional childhood scars due to their father’s severe untreated ADHD. That led to his alcoholism as well as spousal and child abuse. A sad “legacy” probably going back generations.

• We’d known before marriage.

That way, we could have put strategies into place. Instead, he couldn’t cope with being a husband and then a father while holding down a job, and I didn’t understand. The public needs to know that ADHD has a major impact on relationships and that their “problems” are not unique to them: they are, in fact, symptoms.

• We’d known about ADHD many years ago, we wouldn’t be in the damaged emotional place we are in now.

How could I ever have “coped” with some of the more challenging aspects of his untreated ADHD? How could he cope, either? Hard as he tried, he continually failed. He had to watch me begin to distrust him and see the pain that he caused to the family he loved, but he was powerless to stop the behaviors.

• I’d known all this twenty years ago.

In the worst part of it, I looked forward to being dead and wouldn’t relive those years again even if they were the only years offered me.

•  I’d known exactly what my wife meant when she said…

… prior to our marriage, “I’m going to drive you crazy. I want you to know that upfront.”

• I’d known it all!

I wish that screening happened earlier, in childhood. Without treatment to help them clear their clouded view of the world and people’s unenlightened reaction to them, the ego builds up immense self-defenses. By adulthood, these defenses are often iron-clad.

• That we hadn’t gone  30 years before finding out…

… too late what had made our lives so miserable and unhappy. What a horrible waste. We developed such horrible habits in how we treat each other. And, the effect on my children. Gasp.

• I had known much more about ADHD when I met my partner.

It would have saved me years of pain and suffering, feeling like he just didn’t care and was intentionally doing things to make me feel badly. I grew so depressed I couldn’t see straight.

And Finally:

• I’m glad that there is finally a name for the behaviors.

I’m glad that there are support groups to share what has worked. With more awareness comes greater acceptance. If people would seek help instead of hiding behind defense systems, unrecognized ADHD would not be destroying so many relationships.

[This article originally posted on August 22, 2008—but the subject remains timely.]

Related Stories:

Here is another post from the ADHD Survey Results:  The  Signs of ADHD Are Obvious, Right?

My online training, for ADHD individuals and couples, will explain the details—and solutions—you need: Solving Your Adult ADHD Puzzle

What price did you pay for society’s widespread ignorance about ADHD?

Please share them in a comment to help educate the public.

—Gina Pera

44 thoughts on ““I Wish I’d Known Earlier About Adult ADHD””

  1. GOZALAVIDAAL100 Enjoylife

    Good early morning everyone!!!! Its around 01:30 a.m. here. I have been married for 12 years to the love of my life! We have 3 children and are all amazing and special in their own way! I have been going through years of marital issues and I stayed because as people have told me I am very stubborn. So I have fought for my marriage year after year! I swear to my wife I would never intentionally hurt her but I almost all the time do, it feels like. This last time it was over a female friend but I always had female friends. I never saw it as a bad thing and since nothing was ever brought up I saw nothing wrong. But after countless hours of reading this passed 2 weeks. I am now seeing how this can lead to issues. Even now, this has been hard to understand but I love her so much I don’t want anything in the way!!!! She is my world! Yet she feels like I dont care and don’t give her, her place as a wife in our marriage. We just bought our first home and it has everything we want. There is no way!!!! I would of taken a step like this if I did not care! She still won’t talk to me, sleeps in the other room for 3 weeks now, but I literally forgive everyday and I’m ready to move on. Why? that was the past. Do memories linger? Yes of course, but it’s done and over with so lets continue. This gets seen as I don’t care..
    nOw that Ive researched ADHD I see so many symptoms that I have!!! I get told I’m in all conversations no matter what I’m doing!
    I talk loud, mind is always 100 miles an hour, I bore easily, hate being indoors, outdoors is so beautiful! But now I realize its because my mind is allowed to run free outside. I’m always moving, doing something. I never noticed my job issues because I work on multiple tasks at once and finish them. I excel under pressure because problems intrigue me. This allows me to out extreme focus in a short period if time and problems are never the same so It awesome!!!! Computer engineering, computer math, compurer networking issues, and microwave frequencies are what I excel in! I’m a great problem solver in my job because I have multiple things at once. Even now I’m typing and thinking of something completely different. Things I never paid attention to until I started seeing what this is. But I sucked at regular math and now it makes sense why! Its repetitive and boring so I never caught on! I excelled in science, and writing but sucked and guessing topics my mind always wonders but I just didn’t see a big thing. I can’t imagine how much I have hurt my wife!!!!!! She is my world and I can’t imagine losing her!!!! I have had nightmares for 3 weeks of her leaving me. This is horrible. She also says I never get it until its too late. spouses is this true for you? Spouses with ADHD is this your story also? I want to tell her all this and wake up from a bad hallmarks is movie!!!! But its not happening. She is my world.
    So, this week I will bug my Dr. To give me an ADHD test.

