Blindsided by ADHD Diagnosis: One Wife’s Story

Blindsided by ADHD diagnosis

How can you be blindsided by an ADHD diagnosis?  It’s easy. Our culture serves up alternate explanations for virtually all ADHD-related challenges. Moreover, even in this 21st Century, the public and even the mental health profession have not kept up to the science. So, when we finally learn, we are shocked: Why did we not know this before?

How many relationships are imperiled by unrecognized ADHD?  I suspect it’s in the millions, just in North America. No matter how many “and then my spouse was finally diagnosed” stories I hear, each one moves me—and motivates me to keep beating the drum. Life needn’t be so hard.

Recently, I shared the story of a woman named Khanji, diagnosed with anxiety and depression—repeatedly—throughout her life. She dutifully took prescribed antidepressants, which did not help. (In fact, antidepressants can even intensify ADHD symptoms, but that’s a topic for another post).  I share the link to her story at the end of this post

This guest post below comes from a woman named Claudia. I met her via a friend who is an Evangelical Christian—and an Adult ADHD evangelist in her community.  My friend tells me that so many church friends find themselves and their marriages in dire straights because

  1.  ADHD has gone undiagnosed, and
  2. Their church teachings call for wives to submit to and support their husbands.

Of course this isn’t the only cultural situation that can add another layer of invisibility—or denial—to the presence of ADHD. As you might imagine, though, life can downspiral very quickly.

This is, in part, Claudia’s story about her newly “diagnosed” ADHD  marriage.

—Gina Pera

By Claudia

Let me preface this:
I love my husband.
Wouldn’t trade him for the world.
And I will not lose what we have over something that can be/will be better with treatment.
This is a look at my life.
That’s all.


I Take the Hits for His Lack of Urgency

In over 10 years, there’s never been a time when my urgent was most urgent. I’ve been an hour late for dinner with friends many, many times because my husband was talking to someone and “couldn’t get them to stop.”

He doesn’t take the blame for this; I’ve typically covered. As a result, I may have come across as insensitive to some of my best friends. I’ve lost job opportunities because he couldn’t get home in time for me to attend the interview ; it was out of his control.

He doesn’t even remember this. It’s not at all conscious, just that his in-the-moment urgency was far more important. I’ve delayed, canceled, scrapped, and given up on plans time and time again. He has no idea how many times. I don’t even try to remind him because it doesn’t matter and he feels bad.

Blindsided by ADHD diagnosis


Forgotten Promises—When They Are Made to Me

Yesterday, he promised to care for the kids all day so I could get a jump on client work that’s stacked high. But then it was more urgent for him to do some house projects (current obsession), so I had no choice but to put off my projects to keep the kids alive.

I should note that this is a guy who has never been late for work a day in his life. That’s part of his urgent.

Meeting with his pal? Wouldn’t dream of being late!

Dinner with my friends? Let’s sit around and chat for another half hour before leaving, despite my prodding. Again, this just isn’t at all intentional.

When it’s part of his world, he internalizes meetings, deadlines, and stresses and stews about them.

When it’s part of my world, I have to remind him 10 times on the day of, and he’ll still tell me he didn’t know.

Why Are We Learning About ADHD Only Now?

One time our children were with grandparents, and we had a one-night mini-vacation scheduled at a B & B 30 minutes away. He didn’t get home until 10 pm, because he was messing around with a project that had no deadline.

That left almost no time for us, certainly not to relax. But he has fond memories of that night out as something he did special for me. I remember crying for 2 hours because I felt like he didn’t care about me.

Right now, I’m struggling, coping with this ADHD diagnosis. It feels unfair & unjust in so many ways.
• Why couldn’t his family figure this out decades ago?
• Why didn’t I recognize it from the beginning?
• How can I help him, without entirely losing myself?

And I have resources, thankfully.

I’m learning, educating myself, educating him slowly, as he’s able to accept it.

We’re moving forward. I’ve seen some thoughts on ADHD being a “difference” instead of a “disability.”

I don’t entirely disagree. But I’m not ready to embrace that thought train yet. Untreated and unrecognized ADHD is devastating. To the patients and to those who love them.

