ADD in Marriage: How to Be Happily Married to Your ADD Spouse


April 3rd, 2012

By Leslie Rouder, LCSW

The challenges facing a person who is married to someone with untreated ADD can certainly be difficult to navigate, especially because these challenges may be completely hidden to the rest of the world.  No one seems to understand what you struggle with.  She or he is such a “great guy” and may appear totally “together” to everyone else.  So what’s wrong with you? Maybe you are even beginning to doubt yourself.  This article attempts to address some of the predictable patterns that one may experience being married to someone with ADD and why it creates such difficulty.

Being married to someone with untreated  ADD is often fraught with a predictable progressive pattern that goes from happy, to confused, to angry, and finally to hopeless. (Orlov, 2010) How does this happen and why is this so predictable in couples whose spouses have untreated ADD?

In an attempt to answer that question let’s look at some of the patterns that typically come up in these kinds of relationships;

In the beginning phase of the courtship between you and your ADD spouse, you may have been completely swept off your feet, ravished with both attention and affection, while being the primary focus of your partner’s life.  His or her “hyperfocus” on the relationship probably felt intoxicating and romantic, but somehow seemed to fade over time. When someone with ADD enters into a new romantic relationship, the initial excitement feels so stimulating to the ADD brain that is being flooded with adrenaline and endorphins, that it causes the ADD spouse to completely turn his or her attention to their partner.  However, this kind of excitement diminishes over time, along with the adrenaline rush, as the ADD spouse looks elsewhere for stimulation.  Of course this is not conscious on his or her part, and he may not even be aware that this has happened. However, as time goes on, the non- ADD partner may experience the following list of typical feelings associated with their spouse’s need to find stimulation in places outside of the marital relationship.

 

  • A sense of being unloved or rejected by ones ADD spouse

Individuals with ADD may often be distracted and find it difficult to pay attention to their partner.  This may lead to the non-ADD partner feeling neglected or it may be interpreted as disinterest on the part of their ADD   spouse or partner.  In addition it creates a sense of

  • Loneliness

If your partner seems disinterested in what you are saying or appears to ignore you, it would be easy to understand that one might feel lonely. In addition, it leads to feeling

  • Ignored

Partners of individuals with ADD often get the feeling that all their good advice and suggestions are not taken to head and this may cause the non ADD partner to feel ignored, disrespected or offended.   It also leads to an overwhelming feeling of

  • Frustration

The same kinds of problems keep presenting themselves over and over again.  It’s difficult to understand how you can have discussions around a problem, think that you are being understood, and still the same problem persists.  This also leads to a feeling of

  • Anger

Resentment and anger become pervasive when one feels disregarded, disrespected, ignored and often alone in the relationship. Some spouses will become irate and scream at their partner, while others will shut down and block all emotions leaving their partner in the cold.  Either way, one can see how this pattern becomes increasingly destructive as the non -ADD spouse may begin to feel

  • Exhausted

As the non ADD spouse tries to compensate for the lack of equal sharing or follow through in responsibilities, she or he often feels depleted, as no amount of effort seems to resolve these same issues that continue to plague the couple.  Due to the inconsistency in the ADD spouse’s ability to follow through and remember to do things, the feelings of being burdened with more of their fair share continues to create more feelings of stress and burn out in their partner. This leads to a sense of

  • Hopelessness

When one’s best effort to resolve these problems, go nowhere, the sense of sadness and lack of hope may pervade the relationship and lead to a separation or divorce.

There is hope, however and with understanding and knowledge, one can transcend these feelings and find a new way of being in the relationship.  Learning all one can about ADD and how it affects one’s partner is vital.  It’s important to remember that even though your partner may no longer be hyper- focused on you and your relationship, that does not mean that he or she does not still love you.  Since they probably aren’t even aware that they have changed so much toward you,  they really don’t understand why you are always so angry and demanding.  Your increasing frustration, anger and demands only further damage any chances of communication or intimacy, as the ADD partner feels that he or she can never please you and that, who they are, is not enough. 

