How do I maintain my sanity when my partner has ADHD?
March 11, 2008 12:40 PM   Subscribe

My partner has ADHD and I need ways of understanding/coping with his behavior so I can maintain my sanity.

We live together, are in our mid 30s, no kids, and have been together for four years. My boyfriend was diagnosed with ADHD about a year later. He was on meds (Ritalin) for about a year, but stopped taking them because he felt like he was weak for needing drugs, and because he didn't like the side effects. We had a major confrontation where I insisted he go back on them or go back to the doctor to get a different prescription. He occasionally takes them now, but mostly "forgets," and he's "forgotten" to make an appointment with the doctor despite many reminders. He's also "forgotten" to make an appointment for couples counseling (I don't have insurance and I don't know which doctors are on his plan, so I can't make the appointment.). I suspect that some of this forgetfulness is passive-aggressiveness. I've been as supportive as I know how to be; I've read up on ADHD, I've assured him that I don't think less of him and I have tried to be patient with his distractedness, forgetfulness, and irresponsibility.

But sometimes I just reach my limit and I don't know how to handle this any better than I have been. He pays the rent, because his income is much more than mine (I pay the utilities and many other incidentals). He is late with the rent EVERY SINGLE MONTH despite my reminders. Our landlord is pretty passive and hasn't insisted on late fees, but we're planning to move at the end of our lease and I'm afraid he won't give us a good reference. He's late with other bills and has completely destroyed his credit, so that any major purchases must be made by me. He's tried various organizational tools such as financial software, but doesn't stick with it. He has most of his bills set up on auto-pay, but they frequently bounce.

Then there's the housework. I won't say he doesn't do anything, because he can be extremely helpful in short bursts, but if we've planned to clean the house on a given day, it's like pulling teeth. I accept that he'll always be naturally messier than I am (and I am far from a neat freak), but I don't know how to deal with the constant promises of "Oh, I'll clean that up tomorrow" only to have the mess sit there for weeks. He plays video games and watches TV instead of doing his laundry, and then has no clean clothes to wear. This kind of stuff bothers me the most because he fails to plan or procrastinates and ends up stressed out, and doesn't seem to learn any lesson at all from this. He loses his stuff constantly (phone, keys, wallet) and can't learn to put it in the same place every day.

I'm sensitive to the fact that people with ADHD have been called lazy and stupid much of their lives, and he is a pretty classic case, having dropped out of college numerous times, bounced around different jobs, etc. His mother is a rescuer, and probably would still do his laundry if I wasn't in the picture. I refuse to be a parent to him and refuse to clean up his messes (literally and figuratively). He is extremely sensitive to what he perceives as nagging or accusation. 95% of our fights begin with me saying something like "Hey, did you get a chance to do task X yet?" and him spiraling into "I can't ever do anything right, can I?"

His ADHD seems to affect his work and he's frequently very stressed out because he's behind due to his inability to focus (his boss is also certifiably insane, but that's another issue). I've tried to get him to exercise, to meditate, to do anything to relieve the stress, but it seems like all he wants to do is watch TV and play videogames, which don't seem to do anything as far as stress relief because he's still up half the night fretting.

Despite all this, I really do love him. He's sweet, generous, intelligent, funny and he absolutely adores me. I do believe he tries his best to make me happy. I really want to stay with him - this is not a "should I leave" question. However, I won't stay "no matter what" - I've already threatened to leave because of his temper (verbal, not physical), and he's completely changed in that regard, so I know he can control at least that much. I just want to know if there is any better way to approach a partner with ADHD.

It should be said that I am not the most easygoing person in the world. I have an anxiety disorder as well as issues with abandonment. I know the ADHD feeds into these things, as I often feel like I'm not exciting enough for him. Because of the distractibility, sometimes I don't even feel like I'm there. (Example: if we go to a restaurant with a TV in the dining area, he becomes fixated on the TV to the exclusion of our conversation.) I have worked on these issues in therapy on my own (and I'm on medication), but I haven't figured out a way to reconcile them with the ADHD.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (27 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Here's thing thing it took me a long time to come to grips with; if someone acts in a way that is detrimental to others or irresponsible or whatever, it doesn't matter if they're doing so because they have ADHD or are a drunk or just lazy. It affects the level of sympathy they deserve. It affects the course of action to encourage change. It affects lots of things.

It doesn't affect whether the behavior is acceptable.

You should have a talk with him and let him know the things that are bothering you. If what you've presented is accurate (then his behavior is very immature). If he refuses to change, you need to decide if you want to stay with someone who refuses to take the steps necessary to lead a responsible adult life.

