Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Working Together When a Spouse or Partner Has ADHD

Does ADHD—your own or your partner's—impact your loving relationship with that person?

Tomorrow I will participate in an online Ask the Expert chat on the difficulties couples face when one or both of them have ADHD. I'll also offer strategies that can help improve the difficulties couples face when one or both of them have ADHD. The chat begins at 3 PM Eastern Standard Time and it's sponsored by CHADD and the National Resource Center on ADHD. To join, click here at about 2:45 and follow the instructions.

This short selection from my book, The Disorganized Mind, describes some of the things I've heard from clients.

Brad ran through a litany of his wife’s ADHD behavior when I asked him what living with her was like. “I have to prepare myself every time I walk in the house,” he said immediately. “It’s a perpetual soap opera. Will she be in tears because she hates herself today? Will she be laughing with a new best friend she just met at the market and dragged home? Will she even be home? Will there be smoke billowing from the kitchen from the latest dinner she’s burned? Will there even be dinner?” He often felt worn down by the patience her unpredictability required. “It’s hard not to lose it with her sometimes,” he said, “if you know what I mean.”

I do know. I’ve heard variations of his comments so often that I can almost write the script for them. “I communicate with him mostly by e-mail,” was how the wife of one client put it. “I’ve given up on expecting him to sit and have a conversation with me. He just gets up and walks out of the room. I swear I see his back more than his face!”

Even children weigh in on their parents’ ADHD. “I can understand how my parents got divorced,” one teenager told me, “but not how they got married in the first place. My dad is so normal but my mom is really crazy.” He was talking about his mother’s impulsive, distracted behavior, the way “she forgets things all the time, like me, even,” and the toll it had taken on the entire family.

Things don’t have to become intolerable. Families can learn to function, and function happily. Family members, like the individuals with ADHD themselves, can educate themselves and create strategies for coping. In many ways, it comes down to understanding and to expectations.

Even though they can appear self-absorbed and can definitely be exasperating to others, I have yet to meet anyone with ADHD who wants it that way. My clients haven’t wanted to use their ADHD as an excuse for inexcusable behavior, either. What they want is a way to work through the problems that their ADHD causes. They want family members to be there with them, everyone helping in whatever way possible to make the family unit strong. But just as families of those with physical diseases or addictions need advice and support from others in similar circumstances, people living with partners with ADHD also need to know how others cope.

Does any of this sound familiar? Has coaching helped? What strategies did you find helpful? Please share your stories!