Your ADHD spouse never really “gets you,” … and how to fix it – Part 1

This ADHD Couples challenge is jointly created by both partners. It requires both partners to adequately address and resolve it.

Quick outline:

  • Part 1: The ADHD Spouse's contribution:

    • What it's all about, in a nutshell.
    • How it evolves naturally, without anyone noticing.
    • It is not intentional on anyone's part.

    Part 2: The Non-ADHD Partner's contribution:

    • Declaration of a truth.
    • The past is a predictor of the future, right? or neuro-what?
    • What are my real choices?

    Part 3: Prevention - Stopping before starting

    • Neuroplasticity makes the correction on the ADHD side possible.
    • Looking at what they really want from the present and future, while letting go of the past makes the Non-ADHD partner's side possible.
    • Only team work, makes the team possible. 

    ADHD Partner's Side of the Top OOPS of ADHD Relationships

    This first part shares from the ADHD Partner's side:

    We've worked with many couples who, when we first meet them, are on the brink of disaster. There is often a lot of finger pointing and blaming going on.

    The Non-ADHD partner is trying to share how they feel, along with their perceptions, and their partner seems to tune into what they are saying on an intellectual level. But, the Non-ADHD spouse wants to be heard with empathy. They conclude that their marriage partner does not, has not, and never will have the ability to really hear, or feel what they are trying to say.

    It can be a deal breaker.

    It may make sense to the Non-ADHD partner, that this is the absolutely inescapable conclusion. But, I’m not so sure.

    Many adults with ADHD communicate intellectually about feelings, and about empathy, but not truly experience them. But, there are many adults, from within the group, that go on, later in life, to develop a full complement of rich emotions and true empathy. I should know. I am one of them.

    So, let's look at why an ADHD spouse may not seem to have a normal range of accessible emotions, yet can often develop them.

    Later we will look at why the Non-ADHD partner is also making what seems to be valid conclusions based on what they know.

    But together, the relationship can go south, because they don't really know what is going on or why. More importantly, they don't know what to do to correct the downward spiral before they get a path they cannot return from.

    How does someone with ADHD develop a low Emotional Quotient (EQ)?

    Some people with ADHD or ADHD-like symptoms have other issues and complications that make it far more difficult, or impossible to learn a full range of richly felt emotions. (Having Aspergers can make this even more difficult). This inability to feel and project feelings will not apply to everyone with ADHD.

    For the ADHD spouse, it typically begins very early in life. Usually within the first year or two. They will probably act a little differently than other babies their age. We know that the typical ADHD brain develops slightly differently, on the average, than neurotypical children's do. The natural tendency of babies, like most people, is to avoid things that are different than themselves.

    Left to their own devices, however, they seem to play less often with the children they see as different from themselves. For kids, this kind of discrimination seems both normal and natural.

    As the children develop, they play together, learn to argue, create games, negotiate, have fun, cry, disagree, get angry, and explore their feelings. Unfortunately, and usually unnoticed by others, the ones with ADHD are frequently less engaged with their fellow children. This pattern continues, and sometimes the socialization and emotional development gap seems to widen between them as they grow up.

    When the child grows into an ADHD adult, and interacts with others, they are usually less experienced in social norms. They are less sensitive to the queues in body language, and signals that indicate the inner states of emotion of others around them.

    Often, too, they didn't get the experiences that would have helped them gain as much understanding of empathy, the variety and subtleties of emotion, or the words to describe them. Similarly, they are often substantially less aware of their own inner states which creates difficulty describing and being compassionate with the feelings of others.

    Thus, the roots of their inability to connect with other in this way, goes back a long time.

    To step back and learn how a person with Adult ADHD could have emotional problems or social phobia and still not have any mental illness, read:
    "How do you prevent this destructive outcome in the relationship?"



Top OOPS of ADHD Relationships … and it’s Prevention – Part 2

How do you prevent this destructive outcome in the relationship?

This is what often happens with the Non-ADHD Spouse

A little history:

The couple is in partnership. And they have been for a time, Whether  the partnership has existed for months, years, or decades, they’ve developed a past with one another. Throughout much of the latter part, usually for years, the Non-ADHD partner has seen promises broken, time and time again.

The wife, (in the majority of cases we’ve seen, the Non-ADHD partner is the female), has usually tried to help her partner in every way she can think of. She has tried to support her partner to overcome challenge areas, find work arounds, and to lighten het partners load because it often seems impossible to get him to take on more responsibility beyond his immediate concerns. And even those seem monumental sometimes. She takes on what feels like more than her fair share of the work in the relationship; the household chores, everything. Why has she done all this? Because she loved her ADHD partner.