    1. Hi there,

      That’s quite an epiphany — and kudos for following through!

      One tip: Don’t count on the average doc to know how to evaluate for ADHD. There is no “ADHD test,” either.

      This is where self-education and self-advocacy are critical — with medication, too.

      The evaluating professional should ask you and your wife to complete an intake form and to interview both of you with ADHD+ symptoms in mind. The professional should also ask for a thorough history.

      Here is one post on the topic but there is also an appendix in my first book:



      Good luck and let us know how it goes!

    2. GOZALAVIDAAL100 Enjoylife

      I wish I ran into this post 2 years ago.
      I wish I would of been diagnosed so that as a couple we could of worked this out! So as a couple we would understand and fight together and learn together, not argue against eachother.
      Why do I wish we knew when I got out of the military? So we wouldn’t be where we are at now.
      I HATE! That I hurt you!
      I hate more that it doesn’t register the same way and I don’t see things the way you do!
      I hate that I have been driving you on empty! For years!
      I swear on my life! I felt like I had tried everything to make you happy. The truth is we never knew how to express it to one another. For this I am truly sorry. I wish I would have known how to fill your love tank. For this I am truely sorry.

    3. Hi there,

      I’m also sorry that neither of you knew.

      Multiply your story over millions, and that’s why I do this work.

      It’s cruel to let people struggle and hurt, with no answers. Including from mental-health professionals.

      At least I am glad you have an answer now. I hope that your spouse can forgive you, too. I bet she would like to forgive herself as well, for not knowing and acting out of ignorance.

      take care,

  2. It’s been over ten years since I was diagnosed.
    What I wish I knew earlier?

    In my personal ADHD brains language, which may not make sense to others, in terms of grammar and sentence structure, here’s what I wish I knew earlier. It’s an answer and a question combined.

    “That going through life without knowing what I was/and now am still fighting, and trying to find help, is (was) judged as a weakness, and talking about it, was/is heard as low self esteem. Later, working too hard, coping to cover it up, is seen as showing up others.
    Trying to finally talk and try to explain the unknown difficulty to close friends, when you are overwhelmed to the point of falling apart, is seen as being needy, or having some quirks, made up or covered nicely by the overworking, and a willingness to please. Or worse, it was/is seen that I am placing my “faults” on others, when that’s the exact opposite of what I’m trying or I’d be trying to do.

    Even after being diagnosed. The sum of events in my life leads to thinking maybe the best thing to do would be (have been) to totally crash and burn, when I was 4 years old, except, back then, who knows what they would have diagnosed me with.

    Is it better to muscle/have muscled (figuratively), through it as it is/was, and I did? Do they give awards for that? Do awards mean anything if your still alone, with others, five decades later.
    None of this discounts my accomplishments, but my life has been only shared, in small bits with others. Who could/can understand me now/then?

    1. Dear Not Brian,

      Now you’ve made me go and cry first thing in the morning.

      As always, you cut right to the heart of it. Painfully. Truthfully.

      Yes, I agree that the “crash and burn” option could have ended even more horribly. I shudder to think.

      I try to understand. Not sure if I can fully. But it’s not for your lack of explaining it.

      take care,

  3. 61 years old, 39 years married, two (amazing) sons 30 and 28, diagnosed last year. Years of therapy for violent abuse as a kid, now also taking meds and doing therapy for ADD.

    I read your post and skimmed some of the responses (frankly, they’re too painful to really read slowly).

