Breaking Out of ADHD Relationship Dysfunction — After Not Breaking a Fall

ADHD relationship dysfunction

Breaking out of ADHD relationship dysfunction — after not breaking a fall?  That sounds all kinds of painful, right? It was, but not as painful as remaining on an ADHD Roller Coaster gone wild.

I’ll tell you my personal story in a minute.  It might help shed some light on your own ADHD relationship troubles. But first some background.

ADHD Relationship Dysfunction Junction

Here’s how ADHD relationship dysfunction typically develops —and becomes entrenched:

  1. You’re several years into a relationship before discovering that one or both of you have ADHD.
  2. By that time, you both have developed misinterpretations of the other’s behavior and counter-productive coping responses.
  3. Not to forget: the lifelong misattributions and poor coping of the newly diagnosed ADHD partner, since childhood.

Once there’s a diagnosis and maybe medication on board, it can still take quite a conscious effort to overcome these entrenched patterns and emotional responses. Especially if you don’t know what they are or how to do it.

Moreover, how do you distinguish ADHD symptoms, which should respond to medication, from these entrenched poor coping responses?  This is often-overlooked essential challenge and, in my long observation, why even the best attempts at medication don’t create results folks are hoping for.

I’ve tackled this topic for years, in my writing and in my presentations to the public and clinicians, from San Francisco to Turkey–and now in my online training.  For more information: Solving Your Adult ADHD Puzzle

Could I Depend On Him?

Yes, I’ve hard-earned the status of “ADHD Expert” from my own original research and writing.  Yes, thousands of adults with ADHD and their partners or spouses, too, have shared their stories with me. But rest assured: I’ve had plenty of opportunity for “walking the talk” at home.

One particularly negative repetitive pattern involved my fear that my husband (the ADHD partner in our marriage) would be incapable—and even disinterested—in caring for me should I become sick or disabled, even temporarily.

I am not alone; this is a recurring fear expressed in my online group for the partners of adults with ADHD. And this fear has a basis in reality.

Was he incapable—or unwilling?  And at what point does it matter which it is?

In fact, there was an incident just yesterday.

Let me tell you about it. But first, turn on your speakers, because there are sound effects.

ADHD relationship dysfunction

Injured, Stranded, and Heartbroken

Over our 20 years together, I had plenty of “evidence” to support this not-so-irrational belief. That is, I’d be on my own if I were ever to become sick or incapacitated. He might mean to be attentive but, you know, distraction and disorganization.

For example, I had foot surgery a few years back. The doc issued strict orders to keep my foot elevated and move as little as possible. My husband, who worked at home then, swore he would be a regular Nurse Nightingale—the 6’2″ and 230# version.

His tenure started post-surgery: He steered my wheelchair careening through the hospital hallways and into the elevator. Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride-style. Whee!

A little bit fun, yes. But I was holding on for dear life, praying he didn’t knock my foot into the elevator doorframe—or catapult me out of the chair entirely!

Once home, I saw he had dutifully set up my bedstead with a land-line phone and his cell phone. That way, I could be sure of reaching him upstairs in his office, on the other side of the house, should I need him. Great start.

When I tried to use it, though, the land-line phone had a dead battery. The “pay as you go” cell phone had no more “go”.

I lay there marooned for too many hours, him out of shouting distance. He didn’t think to come check on me, either. Once he gets absorbed in his work, he tends to stay there.  As a result, I felt helpless, hurt, duped, and frightened.

“ADHD relationship dysfunction” patterns might have been clear to me—if we’d known about ADHD. Or what ADHD meant.

ADHD relationship trust

Warning To Self: Never Trust Him Again

I made a mental note made to my subconscious: Be very careful in trusting him again with your welfare. No matter how much he professes to trust him. And seriously ask yourself, why do you remain married to him? It was complicated.

Remember, this was early days in Adult ADHD awareness. We were on the “bleeding edge,” you might say. There were no books to guide us—especially none on ADHD relationship issues.

My first book, Is it You, Me, or Adult A.D.D.? was only the third book available on Amazon about Adult ADHD, published in 2008. It broke new ground in detailing the importance of acknowledging the impact of ADHD on both partners and emphasizing the importance of teamwork with evidence-based treatment strategies.  This blog is the oldest continuing website of any kind of Adult ADHD, since 2008.

But we were dealing with ADHD—yet not knowing it—in the mid-90s. Adult ADHD had been made an official diagnosis only in 1994. Most professionals had not yet received the memo.

Our attempts at couple therapy were so disastrous they motivated us to double-down on cooperation. Anything to avoid facing that again. Besides, we were paying good money to, by turns, entertain and horrify the therapist. My memory of their faces always features a dropped jaw.

Only one mental-health expert I found then acknowledged the potential impact of ADHD on the spouse, and he was local to the Bay Area then: Daniel Amen, MD. Bless him.

In fact, happening upon his Change Your Brain, Change Your Life at the local library is how I first learned about Adult ADHD. I clung to Dr. Amen’s paragraphs of validation like a lifeline. Then I extended that lifeline to others in the ADHD Partner online group.  We were all feeling our way. On our own.

Gradually, our own “ADHD relationship dysfunction” improved. But it was often one step forward, three steps back. And I never knew when things would shift and I’d feel dropped on my head. Metaphorically.

Gina Pera

“Nurse NightinGoat” with Ice Cream—And Barbiturates

A few years after the foot-surgery incident, I had another outpatient surgery.  Dr. Goat (my husband’s nickname) accompanied me to the appointment. As we left, I was still groggy. The doctor gave the instructions to him. Once home, I staggered to the bed and fell asleep.

A few hours later, I awakened to Nurse Nightingoat plying me with two Vicodin pills and a bowl of French Vanilla ice cream: “The doctor said every 2-4 hours. The ice cream will prevent nausea.”

