When Tim and Marcy* started marriage counseling, they mentioned several recurring conflicts. The couple often argued about the same issues without reaching a resolution. Marcy felt Tim was irresponsible and disorganized because he often let bills go unpaid. He said he was distracted by work demands and lost track of the deadlines.
“I feel like I have to be the responsible one,” she told the counselor. She felt she had to manage more of the chores, finances and children’s schedules since Tim often couldn’t follow through with tasks.
Tim said Marcy was hyperfocused at times and “nagged him” constantly about chores, bills, and upcoming appointments.
”She treats me like one of the kids with constant reminders,” he told the counselor.
When Tim became overwhelmed with these issues, he would retreat to the garage. That left Marcy feeling as if Tim didn’t care about her needs or their family.
Tim and Marcy both felt as if these recurring “fights” were pulling them apart. They shared their Christian faith and their desire to work together to overcome these issues, but they just felt stuck and unable to make progress on their own.
If some of these same arguments occur in your marriage, the culprit may be attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). You and your spouse may have never considered that one of you may be struggling with this disorder.
That’s what happened to Tim and Marcy. Through counseling they were able to identify that Tim had ADHD. They also learned how the disorder affected their relationship.
When ADHD and marriage go hand in hand, you can face specific, repeating conflict patterns. The arguments often center around task completion and time management. While stuck in a constant loop of unresolvable conflict, you can both feel misunderstood and uncared for. But it’s possible to lessen these conflict patterns and strengthen your marriage.
To learn how, you first need to be aware of behaviors that are common in a spouse who has ADHD.
If a spouse has ADHD, several behaviors are typical. A spouse may:
- Appear to have a careless attitude.
- Have difficulty focusing on directions.
- Be easily distracted.
- Tend to not listen when spoken to.
- Leave multiple tasks or activities uncompleted.
- Have memory recall issues.
- Behave or speak impulsively.
Common conflict patterns
When a spouse has ADHD, the common conflict patterns tend to feed off one another. That’s why a husband and wife typically experience some or all of the following patterns.
One partner carries a heavier load of organizing the family needs, calendar, and tasks. The spouse who doesn’t have ADHD tends to take on too much responsibility to offset the lack of focus and follow-through of the other spouse.
That spouse can then act like a “nagging” parent. They may feel the reminders are necessary to keep the spouse with ADHD from forgetting or getting distracted.
Resentments can build on both sides and leave spouses feeling like “a bad child” or “a bossy parent.” Neither role is desired in a healthy marriage.
It’s common for conflict to arise over who is doing what and when. The spouse with ADHD is easily distracted, often seeking things that are rewarding and struggling to complete tasks. The non-ADHD spouse can usually complete more tasks than the other spouse in the same amount of time, which can lead to an unequal distribution of chores.
The blame game
This dynamic can occur after a spouse is diagnosed with ADHD. The couple may blame every problem in their relationship on ADHD. Because of this, he or she may ignore issues in the relationship that have nothing to do with the diagnosis. If ADHD is blamed for every problem, the spouse who has it can feel personally attacked and like a failure.
ADHD and marriage: There’s hope
Don’t let all this information leave you feeling discouraged. Please know that if you and your spouse are struggling with any of these conflict patterns or if one of you has been diagnosed with ADHD, there’s still hope.
There are proven treatments that work and decrease the symptoms of this condition. Here are some tips to strengthen your relationship and cope with the impact of ADHD on your marriage.
Use communication strategies
We all know that communicating is a key ingredient in a healthy marriage. When ADHD is negatively impacting communication, try building these specific skills.
Repeat what your spouse is sharing with you or asking you. Much like a mirror, you are directly reflecting what your spouse said. This helps the other spouse feel heard and understood. (Ephesians 4:32, Luke 6:31)
Be direct about important issues
Try to preface important directions or a request with concise words. Avoid overtalking the issue so you clearly communicate the message. Follow up with the mirroring technique to make sure your spouse heard the correct message.
