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Help Me Not Use My Partner's ADD As A Crutch.
June 14, 2014 10:15 AM   Subscribe

My partner, who I love dearly, has Adult ADD, which means, among many symptoms, he gets "stuck" at work and has trouble transitioning out of work projects. If he is particularly engaged in work this means he does not come home until 10 p.m. or later. Sometimes he pulls all-nighters at the office. Spouses of ADD partners, how do you create your own routine in the midst of disarray? I don't want to assume he will fail -- i.e. not expect him home until after 11 p.m. -- but frequently that is what he does. It feels cold-hearted to assume I will be spending the evening alone, but if I am to make my own healthy habits, it seems I must make them solo. How do I create healthy habits in the midst of uncertainty? I want to encourage him to come home and spend time with me, but I'm aware that counting on him to be home and participate in shared activities sets me up to fail. Help me, hivemind (and any stories of thriving with an ADD spouse would be much, much appreciated!!).

He acknowledges that this is unhealthy, is in therapy and is working to have healthy habits. However, my question is about my own reactions to this. I am trying to form healthy habits for myself but typically we make plans to do something together after working hours (exercise, make dinner, work on shared projects) and I wait for him to join me in doing those healthy habits. When he doesn't come home I use that as an excuse to just go all out (order pizza, sit on the couch) because I am "waiting for him to come home." After all, he's probably going to come home in 5 minutes, right? Or 10 minutes? Or 15 minutes? If I call him, he is "just about to leave." So I wait. (Meanwhile, he finally slumps home at midnight, apologizing for how he got stuck in a project.)

Thanks in advance.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (9 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
 
You might benefit from some of the forums at CHADD. I have a partner with ADD. The big deal is to set healthy boundaries for yourself and tell your partner you will work with them so that you are a happy healthy couple but honestly if your partner is saying that they just "can't" get home at a reasonable hour, your partner is not managing their ADD effectively.

Do you have a parent with a drinking problem? I only ask because this is sort of typical behavior, thinking that it's actually a reasonable state of affairs to have someone called a partner who is completely unreliable and not actually a partner at all. If this is the case, I'd also recommend Al-Anon.

So, you and your partner can make ground rules for how to interact and your partner can either make good faith attempts to meet them (and if your partner needs therapy and/or medication to manage this, then that's something they need to handle, again with loving support but not nagging and appointment making from you, he is doing this a bit, is it working?) or admit that they are basically unable to be in a grown-up relationship that requires some level of mutual accountability. If you are making plans and he is consistently breaking them, then he is basically prioritizing (on purpose or just by accident) his own ADD behaviors over you. That's not workable for many people and it sounds like you're having trouble finding your own path.

So my suggestions

1. Figure out what your dealbreakers are and timelines for them. Are you okay if the rest of your life is like this?
2. Get into therapy yourself potentially, it can be helpful for people who are bad with boundaries
3. Don't make plans with someone who can't make plans, make your own plans and tell him you'll see him on the weekend
4. Look at you own life and the things you do in the evening and ask yourself if that's what you want. If not, what DO you want? Make your own plans with yourself to find ways to do that. Maybe a night on the couch is okay if it comes after a night getting buried in hobbies
5. Above all, don't just wait for someone. "Oh you don't know when you're going to be home? OK I am going to go take in a movie and go out for a drink with friends who actually can plan to hang out with me. See you on the weekend"
6. Consider not living together. If he's not coming home at nights, how is he keeping up with his share of the housework and maintenance and everything else?
7. If you don't have a job, consider getting one or doing volunteer work. If you don't because you're spending all your time managing and maintaining a household for someone who can't be bothered to get home when he says he will, reconsider.

