Chapter 15: Reaching Through ADHD Denial In A Loved One

Chapter 15: Reaching Through ADHD Denial In A Loved One

Understanding denial is one thing; reaching through ADHD denial in a loved one is quite another. In previous chapters,  we learned about what ADHD is, how it affects the brain, how it affects our relationship with our partner, and that our partner may genuinely not be able to see the problems…

But….well…now what do we do?

We find ourselves at the book’s third chapter on reaching through an ADHD partner’s denial of ADHD in Chapter 15. Here, Taylor explains how she used my suggested techniques to reach through her husband’s “denial” of his ADHD symptoms.

Please note: These strategies also apply to helping a child with ADHD or any other family member or loved one.

Welcome to the “You, Me, and ADHD” Book Club, based on my first bookIs It You, Me, or Adult A.D.D.?

Each post discusses a chapter of the book.  Two writers, Taylor J. and Jaclyn Paul, wrote these essays. Both are in dual-ADHD marriages. Both are late-diagnosis ADHD. Both have children.

—Gina Pera

By Taylor J.

So  many of us banged our heads against the wall of love and frustration, wondering (and often pleading):

  • “Why can’t my ADHD partner understand that someday his driving is going to kill him (and me and maybe our children, too)?”
  • “Why can’t she understand that if she over-spends again, we’ll pay fifty dollars in overdraft fees?” “Why can’t she hear her the harshness in her voice when she yells at me and the kids?
  • “Why can’t he see that he acts so heartless when I’m hurting?”

Chapter 15 helps us integrate everything we’ve learned up to this point, so that we can raise the subject of ADHD with our partner and have more confidence that we will be heard. We can, in short, start reaching through ADHD denial in our loved one—to our loved one.

Reaching Through ADHD Denial In A Loved One

Focus on Problem-Solving—Not Partner-Blaming

My biggest takeaway from Gina in this chapter: Focus on the problem and the solution without blaming the person.

For example, before my husband’s ADHD diagnosis and treatment, that math professor would spend hours fixing formatting errors in homework sheets.

These homework sheets drove him crazy. He even learned new computer languages and programs so that he could format papers correctly! Then, thanks to his ADHD—and for the sake of fixing these formatting errors—he would lose track of time during his workday, forget to pick up the kids at school, work late into the night, and lose track of his larger research projects (the ones his job depended on!).

I would whine, late into the night, “Why do you care so much about typography and formatting? Why are these little things taking priority over picking up our kids on time and taking care of your actual job responsibilities? Did you want to be a typesetter? I didn’t think so! You are intentionally wasting your time on something that does not matter!”

It Wasn’t For Lack of Love

Of course, I didn’t know about ADHD and these crazy little things called “microfocus” and “macrofocus.” I didn’t understand that my husband had a treatable, neurobiological condition that made his focus difficult to regulate. I just thought he didn’t love the kids or me as much as he loved the typesetting program!

(On a side note, can you see how my husband’s microfocus could have been misdiagnosed as OCD, if a clinician didn’t have the perspective of an ADHD-informed spouse?)

Gina and psychologist Xavier Amador help us change the way we view the problem, and therefore, change the way we present it to our spouses. “It’s not about who is to blame,” reminds Amador. “It’s about what is to blame. It’s not you and it’s not your partner; it’s the symptoms.”

By applying the tools in chapter 15, I was able to remove my blaming language from the discussions about typesetting and time management, and focus on solving the actual problem.

1: Remember that these are his symptoms

These behaviors are not his personality traits, personal choices, or deliberate decisions he made in a rational manner.

Once I made the decision to view the typesetting and time management issue through this lens, I felt less emotional pain over the subject. As a result, I was able to make more loving, informed choices about how to discuss it with him.

2: Identify the actual problem.

Whatever the cause of the problem, I still needed our kids picked up from school, (on time!) while I was at work and he needed help setting priorities, boundaries, and goals.

3: Learn and practice the LEAP Strategy

(Pages 196 & 197 in the print book.)

Gina adapted one of Amador’s communication tools to help us reach our ADHD partners, and it worked quite well for us. The shift in perspective helped me to realize that I’d set myself up as my husband’s adversary, or as his critic—not as his lover and partner. These techniques helped me recalibrate my language, and re-taught me how to listen and empathize.

4: Express feelings and needs without triggering his defenses

I noticed with my husband that, if I said certain words, they seemed to activate a switch in his head that shut down all further communication. I learned to acknowledge that, while I could be wrong about his motives or intentions, I needed certain things from him, or I would have to take different action that he may not like.

For example, “I’m afraid that I’ll lose my job if I have to leave one more time to pick up the kids. You have that time free in your schedule, and I don’t. If you can’t pick up the kids regularly, I’ll have to reduce my hours just to keep from getting fired, and we’ll have that much less money.”

