Did you know the divorce rate is twice as high for people with ADHD? Relationships aren’t easy but when ADHD is involved, they’re even harder.
In her award-winning book called, “The ADHD Effect on Marriage: Understand and Rebuild Your Relationship in Six Steps," Melissa Orlov highlights the common relationship issues in ADHD marriages. In this blog, I’m going to share these issues as well as her recommendations for what to do about them.
Orlov also explains that these relationship issues follow consistent and predictable patterns. So, by understanding these patterns and using specific strategies you can have a successful relationship.
Issue #1 The painful misinterpretation of ADD symptoms.
When ADD is not treated or undertreated, the partner with ADD can lose focus in the middle of a conversation, not follow through on doing things, or forget important things. The neurotypical partner can interpret these things as uncaring, lazy, or selfish. Until there is awareness of ADHD and its symptoms this issue will continue.
Solution: Really understand ADD and your symptoms so you know your differences and can start to respect those differences.
Issue #2 Pursuing and escaping.
Basically, the non-ADHD partner nags constantly because they feel nothing will get done if they don’t. This causes the ADD partner to retreat and escape to avoid the constant nagging leaving both partners frustrated. This is something I’ve been guilty of.
Solution: The ADD partner needs to try different ADD-specific approaches to get over the chore hurdle.
Issue #3 The blame game.
This is when the neurotypical partner blames the ADD partner for being so unreliable. The ADD partner then blames the neurotypical for being constantly angry and nagging believing if they would just calm down everything would be fine.
Solution: Both partners need to take responsibility and make appropriate changes.
Issue #4 The chore wars.
People with ADD tend to be exceptionally bad at routine, boring, and unpleasant tasks. As a result, neurotypicals end up with a ridiculously unbalanced distribution of household chores. Over time, this can lead to significant resentment.
Solution: Getting at behavioral issues for both spouses is part of good treatment. Orlov implores couples to not get stuck in a fixed mindset of “that’s just the way they are.”
Issue #5 Walking on eggshells.
The ADHD partner could have symptoms of reduced impulse control, tantrums, spurts of anger, and rude behavior. This can result in the neurotypical partner feeling like they are walking on eggshells.
Solution: Couples do better when they set up specific systems for communicating their needs and negotiating solutions. You need to treat the underlying ADD symptom and find other types of reminder systems that aren’t nagging.
Issue #6 Losing faith in the other person
Each of you thought you found the perfect partner. But now the neurotypical partner feels like they are an angry, unhappy, nag and the ADDer feels like they aren't good enough. This pretty much sums up my first marriage.
Solution: Once the other underlying issues are dealt with couples can rebuild trust and intimacy.
Issue #7 The sexual relationship breaks down.
With the weight of all of these issues taking hold, sex becomes strained or non-existent according to Orlov.
Solution: Once the other underlying issues are dealt with couples can rebuild trust and intimacy. (Same as #6)
So, how did these seven relationship issues show up in my failed first marriage? Well, as a newly married couple just out of college the issues started showing up slowly but surely. First was my undiagnosed and untreated ADD which made me take an extra two years to finish Harvard. That’s the six-year plan.
I hated my first job which lasted only 6 months. My wife was very supportive while I spent a little bit of time each day job searching and the rest of the day drinking beer and playing video games.
I really liked my next job but the chronic procrastination and organizational difficulties that accompany untreated ADD meant that I needed to stay late to catch up on my work and actually get it done. My loving wife asked a very understandable neurotypical question. She said, “I get my work done every day and I’m home by 5:30PM, why can’t you?” Unable to argue with her unassailable neurotypical logic I began coming home every day by 5:30PM. Unfortunately, the pile of undone tasks at my job kept piling up and ultimately that job fizzled out. That’s a nice way of saying it.
My inability to hold down a career and be the kind of husband my wife expected put the initial strain on our relationship and the chore wars at home weren’t much better. The escalating blame game and my wife’s resentment (she was a go-getter) and so from her neurotypical perspective just started increasing how often she nagged me. With enough nagging, I would do stuff but it led to what Orlov calls pursuing and escaping. Over time it ultimately led her losing faith in me and to an extent me losing faith in her.
Without the ADD diagnosis and ADD-specific treatment, we struggled for answers to explain my disappointing behavior. My wife rightly thought she married a Harvard Grad but wondered how I could be so ineffective. She thought I must just be lazy, selfish, or I don’t care about her.
Frankly, in the absence of any better explanation, I started believing all those things about myself too. I thought I was incompetent, a failure, and would never be able to achieve anything.
She sometimes had to walk on eggshells around me and our sexual relationship did break down which ultimately culminated in her cheating on me. In retrospect, can you really blame her?
So, that’s my personal overshare. I’m happy to report that I’m happily remarried and my new wife and I are doing things much differently.
Let me know in the comments below if you have any experience with these relationship issues. What have you tried that’s worked?