I’m a 38-year-old man who was recently diagnosed with ADHD. Many of my ADHD-related tendencies have put a strain on my marriage and my wife is not accepting of my diagnosis; she thinks it’s just an excuse. What can I do to improve our relationship?
Despite the fact that ADHD is so common, it is probably one of the most misunderstood conditions. At its core, ADHD is a great paradox of tremendous strengths and often debilitating weaknesses. These inconsistencies are often perceived as laziness, apathy, and a lack of consideration for others.
It is for this reason that ADHD can put a great deal of strain on relationships.
Friends and family may have difficulty being sympathetic to the impact ADHD has on daily life and not taking things like chronic lateness, impulsivity, or forgetfulness personally. Being that you are only recently diagnosed, there may also be a long history of misunderstanding and hurt feelings which will also need to be addressed.
Here are some steps you can take to open the lines of communication, strengthen your relationship, and get the support you want and need.
Educate yourself about YOUR ADHD: It’s not enough to know about ADHD; you have to get to know YOUR ADHD.
The challenges associated with ADHD are a mixed bag: What you struggle with may be totally different for someone else and vice versa so it’s incredibly important to begin to identify the ways in which ADHD is showing up in your life.
Be open to feedback from your wife and others in your life about what they notice and how they experience you. You can’t successfully resolve a problem without first understanding what the problem is and being willing to have an open discussion with your wife will help ensure that she feels heard.
Be clear about what you need: As you begin to learn more about what works for you (and what doesn’t), be sure to clearly communicate your needs to your wife.
For example, if you have a hard time remembering to complete certain tasks or chores, maybe suggest to your wife that you work together to create a running to-do list on the fridge to help remind you. Tell her that you want to do a better job of getting things done around the house and that having a visible list would be helpful. Of course, you’ll need to commit to checking the list every day!
Keeping the lines of communication open, being clear about what your challenges are, and asking for what you need can go a long way toward fostering a sense of collaboration between you and your wife.
Seek out help: Read books and articles, join a support group, or work with a professional who specializes in ADHD and invite your wife to do the same. If you find a particularly interesting book or resource, share it with her.
You mentioned that your wife believes you are using your ADHD diagnosis as an excuse for your behavior. It can be difficult for the non-ADHD family member to distinguish between what is ADHD-related and what isn’t.
What I teach my clients is this: ADHD is not an excuse, it’s a reason. It’s the reason why you might be forgetful, inattentive, impulsive, unorganized, emotionally reactive, or consistently late for example.
However, it can be successfully managed with the right support and only becomes an excuse if you are unwilling to address the challenges ADHD creates in your life.
Find your people: Those with ADHD often feel isolated and alone. It is vitally important to surround yourself with people who are accepting and supportive. ADHD support groups are a wonderful resource and there are also groups that are specifically for non-ADHD spouses and partners.
Support groups aren’t your only option though. Consider taking a class, joining an activity-based social group, or simply meeting a good friend for coffee.
Give to yourself what you wish others would: When we are struggling, what we often want more than anything is that supportive arm around our shoulders and the person who says, “I get it; you’re really having a tough time”.
If you don’t have that someone in your life, be that someone. Have compassion for what you’re going through; acknowledge and celebrate your wins; be your own biggest supporter and advocate.
Your wife will likely need time to process and develop an understanding of your ADHD diagnosis and how it will impact your relationship moving forward. In the meantime, make a commitment to yourself to get the help that you need to live your best life, ADHD and all. Your marriage will thank you.
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