I have an incredibly hard time listening to my wife. There, now I've said it. I am your stereotypical guy. She's just talking and talking away, and I might as well be on the other side of the planet for all the care I'm giving her. Except I'm not. I'm sitting right next to her on the couch, after just telling her how much I want to have a talk with her.
What's my deal? Why do I set her up for such an obvious frustration? What reasonable man would walk willingly into that trap—devaluing the biggest thing that women prize in relationships?
I am one of the estimated 3-5% of the population diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Personally, I've opted for the more energetic variety that so completely entertained my teachers. I'm a fidgiter, and I would tap out desk-top drum solos like a
10-year old Neil Peart. I'm also one of the eight million of sufferers who didn't outgrow the problem.1
While this issue has been on the books since the 1970's—actually well before, but in terms of its contemporary understanding the 70's work—something interesting is happening in the Self-Help section of bookstores everywhere. People have started to figure out that some of the first generations of kids diagnosed with these disorders are grown up. They're getting married and having kids, and many of them are still dealing with the same issues that made getting through a day at school an unending struggle.
I'm not sure if my wife knew I have ADHD when we were married in 2008. For a long time, I felt that I had things under control. Frankly, I had never considered that it was something I'd have to handle when I was older. Life has gotten along just fine so far, after all. I've managed, I suppose. It's in our relationship that I now see the biggest strain, and it's starting to draw my attention to the many ways I might not be getting on so well after all.
Communication is important to any relationship. I would argue it's more important to my wife than to anyone else on the planet. She thrives on intense, intricate, philosophical, and difficult discussions. I like them too, and that's one of the reasons we're good for each other. We share absolutely as much as possible, and use each other to push ourselves to grow and to better one another.
You can see then, why it drives her crazy when in mid-sentence, I'm suddenly not there.
I can't even describe what it's like accurately. Because, when she tells me I'm not listening, the first thing I remember is that I was listening. “She can't possibly be mad at me this time, I'm sitting right here looking at her!” The trouble is, she's right—sometimes I couldn't repeat the sentence she'd interrupted to ask me whether I was listening. Then you have to look back, and try to figure out where you went astray. You have to try to explain it, to make it feel like less of a personal attack against her. Good luck.
One problem is that it seems as though I can focus alright on things I want—sex, for an easy example—but when she needs me to share in her interests, it's a constant struggle. The real internal trouble for me is that I am a caring guy, and I'm genuinely interested in what she has to share with me. My struggle with ADHD becomes one of self-worth when I can't help but feel that I'm just not a very good husband. It's especially terrifying to think there simply may not be much I can do about it.
Tons of websites and books have popped up; a cottage industry of coping. The trouble is, there don't seem to be 5 Easy Steps to solve all your problems with ADHD. I'm willing to bet that people who regularly go out looking for “steps” in any situation rarely, if ever, find them. That's because life doesn't operate along a systematic series of steps for success.
The way to deal with this issue, like so many others (short of medication), is with patience and understanding. And it can't just be one partner's problem. I can't make all the necessary changes to ensure that my wife never feels negatively affected by my condition.
I'm going to fail her. Probably often. It's a miracle that she loves me anyway.
For me, this is a problem that becomes worse the more I'm made aware of it. When she points out my horrible track record of remembering to do simple things or follow through on chores I said I'd take care of, it only makes me more distracted. I get angry, at myself, mostly, but I also feel judged and a little humiliated. Every now and then she'll do it in front of our friends, not out of malice, but simply because she may not be thinking just how serious this can feel to me. It's not like either one of us are consistent in how we act with regards to each other.
Maybe there are a few steps to follow. 1) Remember that you love each other no matter what. 2) Remember that sometimes things will be hard. Sometimes things will be downright intolerable. 3) Remember that you can only be responsible for how you act and how you respond, and choose not to make the problems worse when they arise. 4) Recognize that there is a problem, and that you're both doing your best. 5) Remind each other of all the good things you do for one another, rather than focusing on the few times when one partner falls short.
Rinse and repeat.
1Anxiety and Depression Association of America. (2012). Adult ADHD. Retrieved August 18, 2012, from http://www.adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/related-illnesses/other-related-conditions/adult-adhd