Like clockwork, he showed up with the pills and the ice cream every four hours—or was it 2?  I don’t know. I was in a semi-stupor. Finally, I said, “Stop! You’ll turn me into poor Marilyn Monroe!”

That was about six years ago. I updated my fear scenario around being unable to rely upon him in an emergency. But had not entirely forgotten.

ADHD Relationship Dysfunction: A Big Dip On the Coaster

Yesterday, I took a protracted, very ungraceful, and rather painful fall in the garage.

I tripped over a bicycle pedal and tried to avoid tripping over an air purifier.  In the process, I ricocheted myself in several directions and on several hard surfaces before finally landing with a thump on the raised kitchen doorstep.

It sounded like this:

 

My husband is working at home again these days, after 6 years of working in an office. He was right upstairs (at least I thought so).

Surely he heard the cacophony. If not that, surely he couldn’t miss my whimpering and calling out to him. Something like this, though not quite as energetic:

Lying there in a crumpled heap, my mind ran through all the likely scenarios: He had heard the calamity but figured “She’s okay. She’s the self-sufficient type.” Or, worse, he heard it and didn’t want to interrupt his work. But damn, I might have actually broken something.

I finally got to my feet and limped Quasimodo-like back to my office, calling out as I went. I held out hope that he might actually be elsewhere in the house, out of earshot during and after my fall.  Then, I discovered. He was in the bathroom.  On the other side of the house. Shew. That explains it.

“What’s happening!?” he said.

“Goat!” I called, “I just had a bad fall!”

Through the closed door, I heard it: profound annoyance at being interrupted. A sigh something like this:

He, however, recalls his sigh more like this:

 

My worst fear triggered: He was annoyed that something bad had happened to me that required his help.  Is it starting to sound like I’m “in denial” of abusive behavior?  I get it. But hang on a minute.

loves me deep down?

Caring “Deep Down”? Exactly How Far Down?

It’s hardly my first encounter with this scenario.

In more than a decade of leading the ADHD partners support group, I’ve heard it too many times. That is,  an ADHD partner seems to view a partner’s temporary illness not with compassion but as an….inconvenience. Among the many potential ADHD relationship issues, this is one of the most hurtful.

Yes, I can explain the range of alternate explanations—for example, how ADHD neurobiology can interfere with even the most compassionate person’s ability to organize appropriate responses. I explain this in my presentations and writing. ADHD relationship dysfunction issues present only one of the many sets of challenges that adults with ADHD face every day.

But we cannot ignore the fact: When you come against such from your intimate partner, it’s frightening. Your first response might be denial. You don’t want to believe that the person you fell in love with can be that cold, callous, or selfish.

You’ve heard that ADHD treatment can improve functioning. So, you hold out hope against all evidence.  You might tell yourself, “My partner cares about me deep down.”

The fact is, some intimate partners absolutely can be that cold, callous, or selfish—ADHD or not. If that’s the case, we better face it. Humans come with variable capacities, especially when it comes to higher-order brain functions such as empathy. There is nothing monolithic about ADHD, either.

The Gray Area of ADHD Relationship Dysfunction

How do we know, though, if it’s ADHD creating this undesirable response or something else?   Sorry, but there are no easy answers.

When we talk about the ADHD affect on marriage and relationships, we are talking a huge array of variable issues.  Not 10 easy tips and tricks. It’s for each person to assess and make the call.

We can get into real trouble, though, if we believe that with enough love and caring—and medication—a true sociopath can change. ADHD relationship strategies can go only so far in some cases.

The complicated truth, however, is this: Sometimes you know for sure what you are dealing with only after medical treatment for ADHD and any co-existing conditions, such as bipolar disorder, anxiety, or depression.

Yes, ADHD medication treatment often improves empathic functioning. To learn more, read ADHD, Empathy, and Dopamine.

Educate Yourself on ADHD—and Be Realistic

Granted, this is true for some; ADHD symptoms and poor coping strategies can stymie their ability to express or act upon what’s in their hearts. Psychoeducation is a must for both partners.

But we must be ready to tread the gray area.  There’s only one thing that the 10-30 millions of adults with ADHD in the U.S. alone have in common: variable aspects of this highly variable syndrome. Then there is the rest of “personality” and background.

We must consider the complicating co-existing conditions (e.g. conduct disorder, antisocial personality disorder, autistic-spectrum disorders, and more).

It’s easy to toss around “cookie-cutter” platitudes about people with ADHD. But, they don’t help anyone—and can do great harm. We must see people diagnosed with ADHD as individuals, not clones. The same is true for their partners.

So, I want to be very clear: With someone other than my husband, my story could have turned out very differently. The best decision might have been to leave.

There’s “we can work on this” relationship dysfunction. Then there is “impossibly toxic, destructive, and irreparable relationship dysfunction.” As you learn more about ADHD, especially the emotional baggage of late-diagnosis, you’ll be better equipped to know the difference.

ADHD relationship dysfunction

Beware the Professional Gaslighting

I feel I should mention an observation here: Many Adult ADHD specialists act very protectively toward their clients. I understand this, because I feel the same way toward the folks in my local Adult ADHD group.

Unfortunately, this too often means that these specialists feel little empathy for the partners. That’s putting it mildly, I’m afraid.

In fact, some specialists view the partners/spouses more as annoyances—perhaps even the core of their client’s problems—more than ADHD itself. They want them to “get with the program” and throw all their support behind their ADHD partners. NOW.  They also imply — and so does a plethora of websites by non-experts claiming expertise — that they are responsible for the so-called parent-child dynamic. In short, they shame them.

