Married to Distraction

When the Hallowell's appeared recently on Dr. Oz, they bought viewers a marriage gift.  Although ADHD week has come to a close, the tension and tears will continue for many of the undiagnosed or the diagnosed who have not been educated to manage the disorder in a positive way. Renowned specialist in Attention Deficient Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) Edward M. Hallowell, M.D., and his wife of 23 years, Sue, talked of how the diagnosis saves marriages.

Authors of Married to Distraction  they are on "a life's mission" to encourage others struggling to bring harmony into their lives by charting a course that takes the blame out of ADHD. Dr. Hallowell explained:  "Sue and I encountered many of the difficulties of my having ADHD and together we turned it into an asset in our marriage and reaped many of the blessings.

"Appearing on Dr. Oz was tremendous for us because this is a huge public health issue - marriages collapse because of ADHD.  Couples often divorce because of a behavior pattern that turns into a parent-child dynamic.  The spouse without ADHD becomes the scolding parent and their partner becomes the naughty child.  Eventually communication becomes filled with tension. They begin drifting apart. Then their sex lives become non-existent.  All that is left of the marriage is a struggle," he said.

Blame game words

With the blame game - the non-ADHD spouse gives the message repeatedly, "It's because of your ADHD."  There are insults and words hurled "that are so hurtful that the ADHD partner becomes isolated and pained to tears," he said, adding, "Blame does not work."

Dr. Hallowell says, "With parents who are dealing with an ADHD child -- as well as spouses in which one has ADHD  -- we often hear critical words."  Here are some of the words that can be so hurtful:

  • When will you ever learn?
  • Why don't you ever listen?
  • Why can't you watch what you are doing?
  • How many times do I have to tell you?

"These words make the problem worse," he said, "because the message the ADHD person hears is this: 'I am incomplete.'"

The Ferrari engine problem and solution

Dr. Hallowell says that ADHD people have a Ferrari engine for a brain and bicycle brakes. "An ADHD husband cannot remember birthdays, anniversaries, or the time that he will be home because he literally does not have the same clock as the rest of us. There are two times only in that Ferrari brain - Now and Not Now.  So you see," he says, "the husband is not a liar as some are accused. It is not due to character pathology. If his spouse or family can understand it in terms of neurology -- and not morality -- the relationship can be restructured."

Reclaiming passion with loving understanding and words

"A woman who wants a more responsible husband will get nowhere by pummeling him harder," says Dr. Hallowell, but rather by saying to him 'Your brain is wired differently. I know you want to be a responsible husband and father and it frustrates both of us. How can we work together so that we can rediscover the flame and the passion?'"

It is Dr. Hallowell's belief that sometimes it takes medication to help a person realize that getting home at 6 PM means 6 PM and not some time in Lala Land. He says that when couples work out a plan, "the struggle ends, they rediscover love, and harmony takes over." Dr Hallowell

How Dr. Oz helped with the ADHD marriage message

"Sue and I both feel lucky that we know so much about ADHD and how understanding can  change millions of lives forever - and Dr. Oz has the power to reach millions, " commented Dr. Hallowell. "They interviewed each of us separately and what was such fun for us is that this is the first time we have appeared on television in which producers were interested in our personal story.  For us it was TV at its best - an educational story that draws people in.  We were thrilled that our message was handled with such warmth." (For link to Dr. Oz, please go to )

NOTE:  See Dr. Hallowell's comments about ADHD and children in my interview with Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and author Katherine Ellison in: ADHD with Love, Gratitude, Exasperation, and Forgiveness

Follow Rita Watson on Twitter @ LoveColumnist 

Copyright 2011 Rita Watson/ All Rights Reserved

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