Looking for resources for being the partner of somebody with ADHD
August 16, 2023 7:41 AM   Subscribe

My wife has ADHD, inattentive. I'm struggling with establishing appropriate expectations about this - I know I can't just say "hey please be more organized," but I also can't just be infinitely forgiving and ignore the impacts on my own life. I'm looking for resources - books, youtubes, whatever - to help me understand reasonable expectations and how to establish them and manage my side of the relationship.

I'm looking for books, articles, youtubers, whatever, that address these and related topics. I am primarily interested in hearing directly from other neurotypical partners of ADHD folks, about how they manage their relationships in these matters. Content from mental health professionals directed entirely or largely at the neurotypical partner is also on the table. I am absolutely not interested in anything that is 100% from the perspective of the ADHD partner, or that puts the weight on the perspective of the ADHD partner. I've had plenty of that and I'm frankly tired of hearing about how challenging it is to have ADHD. I exist in this relationship too and I feel excluded and ignored by a lot of the "helpful" stuff I've seen that puts too much emphasis on trying to help me understand what ADHD is, and less on "ok now what."

I want to be clear I'm not asking for your direct advice in this question about handling my situation, and I'm leaving out a lot of relevant details. An anonymous askme is not a substitute for therapy, but I also know that I need to take a better shot at educating/reading about this before we go there. Some of the key info that may help:

* We're not in therapy together but probably should be. This is a step along that path; I know I need to 'exhaust' what I can do on my own to help her feel like therapy is necessary. Please don't tell me therapy would help; my wife was raised in the kind of household where mental health is "fake" and "made up" and it was a huge challenge for her to even speak to a doctor to acknowledge that she needed to get assessed in the first place.

* The primary impact of her ADHD on our relationship is that I can't trust her to follow through on things that she's committed to, so I have to constantly manage both my 'to do list' and hers. She resents me reminding her to follow up on things; I don't feel like I have a choice, because she has a pattern of failing to do things. This is not hypothetical as a concern; we've lost significant amounts of money and have suffered harm to our relationships with family because things didn't get done that she'd agreed to do and I didn't make sure they happened. I'm intensely aware that this is an extremely common dynamic in ADHD/neurotypical relationship - what I'm not aware of is "what to do now."

* She has a prescription for Adderall, but doesn't consistently take it according to the prescription, which says "daily." It's not about side effects; she just usually forgets to take it. She forgets more often on the weekends, which makes me even resentful because I hate feeling like I'm less important than her boss. (In fact, what's going on is that she has a calendar at work and that sometimes functions as an effective reminder; she does not live on her calendar in our home life. I'm very much a live-and-die-by-google-calendar person, she is just not.)

* I am really tired of resources that try to educate me about ADHD. I don't need to understand it better - or maybe I don't just need that. I want extremely specific suggestions and concrete ideas from and for people like me, who do not have executive function problems but need to function in relationships with people who do. I cannot just say "hey please pay more attention to your to-do list." But I'm so tired of feeling like that means I have to be infinitely forgiving; that's also treating her like a child. So... what's ok? What's a reasonable expectation that isn't "screw you, magically fix your brain" or "give up on ever trusting my partner to follow up on anything I don't remind her about daily?"
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (25 answers total) 45 users marked this as a favorite
I am in a similar position as the husband of a ADHD wife...we have found Catieosaurus's stuff useful. She has a lot of ADHD content (a good portion which is specifically targeted at sex and relationships).
posted by Captain_Science at 7:48 AM on August 16, 2023 [1 favorite]

As someone who is married to someone with ADHD who intentionally goes off their meds once a week to get some "off" time, and lived with this person for 19 years before they were medicated, my suggestion is to accept that you may have to remind them to do things on a regular basis, and that may include taking their meds.

And the best way to "remind" someone with ADHD to do something they have forgotten to do is to just bring them what they need in order to do it and give it to them and help them to start doing it. No guilt, no grief, just e.g. "here are your meds, here's a drink of water." Or whatever else needs done. They don't need any additional crap about not doing stuff, they already know they should do stuff, their brains are just not wired to initiate boring tasks, it's a chemical thing, not a motivation thing, and trying to guilt an ADHD person into doing something is like trying to guilt-trip a car with no gas to get on the freeway.