The problem isn't with you (again, assuming you've presented the facts fairly), it's with his behavior. This ADHD stuff is just an excuse.
posted by Justinian at 12:57 PM on March 11, 2008 [12 favorites]

As the wife of a man with ADHD and the mother of a son with it as well, I can tell you that there is only so much you can do. Most of the changes he needs to make are up to him to do. I will say that the right medication made all the difference in our lives, and it can take quite a while to find the right one.

The ADHD books by Edward Hallowell (Driven to Distraction, Answers to Distraction, and Delivered from Distraction) changed my husband's life. He wanted so desperately to make changes but, much like your partner, every change he made would end in a huge backslide. Once he finally accepted that the ADHD wasn't his fault, that he wasn't less of a human being because he needed medication to control a brain disorder, his life really changed.
posted by cooker girl at 12:58 PM on March 11, 2008

Here's thing thing it took me a long time to come to grips with; if someone acts in a way that is detrimental to others or irresponsible or whatever, it doesn't matter if they're doing so because they have ADHD or are a drunk or just lazy. It affects the level of sympathy they deserve.

The level of sympathy we have for human beings has nothing to do with this. What's important is deciding where you need to get off for your needs. You can still be sympathetic and act in your own best interests. This is going to be a very important distinction for you.

He is extremely sensitive to what he perceives as nagging or accusation.

Given this circumstance, I would say that anything remotely resembling nagging or accusation might not be the best way to try and get him to do what you want.

I'm going to suggest a different tack. Positive reinforcement. Whenever he does even the littlest thing that smacks of him covering the bases and doing the "right" thing, give him real praise and real rewards. Whenever he is successful at doing things which are along the lines of what you percieve as right for him, give him things he really likes, especially the type of praise and loving attention he likes. Like a rat in a maze, he will want to start doing those things and getting better will be related to a series of rewards.

For more details, see What Shamu Taught Me About a Happy Marriage.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:09 PM on March 11, 2008

My answer has two parts, depending on what you mean by "partner".

If what you mean by "partner" is that you are a "life partner," meaning you consider yourself as a unit and are in a committed long term relationship on par with marriage, then my suggestion is that YOU handle the finances. Figure out how much rent/other life together (e.g., saving for new car, retirement, vacation, etc., cost is per month, have boyfriend's job direct deposit what both of you agree would be his share of that amount to a joint bank account, then YOU pay the rent, bills, etc. with that money. When you do this, also set up a separate debit/savings account or a cash system in his name so that he pays for what he wants/needs out of that, and when it runs out, it runs out. No bounced checks/bills. And for the messiness, just let it be. If you can't handle the mess, then buy a Roomba. Or hire a cleaning service to come in every other week.

As for his performance at his work, you can suggest a cognitive behavioral therapist, however, who will teach him various "tricks" he can use. Make sure it's someone who has experience with ADHD. CBT works well with ADHD in adults, because much of ADHD has to do with learning various tricks and strategies. Find one for him and make the appt.., and drive him over. Plan a nice "date" for the two of you afterwards, so that it's a treat for both of you.

If, on the other hand, your relationship is NOT a long-term commitment, then don't live together. Sounds like most of the aggravation is associated with living together, so get an apartment close to each other, and visit each other frequently, but don't live together. AND do above re: CBT.

And upon preview, the books that cooker girl suggests.
posted by jujube at 1:14 PM on March 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

Speaking as someone who managed to shake himself out of what you're describing, the problem is probably one of two things, or both:

1) Depression. Not ADHD, but major clinical depression (or mood disorder with a similar profile like Bipolar type 2)
2) Serious arrested development

#1 is biological - it is expressly not his fault because there's nothing he could have done. Genetic or environmentally triggered neurochemical imbalances are not the responsibility of those who suffer from them, nor are they a sign of lacking willpower. What IS the responsibility of those who suffer from them is to fucking do something about it. That means taking those meds every day and sticking to it for over a month before even beginning to form a judgement as to whether they are working.

#2 is psychological - it's a personality problem and while therapy is an option, there's very likely little that's going to happen with you present. He has money, video games, and he's getting laid. All his needs are being met - why should he change?

It's either #1 or #2 or a combination thereof.

So, sit down with him. Tell him there is a problem. Tell him what he is doing that is upsetting you. Explain this breakdown in clear English. Use small words. Be direct.

Tell him you are going to give him the benefit of the doubt and will stand by him if he makes a real good-faith effort to try and treat the problem. Tell him that if he can't put the effort into reforming himself, and do so now, then you won't be able to respect him enough to continue being his partner.

Most importantly: mean it. Say it in a tone that indicates you want to help, but be frank and direct.