Patterns of frustration and anger can be avoided when both partners understand the way the ADD symptoms are affecting their relationship and learn different behaviors to heal these kinds of relationship wounds through education, communication and counseling.

 

For more articles and help with these kinds of issues, please visit my blog at http://addadults.net/blog.



  • Jancorc

    Another great article. I loved what I got to read of this book. I wish I had found it ten years ago! I highly recommend it.

    • Leslie

      Glad you enjoyed the article, Jan and hear ya!

  • Donna

    How do you cope when the situation is reversed and the “ADD” spouse takes on the characteristics and feelings of the “non-ADD” spouse in the above article?

    • lesrouder

      HI Donna! That’s a very interesting question. I would need to know a lot more about the situation, but the first thing I would want to know is how this dynamic serves the “ADD Spouse”? What’s the pay off in taking it all on? And what would the ADD spouse being giving up in order to change it? Once I had a better understanding of how this behavior actually served the individual, I would ask how one might meet that same need in a healthier way that would serve the higher good of both people in this partnership.

    • babyz

      Yes, my husband gets frustrated, angry, etc with me because I feel so frustrated, angry and helpless about our situation. I cope by trying to slow down a bit…

      • lesrouder

        I often hear this scenario when working with couples. If you are not already seeking some kind of outside support ( hopefully with an counselor who works with couples in which there is an ADD diagnosis) I would strongly suggest that you do. This kind of ongoing anger and frustration, breaks down the partnership and eventually the hope that it can ever get better. The good news is that it can, with the right support.

  • Sly_pegasus

    I am rejected, lonely, ignored, frustrated, angry, exhausted and now hopeless. My husband has no idea how he has changed my life for the worse. He really believes we (his mother, brother, my parents, his child from first marriage and even his doctors) are all f’d up. “You people,” as he refers to anyone when having a tantrum, “don’t know how to work with me.” He believes we are all idiots because we conform to society and work for a living. “I have to work for myself.” Since I have been the sole provider for this family for 7 years…. I’m tired. Obviously working for himself has not gone well, but you can’t tell him that. He believes his lack of success is our (“you people”) fault for not giving him money to gamble with. HELP!!!!!

    • Leslie

      Hi Sly_pegasus,

      It appears that your frustration and anger around your husband’s behavior has gone on for a while and that you have gone through the complete cycle described in the above article, which leaves you feeling exhausted and hopeless.

      There is hope if your husband is willing to participate in the educational and healing process of couples work and is willing to own his part in the difficulties you have faced as a married couple.

      Do follow through on your desire to get help, since there are answers when BOTH partners are willing to do their part.

  • Mitch Marr

    As a husband of someone with ADD I’ve been through many of the stages described in the article. I had to take over when my wife insisted on breastfeeding, which just was not working, ane by son began to “fail to thrive”. He lost a couple pounds, and so I created a system og of blending a quart or more of Enfamil each day and he snapped right out of it. I don’t think my wife has cooked more than 20 meals in 20 years of marriage. I eve do thankgiving innr or the kids sak, but I really hate it. I could go on and on, but really just want to say that I’ve been in the hopeless stage for five years now, and have just decided to spend my time in the basement because my wife’s behavior never changes and it seems so odd to me that someone will not know to turn the light off when leaving the room, or clean up the mess she just made. ADD can be very expensive too. There was a day in June where I found the water hose left on. It was nighttime by then. We used 6000 gallons that Day, which put us into tier three, and the water company figured that that one mistake cost us $180. I really don’t know what to do except for divorce when our daughter turns 18 but I’m not mean, and I know my wife would proably end up homeless. This article was quite good to read today mostly because I know I’m not alone. Thank you.

    • http://leslie@addadults.net Leslie

      Hi Mitch,

      Sorry to hear that you feel so hopeless about your marriage. I don’t know you or enough about your marriage, but I am wondering if perhaps your wife is unaware of how her ADD has effected your marriage and would actually be willing to work at making some changes if she understood a bit better. Have you read Melissa Orlov’s book entitled “The ADD Effect on Marriage” ? If not, I would ask that you read it with her (if possible) and see if that doesn’t open up a dialogue that perhaps can bring some healing around this relationship. In addition, perhaps there is a counselor that you can work with (after reading the book) who is very familiar with ADD and its effects on a relationship, who can further facilitate this process.