It goes against all reason, against all of what they should understand about ADHD. But it’s there.  I sometimes get that reaction by proxy. Simply by talking or writing about our evidence-based model of ADHD couple therapy. Not from preeminent Adult ADHD experts, who fully grasp this, but more at the clinical level.

The truth is, some clinicians and certainly the non-experts online routinely “gaslight” the partners of adults with ADHD.  I’ve seen a marked difference in the last 5 years online. I could explain why, but I’ll leave that for another post!

“You must be more compassionate,” they say. “You must understand what your ADHD partner is struggling with.” No matter if that’s how they started out, 20 years ago, with them being understanding and helping. Now they are exhausted.

They need legitimate help, not platitudes. Moreover, their ADHD partners deserve better, too.

Gina Pera

Learning to Draw On Newer Memories

After almost 20 years together, I’m clear that there is a “deep down” kindness in my husband.

Too often in the past, poorly managed ADHD obscured or sabotaged his innate empathy. He’d fail my expectations—and his own. Instead of reacting with contrition, he’d react with anger.

Later, he could say, the anger was directed at himself (“I failed again!”). But that came as cold comfort to me,  caught in the cross-fire.

Happily, Things Are Different Now

That morning, as I limped to the back of the house, seeking solace, I decided to momentarily ignore my husband’s put-upon-sounding sigh. I put aside all the old painful patterns around it. Instead, I drew upon the more recent memory with Nurse NightinGoat and the reliable Vicodin/ice-cream routine.

With that memory in mind, I mentally stepped back and gave him a minute or so to “transition”—not to mention finish whatever he was doing in the bathroom. Something like this:

I flopped on the bed and finally said, “Hey, I hurt and I need some comfort.”  At that point, he hepped to—speedily fetching a selection of cold packs, sitting with me on the bed, petting my head, kissing my banged-up wrist, and saying, “Poor you.”

This was a much better outcome than we both might have experienced in years past. To wit:

  • I’d react with hurt and anger to his imposed-upon-sounding sigh, accuse him of being the most selfish man I ever knew—”and I was stupid enough to marry you!”—and storm out of the room feeling horrible about my marriage and plotting my escape.
  • He’d react by withdrawing to the safe confines of manipulating databases, feeling stunned that he screwed up again, that his intent so badly translated into actions, and, finally, in perhaps a subconscious effort at ego-protection “what the hell is wrong with her anyway?”

Will this strategy help your relationship? Are you learning how your challenges might be common ADHD relationship dysfunction patterns?

Will stepping back and allowing for your ADHD partner, now on board with treatment strategies, to have a moment’s transition help to heal past counter-productive patterns?

Will you be able to build enough new patterns,  enabling you to let go of some old ones?

I can’t promise it. But it might be worth a try.

Postscript: This morning I went to load the clothes into the washer. What did I find? An absolutely clear and wide path, free of bicycle, humidifier, and other flotsam and jetsam. Thank you, Dr. Goat!

We Hope Our Story Helps You

We both believe in sharing our story—and our lessons hard-won—so that other couples can better enjoy the ride on their own ADHD Roller Coaster. To help heal your ADHD relationship dysfunction, you might find these resources helpful:

Thank you for reading this long, but important, post. I’d love to hear your experiences in ADHD relationships.  

ALSO:  I am entirely self-funded, with no outside support of any kind, including pharmaceutical industry.

A version of this post appeared May 24, 2015

—Gina Pera

89 thoughts on “Breaking Out of ADHD Relationship Dysfunction — After Not Breaking a Fall”

  1. How refreshing that this article did not first say the “nagging” partner. I am the non-ADD partner and have a hard time finding self help books and articles that don’t label the partner as nagging!! I Don’t Nag!! I stay silent and have learned to not depend on my husband for any appt making, or taking(the kids), no “honey do” list, no expectations or requests. I do what needs to be done. I do not rely on him for my care, kids care, house care, animal care, etc. “Don’t schedule My time!” I was told many years ago. Then on the flip side, “you act like your a single mom…I am capable of helping out”…. No remembering or insight into the years of lack of follow through and angry yelling.
    Going to work and being in my office space is MY control, nobody to tell me what can and can’t be put on the desk, decorations, clutter. I don’t have to worry about someone else being “triggered” by a mess or how I do this that or anything. Home is where I constantly try to avoid any cause of discomfort or annoyance. I feel sometimes everything is stripped of personal choices. “If you know your keys jingling drives me crazy, I don’t know why you don’t do something about it?” So I can’t have my matching keychain (a gift from my sister) because I should be more sensitive to his “triggers”…. One of many examples.. but I don’t argue, I don’t fight back, I silently just do something else that removes something happy for me to not cause discomfort for him… 19 years together. It wasn’t always like this, has gotten worse the older he gets.
    I choose to stay. That is what I tell every therapist I have ever gone to. I explain I just need help with tools to manage my own feelings and responses. Couples therapy never makes it past 2-3 appts before he shuts it down for one reason or another.
    So Thank you again for not automatically labeling the partner as a Nag, it was refreshing.

    1. Hi Ms. B,

      You are most welcome. I think it’s safe to say that no one knows this territory better than I do, from all sides.

      Many non-experts claiming expertise are selling easy answers——answers that seem directly targeted to people with ADHD who have little insight to their challenges. Answers that deny and minimize ADHD-related challenges.

      I’ve worked hard to help individuals understand what is happening and know how to start problem-solving.

      I hope that you can get on that soon. ADHD challenges typically do not improve with age. Treatment can typically make a remarkable difference.

      good luck!
      g

  2. PtolemyTheMapmaker

    Hi Gina! I can scarcely believe it but hugely grateful that I have found you … someone genuine to acknowledge and validate my experiences [and feelings] with my undiagnosed adhd male friend, of senior years, my immediate neighbour … whose behaviour and responses over the past 17 years, and particularly over the past two months [as he recovered from surgery and required my care], has sucked the life out of me but which has also spurred me to search for some explanations for his extra-ordinarily fractitious, hostile and verbally-aggressive behaviour … I thank you warmly for your beautiful and thoughtful approach … hope to join your new courses I live in the antipodes …

    1. Dear Ptolemy,

      Thank you so much for letting me know that my work has helped you.