Use “I” statements
When sharing a concern or frustration, avoid blaming the other person or using the phrase, “You never…” Reframe your message by using an “I” statement. Say, “I get frustrated when…” or “I feel hurt when…”
Grow in understanding
When ADHD and marriage go together, it’s important for both spouses to become empathetic and understanding of each other. When emotions are running high and recurring conflicts continue over a period of time, it’s easy for our sin nature of selfishness to arise. We can become overly self-focused and not couple-focused.
Selfishness can quickly rob us of the ability to have empathy or understanding for others. In fact, it can cause us to become foolish in our words and actions. Proverbs 18:2 expresses it clearly: “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.”
Empathy and understanding can begin with learning about ADHD. What symptoms does your spouse specifically struggle with? For example, not all persons are impulsive or tend to talk excessively when stressed. In fact, some people with ADHD tend to do the opposite; they withdraw and shut down. Learn together how this condition affects your spouse, you, and your relationship.
Also recognize that your spouse did not choose to have ADHD, with or without hyperactivity. Both spouses need to work toward addressing their concerns and needs, and then build unity against a sometimes-challenging obstacle.
Use outside help and resources
You don’t need to cope with this issue alone. There are many resources that can assist you and your spouse.
Seek professional counseling
A licensed Christian counselor can guide you and your spouse to better understand this disorder, gain skills to manage the symptoms and address the ways it impacts your marriage. Christian counselors can be an excellent source for learning new coping skills — if you allow yourself to seek help.
To find counseling, call Focus on the Family’s Counseling Department for a one-time free consultation at 1-855-771-HELP (4357) weekdays from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. (Mountain Time). To find licensed Christian counselors in your area, search Focus on the Family’s Christian Counselor Network.
Look for support groups
Research your area to see if it offers support groups for people struggling with ADHD as well as support groups for their spouses.
Try apps and podcasts
There are many resources available to help you organize your time, track money management, coordinate household tasks and maintain family calendars. For example, consider the OurHome app, Google Calendar, and Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace app and podcast. In addition, there are many useful resources that can help couples grow together and stay mindful of their focus on Christ and biblical principles. Explore apps such as Abide or Soultime. Consider podcasts that work to strengthen your marriage, such as Focus on Marriage and Fierce Marriage, and learn more about your love style at howwelove.com.
Pray together as a couple, specifically asking God to keep you more couple-focused and less self-focused. Also pray for awareness of ways to be patient with each another and to gain healthy skills as a couple. Choose a key verse from the Bible to maintain your focus on these items. As a constant reminder, place this verse on your fridge, mirror, or phone wallpaper. Consider the following Bible verses: 1 Peter 4:8, Psalm 46:1, Philippians 2:3, John 15:13 and Psalm 46:10.
ADHD and marriage: Be teammates
Working together as a team can go a long way in overcoming some of the complications that ADHD can bring into a relationship (Philippians 2:4). As Tim and Marcy learned more about ADHD, they gained a better understanding of their conflicts, and more importantly, they strengthened their bond as a couple and became less self-focused.
“We realized why our conflicts happened and where we were getting stuck,” Marcy says.
Marcy became more empathetic about Tim’s struggle to stay focused. When she understood how stress easily distracted him, she was able to depersonalize some of Tim’s tendency to disengage and shut down.
Marcy also learned ways to better express her needs without attacking or criticizing Tim. As she used “I” statements, Tim began to recognize that as a signal to focus.
“I know that’s when Marcy is sharing information that’s important to her, so I try hard to use the skills I learned in counseling,” Tim says.
Tim also gained insight into his tendency to disengage when he felt stressed and how this impacted his marriage. In addition, he learned skills for organizing his tasks and time.
If you suspect that ADHD is an issue in your marriage, seek professional counseling. With a counselor on your side, both of you can learn new skills and break some repetitive conflict patterns. If you work together on these proven strategies, you can minimize the impact of this disorder on your marriage.
*Names have been changed.