How does A.D.H.D. affect a marriage?

Jay Dee

How does A.D.H.D. affect a marriage?

Aug 07, 2013

My last post about dealing with a non-neural-typical spouse discussed what ADHD was, the differences in the brain from neural-typicals, but I didn’t have the time to get into what behaviors one sees due to this difference, particularly those that impact a marriage.  I you

ADHD Marriage Issues How does ADHD affect a marriage?

My last post about dealing with a non-neural-typical spouse discussed what ADHD was, the differences in the brain from neural-typicals, but I didn’t have the time to get into what behaviors one sees due to this difference, particularly those that impact a marriage.  I you haven’t read it, or forget, I suggest you go back and read the section on ADHD to refresh your memory.

Non-marriage related weaknesses

So, this particular brain activity can lead to some distressing behaviors.  Most ADHD people are pretty clumsy, because the signal to say “look out for that wall”, or “you just touched the glass” goes missing, and so they hit the wall, or they continue to reach for the glass and end up knocking it over, or pushing it off the edge.  This doesn’t happen all the time, it’s not like they can’t grab a glass, or can’t walk down a hallway straight.  But it does mean they stub their toes far more than the average human, and you might want to up your budget for replacing broken items by a bit.

They also tend to be quite forgetful.  One of the best tests I’ve seen for adults with ADHD is asking them how often they lose their keys.  Most people lose their keys at some point.  Maybe once a month, once a week.  But ADHD people can lose their keys once to multiple times a day.  This carries over to remembering information as well.  This can sometimes make it seem like your spouse is not listening to you, especially if they are having trouble remaining focused.  Often, they are paying attention, they are listening, but their brain just can’t store the data well, because those neurotransmitters just aren’t getting where they need to.  And the less exciting the information, the less of a chance it will get to where it needs to.

Of course, the is also the behavior of being hyper- or hypo-active that is most commonly known about ADHD.  Some can’t sit still to save their life, sometimes physically, sometimes mentally.  They fidget, or pace, or just can’t stand to sit and do nothing.  Others can sit and do literally nothing for hours, they space out and miss entire blocks of time.  Both of these behaviors cause school marks to plummet, which leads to bad report cards, which leads to a belief that they are not intelligent, which leads to a lack of self-esteem.

Add all these behaviors up, and the most common symptom of ADHD is depression.  I mean, how would you feel if you were constantly knocking things over losing your keys and every report card told you you were not intelligent?

Their brains are also constantly on the look out for something exciting.  Most ADHD drivers tend to speed.  They also get excited by having new or upgraded things.  They tend to pick up new hobbies, or try our new business opportunities seemingly at every turn, get really excited about it, then, once you have to put some non-exciting work into it, it becomes dull and the new hobby or business opportunity gets dropped and neglected.

Relationship related weaknesses

You may be able to see where this leads to relationship problems.  ADHD adults tend to form romantic relationships very quickly and easily, because they are new and exciting, and so long as it continues to be new and exciting, they will be the most attentive, romantic, exciting partner in return.  This can cause physical relationships to accelerate much faster than advisable, because it keeps the relationship new and exciting.  If you grew up with Christian ideals of no-sexual contact before marriage, this can add to the excitement once you cross that line.  Now, you are doing something taboo, which is incredibly exciting.  This phase can last through dating, engagement (another exciting event), right up until the marriage.  Then, all of a sudden, sex is allowed, it’s no longer taboo, it lost that exciting edge to it, and what was the exiting activity, now fades into just another event.  For many spouses of ADHD, this feels like a bait and switch.  Here they had this fiancee who was always horny, always touchy, always excited to physical, and suddenly, it gets replaced by someone who could take it or leave it.  If you don’t know what’s going on, this can feel like it’s a malicious change, like they tricked you into marriage.  It can cause a lot of frustration, hostility, and a lack of trust, because the spouse can feel betrayed.

I should note that some ADHD spouses actually initiate sex constantly.  From my research, that seems to be more rare (about one in five, maybe), and I haven’t come across a relationship like that yet, so I can’t speak to that, but I did want to say, it happens.  If you have that type of relationship, this isn’t going to fit your marriage much, I’m sorry.  Please leave a comment below to let me know your experience so I can learn.

As I was saying, this drop off in sexual interest is exacerbated by other ADHD tendencies that come into play when things aren’t shiny and new.  People with ADHD have trouble focusing in normal situations.  Focus is needed to initiate sex.  One of the most common things I see is a spouse saying that their ADHD spouse likes sex, enjoys it, is fulfilled during sex, but they never initiate.  Focus is also needed to continue having sex.  You might be in the middle of foreplay, and all of a sudden, the spouse with ADHD asks you to remind them that we need red peppers, or that there is a dentist appointment tomorrow, or “what was that noise?”  They are easily distracted, regardless of what is going on.  Sex can also be boring to someone with ADHD, in fact, one trick some adults with ADHD learn is to fantasize about having sex with your spouse while having sex with your spouse.  For some reason, the idea of having sex is more exciting than the act of having sex.  Another trick is to internally narrate the action, verbalize (in your head) what is happening, where hands are, what is being kissed, etc..