His reaction will tell you everything you need to know. If he makes an honest effort and starts showing significant improvement - it may take a few tries to get there - then chances are the problem wasn't just immaturity.

If he tells you he'll do it, and then simply doesn't, it's arrested development and you need to get the hell out before you spend the rest of your 30s miserable.
posted by Ryvar at 1:31 PM on March 11, 2008 [3 favorites]

All of what you mentioned MAY have roots in the ADHD (I know neither his condition nor him to know definitively), but what I can say with ABSOLUTE certainty is that all of the above is due to his lack of respect.

Or it may be because he suffers from a mental illness that makes him unable to control his behavior. Your absolute certainty is absolutely wrong. That things that are important to her fall outside of his range of attention does not in any way imply a lack of fucking respect.

That said, to the OP: you can't force him to do things that fall outside his attention. So you can either live with it or not. Do you love him enough to do all the housework?
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 1:35 PM on March 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

Are you sure his forgetfullness with regards to cleaning and paying bills is directly attributable to ADHD, they aren't exactly text-book examples of activities that require high-levels of concentration for extended periods of time.

If his response is to get in an argument about you nagging him to do things, then I think it's fair to assume that he doesn't really care about doing those tasks at all.

While it may be more difficult for him to concentrate on certain aspects in his life, I would think the respect he should show you as a loved one would help get some of those tasks down without constant reminders. If he can hold down a job, he should be able to manage the mammoth task of picking up his clothing (etc). If he's failing to take his medications or other following other avenues to improve his situation, then I'm not sure what anyone can really suggest.

Sit him down, let him know your feelings in a level headed way, if he refuses or makes no attempt to improve the situation, then think about walking away. He is who he is, if that person frustrates you to the point of insanity then you owe it to yourself to improve your situation. It's unlikely that as time progresses he's going to get more motivated to do something.
posted by Static Vagabond at 1:35 PM on March 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

Sorry, you cannot solve another adult's problems for them. You cannot force a grown man to make appointments, do chores, exercise, medicate, etc, even if you are convinced it is in your best interests. Find a way to work around his problems or find a way to leave him. For you, I recommend Codependent No More, because you're letting his bad behaviour ruin your life.
posted by crazycanuck at 2:15 PM on March 11, 2008 [4 favorites]

Positive reinforcement is helpful. Don't set aside times to clean the whole house, that is a very large task and it can feel overwhelming when presented with a page long list. Break it down to one thing at a time, "honey can you do the dishes?" once the task is complete, assign another. Punctuate with a few minutes of break time in between. Do not let him leave the room he is cleaning or working in, my biggest problem is that when I am cleaning, lets say the bedroom, and I find something like earrings that are supposed to go in the bathroom. I go put them in the bathroom and see that the sink is dirty, clean that off and realize the mirror needs to be cleaned. Wander off to find the windex, which is in the kitchen. Ooooh sandwiches sound good. Three hours later and I go to bed only to find the sheets are still in the laundry room.

There is a myth that people with adhd can, with a little elbow grease fix themselves to act normal. It simply isn't that simple. You aren't going to have a "normal" relationship with us. Lets say your partner has herpes. Yes you still love him, yes it is possible to live happily with him, but it will be hard (the caveat to this is that you can't catch adhd ;) there will be difficulties, you will be frustrated.

Now, that isn't to say that he should get a free pass for not cleaning and having money difficulties. You are not his mother, but you are his partner. This may require you to take a controlling hand in his finances. I no longer am allowed to use my debit cards (boyfriend has those) unless given permission. However, it is very important to not simply take things away, he needs to recognize that he cannot do things by himself and needs help. This doesn't make him any less of an adult. Each person has unique qualities, find where his strengths are. And remember, you aren't perfect either.
posted by silkygreenbelly at 2:24 PM on March 11, 2008 [2 favorites]

I agree with cooker girl and others. You can only ask him so much. I would stop asking or reminding him. All you can do is your laundry (and his if you choose), your exercise, your cleaning, your bills, etc., and set a good example. Like you said, you're not his mother. It's not your job to remind him and nag him. My husband can be like a stubborn child when he asked to do something. I say this in the nicest way. My husband is a self-starter, but sometimes I really want him to do something and he is eager and more than willing if I ask once. The more I persist, the more he shuts down. If he doesn't want to do something, I can't make him. If it is so important to me, I'll it myself if I can.

I'm pretty sure I have mild to moderate ADD. Here is what not to take personally: tardiness, losing keys, forgetfulness. He really does not want to be late. He does not want to upset you. It's part of the ADD. He probably manages to scrape by. Nothing terribly detrimental has happened to cause him to improve his systems, except ruining his credit. Which he probably feels bad about and chooses to avoid. Maybe he is too overwhelmed or distracted to put some systems into place.

