Love, Marriage, and Attention Deficit Disorder

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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.

Very practical tips for spouses of those with an attention deficit disorder. Gives a he said, she said perspective into their marriage.

Decision Making

He said

Have patience with me. Decisions take time.

She said

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.

Tips

  1. Give enough time for even the simplest of decisions. Expect difficult decisions to require a lot of solitude.
  2. If possible, limit the number of options. Instead of “What do you want for dinner?” ask, “Would you rather have fajitas or hamburgers?”
  3. 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?”

Organizing

He said

Realize that I don’t know how to organize.

She said

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.

Tips

  1. Have a place for everything and everything in its place. Clutter will invite more clutter and create a huge distraction.
  2. Don’t expect perfection when you ask for help cleaning. Due to the constant distractions, it is hard to finish a task.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Communicating

He said

Be clear with me.

She said

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.”

Tips

  1. Make a list of your priorities and rank itĀ in the order of importance.
  2. 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.
  3. Provide a quiet place for important projects. Noise and interruptions make each project take longer as he tried to stop and start again.

Sorting

He said

Help me sort the traffic jam in my brain.

She said

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.

Tips

  1. Present one project at a time and wait until one task is completed before adding something else to his brain.
  2. 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 anĀ 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?

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Comments

  1. I love this post. Maybe my husband might understand me when someone else discusses it? Anyway, my description is that I am juggling, and I can juggle one thing REALLY well, two things I can manage, but throw the third ball in and I am dropping ALL my balls left and right. With life how can you NOT have more than three balls at a time? Yikes!

  2. I am the one with ADD. Although doctors (at least the ones I have spoken to) say it is not hereditary, my mother has it – my daughter has ADHD and dyslexia and it looks like my grandest son may also have ADD/ADHD. My husband happened to be sitting here as I read this article so I read it to him. We both had a laugh……he is Mr. Organized and Clean and I am very creative and disorganized – our daughter is a very odd combination of disorganized clean. My husband “straightens up” the pantry about once per week. He also loads the dishwasher but if he doesn’t, there is no grief over how I loaded it. My closet looks horrible and his is perfectly spaced and appointed. We knew each other well when we married and so we decided to enjoy each other for who we are. I gives me focus and I give him spontenaity. We try to tackle projects together with me being the idea person and him being the one who makes it happen!

    • What a wonderful love story!

      I am obviously NOT a doctor but I think in that in the beginning, ADD/ADHD was not hereditary. However, as we see it become more and more prevalent, I think it is changing our genes and is becoming hereditary. Again, not a doctor. ;)

  3. I love how you and your husband have worked out how to communicate with each other! This is my life, too. Except that both my husband and I both have ADHD. Yeah, this has made for a fun, and difficult, marriage. After 20 years of being together, 18 of those married to each other, we are finally getting a grasp on how to work together. We don’t follow the “traditional” roles, whoever is better at doing something is the one who does it. For instance, he does the grocery shopping and I do the bill collecting and organizing. We are sending each other text messages, not to talk but to remind each of us what we agreed on, even when we are sitting right next to each other. You have to do what works. It sounds like you and your husband are doing the same and that’s a beautiful thing!

  4. sarah jones says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. I have a son with Autism and my husband was diagnosed with ADD only last year. I could not understand the difficulties he was having, and put a lot of it down to just being a man!! I was so focused on my son for the past 10 years, that it only has been recently that I understand that it is not that he won’t help, doesn’t care enough, etc. it is simply that he can’t. I would love to say that this understanding has reduced the frustration that he adds to my life, but at this stage, it is all still a work in progress. I love forward to reading your related post on the subject. Blessings to you, Sarah xx

    • Thank you, Sarah, for commenting and letting me know that I am not alone in my frustration. We are like you in that I have to constantly remind myself that Bill cannot think like I do. Some days are better than others. ;)

  5. Thank you for this post. My six year old son has ADHD. His compassion and kindness for others along with his nurturing personality tell me he will make a woman a wonderful husband some day. I also see the qualities with which he will struggle in relationships throughout life. It is encouraging to see that ADD/ADHD does not have to get in the way of marriage when God puts the right people together and there is a lot of love and effort put into it. Thank you for your authenticity!

  6. I’m not sure how I found this article, but it is great! I feel like I could have written it myself (but I’m not a writer, so not really). ;) After 11.5 years of marriage I feel like we have come a loooong way. In addition to the many tips you have listed I would include being careful when and how to approach “hot topics”. One of the ways my husband gains the stimulation his brain needs is through arguing (not intentionally). Usually about extremely minor issues. It took us a long time to realize what was going on, but now that we recognize it it is a lot easier to stop and review the situation before it gets to heated.

  7. These are great tips. I think adjusting expectations and reminding myself that ADD is as real in a grown up as in a child has also helped.

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