Workbooks approach ADHD not from a "what is it" but "how to deal with it" perspective. One that helped my partner is "Smart but Scattered guide to Success."
posted by seanmpuckett at 8:26 AM on August 16, 2023 [20 favorites]

Survival Skills for the Non-ADHD Partner seems to have some good advice.

There is reportedly an online support group for people whose partners have ADHD.

The Attention Deficit Disorder Association has an article on relationship strategies which, again, appear potentially helpful. Part of this article includes the following:

This is another way of setting boundaries. Be clear. Be consistent. Members have had success when they used some of the following:

*You can’t be rude to people and blame it on your ADHD. If you do something impulsive and it has an impact – own up to it and apologize.
*Please refrain from using the words “I promise I will…” We both know the odds are you’ll slip up at some point. Then, you’ll feel bad, guilty, and ashamed, and I’ll feel angry. Say something more like “I’ll commit not to do X for the next six weeks” and revisit it then. Or “If I do Y again, you have my permission to call me on it.” And DO call them on it.
*When you say things like, “Let’s do a movie this weekend,” it’s not a commitment. It’s only a commitment if you put it in the calendar. And don’t put it in the calendar unless you’re committed.
*If things are getting too heated, have a code word. Using your code word means, “Let’s not have this fight right now, let’s talk about it later.” (More on this below.)
*I am not your alarm clock or your calendar. If you have to be somewhere, it’s up to you to get there.
*When you’re talking to me, please talk to me like there’s another person in the room listening. You treat me better when there’s someone else who might hear what you say.

I am a person with ADHD who keeps many many many alarms on her smartphone to remember to take her pills, eat, work, etc. I stay on my particular medication because when I stop taking it, I am an asshole. The thin filter I have between my brain and my mouth disappears completely when I am unmedicated. Anyway, I understand that different folks have different levels of disability as a result of ADHD, I am not your partner, yadda yadda. That said, I am rooting for the two of you to find solutions so that you can stay in this relationship without being miserable. Good luck!
posted by Bella Donna at 8:36 AM on August 16, 2023 [19 favorites]

I've seen more resources for partners of autistic people, those might shed a bit of light on your situation as the neurotypical spouse? Support groups for family of people with mental health disorders are also increasingly common, again, it's not specifically about being the spouse of someone with ADHD, but many people have ADHD in addition to other things like depression, anxiety etc.
posted by spamandkimchi at 8:38 AM on August 16, 2023 [2 favorites]

Also, just in case you haven't seen this book yet: Couples Guide to Thriving with ADHD.
posted by spamandkimchi at 8:41 AM on August 16, 2023

I quite like the channel ADHD Love done by a couple where one has ADHD and the other is neurotypical. They recently released a book that I'm looking forward to reading.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 8:50 AM on August 16, 2023 [2 favorites]

You’ll find solidarity and advice in the ADHD partners subreddit.
posted by guessthis at 9:39 AM on August 16, 2023 [3 favorites]

How to ADHD (YouTube channel; linking not working) covers this topics sometimes.
posted by Hex Wrench at 10:11 AM on August 16, 2023

I don't have links to share at the moment but as far as the forgetting her pills aspect - does she wear glasses or always drink coffee or anything that she actually does do every day despite the ADHD? Because if so I strongly recommend you gently talk to her about putting the pills right next to a related item - on top of the coffee pot, next to her phone, beside her hairbrush, whatever. And if there is any way of having them in 2 bottles in separate places, even better. I've tried all kinds of things to remember both my daytime and nighttime meds, and the ONLY way I've found to do it is to keep the night ones inside a decorative mug with my glasses so I see them when I take off my glasses before I go to sleep, and the daytime ones next to my phone and water bottle so they're the first thing I see in the morning.
posted by Saucy Possum at 10:27 AM on August 16, 2023 [2 favorites]

The book The ADHD Effect on Marriage was incredibly helpful for my (non-ADHD) husband when I was officially diagnosed about ten years ago; I think he found it validating and a good resource. I also read it (and found it useful) and my recollection is that the author wrote from a heteronormative assumption with the husband as the ADHD spouse with a neurotypical wife, so fyi. The book summary says it was updated in 2020 so perhaps the Kindle/ebook version doesn't rely on gender stereotypes as much? Though I think the heteronormative framing also unintentionally emphasizes that it's even a bit harder when the stereotypical genders are reversed.
posted by bluedaisy at 12:01 PM on August 16, 2023

I know you are not looking for direct advice but just in case:

I manage it with two of my partners by living separately from them. It keeps their chaos level from affecting my daily life or my financial goals. I'm happy to help them develop systems to manage the things they care about if they ask, but it keeps me out of a caretaker role and gives them the autonomy to their own thing.