There are some things you can consider implementing or suggesting:

A schedule. Making a statement such as , "tomorrow we're going to clean, right?" is not very helpful to a person with ADD. They have good intentions, but then they'll get on the computer or get hyperfocused on something and time runs out. You need to be specific. "This Saturday, how about we start cleaning at 9:00 and end around noontime?" I try to clean a room everyday. When things are crazy husband and I divide chores. Usually we can come up with a division that is fair. Sometimes we put all of the rooms or chores that need to be cleaned into a hat and pick. Crank up the music and get going. Loud rock and roll is said the clear the mind of a person with ADD, believe it or not.

Timers help. Set the timer for 30 minutes and see how much you can get done. Sometimes I'll set the timer for an hour and say to myself, "I'm going to clean this kitchen, top to bottom in one hour!" I can do it, including washing the fridge and cabinets and floor. Timers are a necessity for ADDers. It's also a good idea to set the timer when internet surfing or other time-sucking leisure activities. I'll surf for an hour. When the timer goes off, I'll put in a load of laundry.

Depending on your finances I highly suggest to hire a weekly or bi-weekly cleaning person. This keeps the house in check. It can never get too messy. You are forced to pick up before the cleaning person arrives. A regular cleaning service is money well spent for people that have a hard time keeping their homes clean.

Also, try to convince your boyfriend to get rid of some stuff if he has too much stuff. Pare down to the necessities. Too many clothes, books, gadgets, etc. are overwhelming. Get rid of any clutter. If he sets his keys down in a stack of clutter they are impossible to find. Mount a strip right by the front door. He needs to make it easy to succeed. He shouldn't have 50 shirts crammed together in a closet. He should have 10 or less. It's easier to decide, and easier to keep up with the laundry.

Personal finance computer programs are difficult to keep up with, for me at least. I'm on the computer a lot but can never stick to, or remember to enter figures. A spiral notebook is easier for me. One notebook. Also, a wall pocket mounted by the desk for bills and correspondence that needs to be dealt with now, and one expanding file near his desk. You could keep one expanding file per year depending on the paperwork you need to save. Keep it very simple. People with ADD have a hard time coping with complicated filing systems. Nothing that needs to be dealt with ASAP should be hidden in a stack or a metal filing cabinet. This is why I like the clear acrylic or mesh wall pockets.

He probably would benefit from shaking up his routine or doing something out of the ordinary. This is pure speculation, but if he is in the habit of going to work, surfing the net until 1 am, and then staggering to bed without any clean laundry for the next day, he needs to shake it up. Sometimes a little tweaking with a routine can encourage and motivate. Take dancing lessons, go bowling, watch a mini-series together. Throw some laundry in together or ask, "honey can a throw a few shirts in for you?" This might catch him off-guard since he feels like he can't do anything right. Friendliness and harmony might encourage him to do more.

Another thing to think about is acceptance or moving on. There is a good chance that your boyfriend may never change. How do you think you would deal with this? Can you deal with a lifetime of tardiness, forgetfulness, and piled up laundry? Are you on the same page as far as life goals, ambitions, activities, etc.? Do his behaviors seriously weigh you down? If he never changed do you think you would want out? How do you feel about keeping the entire house clean by yourself, as a previous poster has mentioned? Or, taking over the bill paying responsibilities? It may not be such a bad thing especially if he is doing is share in other areas. Good luck.
posted by LoriFLA at 2:24 PM on March 11, 2008 [5 favorites]

If this person truly respected you as a life partner he would make some kind of an effort to do his share of housework, to pay bills on time, etc. -- particularly if you have told him explicitly and repeatedly that it is important to you. You say that he adores you and is trying to make you happy, but nothing you describe supports that statement.

The behavior you describe indicates 100 percent concern for his own comfort and priorities (not taking meds because they make him feel weak, sitting around all day playing video games instead of cleaning up after himself) and 0 percent concern for your comfort and priorities (not having a nasty house, not feeling like his mother, not worrying that the bills are unpaid or late). You are not describing someone who is treating you like a loved, respected life partner.

Please don't let yourself continue to be disrespected, no matter what kind of "diagnosis" he claims to have. You can't expect perfection, but you can expect an effort to be made. There's a huge difference.