      Good luck, to you Mitch. I hope you and your wife are able to find your way back to each other in a new and better way.

      Leslie

    • lesrouder

      Hi Mitch,
      Sorry to hear that you feel so hopeless about your
      marriage, but I am wondering if perhaps your wife is
      unaware of how her ADD has effected your marriage and would actually be willing to work at making some changes if she understood a bit better. Have you read
      Melissa Orlov’s book entitled “The ADD Effect on Marriage” ? If not, I would ask that you read it with her (if possible) and see if that doesn’t open up a
      dialogue that perhaps can bring some healing around this relationship. In addition, perhaps there is a counselor that you can work with (after reading
      the book) who is very familiar with ADD and its effects on a relationship, who can further facilitate this process.
      Good luck, to you Mitch. I hope you and your wife are
      able to find your way back to each other in a new and better way.

      Leslie

      • Mitch Marr

        Hi Leslie,
        Thank you for the quick reply. I have already ordered the Orlov book. We’ve been to 3 counselors, but looking back, I don’t think any of them picked up on the ADD aspect. In fact, it was kind of funny because after describing all the symptoms, this one counselor loaned my wife three books, and a couple months later she called me about owing her for the books because my wife had never returned the books. The books never were found. And I always cringe when someone loans something to my wife because that becomes one more thing on my list to remember. I think the book will help, and I never knew there were specilists who work in this particular type of counseling. You’ve provided a good start for us. I thank you.
        Mitch

  • Allison

    Great article. My husband does get treatment and is aware of the Add but now that we have been together 16 years I have to admit I am really craving the attention he can’t give me. Never could. I don’t know what to do. He is always more interested in new hobbies than he is in any sort of intimate relationship with me. I fight for it and win every time bit it never lasts long. We go months without intimacy because I can’t be bothered fighting about it any more. I’ve resigned to this life but I sure do resent it.

    • Leslie Rouder

      Hi Allison,
      So sorry to hear that you are feeling alone in your marriage and wish I had the right words right about now. Being resigned and resentful is not a good way to live, for sure. My feeling about this is that you either accept and love the man you have ( with all the good and bad) , attempt a different way of creating intimacy, or make a change in creating the life you love and deserve. Hold on to yourself, your hopes, your dreams….

      Leslie

  • merle

    Interesting read… Well, I have been together with my partner who was diagnosed with ADD in childhood, only for 9 months. He has read a few of these sites and articles and so I am curious to know more as well.
    I have to say though, that even though we talk about it a bit, if it weren’t for that, I would not be able to tell that there was anything markedly different in our brains.
    Yes, he forgets stuff, yes, he doesn’t seem to have a talent for organisation, but it seems to me to be a very slight difference. I wonder, when are these changes from happiness-to confusion- to anger – to hopelessness supposed to happen? maybe it is just too early in our relationship? And what does it mean, that a partner would look for stimulation outside of the relationship? I mean, to a degree that is completely normal, isn’t it? I suppose I will find out in a few months or years! So far, am terribly happy and feel lucky about having met such a wonderful partner :)
    Reading articles like these makes him worry that we have a lot of hardship ahead of us or that his forgetfullness is annoying me terribly….., but so far I think he is completely fine as he is…..

  • http://leslie@addadults.net Leslie

    Hi Merle and

    Thanks for your comment. If you are happy with your partner and don’t see but a “slight difference” between the both of you, then don’t be looking for difficulties up the road.
    There are always challenges in any relationships and they will find you in their own time. What I am describing here is not what EVERY couple experiences, although it is very common. There is no formula as to when someone might experience frustration with their partner’s ADHD symptoms and you may be one of the many lucky people who married someone who you are very compatible with. If so, enjoy your relationship with your husband and be happy. You are the expert on your own relationship experience. :)