      This understanding is so important. Confusion tends to keep us frozen and hurt. With understanding, we can start creating better boundaries, seeing context, and taking care of ourselves.

      g

      P.S. The antipodes…..had not heard Australia referred to thusly! There are quite a few Australians taking the course. I’m always mindful of time zones when I schedule the Zoom meetings. Can’t always include Australia and UK — especially at the same time — but I try to create regular opportunities.

  3. Im taking care of my adhd cousin, it drives me nuts, now im in big depression, i just couldn’t handle his lack of empathy and carelessness. Im very suicidal now

    1. Dear Ryo,

      Please take care of yourself. Call a hot line. Say that you cannot continue doing this.

      Sometimes. You deserve a life. Extreme ADHD can suck the life out of everyone in the vicinity, including the person who has it.

      g

  4. My wife and I’s marriage (of 29 years) is falling apart at the seams. After dealing with shame, failure, and disappointment for years, I was diagnosed with ADHD inattentive a couple of years ago at the age of 54. My wife refuses to believe that my lack of empathy and inattention could be caused by ADHD and is sure it is because of a willful motivation on my part. She refuses to understand the symptoms and its effects on my behavior. I now nauseate her when I withdraw into my own world or lose track of time while watching a TV show. How can I get her to understand the effects of ADHD on my behavior and relationships?

    1. I’m so sorry, Trent. I can only imagine how that feels.

      What I’ve found is that the partners of adults with late-diagnosis ADHD become more willing to listen, to learn when their own pain and hurt is acknowledged.

      Until then, it just all sounds like, “Here’s even MORE you can do for your ADHD partner.”

      I created a course exactly for people in this situation — and for those where the ADHD partner is “in denial” and many more.

      I encourage you to take a look. Maybe if she sees you being pro-active, etc.., she will be more receptive.

      BUT HERE’S THE THING, TRENT: WHAT ARE YOU DOING TO MANAGE SYMPTOMS??? You mention diagnosis but no treatment.

      Sometimes this works out better if it’s a team effort.

      Two special offers end Oct. 15.

      https://adhdsuccesstraining.com/solving-your-adult-adhd-puzzle-for-couples-and-individuals/

      I hope this helps,
      g

    2. Her responsibility is to herself. She cannot fix your adhd, nor should she be forced to absorb it. Someone needs to speak up for us. We count as much as anyone else, and it’s high time we are recognized for our own needs, rather than just that we don’t have a boatload of neurological problems, so we should absorb everyone else’s. I am the neurotypical wife of an adhd/asd man, and I was duped and cheated on. I lost 15 good years of my life trying to make things work, while my own needs were overstepped and shamed. Enough already. It is what it is. We deserve happiness, too.

    3. Hi Enough Already,

      You hit the nail on the head.

      This is one big reason I devoted 4 years, with my writing partner Arthur Robin, PhD, to producing the couple therapy guide.

      For too long, “ADHD couple therapy” has been focusing all support and sympathy on the ADHD partner — and recruiting the Other Partner has a helper. And if that Other Partner dares to balk, mentions they have needs, too….well, they are not compassionate, cold, withholding, etc.

      It’s BOGUS. And it springs largely from three things on the clinical side:

      1. Believing that the best way to help people with ADHD is to “align” with them against the world, including their spouses. e.g. “You are gifted and creative. You need to be around people who appreciate you.”
      2. Not knowing what else to do.
      3. Knowing what else to do (because it’s in my book) but not wanting to learn or be that “directive.”

      I hope you are finding more happiness in life.

      g

  5. Today, I actually clocked the sigh. And was thinking allot about how much I sigh, something I know both my parents do too.

    So it’s strange to read this after those fresh ponderings.

    I’m still awaiting and prepping for a diagnosis.

    But the awareness is transforming my dynamic with my partner, who I believe also has ADHD. I think we are like inverted pie charts of inattentive to hyperactive ratios… he mostly physically on the go, and I’m usually in my head, with a little of the other in each of us.

    With this knowledge, shared with him, courtesy of my obsessive thinking and researching and self help endeavours, we are increasingly, growing in awareness and giving each other so much more benefit of the doubt. I ask for kisses, we share a loving, knowing joke when he squirms and pulls away, or talks about how much he likes his new shoes directly after… but he also obliges much more freely, when I ask him, and seems to enjoy the physical affection, the little pecks on the cheek, that he had totally stopped giving me over the last year or so.

    And… as for the sigh, that’s me, today he asked me to do some tasks, wash the dishes, carry this over there etc… I noticed each time I sighed, without thought. I heard it happen, and simultaneously clocked him wincing at my response.

    Computing all this I then said. “By the way, I’m not sighing because I don’t want to help you, I think I’m just sighing because my brain is switching gears.” It’s like a part of my brain is sighing, but not my heart, or my higher brain… I absolutely want to help him, and make him feel supported. I was fully willing to help, the sigh was an involuntary reaction, before even processing any follow through thought.

    And it made me remember a history of subconsciously letting these out, and thinking back on times when this has been misunderstood by others. And also when the same experience from family members, who also sigh a lot, and who I believe are high in ADHD traits / have ADHD, have left me feeling equally dejected, and triggered my frustration and depleted emotional bank account.

    If only we were taught, sooner and more broadly in society, that many of the non verbal cues, we’ve been told mean this or that, may actually not mean anything much at all. It’s potentially as meaningless to read anything personal into it, as it is getting offended by the sound of a cog turning in a machine.