Blindsided by ADHD Diagnosis


Motivated? Let’s Talk About That for a Bit

We’ve been in a whale of a financial mess recently, and we desperately needed more income. His answer?

“You need to make more money, baby. You’re really good at what you do. You just need to get more motivated.”

I am really good at what I do. I work part-time, run a mini marketing agency on the side, and care for my two little kids.

He’s right: I could make a lot more money.

I’m smart, people love my work, I understand business.

If I had time.

Here’s Where My “More Motivated” Goes

—My kids go to daycare, partly because I can’t get anything at all done when they’re home. Both have ADHD symptoms.

I’m totally responsible for them otherwise. It’s impossible for him to be there for pickup.

—If someone’s sick, he can’t take off work. So I do.

—I also cook, clean, do laundry, buy groceries, handle all the paperwork and household issues because he can’t.

Not that he’s incapable or even unwilling. Just that it’s not part of his urgent.

—My time is 1000% taken up with my “fire department” labors—putting out all the little fires he leaves behind that occasionally turn into forest fires.

I battle flames alone because there’s no one to help. His (also ADHD) parents figure I’m probably lazy or we wouldn’t have these issues . And my husband silently agrees.

—My parents don’t have the resources or understanding to come to my rescue.

We don’t live very near any family members. And, we moved to an area where we knew no one a few years ago.

So when the car breaks down, the AC goes out, a child has to go to the ER, or any number of other crazy things happen, there is no one to call.

Blindsided by ADHD diagnosis


A Weird Complication in All of This

Until fairly recently, I assumed all this was normal.

We both grew up in extremely fundamental complementation churches, where the wife is expected to support her husband and “work quietly at home.”  [Complementarianism is a theological view in that men and women have different but complementary roles and responsibilities in marriage, family life, religious leadership, and elsewhere.]

I simply didn’t know that everyone doesn’t deal with this much extreme crazy. My husband’s parents believe it’s my job to follow, submit, and help my husband. So all of our issues land squarely on my shoulders.

My parents have been successfully fooled into thinking my husband is sweet, hard-working, and charming.

Make no mistake: He is. I’ve gone out of my way to hide the rest.

Then We Were Blindsided by the ADHD Diagnosis

Two years ago, my husband’s official ADHD diagnosis blindsided me.

I had no idea.

I’m an educator, and I’ve spent hours researching ADHD. I’ve taught children with a variety of learning disorders and delays, written about them, and worked hard to connect. But I’d never known an adult with ADHD before.

I didn’t know what it looked like. I didn’t know how the symptoms shift, change, and mask themselves in adulthood. I definitely didn’t know that “submitting” to my husband’s leadership like I was taught to do could destroy us completely.

Life goes on. As we learn about ADHD, his life—and by extension, mine—will improve.

The diagnosis has already helped. It took him from “I’m a stupid idiot” to “OH, there’s a reason I’m this way.”

But this weekend, I’m grieving the stupidity of a cultural system that fundamentally doesn’t believe in the importance of mental health. I’m referring to the church system I grew up in, but this applies to a broad swath of America as well.

God help us, we’ve got to do better.

We have no excuse.


Can you relate to any part of Claudia’s story? Were you “blindsided by the ADHD diagnosis”? Tell us about it.

By the way, you can read another essay by Claudia at The ADHD Homestead: How One Day Of ADHD Meds Gave Me Hope For My Marriage

Links to Above-Mentioned Posts

Here is Khanji’s story: Misdiagnosed Until 39: “Best Week of My Life”

On a related topic,Taylor J contributed this post on a topic almost no one is talking about:  Does ADHD Create Vulnerability to High-Control Groups?

—Gina Pera


11 thoughts on “Blindsided by ADHD Diagnosis: One Wife’s Story”

  1. Wow, does this ever hit the nail on the head for me.

    My husband was diagnosed 5 years into our marriage with severe adhd. I do believe that the ideal is to have a man be the head of the household…but that is not possible when there is mental illness (which I believe adhd is).

    I have 5 kids but I often feel like I have 6 because of my husband. He is more difficult than the children some days because I can’t do anything about his behavior. He has horrible sleep and eating habits.

