I Can't Believe I Just Said That!

The conversational quicksand of ADHD.

Posted Feb 08, 2011

Trouble communicating?

Blurting Things Out
People with untreated ADHD have a tendency to speak before they think and often say things that are considered rude either because of how they were said or their content.  This is related to a lack of impulse control and can often be improved with either medication or mindfulness training.

Conversations That Go Everywhere
You think you are conversing about one thing, then suddenly the person with ADHD seems wildly off topic.  This is a frustrating result of distraction.  People with ADHD constantly receive input from all over the place; their brains are "noisy."  This means that you may have disjointed conversations with someone with ADHD.  It may also mean you'll have some unfinished conversations, because it can be hard to get back on track again.  Treatment that improves focus can help this issue.

Where others might stop talking, people with ADHD often won't.  Research suggests that some have difficulty reading emotional cues that others send their way if bored or troubled by a conversation.  In addition, people with ADHD tend to be really good at pulling lots of disparate facts together, but not so good at editing or organizing them.  The result can be some rambling (though often interesting) conversations.  Behavioral therapy can help manage this symptom.  (Note that non-ADHD spouses have their own version of the monologue: The "You didn't respond to me adequately so I'll say it over again, a little louder and more insistently so you pay attention" monologue.  Addressing anger issues, as well as creating cues that improve attention can address this.)

A Love of Arguing, or an Inability to Argue
A love of stimulation leads some with ADHD to enjoy fighting.  On the other end of the spectrum, some with ADHD cannot handle the overwhelming stress of conflict and so retreat emotionally or physically when placed in a stressful conversation.  Treatment of ADHD in general, and sometimes treatment of anger issues specifically, can help mitigate these patterns.

Extreme Defensiveness
Too many years of having people tell you that you haven't reached your potential or are doing something wrong takes its toll.  Some manage this by anticipating criticism and responding negatively to sensitive issues even before they hear what is being said.  General treatment of ADHD and counseling can help develop better patterns.  Establishing verbal cues interrupts conversations known to lead to defensiveness.

Poor Memory of Agreements or Incidents
Short-term memory issues can plague a person with ADHD.  Too often a non-ADHD partner is frustrated that an agreement is reached, only to be forgotten by the ADHD partner.  (This isn't ill will, it's bad memory!)  Both spouses need to learn that it's not only okay, but desirable, to write down agreements and leave them in an appropriately conspicuous place.  The very real upside of poor short-term memory is that people with ADHD are quick to "forgive and forget."

Getting Lost in Conversations or Wildly Misunderstanding
Distraction can pull the attention of a person with ADHD away from what you are saying.  Then, when they try to jump back in they may be too embarrassed to ask you to repeat yourself.  Instead, they try to piece together what they missed - often with pretty disastrous (and sometimes hilarious!) results.  If you find that this is happening in your conversations, create a verbal cue that the ADHD spouse can use to indicate she was distracted, such as "Hold on, I just spaced out there for a moment - can you repeat that?" and this issue should largely go away.