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.

    • 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…..

  • 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. 🙂

  • Phil

    I need so much counseling in my relationship. My wife stills doesn’t understand that I have ADD and doesn’t want to accept the fact that I do have it. I always had an issue by paying attention. After graduating from college in which it took me nine years for a associates degree, I found out that I have ADD and narcolepsy. I never had luck on lecture courses, reading books, or studying for a exam. I will either fall asleep in the middle of the class because of my narcolepsy, or unable to comprehend what the professor was trying to teach. But while I was in college I found my passion for film and photography and I A’s all those courses, but all the lecture courses I will either fall asleep because of my narcolepsy or loose concentration very quickly. If it was one-to-one I always had the issue of focusing and understanding what they are explaining to me.

    Unfortunately, I couldn’t get my bachelor degree in communications because I failed all my lecture courses. I had to transfer to a community college because my GPA was to low and I was going to get dropped out of the university. So then I decided to go to a community college so I could get an Associates degree in Computer Engineering because that was another thing that I was good at and I could have secure job after I graduated college. At the time I was already married and my wife was pregnant so I needed something steady so I could support my family financially. So now I do IT work full time and photography and film on the side. I have been working since age of 13, and I have learned to fight for what I want.

    Throughout the years I have noticed that I am a visual learner. My wife keeps telling me “you need to read, you need to educate yoursel (in which I do but I always have a hard time understanding what I am reading and focusing. But I am constantly reading news articles, sports, history because it interest me very much but again my narcolepsy and ADD gets in the way). She also tells me “I cannot have an adult conversation with you because you are lost”. This kills me because I want to understand everything that she is telling me, I want to be able to answer like a person of my age will answer her. Right now I am almost 30 years old but she tells me that I have the mentality of a 20 year old because I don’t listen to her, and because when friends come over I tend to be funny. But I will admit that sometimes I don’t know how to stop and people tend to get tired of me. Also my wife tells me that I don’t know how to speak in public, because the stuff that comes out of my mouth are not intriguing or interesting and that embarrasses her. For me that is insulting, I got my education, have a full time job, I am building my photography and filming business on my own because she says that there is no money there. We have everything that I family could ask for.

    But my biggest issue is listening to her when she talks to me, because I cannot focus on every word that comes out of her mouth, and she doesn’t understand that I have ADD and narcolepsy. I love my wife with all my heart and my daughter and I will give my life for my family. But right now I feel that my marriage is coming to an end and if I don’t do something we are going to end up divorcing. At this point in our marriage she feels lonely (that’s why she tends to talk a lot to her friends because they have interesting things to talk about and I don’t), angry, frustrated, hopeless, exhausted and the list goes on. At this point what we really need is to find a better way to communicate with each other, and work things out. She tells me that is the only problem that I have is that I don’t listen to her, everything else is great. What can I do? do you have any advice?

    • HI Phil, I would start out saying that you and your wife need to be very well educated on ADD and its effects on marriage. There are several good books on the market that you can read together that will give you a good place to start. The ADHD Effects on Marriage” by Melissa Orlov is excellent and “the Couple’s Guide to Thriving with ADHD” by Melissa Orlov and Nancie Kohlenberger is also excellent. I would highly recommend that you work with an ADHD coach to help assist you with developing useful life skills. Melissa also does an over the phone couples seminar that can help you and your wife. In addition, if you are not already on medication for ADD, you might also consider looking into this. You sound like a very talented and intelligent individual. I do hope you find answers and support people that can help.

  • Ashley Nicole Martinez

    Thanks for the article.

    I’ve known my husband since we were in middle school. We’ve been married for 7 months now. I’ve always known about his ADD but either it seems it’s getting worse or maybe I just notice it more now that we’re married and living together. He will misplace things constantly, i.e. his car keys, his wallet, his cell phone. He’s lost several wallets, cell phones and credit cards throughout the years. I bought him a 4 pack of those Tiles that allow you to track missing items which seem to help a bit, but it still happens quite frequently. I’ve tried offering advice like telling him to always put his keys on the desk when he enters the room, or some other place he’ll remember. But he never retains the info.

    Another stressful issue is his scheduling. He is also dyslexic and borderline computer illiterate. He has three jobs and needs to always make sure he’s not being double-booked for shifts. He turns to me for help on this because I’m good at this kind of thing. But there have been times I am unable to help him, the most recent one being I went on a week-long cruise with my family and told him I was getting bad reception for wifi and needed him to check his schedule. I gave him his login info and he said “got it”. He ended up missing 2 shifts and now he might get fired. He also got written up at another job for missing a shift- I always send him what days and hours he’s working and where. We also have a whiteboard calendar we write his shifts on. For the most part it works out but now and then he’ll forget what I sent him and miss a shift. I’m worried he will get fired if it keeps up.

    Another issue we have is lack of communication. There are way too many instances to explain, but the most recent one was booking a trip with his family to Mexico. He knew I was booking the tickets, which I always do because again, I’m better at it than he is. He knew I was looking for hotels then he tells me “Hey, I got my ticket. Did you get yours?” Turns out his aunt can’t go and he bought her ticket off of her. Again, this was AFTER he knew I’d already bought them.

    I love him – he’s a great guy. He means the world to me. But I suffer from anxiety and having to deal with things like this on a daily basis is almost impossible to bear. We haven’t even been married a year yet and I already fear a divorce. I feel like he’s my kid sometimes. I show him how to do things for himself but he just can’t retain the info, and I and up having to do EVERYTHING for him. It bugs me that my own husband causes me massive anxiety, but I know it’s not entirely his fault, and that’s the part that hurts the most.

    Is there anything we can both do as a couple to get past this?

    Thanks in advance.