    He loaths paper work and sticking to a budget. I also worry about our children’s safety when he is alone with them because he starts projects and leaves them unsupervised or takes them on adventures through abandoned barns.

    He resents being talked to like a child and/or nagged but I find it so hard to control my tone and chose my words wisely. He has passed on adhd to two of our children but he is unable to help me much with them because of his adhd.

    His adhd and our children’s is the reason I know I can’t handle another baby. It is hard not to be resentful. I definitely feel upset that his parents didn’t get him diagnosed as a child or that I didn’t notice it and run when we were dating.

    I do believe that marriage is a covenant with God. My husband is not evil or abusive and we do get along many days. His behavior is just varies between mildly annoying on good days to extremely annoying on the bad. Marriage with him takes a lot of work and patience. I’d be grateful for any and all help.

    On a side note. I often think all ADHD people should be in the army…or something like that. I know my husband would do so well with the structure, discipline and exercise. It would be nice if someone else was managing his life instead of me.

    1. Hi Laura,

      Validation is always powerful. I’m glad you found some here.

      As I read your account, I noticed that you didn’t mention any type of ADHD treatment.

      Often—not always but often— medication can make a huge positive difference. If done properly. And that is a big IF.

      I recommend that you and he self educate with serious sources. In other words, mostly not online and definitely not with the fake books on ADHD now flooding Amazon. Fake authors, fake credentials, fake reviews.

      If you haven’t read my first book, you can gain enormous knowledge there. Same with my blog and courses.

      While it’s true that some people with ADHD benefit from the structure offered by the military, it’s not so simple.

      For one, even people with ADHD in the military can suffer impairments that hold them back in their career and that devastate their relationships.

      For another, I know many people with ADHD who would wither and perish in the military — and many who are successful on all variety of careers.

      It truly seems that you two might make important positive changes in your life. It’s not too late. You might have to get the ball rolling, but the payoff would be your husband becoming higher-functioning and a true partner, engaged in life.

      Take care

  2. ADHD + Christianity = Hell. I got trapped into a marriage to a man who was diagnosed as a child and did not disclose it till after 8 years of married hell. Then I found out I have a Jewish heritage, so I started the research to see if I needed to add one more thing to my long list of shoulds. Come to find out even the Israelite archeologists cannot find one shred of evidence to support any of the bible stories. Don’t fall for the hype about submission; it’s just a control tactic that you will regret after many years of self-sacrifice. There is no reward at the end for giving up your life for another; take care of you, because no one else will.

  3. I completely relate to this.

    I’ve been married to my husband for 25 years and we’ve know about his diagnosis of ADHD for about 22 of those. I wish I could say that getting that diagnosis helped…and I guess knowing what you are dealing with is a first step…but, it hasn’t gained us much traction.

    Treatment of this is complex and often falls short of really impacting daily life in any good or measurable way. Professionals will tell you you need to address 3 areas: behavior therapy, medicines, and attention to overall good health (nutrition, sleep, etc). But, know in advance that the non-ADHD spouse will have to coordinate ALL of this…appointments, insurance, phone calls, schedules.

    Even so, getting your ADHD spouse to adhere to any of this consistently is also an exercise in futility. What a joy! And, meds are tricky…expensive to see doctors and therapists, hard to find right one or right dose and this changes as the body changes and ages…so, you never have it “locked in.”

    Counseling is a joke for ADHD sufferers because the non-ADHD spouse has to coordinate all of it and there is virtually no follow through on their part because they don’t remember any of the assignments or suggestions anyway. I won’t even get into how badly the church handles all of this. They don’t know what to do and therefore, they really do not want to know about it.

    1. Dear Jennifer,

      Sadly, I absolutely agree with you. And it’s why I’ve done this work for almost 20 years. The majority of it uncompensated. (Books have sold well but that’s hardly a high-profit item after printing a 400-page book, shipping, etc..)

      So, I’ve spent the last 3 years developing online training. After four years spent producing an evidence-based couple therapy model in a professional guide.

      I soon will launch Course 1, and I think you will find it exactly what you and your husband have needed. At least I very much hope so.