    All I can say is yeah, a lot of what you wrote is exactly right and I think my wife would say the same. I feel better knowing and understanding. Therapy for the ADD has made a big difference; I really feel good about the changes. But there’s a frustration and sadness that my brain is always going to throw up extra issues for me and the people in my life.

    I’m not depressed about that, and I really am grateful for both the knowledge and the ability to be a better person and partner. But at the end of the day, it is a handicap and all the therapy and growth and understanding and behavior changes I can throw at it won’t change it.

    Maybe all I want to say is thanks. It is painful but helpful to read the things you picked out for this post.

    1. Thank you so much, John. I know these are painful to read, and I don’t do it gratuitously. Thank you for understanding that I might have had a larger purpose in doing so.

      I am sorry you have also had to deal with abuse in childhood. Unfortunately, it is more common than most people realize.

      Unrecognized/poorly managed ADHD—and its often accompanying emotional dysregulation—can wreak havoc on family relationships. I’ve met many adults who were in treatment for PTSD from childhood abuse—sometimes for decades—before they accidentally happened upon ADHD. Theirs and their parents.

      I’m glad you have found help.

      take care,

  4. I am suffering with my ADHD spouse. We have been together 5 years. He didn’t tell me about his ADHD until after we were engaged and planning our wedding. I have anxiety & PTSD so he also has a lot on his plate when it comes to me. The relationship takes so much effort and work to keep a float. I constantly have to spell everything out to him. The easiest of tasks take him hours. I cant have a conversation with my husband unless I speak very slowly and he always bull dozes through me when I am talking to finish his thought. I feel I am going crazy and he makes me second guess everything because he is CERTAIN what he remembers is correct when it NEVER is. He takes medication but it wears off after 8 hrs and his work gets the organized and efficient version of my husband. When he comes home he is frazzled, flying around the house like a rocket, touching the same thing 10 times, always confused, always losing things and always beyond irritating to me. He can not calm down and NEVER sleeps. I feel so defeated, miserable and like an evil witch for feeling like I’m married to someone who is disabled. I get so frustrated and I am already running on fumes how do I cope?

    1. Hi Nicole,

      I feel for you. Your husband withheld important information from you until the 11th hour. That probably left you confused and uncertain—and perhaps guilty about any feelings of calling off the wedding. He should have told you earlier.

      The problem is now “how do you cope?” The problem here is that your husband is taking medication for work but neither he nor his prescribing physician seem to feel it necessary for you to have a higher-functioning husband. That is wrong.

      You have anxiety and PTSD, you say. You risk those conditions being exacerbated by this stress. Please read my first book and learn about treatment strategies, including medication. ADHD treatment is NOT solely for work. It is for LIFE.


      Good luck!

  5. As an engineer, analytic, smart, but an odd one, introvert yet talkative, compassionate, deeply affected by sad stories, and with weird lateral thinking, life was generally good,

    My wife was a hard working nurse, type A personality, loving and considerate, yet couldn’t understand why I was so “lazy” (depressed and unstimulated) andnrverfinisged off jobs. (She wound task me with 10 things then remind me of one while I was doing another so I’d interrupt myself continuously)

    Three kids provide lots of activities to prioritise and interruptions galore.

    Our finances were a mess, had no energy for our routine boring jobs like tax returns) I often was unable to prioritise or focus on anything long enough to finish it but lived starting a novel new task.

    Had I known more about the patterns of ADHD I would have recognised them and. could have taken other action.than I did when feeling suicidal. I found kinky sex the only thing that was stimulating enough to break through the depressive fog of overwhelm.

    A serendipitous side of meeting a new partner is that she alerted me to the diagnostic criteria and I’m now able to strategise better, have an accountant and psychiatrist involved. She also has recognised the same symptoms in herself and is on medication.

    I deeply regret the unnecessary chaos and hurt that I’ve brought often to people I love. So much over so many years could have been so much better.

    1. Dear David,

      Thank you for your candid comment. It’s stories such as this that help other folks find their way.

      At my adult ADHD discussion group in Palo Alto, we’ve seen people from many countries and many educational-career backgrounds. Very successful entrepreneurs, physicians, computer scientists and programmers, even a particle physicist, and lots of engineers. You can always pick them out because they bring notebooks and take notes! 🙂 They also tend to gain traction the quickest.