Someone Who Wasted Half Her Thirties In Much The Same Situation
posted by mccxxiii at 2:43 PM on March 11, 2008 [3 favorites]

On a strictly medical level, I know of 2 friends with ADHD who had "so so" experiences with Ritalin and were both switched to Adderall by their doctors. Both reported a pretty dramatic difference.
posted by jalexei at 2:48 PM on March 11, 2008

sometimes I don't even feel like I'm there. (Example: if we go to a restaurant with a TV in the dining area, he becomes fixated on the TV to the exclusion of our conversation.)

The TV thing is huge for me. When sitting at a table, try to get his back towards the TV. If you can't, find another restaurant. Seriously. I want so badly to listen, but these things are moving around (tv's, people, animals, cars). It's frustrating for my boyfriend, but doubly so for me because I want to listen to him, but my brain keeps fucking it up and I can tell he is hurt by it. And, since I adore him, it pains me to see him hurt, much more so, when I am the one hurting him.

As for meds, they can be really hard to take and it can be difficult to balance the pros and cons. My projects became less creative, but I could get them done. I could actually listen to conversations but wasn't as funny or engaging when talking back. my sex drive dropped to near zero, my mouth was always dry and i had panic attacks. Missing a day resulted in uncontrollable anger and depression. Worst of all when not on meds, I have bizarre, strange and usually quite lovely dreams with only a rare nightmare. When taking meds I rarely remembered my dreams and when I did they were very frightening.
posted by silkygreenbelly at 2:54 PM on March 11, 2008

If it weren't for the age difference, I would think you were living with my ex.

As others have said, the cause of his behavior isn't super relevant. What's relevant is whether he tries to change. If he won't try to change and won't even discuss changing, he has clearly made his decision. Now you need to make yours.

You can't make an adult change against his will. You can, however, live separately so he doesn't drive you nuts. This doesn't mean splitting up; it just means you getting a space that meets your needs and letting him live nag-free. If he wants to live with you again, he knows what he needs to do.

It sounds like you might need to increase your income, too, so you aren't dependent on his. And you definitely need to make sure your finances don't get mixed with his.

P.S. I got the "positive reinforcement" advice, too, and it didn't work. It still left me in the mom role, because I was still having to "raise" my partner by showing him how to be an adult.
posted by PatoPata at 3:44 PM on March 11, 2008

I don't know how much of this has to do with ADD and how much is nurture. My SO has ADD and is perfectly capable of paying his bills on time and doing laundry. Every surface in our house is papered in sticky notes but hey, whatever it takes.

I don't know how to deal with the constant promises of "Oh, I'll clean that up tomorrow" only to have the mess sit there for weeks

Buy a big box, like a hamper. If he leaves stuff all over, put it in the hamper. Minimal work for you, he knows where to look and you can see the floor again.
posted by fshgrl at 5:26 PM on March 11, 2008

If you have ADHD bad enough, it can effect motivation levels. Many people do not know that this can be a symptom of ADHD. The only thing will help this is medication, and maybe some self-help measures such as exercise and diet change.
posted by sixcolors at 5:45 PM on March 11, 2008

The first thing that came to mind on reading your post was that maybe you shouldn't live together. I don't mean you should break up, but that if that's how he wants to live maybe he needs to do that on his own. If you continue your relationship but don't live together you won't have to deal with the day to day crap so much, and while you'll spend less time together, you'll both probably value it more.
I realize it's easier said than done, but it might be worth considering.

Ask him point-blank if he understands how unhappy his behavior makes you. If he unwilling to hear you, or is unwilling to do anything about it, then you probably shouldn't be living with him anyway. If he knows and wants to change but feels helpless to do so there's a lot that can be done.
posted by smartyboots at 5:50 PM on March 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

You have to get one of these.

I bought one so that toddlertaff wasn't exposed to tv inappropriately (i.e. at all) and they're fabbo.

It's only a very small part of your problem.... but it may help.

I don't think I've got add/adhd and I find televisions in cafes/restarants hard to ignore. Bloody awful things. They kill all conversations. And if the cricket is on, you can kiss goodbye to eye contact from mrtaff!

I don't really have any advice... .but one thing I always say to my girly friends is.... "You deserve to be cherished. And you deserve to be adored. You also deserve to be treated like a goddess. Don't ever forget this."

Good luck with everything else, possum.
posted by taff at 6:05 PM on March 11, 2008

As someone with ADHD, I have this to say, and I ask that all non-ADHDers take it to heart. Usually, in general, we with ADHD are not trying to mess with your heads. We are not trying to be jerks. We are not trying to drive you insane or make your miserable. I know it often feels like we're doing it on purpose -- that we don't care. But this is not what is going on.

All that being said, this guy sounds like a jerk and a piece of work. I had problems with late payments all the time, too, when I was in my early 20s. I tend to pay everything on time now. This guy needs to be on meds, and on meds for a while so that he can learn what it is like to be normal.