      Writing marketing/sales copy is not my forte. So, I’m grateful that you have written it for me. 🙂

      Stay tuned and be sure to subscribe!

      take care,

  4. I can relate. I’m also a believer and a consultant.

    My husband and I have been married 20 years, we have four children ages 14 to 4.

    I think he’s brilliant, handsome, charismatic, funny, and charming, but I’ve also thought he was lazy, selfish, angry, aggressive, anti-social and hypocritical.

    I have been blindsided by the revelation that the issues we are dealing with are more than what we think they are. And I never considered ADHD until I started wondering if our 14-yo daughter’s behavior was more than just teenage angst and then it came up in a mentoring session we had with a younger couple in which the wife shared that her husband thought she had it, and she agreed. (Of note: we have always suggested couples research and seek out a medical professional as needed)

    He consented to couples therapy but didn’t want me to choose the therapist and then never went about finding one for us that we could afford. After a particularly bad argument, my husband told me he thought I was only staying in the marriage because of my beliefs about divorce.

    I know it’s more than that. What I want is to be able to enjoy AND rely on him as an equally invested partner. I want honesty AND humility.

    So now I’m reading all that I can and watching videos and strategizing on how to get him to make an appointment to assess what is really going on.

    I don’t want to cajole or manipulate him. Not sure what to do. I’ve got enough on my plate managing the children, household, work, etc. But it has been life-changing to find this space.

    I have not talked to anyone about this. Both of his parents are deceased; I would have felt very comfortable talking to my mother in law about all of this if she were still alive. As it stands, there is no one. I am sure that I need to find myself a therapist as well.

    1. Hi Seraphim,

      I’m glad you are finding support in my blog and reader comments.

      As far as “making that appointment”, I encourage you to view this issue through the ADHD lens.

      If you wait for him to make the appointment — and rely on him to select the professional — y ou might be waiting a very long time.

      The very symptoms that necessitate seeking professional help are the symptoms that can jeopardize that.

      I encourage you to read my first book. I explain all about the importance of teamwork in finding professional help. It is vitally important. You don’t want to leave your marriage up to chance, I would guess. And it is definitely a risk, given the spotty understanding of ADHD within the mental-health profession.

      The Internet and the many sites on ADHD can offer a very mixed picture—some good advice and some horrible.

      Here is the link…it’s on Kindle, in paperback, and audiobook. Seriously, this book will be your best guide.

      Good luck!


  5. My husband has ADHD. I have been to counseling but could REALLY use a support group of other wives. Would anyone be interested in a group blog etc to help women like us? Thanks!

    1. Hi there,

      What a great idea. Except I beat you to it by 20 years. 😉

      Yes, I started putting “ADHD and Relationships” on the map 20 years ago, first in a private online (free) support group. Then by producing the most comprehensive book on the topic in 2008 (it remains “evergreen”). Finally, I co-wrote the first clinical guide for ADHD couple therapy based on the evidence of waht works for Adult ADHD and what works for couple therapy.

      So, here’s what I recommend for you:

      1. Educate yourself with a solid source of information.

      A support group can be helpful, especially if the members are informed. But a foundation of ADHD knowledge should come first. The Internet can be a great source of information—and misinformation.

      I encourage you to read my book

      2. Read the posts in this blog’s “Book Club” series, where a wife in a dual-ADHD marriage (with four children with ADHD) shares her reactions to each chapter.

      Here is the first post: Introduction: “You, Me, and ADHD” Online Book Club

      3. Visit my private, donation-based group. If you’d like to join, please be sure to read and follow all the guidelines.

      ADHD Partner

      I look forward to welcoming you to the group.


  6. I can absolutely relate to this. In addition to a wife submitting under all circumstances, the church has a terrible track record when it comes to mental health. Anxiety and depression are caused by sin, adhd doesn’t exist, and don’t you dare try to get help from someone other than a pastor or “biblical” counselor. The wreckage in so many families and churches is quite possibly incalculable.

    1. Dear Concerned,

      Thanks for your comment.

      One can see how some “powers that be” don’t want outside interference—and so they gaslight vulnerable people.

      Perhaps due to their own psychiatric/neurocognitive issues.

      I have another post related to this topic coming up soon.


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