Redefining Stress

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The Risks of ADD in a Marriage

Does ADD behaviors put a marriage at risk?

During a recent Dr. Phil taping for problems in typical marriages, I was intrigued with the insinuation that having Attention Deficit Disorder might be a significant detriment in all marriages. In this show the wives were complaining about their husbands' ADD diagnoses, which they were sure they had because they were jerks, selfish, didn't follow their directions and unreliable. To my knowledge I don't think these items are on the diagnostic list of symptoms for ADD.

My immediate response was to defend individuals with ADD and not stigmatize them as risks in marriages, so I decided to conduct an experiment. Since the only person with ADD I had at my disposal was me, and the only spouse who had a spouse with ADD was my wife, I proceeded. I am sure that any Board of Human Subjects would frown on my low number of subjects and objectivity of the experimenter, but I was equally sure that the sample was representative and plowed ahead.

My wife is a professional psychologist who teaches at a well-known medical school and agreed to answer my questions; however, she had a smirk on her face as if I might try and "bend the outcome a bit." With promises that nothing would be held against her for honesty (which was not exactly true because I pouted for a while before I finally forgave her), she answered my questions with as much poise as she could muster without laughing hysterically. However, several times I made a decision that she was wrong and deleted her answer to put her husband in a better light. Without going through the list of questions and answers, let me say that things got a little confused with the definition of ADD and my behavior. I had to continue to remind her what things disgusted her about my behavior and which ones were related to ADD, like blowing my nose without a tissue, cleaning my ears with the silverware, and not putting the toilet seat down.

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The results of actual symptoms and characteristics that were related to ADD behavior and tended to be issues were:
• Forgetfulness, such as making sure when I went for groceries, such as milk, I didn't get distracted and bring home bread.
• Distractiveness, such as having to ask to repeat the questions because there was a break in the television show when someone made a funny remark or a newscast came on describing a freak accident. And sometimes I have 20 things going on in my head between the time she asked me a question and I get around to answering. I refer to this demonstration by saying I was thinking seriously about the question and needed time to give a serious answer, even though the question might have been "What do you want for dinner?
• Lack of consistency, such as never being consistent in my way of managing tasks. For example, I may take the garbage out one week being very neat and organized, and the next week it looks like I drug out the mess one piece at a time, leaving all the paper to get in the bag by itself. I call this "executive thinking."
• Lack of routine, such as always having Sunday lunch together or a Tuesday night for hobbies. Having no routine can be worrisome because there is no sense of tradition. I keep telling her I am not a traditional guy. Why do you always have to have Christmas on December 25? Why not sometime in July when it is warmer and prices are better?

But in her own clever way she also brought up the benefits of living with a guy with ADD, such as:
• Life is much more exciting and eventful, such as the surprises of flowers and gifts for her and trying out new restaurants.
• Creativity, such as new ideas that we can share about ideas (re-building the back yard or repainting a room, new furniture).
• Humor in seeing who we are, such as laughing at ourselves and hearing new jokes, especially about the absurdities of life,
• Lost of memory for the bad things, such as forgetting when you got locked out of the house or when she forgot to show up at a meeting with you. Sometimes memory lost is a blessing in relationships because there is no need for forgiveness.
• Never a dull moment. Although both of us get tired of our endeavors, you can never say we are bored.

The end result was that the ADD issue is just what you bargain for in a marriage. It can be a blessing or a curse, depending on how it affected you. Like other characteristics you bring in a relationship, it is just part of how much they can become problems and how you deal with them. Yes, we have certain characteristics that are common that can be issues, but everyone is not a robot and has imperfections. I guess it all depends on the matrix of other forces in your lives as to how much you get bugged by tweaks of personality of each other. I think people with ADD have a gift, even if your OCD spouse might not agree. I would be interested in hearing the experiences of others.

G. Frank Lawlis, PhD, is principal content and oversight adviser of the Dr. Phil Show.

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