Over a quiet meal, I asked my husband what he would have told me ten years ago that would have helped me to understand how he thinks as a person with an attention deficit disorder. I wanted specific tips that I could share to help others avoid the mistakes we have made.
As we discussed the issues we have faced over the last eleven years of marriage, he would say something and I would clarify what I understood him to say. Sometimes, we were able to laugh over a difficult situation from our past. At other times, I had to dig a little deeper, waiting quietly as he tried to explain his thoughts.
This is the summary of our conversation and we hope that many find it helpful as they maintain love and marriage with a side of Attention Deficit Disorder.
Have patience with me. Decisions take time.
Early in our marriage and before his diagnosis, I would ask Bill a question and he would hesitate to answer. He seemed to be struggling with a decision. I would often quip, “Just say yes or no. Don’t pray about it!” I had no idea that a question I perceived as a simple question was actually a laborious thought process for him.
- Give enough time for even the simplest of decisions. Expect difficult decisions to require a lot of solitude.
- If possible, limit the number of options. Instead of “What do you want for dinner?” ask, “Would you rather have fajitas or hamburgers?”
- Narrow the possibilities by eliminating one option at a time. Ask, “Which do you like best? This one or this one? Okay. Now which do you like best? The first one you chose or this third one?”
Realize that I don’t know how to organize.
And when he says that he doesn’t know how to organize, he means it. His car is a mess and my idea of clean is certainly different. He thinks the house is clean if the floor is clear… but don’t look on any other surfaces. We also have a struggle with keeping our mail together since he brings it in after work. Without a basket just inside the door, I could find mail anywhere and everywhere.
- Have a place for everything and everything in its place. Clutter will invite more clutter and create a huge distraction.
- Don’t expect perfection when you ask for help cleaning. Due to the constant distractions, it is hard to finish a task.
- Give him a place for his clutter and don’t ask him to keep it organized. He needs a space where he can exhale after a day of trying to keep it all together.
- Have a family calendar where you each add your events. We use the calendar app on our iPads to keep track of what is on the agenda so we don’t overbook a date.
Be clear with me.
Bill cannot read my mind and cannot read between the lines. He misses subtle body language. I have to tell him exactly what I am thinking if I want him to know, and I have to be clear (and fair) with my expectations. The best example of this is when we were cleaning before a recent family event. I wanted specific things done inside the house and he was headed outside to empty a swimming pool. I had to gently redirect him with the reminder, “There are other things that are more important right now.”
- Make a list of your priorities and rank it in the order of importance.
- Remove distractions when you need to have a detailed conversation. For instance, Bill cannot concentrate when there is music. So, I can only talk to him if music is not playing in the background.
- Provide a quiet place for important projects. Noise and interruptions make each project take longer as he tried to stop and start again.
Help me sort the traffic jam in my brain.
During one of the most meaningful conversations we had about his attention deficit disorder, Bill told me that his brain is like an intersection and when too much is placed on him too quickly, he has a huge traffic jam and doesn’t know how to sort the mess.
- Present one project at a time and wait until one task is completed before adding something else to his brain.
- Eliminate items from the to-do list when the pressure starts to build. When there is too much on his mind, Bill’s frustration will build and an argument can be expected.
If you have a spouse with an Attention Deficit Disorder, what have you found is necessary to keep your relationship functioning?