      It’s just crazy, isn’t it, that the 20th Century brought us so much advanced understanding of math, science, and virtually every other field. But somehow, for millions, ADHD was never part of the discussion.

      I’m glad that at least you found out now and that, even before, life was generally good for you. Some folks are not so fortunate.

      Again, thank you.


  6. How ironic and sad is it that ten years after you first published your incredibly articulate and profound articles, few people are even willing to acknowledge that ADHD is real? There is so much we are learning about our brains inability to accept a world view that doesn’t fit in ours. I agree with so many of the deep felt wishes expressed here If only I could go back in time… But I now know that I literally was not able to perceive the effects of ADHD, even when they had been pointed out to me.
    I have lived with ADD for 60 years, with some wonderful benefits, like seeing things that others miss. But to often I have beaten myself up for missing what others seem to see so easily. If it wasn’t for your insightful work, and an amazingly persistent and loving spouse, I would probably never have stopped hurting myself and everyone around me.
    Gina, thank you so much for giving all of us the knowledge to see what we are dealing with when we were finally ready, and the support to keep trying even when it can be so painful.

    1. Hi Mikey,

      Thank you for your comment. You went and made me cry. 🙂

      Time marches on. Humans progress bit by bit.


  7. If we would’ve known about ADHD earlier it would’ve saved us 30 years of agony!!!!! 30 years that our lives could’ve been spent on being happy and understanding. It would have saved my husband the sense of falling in very aspect of our family life. It would have save me from the feeling of going crazy. It would have saved our children from many un necessary scars.
    We are doing so much better now that my husband is on medication and we both understand how his brain works. Now , in our late fifties, we can enjoy each other again, for those reasons we fell in love with each other.
    I hope that we can help spread the message.

  8. I’m guessing that the question was meant to elicit actions you might have questioned before knowing they could be attributed to a known condition.

    I wish I had known about ADHD, hyperactivity, ADD before I got married in 1962. It wouldn’t have happened because I would have known I couldn’t cope. Here’s what can happen if you ignore the signs.

    If you aren’t married and come from a home with a dominating parent, don’t fall into the trap of marrying a needy spouse because you have probably started to believe that’s what normal relationships are like and your role is to give in to keep peace. ADHD individuals are needy.

    If it’s pre-marriage and you are doing missionary work in the relationship, be careful.

    An extremely high IQ ADHD individual can intellectually rationalize the earth is flat and will do so.

    If it’s generational, visits to relatives can turn into international personal and political debates without rules. For survival you will rationalize why this happens.

    Prepare to be late to everything outside the house and be the last ones to leave any group of people.

    Know that if you will be the one with the complaints, you will be told by the spouse, child, teacher, family member, counselor or friend that you are the one at fault and you should just suck it up as everyone has problems. This causes you to keep quiet about the problems around others.

    The ADHD problems add to normal conflicts in relationships.

    Talking to a person with ADHD who refuses to acknowledge it is like pounding sand or hitting a brick wall. You will be on guard much of the time and pleasant times will be treasured. Having to tiptoe around volatile ADHD individuals leads to loneliness.

    Afterwards you will long to see an article with the subject being: Is it possible you have ADHD and are resisting that idea? This is what you may be putting your family through……Check it out as knowing what is going on can help all of those around you lead a better life together.

    1. Hi Dorothy,

      Thank you immensely for sharing your hard-earned wisdom with others.

      I am sorry that you know this experience so well.


  9. If I would have known my partner of 10 years had ADHD I would have never gotten involved. He is still in denial and refuses to seek treatment So much hurt and mental anguish. I worked hard saving money and raising my son after my divorce. I waited until he was grown before I got into another relationship. I wish I would have known about his condition. I would have never put myself here. I feel so beat down, I have major health issues and am in debt with no light at the end of the tunnel. I was so relieved when I read Gina’s book .
    Finally understanding the craziness of my life. I had a new found hope that we could turn things around. But if he does not see it or want to understand there is nothing I can do. I spent 20 years planning for this time in my life , looking forward to retiring and traveling with a best friend/partner. Now it seems I will be working forever to pull myself out of this mess.

    1. Thank you, Jo Ann, for sharing your story.

      I am sorry that all your good planning came to this.

      I wish you all the best in taking charge of your life however you can and finding joy and peace.


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