A friend and their ADHD spouse agreed that since they were taking on a significant managerial role in the household, the spouse would do a greater number of other chores. This might not reduce the amount of reminding, but if the reminding is a job you're getting credit for, it might help.
posted by metasarah at 1:44 PM on August 16, 2023 [1 favorite]

Melissa Orlov, the co-author of the book bluedaisy linked to, offers classes, support groups, and counseling at her site adhdmarriage.com They also offer a Non-ADHD Partner Support Group. We found the book and the couples seminar useful.
posted by troyer at 1:49 PM on August 16, 2023

I am the wife of a man with ADHD, together for 16 years, he’s been diagnosed for 3. It was a wild ride getting to a diagnosis, and a big adaptation afterwards, but finding support for both of us (separately and together) was a game-changer. I’m glad you’re seeking resources for yourself.

To validate what you’re seeing: I’ve also found that there is a dearth of resources for partners of people with ADHD. Most content out there is about understanding and supporting the partner with ADHD. Even some of the (well-intentioned!) responses here are focused on them, not on you, when you clearly asked for support for partners.

The ADHD Partners subreddit linked above was helpful in helping me see some of the typical dynamics, challenges and positives (it can become a place where people rant, which I find less useful and tend to skip those posts).

We had couples therapy with someone who didn’t understand ADHD and it was a disaster. What has helped is for me to get individual counseling from someone who does understand ADHD (but, crucially, does not have it themselves). This has given me a safe space where I can express myself and work through solutions. Highly, highly recommended.
posted by third word on a random page at 1:51 PM on August 16, 2023 [3 favorites]

Addition to my comment: there are two ADHD Partners subreddits; the one I’ve found more helpful/active is this one.
posted by third word on a random page at 2:04 PM on August 16, 2023 [4 favorites]

You have to accept that you will likely do more work in the partnership and will have to give up doing some things you’d want to do. Figure out what you can realistically do yourself (or pay someone to do). If you’re a parent, accept that in some respects you are a single parent. And stop relying on your partner to do things that will risk relationships/money - do them yourself.

Ideally, you will identify tasks that your partner can do successfully that are a contribution. For me, that means allocating the tasks that can be done in the moment on a clear schedule that doesn’t require executive function - eg school pickup/drop off, childcare, chores you can initiate and do together (“It’s laundry time!”)

And of course you can also choose to end the partnership. It can be a lot.
posted by haptic_avenger at 5:25 PM on August 16, 2023

Take a look at the second part of Captain Awkward’s response here.. I will look at the other resources in this thread as I am a non-ADHD partner of an ADHDer ( although I am not neurotypical since I am autistic).
posted by matildaben at 9:24 PM on August 16, 2023

I'm an ADHD generally home-managing mom, my wife has ADHD, and we have one definitely ADHD kid and one probably ADHD kid. I read the book Driven to Distraction at the start of our journey of diagnosis, and IIRC somewhere in there it says, "the most helpful thing you can do to help manage your life if you have ADHD is marry someone who doesn't have ADHD," or something along those lines.

How I've felt about the breakdowns in follow through and having to be the person who reminds people and schedules things and makes sure things happen has changed over the years. I think a lot of the responsibility that we may take on as spouses to ADHD partners are things that would historically be 'women' coded responsibilities. "Oh, my husband is so busy at work, so I have to make sure that the rest of life runs smoothly," if you will. I, personally, as someone whose love language is acts of service, get a lot of satisfaction from being the person that makes the household run, but that doesn't mean I don't get exhausted by being the person who takes on everything. It's often hard for other people to recognize the effort you're putting in, as well, and they may have strong opinions about how the solution should be dealt with (which sometimes may work and oftentimes won't, because almost all solutions require follow through).