    Another one of these sorts of moments to be misunderstood, i’ve noticed happening allot for me, is in understanding the effect my slow processing time, can inadvertently have on others. As well as acknowledging why other’s responses to this, has been so upsetting for me, and lead to my battling to control a short fuse response, or internalising and harbouring anxiety and a feeling of unfairness.

    So many times people thought my inability to answer straight away meant I didn’t care. Only to get upset with me, and in turn I’d get very quickly frustrated because I knew I was simply attempting to think, or process. Understandable from both sides. I now say things out loud over and over until the information goes in, with my partner, and this signals to him that i’ve heard and am attempting to process. He’s yet to repay the favour, but I’m able to understand why he’s frequently absent, and what was leading to me feeling unheard. I’m also able to say to him when he’s inpatient with me, doing something he’s requested, when he keeps repeating it, “count to 5, so I can actually process you command and get it done.” And he will count to 5, with a wry smile. We are becoming more mature in our innate childlike deficits. It’s a sweet and beautiful thing to share.

    Thank you as ever for sharing all you do, and for believing in people more than most x

    1. Dear Amy,

      Thank you for sharing a beautifully thoughtful perspective here.

      Inattentive folks often have the most insightful insights. 🙂

      I’ve learned this through my local Adult ADHD group. My co-moderator is a fast talker but not a fast thinker. He’s more careful. That means it’s harder for him to jump into the conversation.

      With the group, there can be (as you might imagine) some “over-talking” and impulsive responses. I don’t mean it has less value or that these folks are being rude. They aren’t not. We have very interesting conversations — among 25 people or more.

      But sometimes the conversation can devolve to rapid-fire “and then there’s this app and this website and…” lol

      For the inattentive types, this is frustrating — “I feel like a squirrel trying to cross a four-lane freeway,” said one woman to me. 🙂

      So, at my co-moderator’s suggestion, we developed the practice of stopping the conversation for a minute or two, mostly to give the folks with Inattentive traits a chance to speak. And they always have remarkable things to say. Given the space.

      I love this in particular in your comment:

      Computing all this I then said. “By the way, I’m not sighing because I don’t want to help you, I think I’m just sighing because my brain is switching gears.” It’s like a part of my brain is sighing, but not my heart, or my higher brain… I absolutely want to help him, and make him feel supported. I was fully willing to help, the sigh was an involuntary reaction, before even processing any follow through thought.

      ADHD symptoms cannot always be overcome by more understanding. That’s true for individuals and couples. But without the understanding, it’s hard to get past a certain superficial point, even with “optimized” medication.

      I devote a good part of Course 1 to this: https://adhdsuccesstraining.com/solving-your-adult-adhd-puzzle-for-couples-and-individuals/

      Thank you, Amy. And best of luck with bridging the gaps.

      g

  6. M. Virginia Leslie

    This article is so timely! When I was first diagnosed with ADHD, at the age of 47, my husband thought that I would learn about it and fix my behavior, problem solved. Of course it doesn’t work that way, and I had to explain that to him. So then he wanted me to learn everything I could, break the information down into it’s most basic points, and explain it all to him. I had to explain to him that I would be lousy at that. Finally he agreed to read ONE book on ADHD, so I started looking around to see which one I thought would be most helpful. I considered Driven To Distraction; Saved From Distraction; Is It You, Me, or Adult A.D.D.?; and a few others, but none of them seemed to be quite the thing for someone with an engineering/hard facts kind of person, especially as I have fairly high functioning ADHD, and there is quite a lot in each of the books that doesn’t really apply to me. I needed to find a book that was short, sweet, and to the point.

    I haven’t yet found the right book, and he’s gotten more annoyed by my behavior over the years, even though I have been trying to do a better job of not letting my ADHD get in the way. Needless to say there are times when both of us are unhappy with the other, him because of my behavior, and me because of the way he responds.

    Your Adult ADHD Success program sounds great, but we’re living on my public servant’s pension, so money is tight, especially with the cost of knee replacement surgery this year (both of knees). I will definitely look at your book Adult ADHD-Focused Couple Therapy: Clinical Interventions, and I will visit your YouTube page. It’s really encouraging to know that you are a source of helpful information that I can turn to, because when we’re not being really annoyed at each other we really enjoy being together.

    1. Hi Virginia,

      I hate when that happens!! When a couple “really enjoys being together” — but ADHD-related issues are creating mischief.

      I’m trying to think of a “short and sweet” book.

      My friend Annick Vincent’s book might fit that bill. She is an MD in Quebec specializing in ADHD, having trained at UPenn with its ADHD experts.

      https://www.attentiondeficit-info.com/book-adult-adhd.php

      The thing is, in her metaphor — of the brain needing glasses — the glasses is stimulant medication. And through past conversations, that doesn’t seem to do much for you — for whatever reason.

      It might be worth re-doubling efforts there. But also, maybe my course would be useful.

      I’m wondering…is it possible he has ADHD, too? I get the engineering-hard-facts profile. But many engineers can read complex books.

      Anyway, in the meantime, I encourage you both to sit down and develop a list of “targets” where you can problem-solve one-by-one.

      This might help him feel that his needs are being considered — and that there is a procedure. Your first attempt at problem-solving might not always work, but then you problem-solving THAT.

      Gathering data. Naming issues. Developing structures. This is so key for ADHD-challenged individuals and couples.

      g

  7. Gina,
    Thank you for re-posting (?) this article. I wish I had seen it 12 years ago when I was struggling with the same basic issues that the writers here describe with such sorrow. My own experience is so similar. I believe your counsel, especially that about therapists, because it is grounded in so much common sense.

