Understanding denial sometimes associated with ADHD is one thing. Reaching through ADHD denial in a loved one is quite another. In previous essays, 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 book’s 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” discussion series, based on my first book, Is 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.
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.
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!”
ADHD & Denial: 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 Discussion on ADHD and Denial:
- 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?
- 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?
- What is the difference between empathizing with your spouse and approving of your spouse’s problematic actions?
- 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 discussion is always open. Jump in any time.