5: Agree on solutions for specific problems

Early on, I couldn’t make my husband believe that he has ADHD, or go see a doctor. Yet, I could ask him, “Do you mind if I call you to remind you to leave? Can I stay with you on the phone until you’re out the door?” He loved that idea, and it worked. I was able to take five minutes away from work (instead of forty-five) to call him. Moreover, our kids finally had reliable transportation.

Eventually, he found an app for his smartphone that reminded him when to leave. Soon, he didn’t need me to call him any more. It took me a while for my hypervigilance to abate, though.

6: Learn to trust my own perceptions, allowing that I could be wrong.

I also have ADHD. I do not have a PhD in a STEM [science, technology, engineering, math] field like my husband. I am not a college professor.

He made a good point when he said, “You don’t go to my job every day, and you don’t know the struggles I face with time management while I’m there. Your perception of how much work I’m doing just isn’t accurate.”

But here’s the thing: He wasn’t satisfied with his own performance, and he was getting depressed when he thought about the direction his career was taking.

I may not understand the daily life of a professor, but I understand what an unhappy husband looks like. I encouraged him to talk to trusted mentors and to friends at different colleges, and to investigate solutions for himself.

“I could be wrong,” I would say, “so ask someone who really knows if this struggle with paperwork is normal.” It took a while, but he did reach out and gained some needed perspective.

I’m so thankful that Gina gave us tools to re-frame our discussions from blaming the individual to naming the problem. It was the first step towards getting him effective treatment.

For This Chapter’s Discussion:

  1. What is one of your ADHD partner’s traits or habits that bother you the most? Does it seem to be personal? Could it be ADHD-related instead?
  2. What is the actual problem (the result of the behavior that bothers you) in question 1? Can you think of a solution that does not involve blaming?
  3. What is the difference between empathizing with your spouse and approving of your spouse’s problematic actions?
  4. What was your strategy for “reaching through ADHD denial”?

The  next essay in the You Me ADHD Book Club Series:  How Can Medication Help ADHD Relationships

The book club is always open. Jump in any time. Thanks for your participation.

—Gina Pera

33 thoughts on “Chapter 15: Reaching Through ADHD Denial In A Loved One”

  1. tired non ADDer

    Ughhhhhhhhhh!! I am just so tired of everything revolving around his ADHD. He wants authority and adulation, but never accepts responsibility.

    He wants compliments for every little thing he does, and tells me how much he does around the house, yet he does so little. He mows the lawn once a week, (when I make him and it’s usually a rush job with many missed areas), he does remember trash day because he set a reminder. BUT THAT IS LITERALLY IT!

    If I so much as ask a question, I don’t trust him. If I suggest an improvement, I’m meddling and why can’t I just let him get on with it. If he doesn’t want to hear what I have to say, he literally ignores me or better yet, he agrees with me then just does it his way.

    He has NEVER ONCE initiated a compromise himself. He agrees a compromise I’ve suggested, then does it his way denying we ever agreed a compromise.

    I want to record our conversation and fights so we can reflect on them and learn from them, but I’m setting him up. He will say the most awful things and deny he said them. We will have heart to heart conversations about what I need or he needs to be happy or what coping mechanism he should try only to deny we ever talked about it. It’s been 9 years and we are still working on a pencil and paper todo list.

    He will sulk for days when he has a flooding episode and I’m expected to go back to loving and intimate as soon as he says his reluctant and resentful, “sorry”. He truly feels that he can do the most horrendous things and I’m to forget it all as soon as he utter that one word, sorry. And that one word is all he will say. If I tell him I need more or we need to discuss it further he becomes angry and tells me, I apologized, what more do you want me to say, get over it! Oh and the apology is never freely given unless I take the effort to explain why it was rude, insensitive, a flat out lie, or whatever.

    He always wants to forget and move past any and all mistakes with no consequences, repercussions, or effort on his part to fix bad behaviors or bad coping mechanisms.

    Yes, I’m having a very bad NON ADHDer day. We’ve talked and talked and talked and talked, yet when I suggest we aren’t suited for each other he claims it comes out of left field, tells me I’m angry (I am, I’m fighting for my marriage and he’s just fighting for some imaginary self image he wants to project as the perfect man or the victim…whichever one suits his immediate need to win) I’m a B1tch who complains about everything and will never be satisfied.

    This all hurts as I’ve been excessively patient, I’ve worked with him on every aspect of his ADHD even to the point of getting him jobs and promotions (with no credit to me). I’ve forgiven and tried to move forward until I am just exhausted from trying.

