By Leslie Rouder, LCSW
Many people are attracted to individuals with ADD for their zany sense of humor, imagination, creativity, charm and “out of the box” thinking. But for many couples those attractive qualities can sometimes fade in the light of untreated ADD. I receive hundreds of calls and e mails from frustrated partners of individuals with ADD (POADD’s) asking if I could please work with their partner in assisting with the various aspects of ADD that are affecting the quality of their lives and relationships. Sadly, untreated ADD is a large factor in many divorces and break ups between couples. The following is a list of some of the most common problems affecting these couples:
Rage and/or uncontrollable anger: Many individuals with ADD have difficulty controlling their anger and (what’s more) can provoke their partner’s anger as well. The POADD’s are often overwhelmed and exhausted with all the fighting and feel badly that they are unable to control their temper.
Financial Problems: People with ADD often having problems with impulsive spending, problems keeping a job, and/or underemployment. There is often a lot of debt and hoarding of items purchased on a whim that may be stashed away in closets, drawers, under the bed or in disarray around the home. Online spending is also often a big problem as well.
Career Stagnation: Due to their partner’s inability to hold a job, the POADD’s often do not feel that they can take risks in their professional lives due to the sense that theirs’ is the only stable source of income. In addition, they often underperform at work due to (what feels like) ongoing “crises” and stress caused by their home life.
Sexual Problems: Very often I will hear complaints that the ADD partner will either lose interest in sex or will expect to have sex all the time. Sometimes this occurs because Adder’s get bored easily or (paradoxically) sex may be used as a stimulant. I often hear that the POADD’s loss of interest in sex with their partner is due to the feeling of having sex with their child (since they often take on the role of parent) and the partner with ADD often loses interest in sex because he or she may feel like they are having sex with their parent. (Due to their partner having taken on the parental role in the relationship very often)
Traffic Violations: People with ADD frequently have car accidents that cause worry about the Adder’s safety and/ or the safety of the passengers, who are very often their children. They often have very high insurance rates and costly traffic violations, which put further financial strain on the couple.
Lack of Support and Self Esteem: POADD’s often tell me that they feel that the bulk of most decisions rest on their shoulders. If they have children, they feel that they are the one single parent raising their children alone. They do not feel supported by their partner. Even if they were thinking of getting a divorce, they are too frightened for their children’s well being to ever leave, so they often feel locked in a hopeless partnership staying for the sake of providing stability for their children.
Health Problems: POADD’s often develop illnesses that are caused by the effects of living in a stressful environment. Sometimes these illnesses are chronic, such as chronic fatigue and sometimes they are manifested as frequent bouts with common viruses, such as colds. This further impairs their ability to function effectively in the world and can create further isolation.
Problems Getting Help: Very often couples do not know where to turn for help. They may speak to a family doctor, pastor or clinician that is not well versed in the area of ADD and miss the diagnosis, causing more damage to the relationship. It is not until the diagnosis is clearly understood and applied to the individual’s lives in a way that is integrated through that understanding that it is possible for healing to occur.
There is hope for those who seek out effective support systems. Couples can learn to communicate and find ways to bridge these gaps. They can learn about effective ways to set boundaries, share responsibilities, develop talents and goals, strive for healthy intimacy and gain self esteem and confidence. I encourage anyone who feels stuck to actively look for clinicians that specialize in working with individuals with ADD and their families. Find support groups in your area that work with adults with ADD and or their partners. If you need help finding support groups in your area you can contact your local CHADD chapter (www.CHADD.org) and ask for assistance. Never give up until you have all the answer. Positive change does happen with the proper information and support.