I've found that managing the 'well I would do this but I don't know if you want me to so I'm not going to until you tell/ask me to do it' to be the most exhausting. Just making sure that things happen is one thing. Having to project manage an entire family so they do their 'fair share' and don't forget is a whole other level of responsibility.

I think it's important to know what's really frustrating you about the situation, and what you can handle and are willing to do for your partner. Presumably each of you have strengths, and it sounds like executive function definitely isn't theirs. As long as everyone brings something to the table, it seems like there's hope to create a situation where people do what they're good at, and everyone gets recognized for their contribution. Of course, as the person with executive function it's going to be up to you to maintain that, so...
posted by objectfox at 3:36 AM on August 17, 2023 [4 favorites]

I don't think consuming more resources re: ADHD is going to help you. The condition manifests itself in infinite ways; people's lives are infinitely varied and the disease itself seems to be more of a spectrum of dysfunctions as opposed to a single discrete thing.

This is a condition that affects your family, which includes yourself and any dependents. A few notes from that perspective:

- from your post, I gather that much of the management of this disease has been instigated by yourself, urging your wife to take action on her condition. this seems like a heavy burden to carry. you note that your wife is unwilling to go to couple's therapy at this stage. are you in therapy? i think it would be quite helpful. she may be more willing to go if you start it on your own.
- your framing of your wife valuing her boss's time more than yours is not helpful. 'maintaining' is hard work. she may need a break on the weekends; perhaps she trusts you enough and is comfortable enough on the weekends to 'let go' a little bit. therapy can help you with items like this.
- it might be helpful to automate (bill payments, health insurance reimbursements, renewals) or outsource (house cleaning, laundry) certain tasks
- in that vein, certain categories of tasks may be unsuitable for your partner, and the family task list may have to be assigned based on this assumption. you can't do everything, but i would urge you to view the division of labour via an equity as opposed to an equality lens.
- your partner has a chronic condition, and there's no magic bullet that will mitigate all her symptoms eternally. there may be periods where she's close to 'normal', and others where her condition seems out of control, despite both your best efforts. she will always have adhd, and if you want to remain in this relationship, you need to come to terms with this (see above re therapy for yourself)
- re: therapy for your partner, there are certain categories of 'therapists' who are more coaches. they don't listen to you talk about your childhood etc, they work one-on-one with you on specific custom strategies and mitigations that are more in the vein of checklists, time management strategies, etc. your partner may be more willing to go to this class of 'therapist'.
- in addition to one-on-one therapy for yourself, it may be helpful to go to a group for partners of people with ADHD. there may be one in your local area; there are also virtual groups like this.
- finally, are you sure your wife has adhd? did she get a differential diagnosis by a psychiatrist who specializes in adult adhd or did her family doc write her a script based on a 10 minute consultation? if the latter, it may be helpful for you to pursue the former, as proper diagnosis is a form of treatment in and of itself. there are a number of conditions that 'masquerade' as adhd and their treatment is not the same as adhd.

all the best!
posted by sid at 6:52 AM on August 17, 2023

I am absolutely not interested in anything that is 100% from the perspective of the ADHD partner, or that puts the weight on the perspective of the ADHD partner. I've had plenty of that and I'm frankly tired of hearing about how challenging it is to have ADHD. I exist in this relationship too and I feel excluded and ignored by a lot of the "helpful" stuff I've seen that puts too much emphasis on trying to help me understand what ADHD is, and less on "ok now what."

First, I want to say that I'm sorry you don't feel supported in your relationship. It sounds like you have compassion fatigue, and that you feel like you're pulling all the weight. That's a tough spot to be in.

Now, having said that, I showed your post to my husband just now, and his immediate response was, "Wow. What an absolute jackass."

He and I have shared our fair share of struggles when I've needed extra support for my ADHD, but one thing he never did was let that turn into resentment. And the fact that he never let it turn into resentment played a very big role in our ability to communicate, work towards solutions, and heal.

