So, you’re married to an ADHDer. You’ve hitched your cart to a shooting star that’s ricocheting all over the universe, a runaway locomotive with no regard for staying on the rails. You’ve thrown in with a one person gang of time-thieves who live for fun and instant gratification, a Robin Hood, of sorts, who steals from the organized and adds to the scattered clutter.
So what’s the down side?
Okay, it does sound a little doom and gloom, but it sounds like adventure too, doesn’t it? And yes, it can be. ADHDers bring that to relationships, along with spontaneity and excitement. And, oh that hyperfocus. When you’re the target of that, it can sweep you off your feet.
Forewarned is forearmed!
In fact, if a little bit of attention goes a long way with you, beware the ADHDer’s courting, you’ll be dazed for days, and when it lulls, the contrast will leave you feeling very much abandoned.
But back to the established partnership…
If you’re in a relationship with a person with ADHD, there are things you’ll need to be aware of to make it work. And since ADHDers don’t come with manuals (or maybe they do, but they’ve misplaced them) there are things they need to be aware of that they may not know either. Remember, many ADHDers aren’t diagnosed ’til later in life, they may not have had time to learn everything about their condition. And no two ADHDers are alike, so they’ll need to learn what symptoms they have and how those affect them.
So, if you’ve dedicated yourself to being the partner of an ADHDer, here’s the first rule to making it a success: learn as much as you can about your partner.
Okay, that’s the same rule as for a relationship with anyone. I meant to say that this is an important point, not one you can put off and attend to at your leisure. “Act now to avoid disappointment!” is the part I left out.
My second rule is less obvious.
There is a model of relationship that tends to lend itself to the situation of ADHDer/non-ADHDer partnership. it’s easy to fall into, hard to get out of … and so very wrong. It’s called the Parent/Child model.
The parent/Child model has been documented by Melissa Orlov in her book The ADHD Effect on Marriage. The model begins when the non-ADHDer steps in to help the ADHDer with distraction and procrastination, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Reminders can be helpful for ADHDers, but too many take away the need for the ADHDer to be responsible for their own calendar of activities.
Soon, the non-ADHD partner becomes the keeper of the schedule and most likely becomes resentful of that new burden. Scolding will often follow and since the scolding will be valid, the ADHDer soon falls into the role of child. Self esteem, often already low for the ADHDer, is further undermined, and a cycle of missed deadlines and reprimands followed by lowered self expectations and ambition soon leaves both parties victim of their roles.
Realize, if you are the non-ADHDer, that the ADHDer will punish themselves adequately, your help is not needed in that respect. You may not see the punishment, but I assure you it is there. It can drag on for years over a single situation. And to avoid feeling the need to punish, try to leave the ADHDer in charge of their own responsibilities. Good at it or not, it’s their problem. Reminders, as I said before, can help, but keep them to a minimum. ADHDers can be resentful too. Reminders remind them that they have inadequacies.
So my second rule is: Don’t be a parent or a child in a relationship that’s supposed to be a partnership.
I’ve tried to present this situation fairly, I’ve tried not to bias my observations. It was my intention to leave you wondering whether I am the ADHDer or the non-ADHDer, but I’ve decided to confess. My name is Kelly, and I have Adult ADHD.
Couple in the sunset photo available from Shutterstock.