Attention Deficit Disorder: The Challenges for Couples
Attention issues will challenge any marriage or relationship. If you have struggled with ADD, you already know that you are prone to impulsiveness. You may have noticed with the part of you that has trouble listening and paying attention. If you have ADHD, you know that many times you simply cannot sit still.
As a partner, you may find yourself feeling disappointed that your partner seems to be off on another planet when you are dealing with important issues. Naturally, you have difficulties when your partner gets distracted. Perhaps you find yourself waiting for her to be late yet again.
If the two of you are looking at this site, it may simply be because you have had many fights that seem to tunnel down to knock-down-drag-out stages.
As the partner struggling with the attention issue, you may find yourself feeling guilty and reactive. You may resolve not to be so defensive and yet find yourself leaping down your partner’s throat the minute that you are confronted with one of your mistakes.
As the spouse you may find yourself wanting to be forgiving, trying to appreciate the attention difficulties. Yet you feel like you at your wit’s end when something seems to come up for umpteenth time and you feel like you are back at ground zero.
Let me talk about the good news and the bad news. You are dealing with normal problems that come with the territory and they will not necessarily go away, just because you have talked about them a few times. That’s the bad news.
Here’s the good news. One of the insights that comes out of John Gottman’s research is that most couples deal with 70% of their conflicts over and over again. What differentiates successfully married couples is that they have learned to talk about these commonly recurring issues without repeatedly reigniting the hurt-blame cycle.
What matters most is that each partner finds safe moments where he or she can simply share “what it’s like to be me.” If each of you can learn to grant times of sanctuary for describing your own sense of things, your marriage has a high degree of possibility of being rewarding and meaningful.
All most of us want is to simply feel that someone hears how much it hurts at times to deal with the challenges of my life. As a partner at such times, your simply listening and nodding makes all the difference. When you say something like, “I can really appreciate how that drives you crazy,” you partner will remember that you care. Just the fact that you say to your partner, “I can see how you are really frustrated by this repetitive act,” will be healing beyond belief.
Couples who successfully meet the challenge of ADD do not simply ignore their feelings for that can lead quickly to a distant and lifeless relationship. You need actively to seek to find times the next day after an upset, to make it safe to say “this is what upset me, can you understand” and be willing to listen to the other’s similar statement.
More than anything else, you need to be heard. Trying to make the other feel guilty, assigning blame or reading the riot act will only kick off more defensiveness. But each of you sharing of your own struggle, if heard, can lead to the bonding that provides intimacy and support.
There’s one more step that will make a big difference. After you have shared your feelings, you need to brainstorm about how each of you might handle the situation differently next time. To do so, does not mean that you will never experience the problem again. But you need often to look for new methods of dealing with the issue. Hearing each other is a great first step. Being creative in looking for new approaches can stave off the feeling that you keep doing the same old thing in the same old way and getting the same old results.
My best to you. I would encourage you to read all that you can in some of the books, articles and websites listed on this page.
Driven To Distraction: Recognizing and Coping with Attention Deficit Disorder from Childhood through Adulthood. Hallowell, E. & Ratey, J. A very readable book for people wanting to learn about Attention Deficity Disorder
Honey, Are You Listening by Rick and Jerilyn Fowler
AdventuresIn Fast Forward: Life, Love, and Work for the A.D.D. Adult. Nadeau, K. (1996). A practical guide for day-to-day life for finding effective strategies to help anticipate and negotiate the challenges that come with the condition