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Using Little Routines to Create Stability

Little routines assure you both get the attention you need

I often hear couples say that routines can provide needed structure for an ADHD spouse, but they can play another role as well - that of assuring attention for the non-ADHD partner. Setting up small routines can help a distracted partner remember to give attention. Here's an example - every morning my husband goes downstairs to make himself a latte. Every morning he asks me "would you like some coffee?" The answer is usually yes - for even if I don't feel the need for caffeine, I really like the fact that he's thinking about me and it feels good to say yes.

stop to make time for routines

There are other routines, too. While he makes coffee, I usually make him some breakfast. Most nights we read in bed together for 10-15 minutes (him on his iPad in typical high-tech way, and me with a book). This transition calms us both and puts us to sleep - it also feels so comfortable that it often reminds my husband to say "I love you." No, this isn't exciting, but the consistency of the attention I get says "I'm thinking about you" and "I like being with you." It's a big improvement over an earlier period in our relationship in which he was too distracted to even know I was around. Routines help in another way - in a life in which ADHD introduces surprises at unexpected times, they anchor us with a sense of stability.

Bedtime is a particularly important time because in hectic households, it's one of the few times of the day when both of you are winding down and have the potential to focus on each other, rather on distractions such as chores, work or children. Yet many couples get into a habit of not sharing at least a little of their bedtime routines with each other - either because something seems "more pressing" (work or the internet can be very distracting in the evenings!) or because there is tension in the relationship and not going to bed together means you don't need to suffer through awkward interactions ("Now that we're physically near each other, do I give him a hug, even though I'm angry?")

But if you miss the opportunity for a small, reassuring routine at bedtime, you are giving up an important opportunity to connect as a couple. So I often recommend that couples think about creating a 30 minute window each evening in which they create "sacred couple time" that coincides with the earlier bedtime of the two of them. This is dedicated time for being together to talk about less stressful topics, read together, work the crossword, hold hands, have sex - whatever they feel comfortable with (but no TV, which is more like parallel play than interaction). One great option is to cuddle in bed and think of nice or supportive things you can say to each other. Night owls can get back out of bed once the time together is finished for the evening (though once this is a routine, most don't want to.) Creating this sacred time once the kids are in bed is so important to the relationship that it ought to trump all other evening obligations.

Think about your own life. Do you have reassuring weekly or daily routines? Can you create them? Here are just a few ideas that you might want to adopt:

  • Bring in the paper for your partner (if you still get one)
  • Cuddle together for 10-15 minutes at the beginning or end of the day (set your alarm early in the morning if you need to!)
  • Share a drink (of some sort) together and catch up about your day for 20 minutes before dinner (this provides a good transition home from work for couples needing to distress)
  • Spend Sunday mornings in bed with a cup of coffee and the crossword puzzle (invite the kids to join you if they want)
  • Eat family dinner together, without the tv on
  • Give your partner a kiss and a hug when he/she walks through the door after work
  • Make time to walk the dog together 3 mornings a week, rather than just have one of you do it
  • Friday night date night every week or every other week (without fail!)
  • Open the car door for your partner
  • Say thank you and I love you at least once a day

Routines may be boring, but they provide stability and focused attention, both of which are particularly important in the sometimes crazy lives of couples impacted by ADHD.

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