Can medication help ADHD-challenged relationships? Quite possibly, yes. I’ve seen it happen repeatedly.
In this post of the book club series, we discuss how ADHD medication can affect relationships—and how ADHD medications might improve relationships.
>With this installment, Taylor J. passes the baton to Jaclyn, another fantastic writer also in a dual-ADHD marriage. Check out her blog (one of my favorites): The ADHD Homestead.
It is my extreme fortune to have two smart friends who are good writers—and in dual-ADHD marriages. The “ADHD vs. Non-ADHD” paradigm has always rankled me. There is nothing cookie-cutter about individuals with ADHD or their partners. Jaclyn and Taylor drive home that point.
In this post, Jaclyn shares her insights about Chapters 20-22, which comprise Success Strategy #4: Understanding Medication’s Role. We welcome you to join in the discussion with a comment below.
My hoodie was driving me crazy. One of the seams itched so badly, I struggled to get breakfast ready for my family.
This had been my go-to hoodie for years. There wasn’t even a tag near the itchy spot, and I couldn’t feel anything when I ran my hand along the seam.
I got breakfast on the table, eventually took my ADHD medication, and forgot about the whole thing.
Around 2:00 that afternoon, it struck again.
Then I made the connection: My morning dose of Ritalin was fading. Sure enough, the itching disappeared shortly after I took my afternoon dose.
I don’t generally describe myself as an itchy person. Maybe I should.
Even after taking stimulant medication for years, this surprised me. I’m sharing it with you to illustrate just how far-reaching the effects of these medications can be. It takes years to learn just how much it’s helping.
But Gina didn’t ask me to talk to you about itching, at least not for its own sake. We’re here to talk about relationships. And ADHD. And how stimulant medication fits into that equation.
My Journey Started with Gina’s Book
I know a little about all these things—itchy seams, ADHD medications, and ADHD’s potential impact on relationships.
My husband and I both have ADHD, though the manifestations differ greatly between us. We both take stimulant medication, though it helps (and fails to help) us in very different ways. Despite reading and writing about ADHD almost every day, I have a lot to learn.
This journey all started with Gina’s first book, Is It You, Me, or Adult A.D.D.?
For some reason, stimulant medications remain a divisive issue in the public’s mind. I’m appalled by the amount of skepticism, conspiracy theories, misinformation, and plain old lack of information out there.
If you want to know how stimulant medications could affect your marriage, don’t skip this chapter in the book. You owe it to yourself, your spouse, and your marriage to be educated. (No, you can’t always count on your doctor.)
That’s not to say meds offer a magic solution. They don’t. They build the capacity to set up coping systems. They can alter our perceptions of time and ourselves, helping us establish a new baseline for “normal” feelings and behavior. Meds helped me learn to recognize when something feels wrong.
Not only that, but my husband and I also discovered a lot of surprises along the way: hidden symptoms we had no idea were related to ADHD.
Here’s what we’ve learned on our journey.
Surprise! It’s ADHD!
I sought out an evaluation for ADHD at two points in my life—in my late teens and again in my mid-20s—each time because I felt like my life was falling apart.
The first time, I was (irrationally) afraid to try medication. A close friend’s bad experience with antidepressants had spooked me about psych meds. The second time, I was desperate.
My husband sought out the evaluation (and medication) for ADHD because I tricked him into reading Gina’s book.
Both of us were surprised to discover the way meds could—and could not—bring about sweeping changes in our lives and our relationship.
Time In Mind: Medication Kicks In
For starters, my perception of time as it related to emotional states completely changed. I had a bad week at work and was blown away by the realization that it was just a week. A new one would begin on Monday! I no longer existed in one of two extremes: permanently fantastic or permanently awful.
In the months before I began taking stimulant medication, I described my status quo as “anxiety and panic mixed with persistent lethargy.”
On my first day with meds, I recorded in my journal: “internally, everything went quiet.”
I began setting up coping systems to put my life back together. I marveled at simple things, like how I could watch my husband unravel a tangled ball of yarn without yelling or grabbing it from his hands.
