A support group for the partners of adults with ADHD? That struck many people as a strange concept in 2003, when I advanced it in the essay below.
Here in 2020, the need remains puzzling to some, including some mental-health professionals—even those with high-level adult ADHD expertise. That must change.
By the way, ADHD Partner Group is still going strong, internationally. It remains free.
A few years after I founded the first group for the “partners of”, I felt compelled to educate the public and the profession by writing the essay for our local CHADD newsletter. It circulated widely online at the time. (Remember, the Internet then wasn’t what it is today. No social media. No blogs, at least on Adult ADHD. Google in its infancy. Think more grassroots than commercial.)
Five years later, in 2008, my first book expanded upon the importance of including the partner in any treatment (especially medication) for the ADHD adult—and of striving for an equitable approach in couple therapy.
Current research now points to a “bi-directional” effect from living with an untreated mental-health condition. That is, it creates stress for the individual, and that stress can exacerbate the condition. Stress in relationships, on the job, with money, and with children. Even if only for the benefit of the ADHD partner, holistic treatment is crucial.
Still, sadly, most prescribers and therapists seem not to have gotten the memo—or at least read it. As a result, many adults with ADHD don’t receive the treatment they deserve. That affects every aspect of their lives, including employment, health, intimate relationships, and parenting.
Psychologist Arthur L. Robin, Phd, and I incorporated this “bi-directional” evidence-based knowledge to our ADHD couple-therapy model. See Q&A with the Experts: Adult ADHD-Focused Couple Therapy™
We now live in the time of COVID. Living situations, jobs, and health are more stressed than ever and resources are restricted. Applications to my online group (ADHD Partner) flood in.
Now, more than ever, we must tend to both partners’ needs and, thus, the needs of the relationship and the family. The situation is critical, and lives hang in the balance.
Now for the little essay.
2003: Why Support for The Partners?
When partners of folks with ADHD attend a support group, what’s on the agenda?
Okay, venting sessions do occur – especially after, say, the partner with ADHD has gone on a particularly costly E-bay buying binge.
In large part, however, individuals seek a support group to better understand their ADHD partner. In many cases, they also seek to salvage a relationship marred by years – if not decades – of misunderstanding and hurt. They hope to stop being exasperated and depressed and start learning new strategies.
Lest we forget: Many partners knew nothing about adult ADHD prior to the relationship. (Their ADHD partners didn’t, either!)
Sure, books on the subject [there were only about 3 when I started the group] prove invaluable. Nothing, however, beats real-life validation: “Oh, you mean that’s ADHD impulsivity, too?” and “You mean he or she isn’t doing that just to drive me insane?”
With each new “a-ha” moment, members gain a different perspective. Soon, the confusion subsides and real learning takes place.
“Listen in” to an online support group via these snippets:
—”My understanding ADHD meant that I could gain a firmer grip on reality. I came to know exactly what I was dealing with, instead of being perpetually confused by the chaos. From that point, I could stop reacting and start acting.”
—“When I first came to this group, I had so much anger. I actually felt like I was spitting fire when I would vent here. Now I’ve been able to separate things out.”
—“I have a long way to go to understand and cope with my dear husband, but I’ve progressed more in 2 weeks being in this group than in the previous 8 years.”
—”It feels like a new world of possibilities has opened up. I feel true hope for the first time in many years.”
—“The more my husband understands his ADD [the more commonly used term at the time for ADHD] and the more I share and read with my two online ADD support groups, the better things are getting.”
Validation Paves Path To Happier Future
Practical information fills the conversations as well – strategies for better communication, financial management, household chore delegation, finding good care providers, and co-parenting with their partners.
Bit by bit, members can start focusing less on ADHD and more on enriching their lives, regaining a sense of themselves that had become “lost in the fog.”
Best of all, the group provides a community of people who need no explanations and always offer a sympathetic ear. Sometime, this opportunity to be heard and alleviate feelings of isolation makes all the difference.
One long-time member puts it this way:
Before I found this group I thought I was all alone with absolutely no one to understand the dynamics that my partner’s ADHD created in the relationship (including the therapist). But here I’ve found that everyone is in the same boat and we’re all trying and exploring our different options. I am eternally grateful to this group – it’s what has kept me going since I’ve joined 4 years ago!
Copyright 2003-2020 Gina Pera