Communication can be a large issue as well.  As I said before, the lowered ability to store information can seem like the ADHD spouse is not paying attention, or doesn’t care enough to remember.  They can also get frustrated with their own weaknesses, and go on the offensive just so they don’t have to be at fault.  Due to an inability to self-regulate, this can quickly escalate to a full out fight over where the keys are.  And this is a common theme with those who have ADHD, that they jump into a defensive mental posture and immediately retaliate at any real or perceived slight against them.  If you don’t know what’s going on, it’s easy to get sucked into it and it becomes a serious fight over something really insignificant both to the original conversation and to the relationship.  If you are both aware, it’s much easier to defuse the situation with a few words and get back to what you are really talking about.

Strengths

It’s not all bad.  There is good in the mix too.

ADHD people tend to have incredible energy when in new situations.  If you can learn to focus it, or be in an environment or job where that’s an asset, then it works out.  A lot of ADHD people fall into sales, because there’s always new an exciting people and businesses to approach.  They work best, of course, when all the execution, post sale, is handled by someone else.  They also do well at front-line customer service, or PR, for the same reasons.  Again, just don’t make them sit down and plan a strategy, I mean, get them in the brainstorming session of course, but after that, you’re probably going to get your moneys worth better with them in front of customers.

There is usually a large amount of creativity in an ADHD mind.  Because it can’t focus, their brain jumps from topic to topic and can occasionally connect things that no one else would have connected before.  Just keep throwing ideas at them and let them talk or think through them, connecting whatever they want.  As I said, brainstorming sessions are great.  But, once the idea is thought up, don’t expect to let them help you find out how to organize it and make it work.  That’s not their strength.

ADHD people tend to be very sensitive, they are very emotional.  This can often make them much more sympathetic and empathetic than neuro-typical people.  My wife is like that. She can make friends anywhere, because anyone who talks to her for a few moments feels that she cares about them, because she does.  She can’t help but do it.

Intuition is another useful trait.  This one baffles me, because I have no intuition.  But my wife makes these incredible leaps of intuition and often arrives at the same answer I do through meticulous logic.  It’s amazing to me.  I don’t know how it works, and I’m not sure other people do either.  But this is a trait that is often associated with ADHD adults.

Most ADHD adults also handle changing conditions well.  Because their brain is constantly on the move, an environment that constantly moves is no issue.   They are much better in situations where there is no established protocol or no rules to follow, just free-flowing living, whereas many neuro-typicals freeze in such situations, not knowing what’s expected of them, or what their next move is supposed to be.

And lastly (from my list, though I’m sure there are many more), ADHD adults tend to be very enthusiastic.  Because they are more impulsive, and feel very strongly, this adds together to give an enthusiasm for new and exciting things that is infectious.  They make excellent cheerleaders (of an idea or a project, I didn’t mean sports).  If you can get them excited about something, they will turn around and get 10 people excited about it.

Coping with ADHD Marriage Issues

If you can learn to recognize and explain what is going on, a lot of the weaknesses can be mitigated and the strengths leveraged.  Fights can be cut-off if both spouse understand that the ADHD spouse has problem self-regulating, and accepts that they can over-react and are willing to be told they are over-reacting.  Having specific places for keys, wallet, etc. can mitigate losing items.  Find ways to make life exciting for your spouse.  Find ways to make sex exciting, don’t let it fall into a rut, where it’s the same old thing over and over again.  Find new activities, new ways of pleasuring each other.  The more involved the ADHD spouse is, the easier it will be for them to pay attention and focus.

There has been a lot of research lately linking food to ADHD behaviors, particularly gluten, and in my household, this definitely rings true.

And of course, there is medication.  Now, 5 years ago, I would have read that sentence and said, “Here we go, another person trying to push drugs to solve a problem.”  Then we recognized that my wife has ADHD.  But we didn’t want do try drugs.  We tried diet and exercise, and yeah, they make a difference, but the more research we did, the more people said that nothing is comparable to a self-determined combination of stimulants and SSRI’s.  So, we did more research.  We learned what stimulants do, what SSRI’s do.  We learned the possible side-effects and dangers and the possible benefits.  I’m not going to tell you all of it, because I want you to go out and understand them for yourself if you decide to go this route.  I’m still not really OK with suggesting drugs to solve problems, but I have to say, after recognizing an adjusting to an ADHD spouse, meds will probably make the second largest impact.  There are different brands, they all have different side effects.  Talk to your doctor, change dosages if it’s not working.  It took us months to find a good combination, and the combination that works for my wife will not work for other people.

Your Turn

Did I miss anything?  Are there any ADHD adults or spouses that wish to share more information?  Does this help?  Please let me know in the comments below.

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