In marriages where one spouse has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (or both do), there are often many challenges. One of them is overstepping each other’s boundaries.
For instance, a partner with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) might assume without asking their partner that they’ll just take over all the household responsibilities, including chores and finances, or they might refuse to treat their symptoms and give the ultimatum to “take it or leave it.”
A non-ADHD spouse might take over all the responsibilities because they think their partner is incompetent or they might try to change them altogether.
In her book, The ADHD Effect on Marriage: Understand and Rebuild Your Relationship in Six Steps, marriage consultant Melissa Orlov (who I recently interviewed for a piece on pitfalls and potential solutions), discusses the importance of working on changing yourself, instead of your partner. It is unrealistic to try and change others anyway, and it only creates and perpetuates conflict.
She suggests each partner establish their own boundaries. Because when you’re preserving your boundaries, according to Orlov, you’re more likely to have a healthy and happy relationship and be the person you truly want to be.
Orlov defines a personal boundary as: “a value, characteristic or behavior that we absolutely must have in order to live out life, in any situation, as a person we wish to be.”
When thinking about boundaries, two things are important to consider: “which ones are the most important to who you are as a person” and “where your lower threshold is located for each boundary” (which leaves you feeling unhealthy or confined).
Defining Your Boundaries
To figure out your most important boundaries, Orlov suggests readers ask themselves this set of four questions. After creating your list, pick out the few with the greatest significance (or create levels of importance). (These are taken verbatim from the book.)
1. Think about where your personal boundaries or rules used to be when you were happiest. What was important to you? How did you behave? What was unique about you? What were you proudest of? Were there important inconsistencies in your thinking or behavior that you can name?
2. Think about where your boundaries, or personal rules, are today. What has changed? What boundaries do you wish you had in place but you think are currently missing or being ignored by you or others?
3. Ask your spouse questions: What parts of me did you fall in love with? How was I unique? What are my special qualities in your eyes? Which qualities make you proudest?
4. Where do you want to be in the future?
It’s also important to be realistic and avoid “boundaries” from becoming a wish list. To get your reality check, consider whether the boundary concerns your own behavior or needs (it should since this is what you can do, not your spouse); how it works in an actual situation (“is it an idea that remains ‘right’ for you in all circumstances?”); what others say; and whether it’ll make you a better person.
For instance, two of the boundaries on Melissa’s list include: Treat each other with respect, even in the most difficult times; and “Let my husband express his true self without trying to change him”
Your Boundary Action Plan
Next, Orlov suggests creating a plan with your boundaries and the different actions you’re going to take to execute these boundaries (not your spouse’s actions).
Here’s an example from her plan (also taken verbatim):
Respect Issue 1: Improve how I communicate.
- Don’t nag!!!
- Don’t lecture; share the conversation.
- Change communication patterns. (Seek out good books on this!)
- Try to understand and appreciate his logic and approach. Ask questions.
Respect Issue 2: Change from trying to control him into positive interactions.
Cut down on negatives:
- Let him be himself, do things his way. Accept him as a unique person and stop trying to control or change him.
- Don’t worry or complain when he comes to bed later; accept that that’s his schedule, which is different from mine. (Give him a flashlight so lights don’t go on!)
Find positives to share:
- Look for hobbies to share and have fun with so we share more happy times together (more bike riding together).
- Write self notes about positive things and post them as “reminders.”