Maintaining a household is hard enough. But when both partners have ADHD, there are extra challenges. These kinds of responsibilities require planning and prioritizing and performing and completing often boring tasks — all of which is difficult for adults with ADHD. (Because people with ADHD have impairments in executive functioning.)
“It’s very unlikely that both partners have the same kind of ADHD. What usually happens is that one of them takes the place of the non-ADHD partner,” said Roya Kravetz, a life coach and ADHD coach who works with clients in her San Diego office and nationally and internationally via phone and Skype. This partner ends up taking over tasks that only stress them out. Which causes a great deal of frustration and resentment.
Couples with ADHD also are likely dealing with a lot of clutter and chores they’ve yet to divide. Kravetz likened it to a missing conductor: Everyone in the orchestra is playing the wrong music. Another challenge for adults with ADHD is initiation. They don’t know where to start. Everything seems important and overwhelming — especially when you’ve been living with a mess for a number of years.
While maintaining a household for couples with ADHD may be tougher, it’s absolutely feasible. Here’s how.
Get to know your ADHD and your spouse’s ADHD.
First understand your own ADHD, Kravetz said. What does your ADHD look like? When is it particularly troublesome? What are you great at doing? What are you not so good at doing? Kravetz helps clients identify and capitalize on their strengths, which is so important for everything from working effectively to tackling daily responsibilities. Then try to understand your partner’s ADHD and their specific strengths.
Discuss your home.
Sit down together and discuss your definition of a well-maintained home, said Madeleine P. Cote, a life and ADHD coach in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, who also works with clients nationally and internationally. What does it look like? What will this entail? Every couple will have a different answer. “For some it means everything has its place and everything is in its place, and for others it simply means the dishes are done and the bed is made.”
Divide duties based on strengths.
Again, no two people with ADHD are the same, Kravetz said. That means that one partner will have different strengths than the other partner. Take advantage of these assets. Have each person perform tasks that actually fit their strengths. If it helps, create a list of which tasks each of you will complete.
For chores and tasks that neither of you can do, consider delegating. You might ask loved ones to help. Or you might hire help. For instance, you might hire a housekeeper twice a month, Cote said. Or you might hire an organizer to help you create systems in your closet or with your paperwork, Kravetz said. Many people also find it tremendously helpful to work with an ADHD coach.
Use the buddy system.
Another option is to tackle tasks together. Cote shared these examples: One partner washes dishes, while the other dries them. One partner sweeps, while the other cleans the windows. Or you might make the bed together or fold laundry together.
Make it fun.
Turn performing tasks into a playful activity. Get creative. Cote suggested playing music or dancing while you clean. You also can incorporate rewards that motivate you. For instance, after you complete a task, put money in a jar for something special, such as a nice dinner, she said.
“Humor is extremely important when it comes to relationships and ADHD,” Kravetz said. Transform daily mishaps or mistakes into funny stories. Make fun of yourself. Don’t forget to laugh together. Humor makes life so much lighter (and brighter).
Focus on self-care.
Kravetz stressed the importance of each partner taking good care of themselves. “If you’re out of air [on a plane], you cannot help your spouse or your children.” You must care for yourself first and foremost. This includes eating nutritious foods, moving your body and recharging your batteries, she said. Because when you’re doing so much, you become frustrated and run out of steam. Breaks are vital for everyone, especially for individuals with ADHD, she said.
Automate your planning.
Planning is key to running a household. Dedicate one day to review your calendar for the upcoming week. For instance, sit down every Sunday around 5 p.m. This way it becomes a habit (you don’t have to think about it; you just do it). You also might have both a personal calendar and a family calendar, so everyone knows what’s going on, Kravetz said. Set reminders on your phone to check your calendars throughout the day.
Pick your battles.
Kravetz often tells clients: “Do not major in minors.” That is, don’t make everything into a big issue. Let some things go, and work around others. If your partner always leaves the cabinets open, let it be, she said. If your spouse has a certain way of organizing their books or clothes that works for them, let that go, too. If your partner gets hyper-focused with certain activities, let them know beforehand that you’ll set an alarm when dinner is ready. You might ask them, “If you don’t come to the kitchen, is it OK with you that I tell you dinner is ready?”
Look for the positive.
Acknowledge what your partner is doing and how hard they are trying, Kravetz said. Looking for the positive in each other doesn’t just help with the household, it’s vital for your relationship.
People with ADHD are great at so many things, but maintaining a household can be challenging, Cote said. That’s simply because it requires skills that are naturally impaired in ADHD. However, by employing strategies—like the above—you can tackle your most important tasks and have a well-maintained home—whatever that looks like for you.
Couple at home photo available from Shutterstock