I could finally imagine getting my head above water.
That Inappropriate, Involuntary Smile
When I asked my husband about any surprising effects of stimulant medication, he said something really interesting:
I’ve always had this odd tendency to involuntarily smile when I’ve made someone very upset with me.
While most of my consciousness would be seriously invested in the conversation, some other corner of my consciousness seemed to just be cruelly amused that I had moved someone to tears. And for some reason that corner of my consciousness seemed to get full control of my facial muscles.
That behavior always horrified and shamed me, but I also knew it wasn’t really me.
Anyway, I was thrilled to discover that during the times of day when my medication is still effective, that involuntary smiling thing doesn’t happen.
He also used to make a sport of riling me up in front of a group of people. He’d say something embarrassing, critical, or otherwise inflammatory to spark a dramatic reaction. (My own ADHD didn’t do me any favors here). Medication almost completely removes that.
Medication also revealed how seldom his urge to eat was motivated by hunger, as opposed to “dopamine issues.” An afternoon snack habit at work had caused him to put on 20-30 pounds post-college. Now he’s back to his high school weight. But on days when he doesn’t take his Vyvanse—or in the evenings, when it’s worn off—watch out!
Limitations: Of Ourselves, Our Meds
Stimulants don’t give us superhuman powers or magically endow us with new skills. They have made it possible for me to develop those skills, but I still have my limits.
We can only focus on a few problem areas at once. Gina mentions this, and it’s something worth dwelling on for a moment.
If you’re the ADHD partner, ask yourself:
- What are your treatment goals?
- What do you want to improve about yourself and your life?
- What are your partner’s goals for you?
- What about your behavior and your relationship does he or she want to change?
If you’re the partner of the adult with ADHD, ask yourself the same questions.
The result is a Venn diagram: a critical issue to one partner may not even be on the other person’s radar.
For example, I think my husband’s work schedule is a major problem. I worry about his safety driving home because he works such long hours. He agrees in theory, but also admits: “If I’m being honest with myself, it’s the way I like to work.” Until something makes it not worth it (or not possible), his motivation to change will remain low.
While almost all of my treatment goals center around productivity and personal achievement, my husband wishes I could relax and take it easier on myself.
Fortunately, we both agree that treating others well should be a top priority.
My husband writes:
There was a part in Gina’s book where she mentioned that ADHD’ers have a tendency to antagonize others just for the novelty.
I recognized that behavior in myself immediately, and it brought me to tears as I finally accepted that I had ADHD and that I’d been the cause of so many arguments in so many relationships.
I resolved that if nothing else, I had to try to fix that.
I’m not a button-pusher, but I do have a temper and a bad habit of interrupting. Medication can widen the gap between stimulus and response for me. My words still get me into trouble, but I at least have a fighting chance of choosing what comes out of my mouth.
Prepare to Troubleshoot
ADHD is a neurobiological condition that impairs self-awareness and self-perception. In other words, when you’re in it, you can’t always see it. My husband and I live with each other every day, parent a child together, and share each other’s successes or failures in life. We need to look out for each other.
To that end, we try to remain objective and open to feedback when something’s not right. “Did you take your meds yet today?” can be a very practical question, in the right context. We try to be mindful of the timing of high-stakes conversations to avoid dealing with meds-free arguments.
It’s not perfect, but we’re on the same team, and that’s what counts.
Discussion: Can ADHD Medication Improve Relationships?
- Do you or your partner take medication for your ADHD? Has doing so improved your relationship?
- What symptoms is the medication alleviating the most?
- In what areas do you wish meds could help more?
We’d love to hear your experiences on how ADHD medications have affected your relationship, in a “single ADHD” or “dual-ADHD” relationship. Please share a comment below.
Would you like an update on Taylor J, who has been leading this “You, Me, Adult A.D.D.” Book club until now? I’m delighted to report: With her assistance, her husband found his dream job, and the family of six relocated several states away, to a mid-size city with more resources. She loves her new town and has just finished her first novel! You will hear from her again, I am sure. — Gina Pera