Back to the present:

By the time the couple gets to us, the Non-ADHD partner is usually pretty exhausted. She is tired of the extra work every day. She would love it if she could just give us her partner so we could, “fix,” him.

But it doesn’t work that way. She may not want to do any more of the hard work it can take to get the relationship back on track.But she has an essential role to play in the rebalancing and recovery of their marriage. If having the relationship survive is an objective, full participation by both parties is required.

Back to the challenge at hand:

The Non-ADHD partner is in partnership every day with a person who may be less connected to their own feelings, and less able to empathize with her, their Non-ADHD partner. The ADHD partner can usually quite easily understand what the Non-ADHD partner is saying.

But the Non-ADHD partner is not getting from the ADHD partner the body language, the “signals”, that would indicate to her that her partner can really “get” what she is feeling.

What does this mean for our couple?

Here is our couple, and this gaping hole is exposed. We are working with them to make the communication better. But the Non-ADHD partner realizes, that her spouse can’t hear her feelings when she expresses themAnd sometimes he thinks he’s doing just fine. But…

Here’s where it can all come apart in the heart and mind of the Non-ADHD partner.

The logic may look something like this…

Step 1:

Since the Non-ADHD partner, has correctly understood that her ADHD partner could not empathize with her, and feels that this is what she has been saying all this time …

Step 2:

She could easily jump to the conclusion that since the past has been pretty consistent, the future will look just like the past. Her ADHD partner will never be able to deeply understand and “get” her, or have any empathy.

Step 3:

If she has irrevocably made that decision, Game Over. Or at least it can be.

If we have not been able to stop it before this point, our next step is clear. To help the Non-ADHD partner understand:

  • The ADHD partner’s seeming inability to feel feelings is likely a lack of education, training, and practice during their upbringing, and a result of having ADHD, but it is not an impairment.
  • It’s probably not a brain deficiency or mental illness.

 But it will take some work to get the ADHD partner on board with what needs to happen here.

Top OOPS of ADHD Relationships … and it’s Prevention – Part 3

The big question here is, “How do you help someone become more Emotionally Intelligent?”

We admit that this is not an easy proposition, but it can be done. We hope that when we are working with new clients, we are working with individuals that both know they have some work to do in order to change the dynamic of the relationship. It takes two. Both partners need to be willing to find out what is not working. Both need to be willing to look inside themselves to see what behaviors each of them is displaying that has resulted in their present difficulties.

With the ADHD partner, if they are not displaying empathy towards their partner, it is important that they recognize this as a factor in the present state of their relationship. And, they need to be willing to go beyond their intellectual responses to a deeper level of feeling.

How to create change

Noticeable change requires the ADHD partner learning to speak about what they feel inside at any given moment . For the ADHD partner to become more adept at appreciating their partner’s feelings, they must first be in touch with their own. It is important they recognize that feelings are emotions like: sad, mad, glad, distressed, disappointed, fearful, frustrated and resentful, to name a few.

Helping them get in touch with what is going on inside at any given moment is key to developing their emotional intelligence. And when they are able to accomplish this, it is not such a big stretch for the ADHD partner to relate what they are experiencing to what their Non-ADHD partner feels in relation to situations in their mutual lives.

In communication exercises, we ask the couple to identify what they believe their partner is feeling, and to check back with their Non-ADHD partner to see if they are identifying the feeling correctly. If not, they get feedback right away about what a more accurate feeling word would be to describe what is going on inside their partner.

It is some of these tools and exercises that help the ADHD partner zero in on the emotional and feeling levels. These experiences support the ADHD partner in developing a greater understanding of what it can feel like to be in the shoes of their Non-ADHD partner. This can change a very meaningful dynamic in the relationship.

It’s important to be aware that this kind of adjustment can take some time. We don’t have any quick fixes. They are unlearning years, and maybe even decades, of responding from a mental level. We know that this switch to a feeling level can bring about significant and deep changes. Both partners need to be willing to hang in there to ensure a successful process. When they are willing to do so, a significant shift in how they interact is very possible.

Is it Just ADHD, or is it Something Else too?

Many of us with ADHD who were diagnosed in adulthood thought, “if I just get this ADHD thing under control, I’ll be so much better.” And so we got on a stimulant or non-stimulant medication that was supposed to fix us. And with some people, this works.

