By Leslie Rouder, LCSW
This past month, I have been enrolled in a 7 week therapist’s course given by Melissa Orlov on the ADHD effects on marriage. Melissa, who is an expert on this subject, and who has written the book (by the same name) The ADHD Effects on Marriage, offers its’ readers one of the most comprehensive and clearly written books that I have read on this subject. Melissa provides six steps on how to rebuild your relationship and learn how to enjoy the person you fell in love with. This book is a must read for any couple struggling with the effects of untreated ADHD in their relationship.
Although every relationship is unique, the following is a list of the 8 biggest relationship problems that lead to feeling unloved, according to Orlov;
- Appearing to not listen to what your partner has said. This includes the ADD partner “zoning out” or not remembering what was said after the conversation.
- Procrastinating or having difficulty starting chores or projects. (often causing the non- ADD partner to take on the role of “nag” or “parent”)
- ADD partner being unable to complete chores or projects.
- Speaking out without thinking first. (The person with ADD may speak out of his/her impulsivity, and the non-ADD spouse may respond without thinking out of pure frustration)
- High level of frustration (this may apply to both partners, but for different reasons)
- Poor time management on the part of the ADD partner. (running late or not being able to determine how much time an activity or task may take)
- The ADD partner’s disorganization and his/her being messy around the house
- The inability or unwillingness on the part of ADD partner to plan ahead
Very often when working with a couple, I am faced with the non-ADD partner waiting for their ADD spouse to change. “If only I could see him or her trying to change, then ………” But in truth, the ADD partner will most likely only change when he/she feels that the relationship is built on emotional and psychological safety , trust, and a sense of being loved and accepted. There is very often a lifetime of shame for those with ADD, and being asked to change, makes many of them feel unacceptable to their non-ADD spouse. Much of the communication, which once was sweet and loving, is no longer reflective of that love. Or even worse, the non-ADD partner may have left or has threatened to leave, which creates more distrust and feelings of “not being acceptable” or enough for their partner. I often see the ADD partner retreat and “shut down” from the relationship when this happens. There’s almost a resignation to the idea that “no matter what I do, it will never be enough.” This causes even more barriers to the communication needed for there to be any real effort on the part of the ADD partner to make any positive changes.
I realize that many non -ADD partners also feel abandoned and unloved as well, but according to the preliminary research done on this by Dr. Arthur Robin and Eleanor Payson, it is actually the ADD partner who feels the most abandoned and unloved in these relationships.
According to Orlov, cultivating empathy is the first step to rebuilding the trust needed for there to be any lasting effort on the part of the ADD partner. What is it that the non-ADD partner needs to understand about the experience of having ADD and vice versa? One exercise that is recommended in the book is for the ADD partner to write a letter to their spouse explaining what it feels like to have ADD. The non- ADD partner is to read the letter without offering suggestions on how to fix it, but rather to ask questions on how to better understand their partners experiences, thus offering both partners the opportunity to engage in some very important discussions and to learn about the experience of having ADD without judgment. This is the beginnings of cultivating an empathic relationship and without this understanding, healing is not possible.
In my next month’s newsletter, I will discuss more about what the experience of the non -ADD partner feels like and more on how to rebuild trust and develop empathy for your partner. If you have any experiences that you would like to share about your relationship or how you overcame these kinds of issues, please drop me a note. I would love to hear about how you may have resolved some of these relationship problems in your own life.