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Marriage, Family and Adult ADHD

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

If coping with a child who has ADHD is difficult being married to a person with this disorder can be exhausting. Perhaps this is the reason why so many marriages in which one spouse has ADHD end in divorce. What are the problems that complicate marriages in which a spouse has ADHD?

The problems that confront the non ADHD person and puts strain on the relationship have to do with the nature of the disorder. For example, some of the symptoms of ADHD as specified in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual IV of the American Psychiatric Association are that the individual frequently:

1. Fails to give close attention to details and making careless mistakes.

2. Does not seem to listen or hear what has been said.

3. Has difficulty organizing tasks.

4. Loses the things necessary to complete tasks such as pens, paper, car keys, wallet or pocket book, etc.

5. Is distracted by external stimuli of any and all types.

6. Frequently forgets to do things even if they are daily activities.

If the individual is also impulsive or hyperactive they frequently:

7. Cannot sit still without fidgeting and squirming.

8. Must be on the go all the time in a way that is pressured and rushed.

9. Interrupts people during conversations.

10. Cannot wait their turn in multiple situations.

Additional Problems:

Those with ADHD sometimes develop problems with drugs and alcohol. Feeling disappointed with themselves, it is common for these people to experience depression and self medicate with alcohol and drugs. This is also part of the impulsivity that drives many of those adults who are hyperactive.

It has been my experience that it is those marriages in which neither partner were aware of ADHD that become the most stressed and problematic. The marriage may begin with a lot of enthusiasm because those with ADHD have a lot of energy and are very creative. This energy and creativity attracts and excites their partner. However, the positive beginnings soon turn into disappointment and anger as the difficulties of the ADHD spouse emerge. For example, it is sometimes difficult for those with this disorder to remain employed because of their difficulties functioning at work. In addition, handling finances, household chores and carrying out daily responsibilities become sources of tension in the marriage. The non ADHD spouse quickly begins to believe that their partner is simply an irresponsible person who is selfish and deliberately refusing to carry out chores.

It often comes as a relief when couples discover that one of them has ADHD. Especially when medication is started there is a naive belief that all the problems will be solved. This is soon met with a new disappointment because medication is not a cure. The individual adult with ADHD must learn how to cope with the daily chores of life. This calls for a type of therapy where daily skills are learned and practiced in an effort to learn such things as how to remember to do things and focus attention on what others are saying without interrupting.

If the non ADHD person is able to be patient, organized and understanding then they provide a good balance to the spouse who is affected with the disorder. However, many of the spouses with whom I have worked do not have this patience nor are they truly able to understand ADHD. For these people there is a continued tendency to feel victimized by their partner’s behavior and to insist that their behaviors are deliberate.

Families and couples who have ADHD are encouraged to go to group or marriage therapy and to attend support groups where they can learn how to cope with the disorder and learn more about it. An excellent resource for ADHD is a web site called CHADD that stands for Children and Adults with ADHD and can be found at:

http://www.chadd.com

Your comments and experiences are welcome and encouraged.

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