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ADD Couples: Tips for Working it Out

Posted: ADD-ADHD » Relationships | February 1st, 2005



By Nancy Cavanaugh

“How many times do I have to tell you to take out the trash?” Sue demands of her husband John. She is angry and frustrated.

“As many times as you want,” he replies angrily and storms off, leaving Sue with the trash to deal with, as well as more anger and frustration.

This is a typical snippet of conversation between an ADD sufferer and his wife. These conversations and behaviors cause more anger and frustration and pushes them further apart. Thankfully, it doesn’t have to be that way.

“All marriages require work from both partners to continue a loving relationship,” says Eileen Bailey, director of ADDHelpline. “Marriages with one spouse with ADD can be even more difficult and trying but can also be rewarding, loving relationships as long as both partners value and respect the other person and the strengths they bring to the relationship.”

Improve communication

Edward Hallowell, M.D., author of Driven to Distraction, says the keys to making it work are improving communication and resolving the power struggle. (Click book link to purchase at Powells or purchase at Amazon.) Some of his tips to do this include:

Make sure the diagnosis is correct, and then learn as much as you can about it.

Make a treatment plan and follow through on it.

The key to living with ADD is learning to laugh about it.

Talk about the ADD. Plan a time to do this when you can both focus on it. Talk about what is on your mind and get it all out before it

Be positive. Use praise and encouragement liberally. Build each other up consciously; it will eventually become habit. Reassure the ADD sufferer that it will all be okay.

Handle bursts of anger and bouts of sadness by not exploding yourself. Calmness is needed to dissipate the strong emotions. Learn mood management and recognition.

Ask for reminders in advance. If they’re given when not asked for it becomes annoying, just as nagging rather than reminding can cause issues.

Professional ADD management coach Jennifer Koretsky, who lives in New York, agrees with Dr. Hallowell and Dr. Ratey. “Both partners should know what ADD is and what it isn’t. Certain challenges, like time management and organization, are common to people with ADD. It’s important for both partners to be aware of this,” she says.

Get outside help

Koretsky recommends couples work with an objective third party, such as a therapist who understands ADD or a coach. “If there is a lot of pain in the relationship, then couples therapy with someone who understands ADD should definitely be considered. Otherwise, if a couple has goals they want to move forward with, then a coach who understands ADD can help the couple determine reasonable timeframes for progress and help define success,” Koretsky says.

She recommends the following exercises that can be done at home if the couple prefers not to seek outside help:

• Read books on adult ADD and share what you learn with your partner.

• Take time out to list all the household chores and responsibilities, then talk about who takes over what, and why. Have all the information posted on a chart where everyone can see it.

• Practice using “I” statements to avoid blaming and attacking: “I feel ______________ when ______________ because ______________.”

• Make a point each evening to share accomplishments rather than

Books and products for treating ADHD naturally on Amazon

Natural ADHD books on Powells.com

Bailey offers these additional tips:

Look for the positive. Find out how ADD adds excitement, spontaneity and fun to your life together and make a list of the great things about your relationship that you can contribute to having one spouse with ADD.

Determine which behaviors are causing strife. Look at both the behaviors and the current reactions to them. Choose one or two behaviors to begin working on and brainstorm for strategies for overcoming or compensating for the behavior.

Decide on a method of communication. If you are having a difficult time with communication right now, you might consider some of the methods used by other couples; one couple uses the phone, while another couple uses e-mail to discuss issues.

It works for them by allowing the emotional part of an argument to be removed so that they can work on the real issue. Another couple uses a kitchen timer to make sure that each partner receives time during the conversation to talk without being interrupted.

Learn more

    Driven to Distraction by Edward M. Hallowell, M.D., and John J. Ratey, M.D.,
    Simon and Schuster, New York, 1994. Click book link to purchase at Powells or purchase at Amazon.
    Answers to Distraction, by Edward M. Hallowell, M.D., and John J. Ratey, M.D., Bantam, New York, 1996. Click book link to purchase at Powells or purchase at Amazon.

    Jennifer Koretsky, professional ADD management coach, New York, www.ADDmanagement.com

© Nancy Cavanaugh

Nancy Cavanaugh lives in New Jersey with her daughter and partner. She is a stay-at-home mother who has been a nanny, reporter, editor and graphics designer and is now the editor-in-chief of her own free online magazine for children called Fandangle.

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