    He doesn’t want a relationship, he wants an adoring, cheerleader for his awesomeness. He wants someone as blind as he is to his ADHD symptoms. He wants to bee bop through life putting out the fires he started and then have me present him with a medal for doing it. For an entire year I asked him to cancel an insurance policy through his bank that was basically worthless to us and cost about 20 dollars a month. I used gentle reminders, sent text requests, put it on his todo list…nothing worked. Four years later he comes home, so proud, he cancelled the policy. That was a huge fight because I wasn’t appropriately grateful… and he truly believed I was a shrew and horrible person because I didn’t give him a cookie or a medal, he sincerely expected me to happy and not resentful that it took four years, not an exaggeration.

    How do we the Non ADHDers deal with this kind of illogical thinking and irrational expectations long term. Because it never ends, they do not have the ability to transfer knowledge learned in once situation to the next. Every situation requires so much patience, explanation, time and energy…who has that much to give, with so little in return. How do we get them out of their denial? How do we get someone who has a problem with empathy to give us the empathy we need. It all seems an endless cycle of abuse and denial.

    1. Dear tired non-ADHDer,

      I feel your pain. Truly. So do seemingly millions of others — the partners of adults with ADHD who have come through my groups or written to me. For 20 years.

      Oh, and I lived something like this, too.

      I’m just curious. How have you educated yourself about ADHD and the strategies shown to work?

      I don’t mean the “tips and tricks” we find from the clutter of non-expert websites and non-expert “ADHD influencers.”

      I mean solid education — such as my first book. On which this “book club series” is based.

      I wrote three chapters on Getting Through Denial — the first book on ADHD to address it and still the most thorough and accurate.

      You’ll also find a few posts here on ADHD and empathy.

      It seems to me you might be operating under some guaranteed-exhaustion principles:

      1. Be “excessively” patient
      2. “talked and talked and talked”
      3. getting him jobs and promotions
      4. asking for a year for him to initiate a simple task
      5. Believing that your ADHD partner’s behaviors are volitional—not the potential targets for get-serious ADHD treatment.
      6. Doing the same things and expecting different.

      You don’t mention medication, either. Though too often done poorly, when done well, it can make a huge difference.

      I would NEVER EVER put responsibility solely on the “non-ADHD partners”. That is pushed far too strongly by the junk websites exploiting the “ADHD market.”

      But sometimes little happens unless the “non-ADHD partners” (a term I never use, because sometimes it’s a dual-ADHD relationship!) takes this bull by the horns and forges a new path.

      Will this always work? No. Will it sometimes be the wisest choice to leave the relationship and re-claim your life? Yes.

      But before you decide, I’m currently launching my course to help individuals and couples such as you and your husband — or just you alone.

      Check out this page (which I’m still tweaking a bit):

      take care of yourself!

  2. What are the options if your ADHD partner finds the coping mechanisms “demeaning” (this is the description of lists and even gentle reminders (texts, calls)? I just cannot seem to break through the defensiveness no matter my strategies. Coupled with denial and refusal to seek any help, I have found myself at a total loss. Any recommendations welcome.

    1. Dear Ray,

      You describe a very difficult situation. One that most “outsiders” cannot understand.

      Here is my recommendation:

      1. Read my first book, including the three chapters on “denial.” The more you learn, the more you are validated by what you read, the less you are likely to be cowed or intimidated by your partner’s protests.

      2. Get validation. COVID has brought an upsurge of members to my free online support group for the partners of adults with ADHD. You’ll be in good company among folks who “get it.”

      take care of yourself!

  3. I’m really having trouble understanding how to “identify the problem” efficiently without triggering my partner’s defenses. How does one say nicely, “Can’t you see I am in the middle of something and don’t want to have to talk to you right now about how the idea you just came up with while shoveling the driveway makes utterly no sense with what we’ve been planning for the last year!”

    Problems that effect ME straight away:
    1. He is constantly interrupting me and stealing my attention when it serves his needs/wants. Resentment is building.
    2. He hasn’t thought out his idea, which leaves me to extinguish his enthusiasm. If I don’t I am creating a bigger problem because he’ll attach to this idea and never let it go.
    3. Saying almost anything negative about his idea is going to trigger his defenses. He’s going to be angry and will start using what sounds to me like more faulty logic to try and prove his point of view.

    How do I frame any one of these problems in a way that eventually will disrupt his deep seeded denial of ADHD? Because resentment seems to build at higher and higher rates these days I find myself wanting to find the quickest way off the roller coaster. Which of these problems above is the best to focus on first? Do I bring them all up? do I carry a sign with ADHD printed on it and begin waving it whenever his symptoms are showing?

