ADHD Q&A: How Does Love Survive the Onslaught of ADHD?
Tuesday, August 10 2010 Douglas Cootey
Last month, Reader Wilda wrote about adult ADHD and relationships: "What advice do you have for those who are dating those with this illness (AD/HD), and how do they become husband and wife, knowing what they are getting into?"
What a great comment! I immediately emailed my mum and wife to ask them what their thoughts were on this comment, since my dad and I share ADHD and an Irish belly in common. Anticipating pleasant anecdotes of marital bliss, I was not prepared for my mum's email that listed everything wrong with my dad and the 7,534,206 times he nearly ruined their marriage because of ADHD. I began to wonder how I had ever been born. Surely my wife would come through for me? Alas, my wife didn't even bother replying. I was doomed. Oh, I kid. Maybe a little.
Learn to Understand Your ADHD Partner
My mum related how they had a lifetime discovering my dad's ADHD and what she noticed about him over the years. She especially noted his hyperfocus abilities, which allowed him to accomplish his goals. Of my dad today, she said:
"Now, he still is hyper focused, but it takes forever to accomplish activities. He drifts away from a task, then goes oops, and returns immediately to the task at hand. This is why he likes truck driving. He goes from A to B everyday, focused, the same trip day after day. [His truck company] pays him well, and he's one of their top SLC drivers. I'm very proud of him."
It seemed my mum knew my dad pretty well. I wondered how well my wife knew me. After going on a hunger strike and threatening to never put the toilet seat down again, my wife relented and sent me the following:
"[ADHD adults] can make you laugh. Because they don't like being bored, they are always finding new and exciting things to do and say. It's fun to go along for the ride. They can be very entertaining."
"You always know what they're thinking. They let their guard down around you and end up blurting out the most amazing thoughts from their mouths. It's a good thing that you love them anyway!"
Um. Let's move on, shall we? Fortunately, her letter was filled with many other benefits that she found in being with me, from my intolerance for boredom inspiring a vast collection of books, movies, and entertainment to my spontaneity on a date.
Why Would Someone Marry an ADHD Adult?
Back to the advice. How do two lovers become husband and wife as Reader Wilda asks, knowing that one of them has ADHD? Why did my wife marry me if she knew I had ADHD?
"It didn't matter to me that you had it, it was just who you were."
Now you see why I married her (22 years next week). My wife's advice is that both partners should learn as much as possible about ADHD while they are dating, so they learn how to deal with it. Unlike when we were courting, there are many resources for couples available today like books on the subject, and websites like Dr. Hallowell's "ADHD and Marriage".
Look for the Upsides in ADHD for a Healthy Relationship
My advice is to not think of ADHD as an illness. It's more like a software glitch—mildly annoying but with snazzy bonus features. Focus instead on the positive attributes of adult ADHD. Notice that both my mum and my wife noticed the downsides, but looked for strengths to focus on. They loved my dad and I despite our flaws. What about your partner do you like? What eccentric things does your partner do that improve your quality of life? If you overweigh the downsides of ADHD, your relationship isn't going to fly far. At the same time, if your ADHD partner isn't working to master their ADHD, then wild uncontrolled ADHD can be burdening for a non-ADHD partner. ADHD may not ever go away like a pulled muscle, but it doesn't have to make your relationship limp for the fullness of your marriage. Patience on one end and a willingness to treat ADHD on the other will provide healthy balance for the relationship that can last for decades. Follow me on Twitter for my ADHD escapades at @SplinteredMind or my novel writing project over at @DouglasCootey. And if you're a glutton for punishment you can friend me on Facebook as well.