However, there are many of us who get a some relief, and then realize that something else is going on. According to ADDitude magazine, 80% of all people with ADHD have some other co-occurring  disorder. These can be  anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, learning disorders, conduct disorders and tic disorders. They may be secondary to ADHD, but can be just as disruptive in someone’s life. In most cases, these co-morbid disorders don’t respond to ADHD medicine. The symptoms may call for some other medical treatment. Some individuals may try to psychotherapy. Others choose to add another medication to what they are already taking.

Most often, doctors will prescribe SSRIs for the symptoms of depression. SSRIs are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. Scientifically, they “inhibit the inactivation of serotonin by blocking its reuptake by presynaptic nerve cell endings.” (Google). This allows more serotonin to be available as a neurotransmitter in the brain. These drugs can be very effective in lessening symptoms of anxiety as well. Examples of SSRIs are Prozac, Celexa, Pristiq and Effexor. They are considered fairly safe, non-addictive, and for many people, work very well..

Anxiety and depression are considered comorbid conditions. They occur simultaneously with the primary condition of ADHD. Some forms of anxiety are situational. For instance, when one is preparing for a big exam. Other forms are more chronic and can lead to a more generalized feeling of being fearful all the time. The DSM 5 (The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) might label this as a Generalized Anxiety Disorder. It can be a very uncomfortable feeling, and can have a profound effect on someone’s life.

How do you know you have a co-morbid condition?

You know you have a co-morbid condition if your first-line treatment for ADHD does not have any positive effect on your mood, You seem to feel “blue” all the time. This circumstance can be alleviated with medication.

Another co-mordid condition can show up as a learning disorder. often displayed in childhood. When this us present, treatment can include accommodations at school and extracurricular coaching.

The symptoms of a co-morbid condition are not situational. They are pervasive throughout a person’s life, and should be taken seriously. Consultation with a doctor is recommended to get the proper treatment.



Has Anyone Ever Told You You’re Spacey, or a Dreamer?

If so, you probably have Inattentive ADHD. It is one of the three types of ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). The three types are:

  • Predominantly Inattentive
  • Predominantly Hyperactive/Compulsive
  • Combined – Combines both Inattentive and Hyperactive/Compulsive traits

When people think about ADHD, they usually think of the Hyperactive/Compulsive type. A little boy who “bounces off the walls” usually comes to mind, and boys are more likely to fit in this category.

The Inattentive type is more often female and can be labeled a “Space Cadet” by teachers, parents and other kids; a very unflattering description. Inattentiveness can be just as challenging as the other types of ADHD.

The DSM 5 lists nine symptoms of which six or more are required to consider someone Inattentive. The symptoms have to have been present for at least six months and they create impairment in social situations, school, work, and daily life.

Characteristics of Inattentive ADHD

Jacqueline Sinfield, who calls herself the “ADHD Coach for Adults,”enumerates 15 characteristics that are possible, and seem more personal (than those from the DSM), if you are Inattentive :

  1. It is hard for you to focus, yet you can be physically still.
  2. You don’t appear to listen to others during conversations.
  3. Those close to you complain that you forget what they shared with you.
  4. You are disorganized in your physical environment.
  5. You find it hard to stay on task from beginning to end, and even harder if the task is boring.
  6. You often make careless errors despite your best intentions.
  7. Detailed tasks, for example taxes, are exceptionally challenging and stressful.
  8. You find it hard to follow verbal or written instructions.
  9. You are often late or miss appointments.
  10. You lose important items often like keys, wallets and passports.
  11. People would describe you as a “dreamer.”
  12. You find it hard to block out noise.
  13. You often experience fatigue.
  14. You’ve probably heard the phrase “Could try harder” a lot at school (even if you were trying +++).
  15. You are prone to procrastination.

Treatment can consist of medication (usually of the stimulant type), and behavioral therapy Family therapy and ADHD Coaching are other valuable resources for Inattentive ADHD.

Inattentives and Relationships

As you might imagine Inattentives can have serious relationship issues. Especially when they are prone to forgetting conversations they had really recently because they weren’t fully tuned in at the time. This can also create problems in social situations where, if they’re not attentive to what is being said around them, they can miss social cues, and parts of conversations. They might then jump in with inappropriate comments that can end up embarrassing their partner, or themselves.

There can be many projects that get started, but end up never being finished because the Inattentive gets side-tracked and loses interest. I’ve had many spouses complain to me about the garage that is left a mess, or the tools that never get put away. These situations have ended up causing many an argument.

The right medication and a good ADHD coach can be really helpful to the Inattentive ADHDer.