May I Have Your Attention

The ADHD-impacted marriage

Overcoming Relationship Inertia

You don't want to parent a spouse, but sometimes change must happen. What next?

Sometimes I get a question that is so spot on that it is best simply to launch a post with that question. This one was sent by a woman who recently took my couples seminar:

My husband now thinks he might well have ADHD. But, what is driving me crazy is his inability to move forward. Inertia. If I am supposed to wait for him to make the decision to see someone — call and actually make an appointment — on his own he will just not do it. And in the meantime, things are not getting much better. We both have full time jobs and two small kids so life is full of stress. I can cope with a ton of stuff, but am really at the end of my rope and need his help (in getting through each day as well as working on our relationship.) So how do we get started? How does he break the inertia?

This is a great question — and trickier to navigate than you might think.  Too often in ADHD-impacted relationships, the partners fall into a dynamic in which one person "runs" the relationship while the other one takes orders. The spouse in charge acts like a "parent" (the not so benevolent version of parenting) while the less powerful spouse ends up in a more "childlike" role, without much authority. I call this "parent/child dynamics" and it is not only very, very common, but also quite destructive. Who, after all, wants to be romantic with a parent figure...or a child figure?

By respecting his right to be in charge of his health, the woman above is carefully (and correctly) trying not to parent her partner. However, it's not getting her very far. So this is what I wrote back to her:

"My best advice is to sit down together and talk with him about what is the best approach in both of your opinions. Inability to initiate is an ADHD symptom for many, so waiting for him to initiate in order to get rid of his inability to initiate...well, you can see the problem!

So I usually advise couples to do the initial work as a team — provided the partner with suspected ADHD thinks this is a good idea. In other words, he agrees he should get an evaluation, but just hasn't been able to get himself organized enough to set it up.

That's not really parenting — in this case it's being realistic about his very real conundrum — though over the long haul you can't do this often. But in this case you both benefit, and it's supportive if you work out with him whether or not having your assistance (and what sort of assistance) would help get the ball rolling.

If he really doesn't want to get an evaluation, that's a different situation. In that case, your best bet is to lobby him — to help him understand why it's so important to you, and how it might help change the future for the better. But beware — push too hard and you may well shut him down."

Melissa Orlov is the author of The ADHD Effect on Marriage which won the gold medal for best psychology book of 2010 from ForeWord Reviews.

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