Monday, August 29, 2011

Being Married to Rainman

Well, since I managed to lose my compiled master list of over fifty blog post ideas I will write today once again about living with ADHD, but as requested from a marriage perspective.  I will probably have to break this up into two posts and even then won't be able to fully address the impact the deficit has on marriage.  I believe it has the ability to greatly enhance or destroy marriages depending on whether both partners can fully embrace the enhancements ADHD provides while understanding and compensating for the deficits.  First post will mainly focus on the "normal" spouse as it can be very irritating living with someone like Rainman who is phenomenal at counting cards but doesn't seem able to dress themselves in the morning.

First off we are absolute slaves to the present, who rarely focus on anything from the past or anything in the future.  We have low frustration tolerances so it is easy to get defensive really quick in the moment but the good part is it is really hard for us to hold grudges.  Living in the present means we are likely to frustrate our spouses with our lack of preparation for the future, but also make it easier for them when we are able to drop offenses from the past.  As with most things within marriage we can focus on the negative or positive, and here is the first opportunity.  The ADHD wife could be berated by her husband for not thinking through the steps required to plan a birthday party or for not having sent the invitations out in time, or she could be celebrated for spending an entire afternoon completely absorbed with her children without a care in the world for how they kept her up too late the night before or all the things still to be done on the to do list.  The ability to be completely absorbed in the present means the ADHD husband can be absorbed in getting three stars on every level of Angry Birds while the kids he is supposed to be watching light themselves on fire, or he can stare into his wife's eyes on a date night completely in the moment when a normal husband would be worrying about his performance review the next day at work.  Living in the present can be great or frustrating, depending on what the hyperfocus is narrowed in on.

Hyperfocus is the blessing/curse where we are able to narrow in on one thing like a laser, completely oblivious to the rest of the world.  This can make us have an encyclopedic knowledge of every sports stat ever created, be uncanny at recalling crucial information regarding our jobs, hobbies, or passions, and allow us to work 12 hours straight on a creative project without eating or hardly blinking.  But it can also mean we can step right over a mound of laundry on the way out the door, wait until the last possible second to get the kids ready for school, or get caught up at work and not realize it until we are already two hours late.  Brain scans show a little dead spot in our brain that in a normal person would stay awake and regulate attention and impulsivity, but is gray and dead in us until something that ignites our passion lights it up from time to time.  It would be nice if we could quickly and easily program our brains or our spouse's brain to hyperfocus just on things of great worth and value but that isn't the case - it is determined by things mostly unknown to us currently but involving the release of pleasurable and painful chemicals within the brain.  Shaming your spouse about failures, criticizing them for forgetting things, and showing them contempt for not following through like a normal person would are unlikely to produce pleasurable chemicals and train their brain to see you as a worthy target of their hyperfocus.  It's about their focus, not your value.

If you look at your spouse with ADHD as in control of their brain and just lazy, selfish, or uncaring then you see them as a horrible person, if you see them as in control of their brains and not horrible then you have to see yourself as just not that important to them, but if you see them as not really in control of their brains you can feel empathy.  Most common complaint I hear about ADHD spouses is their lack of follow through and how that breaks their spouse's trust and I often wonder why this really has never been a huge complaint of my wife about me.  Is it because I remember important things and follow through, heavens no!  I believe my wife realized early on into marriage the key to putting up with someone like me - realistic expectations and tons of grace.  Two recent examples show off the awesomeness of my wife:  First is the other day she had a list of four items that needed to be done around the house while she was at work and as she began spouting them off I cut her off mid-sentence and said "Do you mind writing those things down and leaving them on the counter for me somewhere I will be forced to see them?"  She could have responded with one of many replies I have heard in counseling ranging from "I want a man who is grown up and responsible enough to know these things need to be done, I don't need lists to get things done around here" to "My dad never needed lists and he went to work every day at the 8 am on the dot at the salt mines, because he actually cared about his family" to "You know what?  Forget it, I'll just do it myself since you can't be bothered with adult responsibilities, I have three children including you!"  Instead she said, "Sure, here it is," because she recognizes that I truly love her and want to get it all done but for either of us to trust my verbal memory would be silly.  The second was the other week when she was getting ready to head to work and handed me my new iPhone that came in the mail, still in it's box and said, "I know you are very excited about this and you could easily spend all day hyperfocused on it, but this is your day with the kids so I don't want you missing out on time with them.  Do you mind just focusing on them and leaving this til tonight when you can play with it after they are in bed?"  That is a woman who knows me, knows ADHD, doesn't vilify either one, and has the ability to tell me what I need to hear when I need to hear it.

So if this is the first half of how to put up with us then tomorrow will be how to succeed in marriage when you have ADHD.  The key to both - recognize that this isn't laziness, selfishness, or a lack of value given to the "normal" spouse, but rather a hyperfocus and impulsivity that will never ever change.  Each partner must use their strengths most effectively while compensating for weaknesses rather than making grand promises and getting upset when they are not followed through on.  Tomorrow's key for people with ADHD?  Learning to be humble and accept influence rather than getting defensive, allow the person with the fully functional brain to use it by helping us.


  1. Thank you for the post today Mike, I had to smile and Thank God Bry embraces my "quirks" and sees the beauty in them.
    Katie Dyess

  2. I'm a teacher with ADHD, have a child with ADHD, teaching Behavior Disorder kids (mostly with ADHD) and have a boyfriend with ADHD. (undiagnosed but oh, so obvious) I have learned over the last year with the boyfriend to be more forgiving of his "lack of attention" for anything other than the present. He's a single dad which complicates things even further. He is who he is and I just have to be extremely direct (nicely) and realize he isn't doing some of his forgetting on purpose. Its mostly due to being overwhelmed.....