The ADHD Effect on Marriage – The Book
By Audrey van Petegem, Senior Editor
We are all aware of ADHD diagnosis in children. In the United States alone 9% of school aged children have been diagnosed with ADHD, with the rate increasing every year. Also, more boys than girls are likely to be diagnosed with ADHD, probably due to the fact the boys tend to show more disruptive behavior in the classroom than a girl with ADHD. It is estimated that there are about 5% of adults living in the U.S. with ADHD. My husband and I have recently experienced two of our close friends marriages end only to find out later that one of them had been diagnosed with ADHD. The wife mentioned a book, The ADHD Effect on Marriage: Understand and Rebuild Your Relationship in Six Steps, that she had discovered. Although it was too late for her marriage, after reading the book she no longer blamed herself for its demise.
I requested a copy of the book for my own interest and gave it to my friend Liz to read. Our girls have gone to the same school since preschool and I knew that her husband had been diagnosed as an adult with ADHD. I wanted her thoughts on the book and how she kept her 13 year marriage going.
I decided to interview her about the book. Here is our Q & A session.
What did you think of the book?
It was very informative and it gave a positive spin on being married to someone with ADHD. I can now see my husband in a more positive light. We now realize that we both are responsible to creating change in our marriage.
What is the biggest change?
My husband says that I am a nag, which is pretty typical for being married to someone with ADHD. I was constantly asking him to do things around the house and with the kids and nothing would ever get done. We now have an agreement that we decide on something to be done, such as mowing the lawn, by a certain date. Now he knows that he has a time schedule to get it completed by. It is important to give him a window of opportunity and making him responsible for the task.
Jay was only diagnosed recently, so did you have any idea when you were dating?
The great thing about dating someone with ADHD is that it is always exciting. We did a lot of spontaneous and adventurous things together. I always wondered what we were going to do that day when he would pick me up. Within the first year of our marriage Jay focused more on his new job. I was no longer his focus. I wondered what I did wrong? The issue with someone with ADHD is that they streamline their focus. It is all or nothing. I became the nothing part.
So, what is the top marital issue?
Before Jay was diagnosed, I felt unloved in our marriage. I now know that is not true. I understand that he can focus only on one thing at a time.
How does this affect your children?
We have an agreement that I am in charge of the girls during the week, with homework, school and bedtime schedule and Jay has the weekends. The girls, of course, love it because there is no structure and they never know what to expect. One weekend, Jay and the girls went out to get coffee and I did not see them until two hours later – well past my early morning coffee craving. I am now more relaxed about things like this.
How did this book help you and Jay?
Melissa Orlov lays out six steps to understanding and rebuilding our relationship (hence the subtitle of the book). They are:
1) Cultivating empathy for spouse: It is important to list their strengths. Jay is one of the smartest, funniest men I know. As a child Jay always got into trouble and was always told he was lazy. Like most children with ADHD, he had lots of energy and could not focus. This, of course, affected his self esteem. And, that is why it is important to focus on their strengths.
2) Addressing obstacle emotions: It is important for me to move away from the fear, the anger and the hopelessness I felt and to move in the more positive direction of taking control of my own life. Not dissimilar to what is recommended in other marriages, I no longer took responsibility for, nor took control of Jay's life.
3) Getting treatment as a couple: This is a big one! It is important to look for a therapists who specializes in adult ADHD. If a couple goes to a regular marriage counselor, the spouse with ADHD will feel terrible about themselves. We all know that action speaks louder than words, but not for someone with ADHD. When asked to do the dishes, for example, and they do not do it, the non-aware “typical” marriage counselor will see this as a passive/aggressive move rather than that being a part of the personality of someone with ADHD.
4) Improve communication: When I was not longer Jay's main focus, we became very disconnected. I needed to learn to communicate with him much more effectively. I keep our discussions short and sweet, especially if it is important. Jay's attention span is too short for lengthy discussions. I know I need to make sure Jay gets what I am saying so I always get feedback from him. I have become a better listener and no longer interrupt (which is helpful advice for any marriage). Even if I do not agree, I respect his opinion and show it. I am thankful that Jay is such a great communicator.
5) Setting boundaries: It is important to be realistic. I had to change my expectations that we could share the household and child rearing duties. I know that he is not incompetent, but we both now understand that Jay can deal with certain responsibilities a bit at a time, rather than full-on parenting mode.
6) Reigniting romance and have fun! When I first met Jay, he was so much fun. I realized that with the demands of a home and family life, I was not letting him do or be his true self. We now try new things together without our girls. We go on day trips and explore. We go on dates (something every couple should do). I try to take some of the routine out of our home life and just have fun!
After reading The ADHD Effect on Marriage, where to you go from here?
I no longer take things personally. I tell myself every day that it is neither me nor Jay that is to blame. Plus, we have learned to laugh – a lot!
I want to thank Liz and Jay for sharing their personal story with me. I look forward to hearing about other people's experience with ADHD in adults.