You might be surprised. It’s not on the symptom list for Adult ADHD. It’s not on the “Top Ten ADHD Relationship Challenges.” But for many partners of adults with ADHD, not taking out the trash is a common complaint about their partners.
It certainly was for me. Twenty years ago, before or just after diagnosis, my husband was one of those people. I did almost all the domestic tasks. Why couldn’t he do that one thing without me getting in his face? It was only later that I learned from his mother: “He used to call me the Queen of Garbage! Just because I’d ask him to empty the trash.”
Therefore, people who know my husband only as a serious-minded scientist could hardly imagine what’s happening now. Come Tuesday trash-taking-out night, this is his happy rendition of Kool & the Gang’s Ladies Night.
Oh yes it’s garbage night
And the feeling’s right
Oh yes it’s garbage night
Oh what a night (oh what a night)
Ten years ago, neither my husband nor I could have imagined it, either. These days, however, he’s actually happy to be taking out the garbage and recycling.
That sure beats working himself up into a Klingon-warrior-inspired furor about it! Yes, it’s true. Consider it just one of the miracles of medication. And a few attitudinal adjustments. Oh, and my boundaries.
These kinds of basic tasks fuel ADHD couple conflicts. Forgetting to follow through, procrastinating—even though seemingly small things—can lead to complaints such as “My ADHD partner is unreliable”. Talking about these issues in couple therapy will not help. ADHD-challenged couples need solid strategies for cooperating around getting things done.
Get Specific with Medication Treatment Goals
His remarkable transformation came to mind today. I was chatting with some friends with newly diagnosed ADHD. I mentioned the importance of establishing specific treatment targets before starting to take medication. Otherwise, how will you know if it’s working?
Meg agreed: “The first big clue I had that my meds were working was when, instead of thinking about how much I hated taking out the trash and recycling, I just took out the trash and recycling.” In other words, “taking out the trash” is a bugaboo for many adults with ADHD, too, not only their partners.
Recently, I’ve reconnected with an old friend newly diagnosed with ADHD.
In an e-mail exchange, I offered some advice on getting the most of medication, including the importance of establishing subjective measures:
You can’t just sit around, asking yourself if you “feel it working.”
Of course, some people do describe feeling a “cognitive fog lifting” or more consistent energy.
More reliably, though, it’s collecting hard data that will help you to optimize your medication dosage and timing.
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It is also fundamental to the ADHD couple interventions detailed in my second (co-authored) book: Adult ADHD-Focused Couple Therapy. You can learn more about that in this post ADHD Couple Therapy: The Revolution is On!
Finally, it is central to the online training course I offer at ADHD Success Training: Solving Your Adult ADHD Puzzle.
ADHD Treatment Targets—Beyond Taking Out Trash
Another old friend with suspected ADHD understood immediately—and offered some great examples.
Her “treatment targets” specifically apply to her (she is a massage therapist), but they might help you establish your own targets.
You make great good sense about assessing non-visceral clues for the medication working. I really did not like that speedy feeling. And it doesn’t necessarily create better functionality.
Until I can get a more expert evaluation, I have developed a whole list of diagnostic clues for myself. For example:
- How long to get ready in the morning?
- When I’m “ready,” have I brushed my teeth, put on make-up, made the bed, made a lunch? Or did I just decide to leave because I’m 20 min. late?
- Do I have my purse with me? My water? Anything else I was supposed to bring, like maybe sheets and lotion?
- How many days do the clean sheets sit in a pile in the living room before they get folded and put away? Or do I finally just grab the whole pile and put it in the Jeep and take it to work with me?
- Has it been more than 3 days since I left the water running, the burner on, or the lights or the heater on?
- Did I remember to turn the heater or the lights on when they are supposed to be on?
- If I’m around the house all day, how many little tasks do I come across that are started but not completed?
- When I’m done cleaning up, could anyone tell?
How about you or your loved one with ADHD?
Before starting treatment for ADHD, were there established goals or metrics? How did you do it?
I’d love to hear your thoughts.
A version of this post appeared Jan. 11, 2013