Tara and Trevor MacKenzie might play together in the MacKenzie Blues Band, but their 13-year marriage is anything but blue.
Here, Tara MacKenzie continues to share some tips that work for her and her husband, Trevor MacKenzie, whose gifts include not only talent – but ADHD.
ZOË: What other advice do you have for someone who’s in a relationship with someone with ADHD?
TARA: They need to understand that they are speaking different languages.
The partner that has ADHD doesn’t value them less, it’s their wiring system and they are different. If you’re kind and you value them, listen to them, and share their adventures…if you’re genuinely listening, then it’s going to be better.
People focus so much all the time on how ‘You’re hurting me, ‘ and it’s not nearly as much (usually) as how much you’re giving to me, how much you’re blessing me. So if people are a little less defensive, learn to be a little more gracious and a little more understanding, they’d see that about their ADHD partner.
It’s not something that they would fix if they could; they can’t fix it. It’s a gift. But maybe that person who has the ADHD hasn’t found all the gifts like Trevor has. Maybe they haven’t found their focus and they act out and they’re angry, right? I can understand how that can really cause a problem in a relationship.
ZOË: Are there any other tips for working out communication?
TARA: Instead of making a statement that might sound judgmental, [Trevor’s] taught me better how to ask a question. For example, the garbage. “Hey, you didn’t take out the garbage. Why not?” I’ve changed that to, “Honey, could you please try to remember, or could you set a reminder on your phone to take out the garbage?”
I’m not good at it all the time, but I’ll ask the question, “Did you really mean to cut me off when I was mid-sentence? Was it your intention, because this is how I perceived your action,” rather than, “You’re a jerk! You cut me off!”
ZOË: So you’re bringing his awareness around to what just happened?
TARA: Yes. Because I don’t want to go off and feel snubbed by my favorite person. Nobody wants that.
ZOË: What happened before you started asking that way?
TARA: He’d shut down. And then he’d be off on the next thing and I wasn’t getting what I needed.
I think with any human, if you come with an accusatory tone, you have fight or flight. With Trevor, that’s really worked for us, is for me to learn how to ask more questions.
ZOË: What about transitions; a situation where he has to switch from one task to the next?
TARA: I learned that I needed to give Trevor two hours’ notice that I was ready to leave because he can’t do the shock of, ‘I’m ready to leave now, let’s go.’ It doesn’t work for him. It makes him very upset. He gets [overwhelmed] and shuts down. The gears stop.
ZOË: Housework and organization are also often problems. What’s it like in your house?
TARA: Sometimes I’ll go on strike and I won’t do anything until he helps me. But he’ll recognize that and then I see he’s contributing and I’m not mad. But I gave up that expectation to have a spotless home when I married that man.
I’d be lying if I said it was perfect and utopian all the time. It took me a long time but I came to understand that it wasn’t because he didn’t want to help me, or he’s lazy; he’s not. He’s the hardest working man I’ve ever seen. But there are some tasks he can do, and other tasks he can’t do.
The love of [Trevor] to me is way more important and way better than having all the tags on my clothes hang left, which I was really anal about before. Now, it’s probably on the floor and the cat is sleeping on it.
ZOË: You’ve talked about attachment a few times. What do you mean when you say attachment?
TARA: I cannot possibly expect Trevor to function like I function. And that’s what causes couples to want to kill each other: ‘cause they’re holding this other partner to this idea of what they are.
If you really love another human, you need to love them – not the idea of them or what they should be to you.
ZOË: Sleep patterns are often a problem for adults with ADHD. What’s it like for you two?
TARA: He doesn’t sleep much; he gets chronic restless leg. I always go to bed earlier than him.
Bringing it back to that thing about attachment, my ideal was that all couples should sleep together all the time, they should wake up beside each other, but that didn’t happen.
I had to calculate if it was something I really wanted to fight over. And then I realized that this is not possible for him. It’s not a snub. It’s not personal.
He does what he can do, but he always gives me at least one day a week where he has all my attention.
ZOË: So you guys make that commitment?
TARA: Yeah. It’s become a normal part of the pattern. We always make sure, no matter what job or project we’re doing, we have most of Monday off.
We’ll go for a drive and then he’ll just talk. Which makes it so much better than if I was trying to pin him down for an hour every day where he can’t (as you say) transition. But he knows to expect that Monday when he wakes up [he’ll hear], What are we going to do honey? What could it be? [She giggles]