Last Monday I had the pleasure of speaking with author Melissa Orlov about her latest book, The Couple’s Guide to Thriving with ADHD, co-authored with Nancie Kohlenberger. If you missed the webinar, here’s a truncated version of our conversation. To hear our conversation in its entirety, check out Psych Central’s Youtube Channel.
Zoë: You talk a lot in your book about changing yourself rather than your partner. Do you find that partners without ADHD think that it’s all the ADHD… Do you get that push back or grief from non-ADHD partners?
Melissa: I do. And it’s funny, you know, when people go in for therapy inevitably they go in and say, “Please fix my partner.” [she laughs] I mean, everybody does it.
The downside is when you have the label of ADHD the non-ADHD partners sometimes – often – feel quite justified when they say, “Hey, please fix my partner” because they sort of feel that’s what needs to happen. And what they don’t realize is that it’s really always both partners. …And when they start to work in tandem they really start to make progress. It’s wonderful.
But people do not want to be fixed or changed by other people. That does not work as a tactic and yet that’s the tactic that most people take for years and years.
Zoë: Is my task to bend myself into a shape that fits into the neurotypical world or the non-ADHD world or is my task to become more authentic, understand how my brain works, and be okay with that?
Melissa: So here’s the tricky thing. And this is where couples really need to be having a conversation. If the person who has ADHD, or the person who’s angry, you know if it’s without ADHD, uses having ADHD as an excuse to do bad stuff in the relationship without trying to acknowledge or change the fact that they’re doing things in the relationship that are not healthy for the relationship, then the relationship won’t work.
So, I’ll give you an example. You could say, “I have ADHD and I’m distracted therefore it’s okay when I’m distracted because I have ADHD,” right?
“You are either paying enough attention to your partner so that they understand that you love them, or you’re not.”
Well, in the partnership it’s not [ok] because having a partnership is all about attending to each other. You might say, “Okay, look, I’m going to be authentic,” but you also want to be a good partner. And so there is this fine line …but there are these absolutes where you are either paying enough attention to your partner so that they understand that you love them, or you’re not. And if you’re not, you either have to start paying more attention or maybe it’s not the right relationship for you. So there is a balance.
Melissa: But I agree, you should live authentically and one of the things I try to teach non-ADHD partners is how to appreciate ADHD better, how to appreciate the world that their ADHD partner lives in better.
But I also go the other direction, which is trying to teach ADHD partners about the world that the non-ADHD partners live in as well because, you know, distractibility for example, not attending to your partner is a relationship no-no.
Zoë: I need to clarify: by saying I want to live authentically, authenticity doesn’t equate with jerk for me.
Melissa: Exactly. But it does for some people unfortunately. [For example] people who are so comfortable with only reporting to themselves that in a relationship they don’t adjust well to having a partner.
Zoë: Any time in society where there is a majority of people is it not fair to say that those in the minority can have a tougher time finding their place or having their differences accepted? Can you speak to that a little bit?
Melissa: I do think that happens commonly. So, the non-ADHD partners are sort of reinforced with, “Well, this is the way things are always done” mentality. You need to move from that idea to who is the person that you’re with? Don’t think about marriage but think about your relationship, …your connection with your partner rather than about the sort of things society expects of you in some way, shape, or form.
Zoë: I like this idea of hot spots [from your book] that you mentioned earlier. So, is there one hot spot that really is the most important one or the most common one that you see?
Melissa: There are some hot spots which are really just critical for thriving in your relationship. One of them is getting through the power struggles, what I call the parent-child dynamics which are incredibly destructive where a non-ADHD partner is dominating a relationship and the ADHD partner is viewed as sort of an irresponsible child-like thing and it’s incredibly destructive across all realms.
And another area that’s really important is this area of feeling that your partner doesn’t love you because the ADHD partner is so distracted. And from the ADHD side of things the feeling that the non-ADHD partner doesn’t love them because the non-ADHD partner is so critical and is always pushing and complaining and is upset or nagging or whatever.
These are both things that are directly tied to how ADHD is impacting the relationship, and can be addressed with the effort of both people. And if you just get those two things out of the way, it’s a huge improvement in the relationship.
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Melissa’s website: ADHD and Marriage