When Your Spouse Has Adult ADHD

May 24, 2011

As anyone who is married will tell you, it is fairly easy to find fault with a spouse. When that spouse is forgetful, disorganized, distracted, and overwhelmed, it is doubly easy. These are just the traits that go along with adult ADD/ADHD. Being married to someone with attention deficit disorder is challenging but can be manageable once you understand the disorder.

Since the symptoms of adult ADD/ADHD can also have an effect on a person’s work life, the stress factor is potentially very high in marriages where one spouse has ADD/ADHD. The first step in solving the problems that come along with this frustrating disorder is approach this as you would any other marital issue. You and your spouse must identify the problem and then work together to find workable solutions. If you understand that your spouse is not behaving this way just to upset you, but rather, that he or she has a chemical problem that causes these behaviors, you can start to heal and have a healthier marriage.

Sometimes adults with ADHD had a diagnosis of ADHD as a child. Or, the person may not have been diagnosed but rather learned to compensate for his or her deficiencies and coped throughout childhood. The diagnosis of adult ADD/ADHD often comes when an adult is balancing a number of aspects of life, including a career and family. When a person with ADD/ADHD is overwhelmed by responsibilities, he or she cannot continue to compensate. Organization, temper, and focus begin to fray.

When a person is younger, has fewer responsibilities, and less stress, coping is much easier. So it is safe to say that you may have married a person who was unaware of his or her ADD/ADHD problem. The fact that both spouses struggle to understand what is going on until a diagnosis of ADHD is reached increases stress even more.

Recognizing attention deficit disorder symptoms in adults is vital to building a healthy marriage, in spite of the diagnosis. In an adult, ADHD symptoms manifest differently than in a child. Some of the symptoms overlap, but here are some typical attention deficit disorder symptoms in adults:

  • Concentration and focus problems (either lack of focus or too much focus on an activity)
  • Disorganization
  • Forgetfulness
  • Impulsivity
  • Lack of motivation
  • Restlessness
  • Short temper
  • Low self-esteem

Now, everyone exhibits one or more of these traits from time to time, but if your spouse displays many of these attention deficit disorder symptoms most of the time, it is time to let a professional evaluate the situation. Because these symptoms can also indicate other emotional problems, it is best to seek professional help. For many reasons, even if you suspect the diagnosis, the news may be accepted better from a neutral party, such as a doctor or psychologist.

Once you have a diagnosis of ADHD, it is time to implement a treatment plan. The good news is that the prognosis is excellent for people with ADD/ADHD. There are many approaches to helping people live with the disorder and improve their lives and relationships. Therapy can address organizational issues, financial planning, and understanding the disorder and how it affects those around the person with ADD. Attending a support group with others who suffer from the effects of ADD can make a very significant difference. Sometimes drugs to treat focus problems or depression are helpful, as well.

The important thing is that both spouses recognize ADHD symptoms and support one another in living day to day with the disorder. Many marriages suffer because of conflict over financial issues, lack of motivation, and disorganization, but when they understand that these can all be a direct result of ADD/ADHD, they can move forward together.

Since my husband has ADD, I understand how being supportive all of the time can be a challenge. Even though I understand the disorder and even though we have worked together to put a plan in place, we sometimes backslide. When, for instance, my husband has played his thirtieth consecutive game of online chess, I want to scream, but reminding myself that hyper-focus is actually a coping mechanism for my husband mitigates my initial reaction. And, later when I remind him that he is tuning out, he can appreciate that I have not overreacted and that I am his partner in helping to modify his behavior. On a good day, he shuts down the computer and initiates a conversation. But because this is a lifelong disorder that needs constant reinforcement, there are still days when he plays that thirty-first game of chess. And, I have come to accept that this is part of being married to a man with attention deficit disorder.