You have some control in this situation. You need to be clear that his actions are actively hurting you, someone he loves, and that you love him but will not stay in a hurtful relationship. You need to make this serious. It's unfair, but many people with ADHD suddenly magically respond when the situation gets really, really serious.

As far as forgetting to take his medicine: I forget a lot too. I don't forget because I don't want to take it. One way of reminding a person that they've forgotten to take it is to point out ADHD behaviors they are engaging in. If they have taken their medicine, you are providing important feedback that they are hopefully more capable of taking in thanks to the medicine ("Oh, I am interrupting a lot...something I was working on. I'll try being quiet for a while and just listening" [yes, this is the sort of thing a person with ADHD like me has to do, even at 30]. If they haven't taken their medicine, they should hopefully respond with, "Oh right! I haven't taken my medicine yet. Thanks". This is more useful than asking, "Did you take your medicine" which somehow seems more critical and accusatory than simply describing the behavior you are observing.
posted by Deathalicious at 9:05 PM on March 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

Hi there, from someone who is pretty darn sure she has ADD but has for months/years not gotten around to making an appointment for diagnosis and treatment, despite really wanting to.

Regarding the cleaning, one thing that really helps for me is to have deadlines. Honestly, I keep saying I'm going to clean on a regular basis and failing, and I feel bad because I know my boyfriend isn't happy about it, but I don't actually kick myself into high gear until someone is coming over and will arrive in X hours, where X hours is the amount of time it will take to clean the apartment respectably-- once something clicks into place in my brain saying "Okay, I really have to do this right now" then I take action. This may not work for you two (especially if he doesn't care so much what the place looks like when people are over) but you might want to consider inviting people over on a regular basis so there's something going on to prod him into action.

Brainstorming ways to create urgency and deadlines for other tasks may help too. (You'd think that due dates for rent and utility bills would do that on their own, but somehow they don't!) Maybe with the couples' counseling, you pick a date (your birthday? your anniversary? some other meaningful date if those are both a long way away?) that's a little ways away and get him to commit to setting it up by then, because it'll make you happy on that special day to know it's done. Then put it on the calendar or find some other way to remind him about that deadline without seeming naggy, and maybe that'll help jumpstart him to do it.

Also-- try not to worry too much about his dirty laundry and his lost keys. I lose stuff and forget stuff, I probably always will, and if my boyfriend got stressed about whether I was on top of those things it'd be a lot of extra stress for nothing. If there are things that don't really affect you, try to let go and focus on the stuff that really matters to you personally.

I think there are a few people in this thread who don't understand ADD or think it's all excuses, and I think they're off base. (It does not take super-severe ADD to forget to take medication or make appointments!) But one thing that's true is that there is no excuse for your boyfriend not to be making an effort to do better. Having ADD may mean that when he tries and fails at something that you think should be easy, it's hard to see from the outside that he's really trying. But you've been together for 4 years and I'll bet you know him well enough to know. If he's not showing consideration for your feelings and trying to find solutions, that's a big big problem, one that you shouldn't stand for.

Finally: if you haven't found it already, ADDForums is a great resource and has a Non-ADD Partner Support forum.
posted by EmilyClimbs at 9:21 PM on March 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

I can totally relate. Except that I'm ADHD and he's (undiagnosed) ADD. Here are some things that have worked for us:

ADHD doesn't account for everything.
What you describe about late payments and careless housekeeping isn't necessarily ADHD. I am chronically late to work but I'll be damned if I'm late paying my bills.

Some people simply don't care about messy houses and bad credit, which in your boyfriend's case probably has more to do with his early family life than an attention deficit. I'll bet his rescuing mother was too busy doing his laundry and protecting him from reality (while simultaneously teaching him that he is incapable of taking care of himself) to teach him about personal finance and accountability, not to mention the importance of paying his bills on time.

Pay Utility Bills and Shared Expenses Together.
My fiance simply has better things to do than pay bills. So guess what? He deposits his money into my bank account, and I pay the electric, gas, water, cable, and mortgage.

Maintaining a shared bank account helps both of you to recognize a sense of personal accountability in the relationship. If you've been together four years, I hope you trust one another enough to fall back on one partner's relative strengths. Yours in this case is making sure everyone gets paid on time. It will also help open the lines of communication for discussing expenses and responsible spending. And it'll be a lot harder for him to bounce all those checks if you're keeping track on what's going in and out of your bank account. He might be able to trick the cable or car company, but he can't fool you--and you know where he lives.