    My husband was diagnosed twice with AD/HD. Once by a psychiatrist and then 8 years later, by a neurologist. Both suggested counseling and medications to him–he refused claiming he “didn’t need that stuff.” The neurologist contacted me a few weeks later. She apologized for not sharing his results and her medical counsel with me sooner. She wanted to point out that during his few weeks of testing she observed narcissistic behaviors. She shared that AD/HD often ponies with psychological disorders in addition to its comorbidities. I reflect now–10 years later–how compassionate and forward-thinking she was for the strength of our marriage which she feared would not last without “therapeutic support.”

    What I discovered since that (shocking) phone call was, yes, seeking therapy is a good thing. However, I discovered that (many) therapists shift behavioral managment to the non AD/HD partner (me). They often (1) express that the non-AD/HD partner isn’t compassionate enough, (2) suggest that the conflict was due to my “high expectations,” (3) suggest that my codependency is the issue, and (4) do not hold the AD/HD partner (ie, my husband) responsible for either his choices or his actions; instead, because I am the “stronger” of the two, that responsibility is mine.

    I also discovered that those psychological disorders influence AD/HD. In my case, I lived with two intertangled impairments that, no matter what I did or we did (when possible), hopelessly caged me and my marriage. I tipped into considering divorce was when I had an epileptic seizure and I had to go to hospital. A day later I was discharged. He was called to come pick me up, he looked at me with disgust at this inconvenience. A nurse soon came in to help me as he could not keep his angry taunts quiet as I struggled to get dressed. On the drive home he berated me for embarassing him, interrupting his work, and setting a poor example for our son (who was then on his own). He made it clear that any more “nonsense” meant my safety would be in jeopardy. I reasoned that if I fell ill, it would be so overwhelming that he would not know how to respond or take action. My gut sense was that he’d sooner toss me under a bus than risk caring for me. This felt too threatening for me to continue our marriage and so after 27 years of marriage, at the age of 61, I ended our marriage.

    He claimed he was “dropped cold without the courtesy of an explanation.” This was not true. I took me many years to see, and then to accept, that my endless struggles to just talk to my husband got nowhere. No matter what I said, or did, or tried, were ever rememembered or made the smallest impression on him. I could talk until I dropped, and he’d never hear anything. And, it was that specific processing disorder that worried the neurologist all those years ago, and prompted her to call me. That he’d never be able to listen–a marvel to her and me that he’d been able to attain his PhD.

    A year ago I came across your Rollercoaster book. I love how you set it up, not by chapters but that one can just open it anywhere and read. It has profoundly improved my understanding of the misery I had hopelessly tried to figure out for 27 years. I don’t think it alone could have saved my marriage. It had too many disorders and “baggage” to heal and sort out. I had to recognize and accept that I was a worthwhile person who deserved a happier intimate partnership. That it took me so long to realize is ok. I chalk that up to what I had to learn about myself and love. I lost a husband and the companionship I enjoyed so much early on, but I gained a wonderful son–my gift.

    Divorce is not what I ever wanted, but it was the only option I could imagine. I reflect back to the early days, of courtship, honeymoon, the birth of our son… Those were such happy times for both of us. I believe to this day that there’s a good, deserving person underneath that husband of cruel words and behaviors. But I also know from experience that after spending so much effort and years working with professionals–medical, psychological, and CODA–that no one knew how to reach that deserving person without requiring me to donate my lifetime first.

    1. Dear Carla,

      Thanks for telling your story here.

      Yes, I decided to re-post my essay from 2015 because this information is needed now more than ever. Yes, I am the writer here. 🙂

      You Me ADD came out 13 years ago, one of the very few books on Adult ADHD at that time. And the only one — then and since — to comprehensively describe Adult ADHD, particularly the late-diagnosis complications, the evidence-based treatment strategies, the nature of denial and getting past it, and the potential effect on the partners.

      I cannot say that if you’d found my book earlier — and thus had been better equipped, including in vetting mental-healthcare providers — that you could have preserved the relationship. But I am fairly sure you’d have had answers sooner. It is still extremely hard to find professionals who have this expertise. Instead, they overlay common ADHD-related patterns with talk of personality disorders, etc.. And prescribing patterns are generally sub-par.

      I say it’s important “more now than ever” because

      1) COVID pushed marginally coping situations into the danger zone, and
      2) the trend online now is to tell the partners of adults with ADHD to be more understanding, more patient, more accommodating, more, more, more, etc.. As if many didn’t already try that.

      This misguided advice does not come from experts. It comes from people marketing themselves as experts. Unfortunately, some less-than-discerning therapists and even prescribers now perpetuate these very bad ideas.

      Anyway, my book is not so much about “saving relationships” as it is about “knowing what you are up against and what you might want/be able to do about it.”

      I cannot imagine being so callous as to “gaslight” people in situations such as you describe. Rather, I have supported them for 20 years. Along with adults with late-diagnosis ADHD.

      I’m sorry it was so hard for you. Thank you for this comment, which might help someone on the path behind you.

      I hope you are happy and healthy.

      Gina

  8. I’m 41. A year ago, I began to consider that I may have ADHD. Within that year, I lost my job and only a few months later my girlfriend of 3 years broke up with me, as many others have before, because I wasn’t meeting their emotional needs.

    I am oh so tired of this pattern repeating itself. I have gotten a prescription and am on meds now. This does make things easier, and for the first time, I’m able to step back and see things from her perspective instead of simply wondering why she “changed her personality” and now finds me to be unreliable and emotionally unavailable.

    2020 was such a rollercoaster in itself, and I was very glad we weathered it, only for it all to fall apart in 2021.

    I’ve got a more positive outlook now, a new job, and I’ll be moving to a new city soon to start over, but not so far away so that I can’t attempt to patch things up with her.