But, back to point 1, check out the folks at CHADD who have very good support networks and have more than just a single-point experience with this sort of thing. Me and my partner don't live together and have agreements for a number of things that can sometimes make our relationship seem a bit ... mercenary sometimes, but we agree on these things and we both work visibly hard to meet them (when we'll check in, when we'll see each other, what sort of excuse is a 'real" excuse for blowing the other one off) and so we're not at the mercy of his ADD which, for a long time was beginning to feel like the third person in our relationship.
posted by jessamyn at 10:30 AM on June 14 [22 favorites]


I would suggest you start being more rigid in your plans, and clear about how he will or won't fit into them.

"I am going to go to the gym tonight and I'm leaving at 7PM. If you want to come with me you have to be home by 6:45."

"I'm making dinner and it'll be done at 8PM."

"I'm going over to Friend's house at 7, you can meet me there if you want. I'll be home by 10PM."

And then follow your own schedule.

Getting your partner to take responsibility for his own schedule and get home when he says he will get home is a separate issue. But scheduling your own time and sticking to it will help you feel more in control of your evenings, at least.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 10:37 AM on June 14 [39 favorites]


Seconding Narrative Priorities. I've got similar issues with hyperfocus and task-switching, and my partner has unpredictable anxiety stuff that makes it hard for her to commit in advance to going out and doing things, and the way we make this work is to pursue our own interests and basically just issue each other standing invitations to join in.

It works even better if the standing invitation is on a recurring schedule: "Remember, Tuesday night is game night at so-and-so's place. I'm going at seven thirty, so if you want to drive together, be home by then." And then the other person can either show up or not.

You have to be okay with issuing invitations that the other person may never accept. And if the issue is really something more like "I don't care if you ever share my interest in board games, but I feel like I've barely seen you at all this week and I miss you," then you have to be wiling to address that directly.

I get the sense that this will probably sound cold-hearted to you, but honestly at this point to me it feels super loving and warm. We still end up doing a lot of stuff together. But we rarely argue about what we're going to do together, we both get to pursue lots of things that we enjoy without worrying that we're just humoring each other, and then when one of us actually wants to take up an invitation from the other one it's this nice friendly feeling of being welcomed and included into something outside your normal routine.
posted by nebulawindphone at 11:16 AM on June 14 [6 favorites]


Agree to meet your partner *at* the gym. If he's not there when you get there, that's ok, you can go ahead and start warming up. If he's not there when you're done warming up ... well, you've already warmed up, might as well go ahead and work out.
posted by bunderful at 11:38 AM on June 14 [1 favorite]


Do your own thing! But not resentfully, learning that was the key for me. So when my husband, who currently has his schedule so outta whack he's still sleeping now, does get up, I've spent a Saturday doing great fun things with my kiddo. In the past I would try to punish my partner by taking care of all the household chores and then yelling at him about how disappointed I was to have spent my Saturday working. My new method is much more fun, and when my husband shows up he gets to join into a party already in progress, not one that's been impatiently waiting on him to start.
posted by Pardon Our Dust at 12:39 PM on June 14 [3 favorites]


I also wanted to specifically mention that I lost 90 pounds while working around my husband's ADD. I made my own meals, took myself to the gym...I made it a priority for me and he was supportive, even if he wasn't involved. As a bonus side effect of my healthy decision making, he lost 30 pounds!

People meet you where they can, and sometimes that's good enough for now.
posted by Pardon Our Dust at 12:42 PM on June 14 [2 favorites]


Why does "waiting" require you to sit on your butt and do "nothing"? I realize a lot of people do that but you can also fill waiting time constructively with things that can be easily put down. If you planned to cook, then cook! Don't order pizza. If he shows up in time, great! You both get to eat (together, even). If not, his food goes in the fridge as leftovers and he can eat whenever he gets home (or not -- it can just be leftovers for whomever to eat)

You are both adults. You do not need to be joined at the hip to do some things together. As others have said: Let him know you will be at the gym and he can join you there or not, as one example. My two adult sons are ASD and don't cope so well with some things. We routinely examine which piece of our activities needs to genuinely be done together and which piece does not and we plan accordingly. It is super common for us to meet somewhere, do something together, and then have them part company with me -- even if we are walking to the same destination.

