The Hidden Problem in Most ADHD Marriages
In marriage, and every other relationship, communication is the glue that holds everything together. But how much are you sharing about your progress towards handling your ADHD? As I've spent time learning about ADHD and talking with others who have it, I've seen a recurring problem in the marriage department. Chores. Now, why is this a separate issue from scheduling? The answer is, that the argument isn't about the chores, it's about something much deeper. It's all about needs that have been communicated by your spouse not being met, and a perceived lack of progress toward meeting that need.
What is the Problem?
When you have ADHD, it's hard to see the forest through the trees, and this argument is no exception. As an ADHDer it took me way too long to start seeking help, and my husband was so incredibly supportive that it made me feel guilty. The dishes were done weekly at most, and as you can imagine, that was terrible. I would look at the dishes while my husband was at work and want so desperately to finish them. I would ugly cry with my head in my hands and torment myself on how it should be something easy. Right? So when your spouse brings it up, it's very hard NOT to be defensive (Especially since ADHD is a delay in Executive Functions) no matter how sweet and compassionate they are about it.
What is happening?
1) My husband couldn't see the struggle I was having, so it felt like I didn't care and was just trying to make him do it.
2) I wasn't trying to fix the problem yet.
I was so overwhelmed and I wasn't really taking steps to make it less daunting since it was already "easy". With ADHD, it's not easy. It was never easy, and I didn't know enough about myself to know what to do.
So how do you fix the problem?
Talking about what the problem is with your spouse and making a plan to fix it. Easier said than done, I get it. Doing this means admitting there's a problem to one of the people who you love and admire more than anyone else in the world. It also means seeking help from strangers. Both of these things can be terrifying. If you need to start the conversation over text, email, or chat, do it. Be honest about your struggle and your feelings.
What helped my husband have a better understanding?
One of my husband's biggest breakthroughs with ADHD was learning about the "Wall of Awful". He doesn't actually experience it, especially to the same extent I do. He didn't realize that there's a mental pain that stops us from doing certain tasks and he certainly didn't know how to help because I didn't either. I had to start researching how my brain worked, and that gave me the ability to talk to him about what I was learning. I started to try new things, and many of them failed, but I kept making plans to succeed and doing research to help me with those plans. He also did his best to support me by asking me how the new things were going and reminding me of the plan.
As I did more research and tried more things, I felt better about myself and my husband began to really admire the effort I was putting into doing better. When the dishes still weren't done, it was easier to be understanding and help me problem solve. The problem wasn't the chores, it was that I wasn't making progress and I didn't have actionable plans to make progress. Now we have "ADHD Plan" meetings where I discuss things I have learned, and how that impacts what I am doing to make things better for myself and the family.
What does an ADHD Plan need to have to be fully thought out and well communicated to your partner?
1) Start with what you've learned.
"Hey, honey! I was reading this blog about ADHD and they talked about marriage and communication."
"I was watching this YouTube video about ADHD and they talk about an executive function fuel tank."
2) What is the problem that this information can help you to solve?
"And I realized that I need to be more open with you about what I'm doing to make chores easier for myself."
"I think that I haven't done a good job of spreading out my work and I've been getting overwhelmed in the afternoon."
3) What is the change that you are going to make to fix the problem?
"So I want to sit down with you after the kids go to bed and update you on what I'm doing to try and get better at doing things around the house."
"I'd really like to find a time that we can sit down and come up with a schedule that works well with our family."
4) Listen to their concerns and be open to explaining your reasoning.
Partner: "I really like that idea, but I'm really tired at the end of the day and I don't know how well I can focus on it after a long day. How about we do a weekly update on Saturday mornings?"
Partner: "My work is looking really busy this week. Can you make a schedule and email it to me? If it needs changes I can let you know."
5) Compromise and explain further questions.
"Saturday mornings I have my yoga class. We could do Sundays."
"I know that you're busy, but I need a little help deciding which things need the most attention. Maybe we can make a list of things for the schedule now, and I can send you the schedule tomorrow."
I'm happy to report that my and my husband's communication is doing really well. He's been great about telling me if I need to bring up something in therapy. I've invited him to attend future sessions so he can communicate changes that I might be missing. I'm glad that we can be open and honest about how our lives are being affected on both sides due to my ADHD. It really makes a difference in the kind of help and support I receive, which strengthens our relationship even further.
*Be aware that the ADHD plan will be an ever-evolving and most things will either not work or will need to be changed. Even things that worked for a long time will change, and that's okay. Open communication is what makes the difference.
*This only works well if your partner is willing to communicate with you, which is a big part of being in a healthy relationship. If you find that your partner is unwilling to listen to your plans without an argument erupting, it might be time to consider couple's therapy.