You talk about your wife like someone shit in your bowl of Cheerios. They are a human being who is struggling with the hand that life dealt them. It's clear that this is more than just ADHD, this is depression (which is often comorbid with ADHD and can make ADHD symptoms much worse). Whether you care or not, having an unsupportive partner will make that a thousand times worse.

Have you ever sat down and asked your wife what they need from you to feel supported? Doing that would not be "ADHD Relationship 101," but simply "Relationship 101." It sounds to me like you wouldn't be equipped to handle basic relationship issues if you were in a relationship with a neurotypical person.

I'm not going to tell you to put your wife in therapy - we get it. But I am going to tell you to set aside whatever is going on with your wife and see a therapist on your own. You need to be talking about these things with a professional. No, I don't know you, but it doesn't take a genius to infer that there is something deep inside of you that needs to heal. Whatever is going on with your marriage is a red herring for something much deeper that you'll need to address if you expect to be able to handle this type of conflict with maturity and grace. Good luck.

A successful person with well-managed ADHD whose amazingly supportive husband made an enormous difference
posted by nightrecordings at 10:43 AM on August 17, 2023 [11 favorites]

Hey, just for the record, I don't think you sound like a jackass or a person who can't have relationships(!!!?), you sound like someone who is burnt out and is tired of being told that you just need to do even more work to adapt.

It might benefit you to read some of the comments in this thread, where a lot of the poster's question has to do with similar struggles from their partner. There are a lot of answers that touch on what is and isn't reasonable to expect from other people, but also on what sort of boundaries you need to set for yourself.
posted by sagc at 11:26 AM on August 17, 2023 [13 favorites]

Neurodiverse Love Podcast
posted by ayc200 at 12:06 PM on August 17, 2023 [1 favorite]

Mod note: Please remember the importance of answering questions with kindness, understanding and with the intention to help askers solve their presented question. Let's also assume the best in Askers and give folks the benefit of the doubt when they're trying to pursue knowledge and learning.
posted by travelingthyme (staff) at 4:44 PM on August 17, 2023 [3 favorites]

I haven't read it, but I've seen it recommended to partners in my ADHD groups:

Is It You, Me, or Adult A.D.D.?: Stopping the Roller Coaster When Someone You Love Has Attention Deficit Disorder
posted by naju at 8:29 PM on August 17, 2023 [1 favorite]

Hey, I want to apologize to the OP. Reading this AskMe made me feel strong emotions and I should have waited to respond once I was no longer feeling those strong emotions. I understand that the OP was likely feeling strong emotions, too, when they wrote their AskMe. That irony is not lost on me, and I am genuinely sorry for taking such a harsh and judgmental tone.

I'll reframe my original comment accordingly: if you're already at the point that you resent your partner (and I don't know that you do!) because of how their unaddressed ADHD has impacted your finances and family relationships, and you're also not interested in reading more about what it's like to have ADHD, then it sounds like the best resources for you are going to be general-audience self-help resources about navigating communication in relationships. In other words, self-help and how-to-communicate resources that are written for a general audience, rather than an audience involving a non-ADHD partner and ADHD partner, or anything related to neurodivergence.

The reason I say this is because even the resources that are written specifically for the non-ADHD partner are going to talk about the struggles involved in ADHD. That's because you can't talk about a person with ADHD without addressing what goes on inside the head of a person with ADHD. Thus, I'd recommend general resources that are focused on how to communicate with a partner who is either unwilling or unable to put in the work.

This is an unconventional recommendation, but I've yet to recommend it to someone who didn't find it helpful: Nicole LePera's How to Do the Work. It's a book that's going to ask you to focus on yourself and why you're feeling the way you do around your partner/life circumstances, and go some pretty deep places to help you figure out what it is you really want (and need) from this relationship. It is possible that understanding yourself better will allow you to not only live your best life, but also determine how your partner does (or does not) fit into that.
posted by nightrecordings at 12:48 PM on August 18, 2023 [4 favorites]

Check out Dirty Laundry - it's by a couple where one half has ADHD, each chapter deals with a specific practical issue (timings, finances,...) and each give their perspective and take.

It's really compassionate (both clearly love each other), funny and very honest about how yes, ADHD can make things complicated.
posted by litleozy at 3:56 AM on August 22, 2023 [2 favorites]

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