They walk faster than I do and I often have some little side errand I need to take care of and since we are all three adults, there is just no need at all to act like we are joined at the hip or like they are three years old and require constant supervision. Most of the time, there is no reason they should have to wait for me to do my side errand. They go ahead and head off to where we are ultimately going and I meet them there after I do the things I need to do. No big. If they want to wait for me because they actually want to talk with me, that's fine too and that does sometimes happen. But if we are not in the midst of a riveting discussion, we just meet up later.

My ex used to routinely come home late and he was terrible about not calling. Some of this was "him" and some was due to the kind of work he did (where he sometimes simply couldn't call). I learned to cook dinner, eat when it was ready, and leave it on the stove keeping it warm for a reasonable period of time and then put it away. Over time, I began cooking differently so this was less of an issue.
posted by Michele in California at 1:46 PM on June 14 [2 favorites]


I am the ADD partner, and I pretty much always communicate clearly about when I'm going to be home, ahead of time. Knowing that I'm letting someone else sit around and wait for me is a distraction that keeps me from my work because I know his time is valuable.
posted by Ralston McTodd at 1:51 PM on June 14 [3 favorites]


I don't have ADD but I do tend to stay later at work than I planned (quite a lot later, up to 6hrs later sometimes) because I'm wrapped up in things, and it does cause dischord. I suspect your husband doesn't really understand that this upsets you - I'm sure you've told him but I bet he hasn't really heard, beyond 'you're in trouble for being late to something again'. People who are late have been hearing this all the time from everyone since they were kids, and it goes in one ear and out the other after a while. You get used to there being consequences to being late, but it's not like you can do anything about being late is it? So you just have to live with the consequences, which are never that bad really, just getting told off by your mum, or teacher, or boss, or spouse, and you can just look sorry and they'll stop talking eventually and go away. This is just how life is for us, and not something we expect to seriously upset other people. It's just being a bit late, no-one's fucking died.

There are a few things that have helped - my husband telling me forcefully how unimportant he feels to me when I do this has made me understand that he isn't just telling me off for being late because that's what people do if you're late, it really does genuinely hurt him. I try very very hard to give realistic estimates about hometimes now (I used to wildly underestimate because I wanted to be done in half an hour, when in fact there was about 4hours of work left to do. I didn't want to admit how late I would probably be leaving, even to myself). I'm still optimistic about timings, but I'm at least in the right ballpark now. I also call when I'm actually out of the office not when I'm 'just finishing', ie nowhere near leaving. Another thing is that I try to predict when I will be staying late so I can say 'eat dinner without me tonight, I'll be back at ten'. Then he can eat dinner, write music or whatever else he likes to do when he has the house to himself for the night. For my husband, it was the 'dishonesty' of me saying one thing and doing another that really upset him (it was genuinely wild optimism, but I can see how it would have looked like lying). He's fine with me being late home if I tell him in advance.

My husband did have to be quite blunt with me that just vanishing until midnight with no phonecalls, or saying 'I'll be home in an hour' every time he rang and then not actually coming home, was really hurtful. He also had to say it quite a few times. In fact he had to say that he didn't want children with me because he couldn't stand to watch me treat them like I was treating him, after I had missed my own birthday meal by almost eight hours. So yeah. Be blunt.

Talk to him, get him to really understand that this is dealbreaker territory for you. Make him agree to change things. Don't expect miracles. Maybe start by getting him to call you when he has actually left work, and assume he won't be home unless you hear otherwise. Find other stuff to do - do an evening class or an exercise class, or something so you aren't just sitting around for him on nights when he's said he won't be back. Let him know that you really are angry and hurt when he doesn't come home when he's agreed to. People can improve, but you may have to really drum it into him that it really is a big deal and it absolutely has to change.
posted by tinkletown at 4:49 PM on June 14 [9 favorites]


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