    Ugh. Did i even ask that correctly? I’m having trouble organizing my thoughts. I have spent the last ten years in the dark and blaming mostly myself. I thought when I read your book that finally there was light at the end of this tunnel. I look at it and point saying “See! See! These are exactly the problems that we have. These couples sound so much like us!” But when it falls on deaf ears and is actively denied it’s hard to not feel like all hope is lost.

    1. Dear Mike,

      I absolutely understand what you are saying.

      It’s a crazy-awful situation you are in. Moreover, the typical “let’s talk about this” approach just isn’t going to work.

      What you are asking is how can you use logic and rationality to cut through your partner’s ADHD-related challenges around reciprocity, communication, hearing, self-absorption, and impulsive behavior (having to talk to you “RIGHT NOW” about nothing much important)

      The hard answer is, you cannot use logic and rationality — at least in the way you are suggesting. That there will be magic words that register with him.

      Okay, so you read my book. But did you read the chapters on denial? ADHD “denial” is both psychological and physiological (that is, born of ADHD symptoms).

      Sometimes, readers speed through the book, so eager to find validation and explanations. But that means they miss the other bits, so a second and closer reading is typically useful.

      Waving around a book and saying, “See! Our problem is your ADHD!” Well, that’s not going to work for everyone. 🙂

      That can immediately put someone on the defensive—and being defensive can be a lifelong …..defense of living a few decades without benefit of diagnosis or treatment.

      I’d bet good money that his the subject of “ideas” aren’t really the point. The point is self-medicating with new ideas. A sort of brain stimming.

      With this particular issue, you might view his ideas as such. And, instead of shooting them down, just say, “That’s very interesting” and get back to what you were doing. Or whatever. You might also say, “I’d love to hear about it. How about you write down the details.” 🙂

      If he’s like many others, he’ll forget all about the idea in an hour or two. But if you start shooting it down or arguing with him about it, you risk prolonging the fixation – and shifting the source of stimulation to arguing with you!

      Check out this post for more info:

      In the end, if you try some of the tips in the “denial” chapter and if you try a different way of reacting, he might start noticing THAT. That shift in the status quo might get his attention. He might notice that you’re not participating in arguments any more and that might motivate him to maybe start checking out ADHD.

      I hope that’s clear. I think I touch upon this concept in the “denial tips”, too.

      And if all that fails, there is life after these relationships. And you might be delighted to see that relationships don’t have to be so hard.

      take care,

  4. I feel that all this advice puts the wife, once again, in a parenting role to her husband. There comes a time, when an adult needs to see the impact their dysfunction has on those around them and take responsibility for getting themselves functional. As long as he is getting all of that put into place, her patience is really all that is needed – not all this hoop jumping to ”get him” to do this and that. He is ADULT now and a wife deserves a husband, not an overgrown child. Unless ADHD is an actual mental handicap, then it should be, while challenging, the persons responsibility to help themselves be better for those around them. We are not training pets or children, an adult (usually male) human should take more responsibility for how they are effecting others.

    1. Hi Heidi,

      Thanks for your comment.

      I understand your perspective. It’s shared by many people who don’t understand developmental disabilities such as ADHD.

      But did you miss the entire topic of this post?

      You wrote: “Unless ADHD is an actual mental handicap.” ADHD is considered the most highly impairing psychiatric outpatient condition. More than anxiety. More than depression. etc.

      “There comes a time when an adult needs to see the impact their dysfunction has on those around them.” When would that time be, for people with ADHD whose very symptoms impair their insight, empathy, reciprocity, and other behaviors we expect of adults? For many, it’s decades. And decades too late for their relationships.

      The goal with the partner getting involved (in helping the ADHD partner out of denial, in finding competent mental-health professionals), is to be able to eventually step back from the parenting role. Until that happens, for many couples, there will be no improvement.

      You don’t mention if your own husband has ADHD. Perhaps your “hands-off” attitude works for you. ADHD is not monolithic; it ranges from mild to severe.

      I encourage you to read my book and learn more about Adult ADHD, including the need for partnership in understanding ADHD and in collaborative strategies.


    2. Hi Nature Girl,

      Yes, absolutely. More specifically, a neurocognitive developmental disability.

      Neurocognitive meaning: Having to do with the ability to think and reason. This includes the ability to concentrate, remember things, process information, learn, speak, and understand.


  5. I would love to be able to correspond with any women who have an ADHD spouse. I am struggling with my ‘diagnosed but in denial’ husband myself and need a support system. Please help

    1. Hi Leigh Ann,
      I think we already corresponded via e-mail.

      Please read my book’s chapter on “Getting Past Denial.” It will be pivotal to your understanding of what you’re up against and how things might change.

      Also: here is the link to my online support group for the partners of adults with ADHD (men and women):


    2. I have an adhd spouse and would love to connect. I feel very alone in my circumstances at times!

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