If you’ve been talking with your partner about the same ADHD-related marriage problems for many years, it may be time to take a different approach and create a work-around.
When it comes to having good fights with your partner, it’s important to understand that more than half of your battles are unresolvable. They result from deep differences in opinion or approach. A common non-ADHD/ADHD difference, for example, has to do with what constitutes “adequately organized” — whether it relates to planning events, putting a household in order, or raising children.
Another is whether or not you should let things “just happen” (be spontaneous) or actively “make them happen” (plan ahead and pursue goals). Those with ADHD typically have a higher tolerance for spontaneity and disorganization, perhaps because they’ve had so much more experience with it.
If you’ve been talking about the same ADHD-related marriage problems for many years, it may be time to take a different approach and create a work-around. The reality is that there are two of you, and compromise is often necessary. Compromise does not mean give up or lower your standards. It means accepting that you are different and figuring out how to move forward with your lives while accommodating those differences. Here are some examples from our lives that illustrate this:
Now Steve gets into bed a couple of nights a week at the same time as Nancie, and they almost daily spend some time together in the mornings when they awaken. This gives them “together” time, which is what Nancie wanted, while respecting Steve’s desires, too. Nancie has learned to enjoy her quiet reading time on the nights when Steve stays up later, so she has turned a negative into a positive.
Couples find that they sometimes slip into bad habits, such as being overly critical of each other or becoming more emotional than the situation warrants. Rather than engage negatively at these times, they’ve developed verbal cues that alert both partners to what is happening. These cues remind them to stop all conversation and regroup later. (See “OK, Got It!” below.)
Work-arounds and effective compromises require conversation and engagement. But they also set some boundaries. There are, very rarely, times when compromise is not appropriate. In our relationship, we draw a bright, uncrossable line at all types of physical abuse or behavior that puts members of the household at unnecessary risk (particularly children). We also have very strong opinions that respectful behavior should be the default in our relationship.
Knowing what is non-negotiable can help you solve specific problems you face. For example, couples ask us with surprising frequency what to do when an ADHD partner can’t remember to put medications away in a household that includes young children. The ADHD partner says, “I’m trying…” and the non-ADHD partner says, “I know, but you left our child’s medication out again…you need to do better!” In this case, waiting to develop a new skill set is not as important as the potential catastrophe of an accidental overdose. The couple needs to immediately create a solution that eliminates the danger. This likely means that the non-ADHD partner needs to take over giving medication to the kids and accept that this is just one of those things.
As you think about compromise, we urge you to discuss your values and boundaries. It’s important to understand what you are completely unwilling to compromise on. Make sure the list is short and genuinely important to you. This list should include “bright line” issues, such as not putting your children at physical risk or striking a partner, as well as those things you simply cannot give up, such as being treated with respect. Everything else in the relationship is negotiable.
Excerpted from The Couple’s Guide to Thriving with ADHD, by Melissa Orlov and Nancie Kohlenberger, LMFT. Copyright 2014. Specialty Press, Inc.
Verbal cues are a set of words that two partners agree to use to improve the direction of an interaction that they are having. Verbal cues, and their close cousins, physical cues, can be used for more than just stopping fights. You might use them for:
Verbal cues are a useful tool, but they must include these three elements: