You love your spouse. You love their compassion, clever sense of humor, spontaneous spirit and many other terrific traits. But you find yourself getting more and more frustrated with them. You find yourself taking on most of the responsibilities, like cleaning and paying the bills.
In short, it doesn’t always feel like a 50/50 partnership, said Terry Matlen, MSW, ACSW, a psychotherapist and ADHD coach who also has ADHD.
Your spouse is likely just as frustrated as you are. After all, having ADHD can be exhausting. “[Y]our spouse is working 10 times harder than someone without ADHD, just getting through the day,” Matlen said.
“For me, ADHD often feels like living in a room with a dozen TVs all at about half volume and each playing a different station,” Dan Perdue explained in this piece. “In that room are also another dozen people having six different conversations at the same time. There are probably several small children running around in circles laughing and squealing, and on the far side of that room is someone trying to get my attention and tell me something important and probably upset with me because I am many times unable to filter out that person from all of the other noise and commotion in that room called my brain.”
You and your spouse “work in different time zones”—ADHD time and non-ADHD time, said Nikki Kinzer, PCC, an ADHD coach, author and co-host of Taking Control: The ADHD Podcast. “Tasks usually take longer than [your spouse] expects, so they usually don’t give themselves enough time to complete [them].”
Because boring tasks are tougher to start, they’re easily forgotten. Your partner might forget what you told them that day, which can feel like they don’t care, Kinzer said. But really it’s an issue with their short-term memory.
The house might be disorganized, because your spouse doesn’t put items back where they belong, and creates stacks and piles everywhere, she said. “ADDer’s have great intentions and grand plans—they get started on a home project but never finish or it takes months to complete but only after tons of nagging and threats.”
While ADHD can be a real challenge for both you and your spouse, there are many things you can do to support them and work as a team. Below, Matlen and Kinzer shared their valuable suggestions.
1.Learn about ADHD—and how it uniquely affects your partner.
“One of the ways I have noticed my clients feeling supported is when the other spouse takes a real interest in learning as much as they can about ADHD,” Kinzer said. Read about ADHD and attend seminars and conferences, said Matlen, author of several books on ADHD, including The Queen of Distraction: How Women with ADHD Can Conquer Chaos, Find Focus and Get More Done.
Talk to your spouse about how ADHD impacts their life, their day to day. Approach these conversations with curiosity, and not judgment, Kinzer said. “If the ADD’er feels defensive or judged, the conversation will go sideways fast and most likely turn into an argument.”
If things escalate, see a couples therapist who “really understands how ADHD can change the dynamics within a marriage,” Matlen said.
2. Accept that your spouse thinks and processes things differently.
For instance, one of Kinzer’s clients takes a long time to make decisions. He likes to have all the facts, and weigh the different options before reaching a final decision. “This may look like avoidance or not caring about the decision as much as the other partner.” But obviously, he cares very much.
If your spouse has a similar tendency and you need to make a quick decision, set a deadline and identify how to accelerate the process. Together. Do this from a place of understanding—and not judgment, Kinzer said.
3. Ask your spouse how you can help.
For instance, you might offer to trade household chores, Matlen said. You manage the bills, and your spouse maintains the lawn. Or hire out. “Instead of bickering over chores that don’t get done, or don’t get done to your standards, hire outside help.” You might hire someone who cleans your home, pays your bills, shovels the snow or cuts the grass. “[T]hese tactics can literally save a marriage,” she said.
4. Set up systems and structures.
Kinzer suggested sitting down together and writing out what needs to be done on a daily and weekly basis. “[F]or someone with ADHD, cleaning the house is not going to be top of mind. They need to know what to do, when to do it, and be reminded to do it.”
Because you don’t want to have a parent/child relationship with your spouse, Kinzer advised against doing the reminding. “This will only lead to resentment.” Instead, she recommended the spouse with ADHD create their own reminders with alarms and notifications and write a checklist of responsibilities.
5. Debrief and connect every night.
These meetings help you discuss what is and what isn’t working, Matlen said. Again, it’s important that your discussions are supportive—no accusations or finger pointing. Matlen suggested saying: “We have a problem with _________. How do you think we can solve this together?”
ADHD can be difficult on a marriage. Frustrations mount on both sides. Neither partner feels heard. But by communicating with compassion, working together and trying strategies like the above, you can help your spouse and help your relationship.
Stay tuned for another piece with five more suggestions from Kinzer and Matlen.