Debt is Bondage.
It might help to paint the picture in terms of bondage: if you're anything like me, when you owe money to someone, you feel personally obligated to them; you are at the mercy of that person. If you're a day late paying your credit card bill, emotionally you owe a whole day of your life, not just the money, to the credit card company. If he's at all an independent kind of person, this will make a big impact on how he views financial management.

Don't Nag: Do Your Own Laundry.
The first time I went to my fiance's house, his place was not fit for human inhabitants. The next time, I brought tons of Pledge, Clorox, and industrial sized trash cans. He was slightly offended, but he got the message...eventually. After I stopped doing his laundry and trying to pick up after him (and getting so frustrated that I dumped all his clothes on his computer desk so that he couldn't work until he dealt with the mess.) It took a long time, but he finally reached a point where he became aware of the difference between a tolerable amount of clutter and near-pathological-hoarding-type messiness.

Evaluate Your Home Decor
Is there something about your apartment that you absolutely hate? For us it was the Pepto-Bismol-pink carpet in our bedroom. Strangely enough, I noticed that our clothes kept ending up all over it. It occurred to me that we might be unconsciously be trying to hide the floor so that we didn't have to look at it. So we remodeled: tore out the carpet and installed hardwood floors. And it's not nearly as messy now. Is there a Pepto-Bismol-pink carpet in your place? You might be limited in your ability to renovate, but see if your landlord might be willing to accommodate your idea or even fix it himself. You never know if you don't ask.

Couples Counseling is Great.
As the ADHD fiancee of a wonderful, loving (undiagnosed) ADD husband-to-be, I can really relate to your situation. The truth of the matter is that although you might be able to change a few things, you can only change a few things. Realistically you can only hope to minimize the effect that your very different approaches to money, housework, childrearing, etc. It might help to talk these issues out in couples counseling. I told my fiance we wouldn't survive without it, and it's helping us both to get perspective on how we influence one another with our behavior.

Good luck.
posted by mynameismandab at 11:07 PM on March 11, 2008 [5 favorites]

Man that took over an hour to compose. I should be charging people for this information!
posted by mynameismandab at 11:09 PM on March 11, 2008

Frankly, given that he is subsidizing your living expenses, your post struck me as a bit whiny and entitled. You seem to expect him to make an equal contribution to household chores when you are not making an equal contribution to paying the household expenses. I think you should stop getting so worked up about how you're "cleaning up his messes" and start thinking of the extra money he contributes as your salary for moonlighting as a part time household manager/personal assistant.

You two are not talented at the same things. He is better at making money than you are, and you are better at organization, cleaning, and financial management than he is. If you agree to each specialize in what you are better at your lives will run much smoother.

Get a joint account for household bills that he deposits his share to (he might be able to set up direct deposit to split his check across two accounts) but only you have the checkbook and debit card to. Have him use cash or credit cards for his spending so he doesn't bounce checks anymore. You be in charge of paying the bills. Keep good records so he can see where his money is going.

Split the cleaning chores into daily (yours) and weekly (his). Hire a cleaning service to come in and do his share, and pay for it with all the money you're saving him by managing his finances better. Do his laundry when you do yours (it doesn't take that much longer), or drop it all off at the laundromat and pay for it with his money. Etc.

Even ADHD people respond better to a clean and orderly environment and will do more to maintain it than they would to clean an already messy environment. If you start doing more -- and aren't a martyr about it -- he will probably start doing more too, without nagging. For one month, as an experiment, do all the cleaning and maintain order by yourself -- without bitching or nagging -- and see how he responds. If you find at the end of the month that you can't stand it, or you still feel horribly mistreated, then maybe you just need to break up. But maybe instead you will find that the improvement in your lives and relationship is worth it, and that when you stop nagging and just do these things for him, that he responds by doing more than you thought he ever would or could do for you.
posted by Jacqueline at 12:15 AM on March 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Boy, Jacqueline's point about unequal paychecks and employee analogy seem like a sure way to make both of you incredibly resentful. You don't seem to have that attitude, which I think bodes much better. That said, it may well be that you both need to work out more of a from-each-according-to-his/her-ability system.

Like many others have said, you need to take charge of the rent--either create that joint account, or get him to sit down and write the check at the same time you're paying the utility bills. For couples' counseling, do the research yourself about available doctors, then ask him to make the calls while you're around. Tell him you're doing the research, then literally hand him the list and the phone.

There have been a lot of suggestions about setting times way in advance to do housework or plan things--that wouldn't help me at all. I need to be asked to do something immediately: "The vacuum's in the hall--would you do the three upstairs rooms?" "I cleared the dishes; please wash them now so the spaggetti sauce doesn't dry." If it's immediate, it doesn't feel like nagging. Knowing things far in advance doesn't help me at all--just makes me anxious--, but short-term deadlines do. Even if they're sort of artificial, it may help him to know that "Oh, I promised Anon I'd do xyz-task this afternoon...crap, she'll be home in an hour, better get on that!"