    Without her help I would have never realized I had the disorder to begin with, and I feel like I owe her so much.

    Any advice for convincing the love of my life that I’m really not a bad guy and that I truly, deeply love and want the best for her?

    1. Hi AC,

      I feel for you both. So much unnecessary hurt, suffering, and loss……all due to unrecognized/poorly managed ADHD.

      It seems that many people “hunkered down” during the worst of COVID. Then, as restrictions started easing, they could expand their options.

      It might be, as they say, “that ship has sailed.”

      “Too little, too late,” say many partners of adults with late-diagnosis ADHD. They are out of steam—and out of caring.

      If only they—and their ADHD partners—spent less time operating out of misperceptions and poor coping responses and more time getting proper assistance.

      Or it might be the flame still flickers—perhaps (she might tell herself) against her better judgment.

      The main thing is for you to focus on “getting on board” with the diagnosis and treatment. “Being on meds” is a step in the right direction. But it often isn’t enough, especially if the prescriber’s expertise is lacking.

      New skills. New habits. Getting better connected between cause and effect. This might help you prove to her that “you’re a changed man.” The important thing is proving it to you, as you might consider new relationships.

      So, I would wait until you are established and things are going more smoothly in your life.

      Maybe at that point, write a letter to her, thanking her for her support and sharing a few of the positive changes you’ve made. See what happens. Let that determine next moves.

      Meanwhile, I do encourage you to consider my new course. I’ve worked so hard, for years, to provide the targeted, comprehensive strategies individuals and couples need.

      https://adhdsuccesstraining.com/adult-adhd-solving-the-essential-puzzle-pieces-for-couples-and-individuals/

      The Internet would have us believe that it’s all “tips and tricks”. But it’s not. Tips and Tricks cannot land for long on a shaky foundation.

      “ADHD relationships” don’t exist in a vacuum. They exist in the presence of ADHD, however well or poorly managed. However well or poorly understood by both partners.

      Good luck in your new life!

      g

    2. I’ve been following this site for a very, Very Long time. I myself was diagnosed at 25 years old and have been divorced shortly thereafter at 28 and now I am 38 and seeking to end a relationship. So take this as you will.

      Let me preface this with my daughter’s father (the one I am trying to end it now with) I am pretty sure that he also has ADD, but a different type than myself and our daughter.

      Breakups hurt. Like hell. Especially when you’re the one being broken up with. I don’t know if there will be any convincing of her to reconcile. I feel like you *can*, however, reach out in a non-creepy way, say your bit, and then move on. Not as an attempt to reconcile, but as an acknowledgment of her absolutely brilliant and amazing efforts to send you down the path of diagnosis and treatment and that you will be forever indebted to her for that. If you are to add any sort of hint of: “let’s get back together”, I feel that trying to force a reconciliation is in extremely bad taste at this point and will taint the message. The message is: that you are indebted to her brilliance and truly, truly appreciate her efforts to put up with you being such a pain in the butt (while undiagnosed). And thanking her for pointing you in the right direction. That you are sorry things had to end the way that they did and that you look forward to growing out of the ADD slump you’ve been in your entire life and couldn’t have done it without her help. Beyond that, don’t mention reconciliation right now. It will taint your message: gratitude and appreciation.

      See how she responds. On your end, forget about attempts to “get her back” for now. Read books about how to be emotionally connected and available and make notes for the future.

  9. As of two days ago, my ADHD boyfriend and I have broken up. He, in a fit of rage, because I had the audacity to confront a woman who sent him a sexting text. I know I drove my point home and badgered him, but I was so angry and fed up / at my breaking point. Although he did avoid her advances, he told me that they would have no contact, and after I confronted her, I saw that he had called her that evening. Yes, I did look through his phone, and yes, I know it’s a breach of privacy. All of my paranoia began when I realized that he was looking at MY phone all the time, and then concocted insane stories based on texts (etc.) from my friends. I suppose that I was retaliating by looking through his phone, because I have noticed a pattern with severely jealous people over the years, in that often, if they are spying on you, they are actually so insecure that they will make up stories in order to have an excuse to do shady things themselves. I am not a naturally jealous person, but I do have a tendency to see the ‘good side’ of people, and allow their issues to be of greater importance than my own. I have been a caretaker in many forms, so I tend to be empathetic to most situations. I tried to talk to ADHD boyfriend candidly, and I think he truly believed that he was being candid with me. But I became hesitant to discuss anything of importance with him, because the fallout was always so exhausting. I won’t go into detail about his behaviors, because most of them have been described by other people in this comment thread. He is a former drug user, who has used a wide array of hard drugs, and is currently still self-medicating with daily marijuana and alcohol, and although I gave him several chances with the ‘dealbreaker’ boundaries I set forth from the beginning ( he was honest with me on the first date about SOME of his ‘former’ drug use, but I found out as time went on that it was MUCH more than what he had told me ). He has relapsed to using cocaine at least 3 or 4 times ( and other drugs several times ) since we have been together, and when I caught him on it ( by spying on his phone ), he suddenly became ‘honest’ about it, later reverting to a guilt-rage usually on the same day, accusing me of all sorts of false things. He thought that, since he told me about the drug use after he had been caught, that it counted as full disclosure. I do not feel that way, but I did remind him of the dealbreaker conversation, and said that I needed a timeline of when he could go to counseling, and whether or not he would consider taking medication, since his behavior has ruined most all of his relationships. I told him I would stick with it until I could take it no longer. He continued to lie to me, and the way he handled the situation with this woman ( who is a full-on drug user, AND the wife of his friend who is in jail ), I have just reached the conclusion that he has other undiagnosed mental problems that I cannot tolerate. BTW: this woman contacted him MULTIPLE times a day every day, and I know for a fact that he has given her drugs. This may sound horrible, but after this experience, I will more than likely avoid getting intimate with anyone with ADHD. I have never been so exhausted in all my life, and I have dealt with many caregiving tasks in my background ( and currently take care of my father with dementia ), and my heart and mind are at full capacity, with no more room for anything else. A 43 year old man who associates with people who encourage a low level lifestyle, and his refusal to consider medication or any treatment whatsoever, all while self medicating, just seems narcissistic to me. Being a positive person has its downside, and I have learned a great lesson from this relationship… I am going to restart therapy for myself, so that I can learn to love myself again after all of the things this man has said and done to me. I don’t care if it’s purposeful or not… there really is some degree of abusiveness that straddles the ADHD, so I am removing myself from it altogether. Thank you for giving me a safe space to talk about it, and thank you for advocating for BOTH partners in an ADHD relationship. I am so relieved to have found this site. I may anonymously send my ex your books, and just pray for him. That can be my swan song, so that my conscience can be clear moving forward.

