Become an Influencer

Solutions that are imposed rarely last.

Posted Mar 31, 2019

     “In solving complex problems and resolving contentious issues, the most effective leaders use their influence much more than their authority. The goal is to solve problems so that they stay solved. Solutions imposed rarely last." —4-star General Marty Dempsey (ret.)

Non-ADHD partners often ask me how to move away from the parenting role they are in while still getting their concerns heard and needs met. This quote helps explain why I suggest that they step away from “being in charge” and dictating how things should/will go and instead think of themselves as influencers. Not only does making requests (versus telling or directing) show respect and communicate to your spouse that you wish to be partners, over time it also strengthens your position in the relationship. Requests are easier to "hear" and think about — and less likely to be responded to with defensiveness by your partner. Over time, as your relationship rebalances and your partner becomes more open to your requests, they are also more likely to be adopted . . . or at least discussed and considered.

It’s tempting to take over and be in charge when your partner has ADHD — saying, "This is what we’re doing" — because you are faced regularly with the inconsistency that ADHD adds. Your partner promises to do something, then doesn’t plan accurately or misestimates the time it will take. You thought you were in agreement on how to solve a problem, and then it turns out your partner didn’t really agree, and nothing moves ahead. There are many more instances . . . you probably recognize them.

But though it’s tempting to take over, it’s hurtful to the relationship, as it puts you in that parent-child dynamic death spiral.

Becoming an influencer, rather than the family authority, takes time and patience, but is quite important for the overall health of your relationship and for getting what you want from your partner.

Here are some ideas for how to move from imposing solutions on your partner to influencing the outcome of your interactions:

  • First and foremost, do all you can so that both of you move out of the over-functioning parenting role (non-ADHD partner) and out of the under-functioning child role (ADHD partner). For ADHD partners, this means really owning and taking on managing the ADHD.
  • Use the power of curiosity — when you ask your partner questions about his or her position or ideas, you may learn something that opens up a new path based on both your needs. In addition, your partner will be pleased with the attention and more open to what you are talking about
  • Brainstorm possible approaches instead of immediately trying to solve a problem. You’ll have more options from which to choose.
  • Remain calm as you speak, and remember to start with a request rather than a criticism.
  • Make sure you have your partner’s full attention before speaking. This is particularly important when ADHD is in the mix.
  • Look for patterns and talk about those, rather than focusing on individual incidents. Your partner will be less defensive, and therefore easier to influence. (For example: “I’ve really been missing you these days — how about going out on a date Friday?” works better to get some connection time together than “You didn’t schedule that date you promised to put together.”
  • Before you speak, let your partner know if you are simply wanting to "talk out loud" instead of seeking a solution. Both parties will feel less frustrated if this is clear at the outset of a conversation.
  • Make sure that you both recognize and acknowledge good work — don’t let anger keep you from being positive.

As Dempsey notes, "solutions imposed rarely last" . . . but I’m guessing you’ve already experienced that.