And dear god, don't schedule a whole day of housecleaning. That would be torture for both of you. Individual tasks, tackled one at a time.

Do things together, or at least at the same time. One of you washing dishes one drying, one folding laundry while the other makes the bed, etc. Left to my own devices I'd fart around the computer and completely lose track of time, and before I know it the whole day is gone along with the whole list of things I promised myself I'd do. But if somebody cues me in, through words or example, that it's time to work right now, I can follow that and pitch in.

All that doesn't mean you have to hover over him while he's working, just that you may have to prod a little if you notice he gotten way off track. He's obviously capable of doing the work to help around the house, but it sounds like you need to be the one to keep track of what needs doing and when.

Lastly--music music music! Always when it's time to do housework cue up a CD you both love that has a lot of energy and variety to it.

And just to keep your sanity a little--make it a habit to think of his particular talents, too. He may not be able to keep track of the bills and laundry, but I bet there are special things he brings to the relationship that you couldn't provide yourself. Keep a balance, mentally.

You clearly love him a lot!
posted by hippugeek at 11:41 AM on March 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

You've got a ton of fantastic advice here, from lots of different people, but I feel compelled to comment on the responses regarding his respect for you. I see a lot of behavior from my live-in boyfriend that I'm tempted to make "about me", about how he feels about me. When he doesn't do the dishes if I make dinner, when he doesn't bring up the dry laundry from downstairs even if I ask him before I leave for work, that sort of thing. I probably would take it a lot more personally, too, if I didn't remember behaving the exact same way when I lived with my parents, before I was on ADD medication.

I remember getting really upset with myself about how little I helped out, and how I wasn't very grateful, and I didn't deserve the nice things they did for me because I obviously didn't love them enough to clean my room, or help with dishes or laundry. I remember telling myself in the evenings that tomorrow was going to be the day when I did everything I meant to, everything that would make me a more participatory member of the house. And I really never did. I would help out some, sometimes, but other times it was like I just couldn't. I couldn't do it, and I didn't know why, really. And when I did help out, I never felt like I was fitting into my mom's system for doing things, and so when she started telling me that I was folding things incorrectly, or that the dishes stacked a different way, I would get really discouraged and indignant and I'd wind up abandoning the task early, because it got overwhelming. When I moved out on my own it became more evident that I had a hard time doing these things, in general, not just when it related to other people. I would notice dishes and think, I should do those, and then I would promptly forget about them for a few days more.

I'm a lot better, now, and I don't think I love and respect my mom more or less than I did then, but I've just learned a lot more about how I behave, and I'm on medication that really helps me get the impetus to just do shit, instead of thinking about it and then forgetting about it. But it took me way too long to get diagnosed and to get on the meds, because it's exactly the sort of process that is super complicated to my type of ADD brain. Insurance, bills, taxes, and any sort of multi-page form that calls for various resources, they all have a sort of looming presence to them.

The person up there that says bill issues aren't textbook ADD must be reading the wrong textbook, because even before my official diagnosis I was coming across that as a classic behavior. I've lived on my own for years, and somehow, even though they show up every freaking month, I almost never am on top of bills, just like I was never on top of homework in school. It's the fresh things that I was good at. Standardized tests and special assignments were awesome, but homework, laundry, bills, and other ongoing process based activities did not fare so well.
posted by redsparkler at 1:47 PM on March 12, 2008 [4 favorites]


Hey, redsparkler, this almost isn't even worth mentioning, but in my reference to his early family life I was merely synthesizing the information presented in the OP.

None of us can say for sure what the true origin, course, or cure for his situation might be. I was just presenting an alternative perspective. Not to start the whole Nature/Nurture debate-- it's not black or white, but shades of gray. All issues are Not Either Genetic in origin OR an Intentional Dis toward Anonymous, and I saw that no one had mentioned that yet.

posted by mynameismandab at 9:21 PM on March 12, 2008

( I don't think my response regarding his family was in direct result of your answer, mynameismandab, but it was more along the lines of how I compare and contrast my boyfriend's behavior with my own behavior when I was younger. There's a limited amount of environment that requires as much dedication as a romantic partnership does, and living with my parents was really the next closest thing. )

Also, an undercurrent of depression can totally cause an ADD'er to drop a few more of the life plates they're spinning, if you know what I mean. I thought I'd add that bit, too.
posted by redsparkler at 5:45 PM on April 28, 2008

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