Can poor sweeping habits wreck a marriage? That’s right, I said “sweeping” — as in sweeping the floor.
The answer is yes, poor sweeping habits can sow simmering discord. Unnecessary conflict. Chronic resentment.
Let me explain with a few examples and how sweeping challenges might relate to ADHD.
Disclaimer: Before we get started, I’m not saying that all people with ADHD have trouble sweeping! Nothing is true for all people with ADHD. In fact, some are superior sweepers and their partners slacker sweepers! This post transcends sweeping itself.
My point is this: When an adult struggles with the “simplest things,” think about understanding and trouble-shooting through the ADHD lens.
Passive-Aggressive Sweeping Style?
A few months back, a woman in my Adult ADHD group mentioned her long-running marital conflict. Long-running as in 30 years of marriage. This was her first meeting. She is not diagnosed but is starting to wonder.
What’s exactly is the source of conflict?
I’ll sweep the kitchen floor but won’t pick up the piles. Actually, I don’t sweep the kitchen. I sweep sections of the kitchen. At different times. But I never pick up the debris.
She explained why this behavior increasingly infuriates her husband:
- He can’t understand why she refuses to pick it up.
- Why does she begrudge him this small thing?
- Can’t she understand he’s tired of accidentally walking through the piles and then having to re-sweep the floor himself?
Lacking a better explanation, his ears perked up when their couple therapist explained “passive aggressive” behavior.
In case you are unfamiliar, here’s one way of describing passive-aggressive behavior: A disconnect between what a person says and what they do. For example, this woman might tell her husband, “Okay, I’ll pick up the pile next time” but doesn’t.
Yet, this woman denies being passive-aggressive, and I believed her: “I don’t know why I do this—or why he gets so angry.”
Her attitude is, this is simply one of life’s many mysteries: what are ya gonna do? When you live with unrecognized ADHD for a few decades, this is a common, understandable response. We might call it a type of Learned Helplessness.
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Sweeping Under The….Table?
Curious about the prevalence of sweeping-related conflicts, I queried my “mixed” group — adults with ADHD and partners of adults with ADHD. Could anyone relate?
One woman jumps in:
My husband does that! You know that old expression, to sweep important issues under the rug—as in, ignore them? My husband sweeps things under the dining room table. Our children know never to sit down at the table barefoot.
He was diagnosed with ADHD years ago, but what does sweeping have to do with ADHD?
Another woman says of her then-undiagnosed husband:
He swept the floor as if he were sweeping flood water out of the house, huffing and puffing to suggest that he was doing a really tough job. Hard labor. In fact, it was usually just a few crumbs.
Whatever specs of dust and crumbs he encountered, he swept into the same corner every time. Every. Time. Then he’d tell our young children not to step in the crumbs…or he’d have to sweep the floor all over again!
If I suggested that he put them in the bin straight away so he didn’t need to worry about where the children were stepping….I was met with outrage.
One woman responded:
I figured I was the only one in the world whose spouse would do that. Never mentioned it to anyone as I figured they wouldn’t believe me. It’s just baffling. Why sweep the floor only to leave the crumbs, etc. in a corner?!
These domestic situations can be particularly tricky for men with female ADHD partners to navigate, as one man asks:
Do I need to be more sensitive to her difficulties or can she learn to do these kinds of tasks completely and reliably? Will I have to patiently explain what ‘sweep the hallway’ and ’empty the dishwasher’ means forever?
Can she learn to take initiative and do some of these things without my asking? Or am I stuck forever with doing everything myself?
So They Can’t Sweep—Who Cares?
You might be thinking: Good grief! Get a stick vacuum or robot, people! Makes sense. My husband loves our self-guided vacuum, but he was diagnosed with ADHD years ago. The reasons he loathed sweeping (and did it badly) are no longer a mystery to us.
Let’s step back a bit.
For the first woman, sweeping was just one in a string of puzzling ADHD-sounding challenges that frustrated her and held her back. Until folks in her situation come to terms with ADHD, superficial solutions tend to quickly run aground.
In fact, I find this one of the biggest mistakes ADHD-challenged couples make: Thinking they can solve problems with bandages rather than in a comprehensive, integrated fashion. After a while, they grow tired and resentful.
Then they discover ADHD. But how much energy and goodwill remain? Sometimes not enough. They exhausted themselves over the little things, never seeing the Elephant in the Room: Adult ADHD.
That’s why I remain vigilant for everyday examples like this — these quirky “teachable moments”. ADHD crops up in the most surprising ways, if we know how to recognize it. Start from the ground up, and you’ll solve more challenges more quickly.
This perspective is key to ceasing chronic frustration and over-engineered solutions — and getting traction. Otherwise, we risking staying stuck in an irrational, angry loop.
Related: Lost Keys, Moldering Laundry
Consider my friend with late-diagnosis ADHD. Before diagnosis, she chronically lost her keys. She refused to acknowledge the possibility of ADHD or even to simply hang a nail by the front door. Why? “Because I am an adult and I should be able to find my keys!,” she said.
That “should” belief blocked her path to truly helpful strategies, including (in her case) diagnosis and medication. When I helped her to grasp the complexity of ADHD, the light bulbs went off. That’s why she had trouble keeping track of her keys, not because she wasn’t a responsible adult.
She experienced the same doing laundry, clothes left moldering because they never made it to the drier. No number of reminder systems, sticky notes, and signs helped. That’s because “doing the wash” wasn’t her root challenge any more than losing her keys was. They were little tips of a big iceberg.
How Can ADHD Affect Sweeping?
So, what might be the root cause of poor sweeping habits for some folks with ADHD? I’d say difficulty with follow-through.
We might already understand “poor follow-through” in other contexts. That is, the ADHD Partner might:
- Make a promise to complete some paperwork—but doesn’t
- Install new tile in the bathroom—but no grout
- Mean to follow through—but gets distracted, loses track of time, runs out of time, procrastinates, forgets the details, runs out of motivation…..
But what, specifically, can explain sweeping without picking up the sweepings? Well, for starters:
- The focus required to sweep ran out with the need to mentally transition to another activity: Picking it up!
- Especially if the dustpan is not right there. In which case, the ADHD Partner must stop to think …where do we keep the dustpan?
- On the way to fetching it, a distraction throws the ADHD Partner off-course—perhaps it’s even a missed pile! “Argh! I missed that. I’ll never get it right. I give up!”
We see a related phenomenon with kitchen cabinets and drawers. For example, the ADHD Partner opens a kitchen cabinet to get the cereal (goal)—but doesn’t close it. Their partner, not realizing the cabinet or drawer was left open, ends up with bruised hips and banged heads. They can tell themselves, “My partner is so inconsiderate”. Or, they can start jointly problem-solving.
When we start looking through the ADHD lens—when we truly understand core challenges—we can start applying them to all kinds of previously puzzling situations.
We also avoid superficial cookie-cutter explanations. That is, poor sweeping is not diagnostic for ADHD! But if sweeping is an issue for an individual with ADHD, we might figure out why.
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