    1. Dear Anne,

      I’m glad you found my site — and that you are taking your life back from what sounds like a hugely draining distraction. Or worse.

      Here’s the thing: The Internet is mostly a hot mess when it comes to Adult ADHD information, especially regarding relationships.

      I despair to see so many younger women, in particular, talked into “being more understanding and compassionate because he/she has ADHD.”

      That means they put up with a lot of bad behavior, believing “he/she can’t help it.”

      They might think they are strong enough, in the beginning. But over time, the risk is getting so worn out and hurt, they don’t know which way is up anymore.

      To be clear: ADHD is never an excuse for bad behavior. It might explain some of it but the next step for that person should be addressing it, not ignoring it and inflicting it on others.

      All that said: People with ADHD are not clones. Far from it. We take each person as they come, seeing that person and not a stereotype of ADHD.

      The fact that your ex-boyfriend abuses cocaine, alcohol, and marijuana tells me he’s never been close to owning/managing his ADHD. ADHD can be quite enough on its own; there needn’t be “something more”. It all depends on that individual’s manifestation of this highly variable syndrome we call ADHD.

      It seems that behavior you might not have tolerated in another person, you tolerated in this person, because he has ADHD and you wanted to be empathic? Rather than swear off any future romantic attachments to people with ADHD, it might be more practical to set clear boundaries with any romantic partner in the beginning. Regardless of whatever diagnosis they have/don’t have.

      But you are smart to realize: Even people with ADHD who diligently pursue treatment and problem-solving can require more “accommodations” from their intimate partners. You are currently caring for your father with dementia; my heart goes out to you there. Remember that your interactions with him also tax the “coping” part of your brain. There might be little left to cope with a partner’s brain-based challenges, and that’s important to know.

      Nothing about what you did sounds “horrible” to me. Including checking his phone. Given the behavior you describe, that seems warranted.

      I encourage you never to apologize for taking care of yourself.

      best,
      g

  10. Thank you so much for your article. I am doing more research than ever on AD/HD. I am studying psychology to go into professional counseling & then neuro psych.. but I still feel defeated.

    I have never liked someone enough to be in a real relationship until this year.. We met end of December and it started great. Little things here & there bothered me, but I figured we could work them out. It was such a rollercoaster, though, that I ended it. Too many “red flags”: lack of communication (hours to days), uninterested in how I was (my day, my stories etc.), never asking to spend time together (though usually agreeing when I asked), moody and more.. I didn’t understand why he wanted to date me if he acted that way.

    Fast forward to trying to be friends, then falling back into dating but not wanting to get messy again, and it just circled over and over through mid March. I was SO hurt. I never let myself get walked over- why was I allowing it now? Deep down I knew he had something going on, but I figured it was just anxiety like he mentioned he gets.

    End of March we got into a fight, that ended up in me saying that this was hurting me more, so if he wanted a relationship I am willing to try but I can’t do this push & pull. He agreed & asked for more space to hermit, & I asked for a little more communication (like “I work today” etc.). It was weird the first few days but now we’re getting back to normal.. It feels good, & I see his improvement on communication, but everything is feeling the same. At the end of the day I’m questioning if he even cares about me.

    I studied borderline & ad/hd in regards to this, but really think it is ad/hd. I know anxiety can be masked to look like ad/hd but I am almost certain it isn’t related. Anyways, I have created a list of how I can better support him & reminders for myself like “His symptoms are not a reflection of how he feels about me” & “Give him more time/space than you deem feasible”. It helps in the moment, but then again at the end of the day I haven’t heard from him since this morning, yet he’s online, I don’t even know if he wants to see me this weekend.. & I feel like my boyfriend wants nothing to do with me.

    I don’t know how far I am supposed to tolerate & support before I up & leave.. Then I also feel like numbing my feelings (or setting them aside), because it’s not about me.. If I didn’t think it was mental health related I would have never gotten back with him.. And I don’t know if he has even considered it.. When am I overstepping to help? When am I being too supportive? I don’t want to be his therapist (no partner should be), but I don’t want to be passive and hurt.

    1. Hi Lisa,

      I encourage you to take with a ton of salt the various “advice” you find to the partners of adults with ADHD online and with books written by non-experts.

      It is easier than easy to say, “Just be more understanding, patient, etc.” So easy. And so easy to shame the partners of adults with ADHD who aren’t.

      This is your life, hon. And you have a right to be cautious about who you join up with in life.

      ADHD is considered highly treatable — and that’s true for many. But it’s also very hard to make happen.

      It takes effort and commitment, on both parts. His symptoms might not reflect how he feels or cares about you ….but what he DOES with those symptoms absolutely does.

      I encourage you to read my first book and forget most of the SEO’d-to-death-with-keywords you read online about ADHD and relationships.

      https://amzn.to/3dIpPln

      g

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