In my previous post, I talked about what ADHD is, and what it looks like. In this post, I’d like to describe how ADHD affects the spouse. An ADHD Spouse, is a partner of a person with ADHD.
I have been an ADHD Spouse for about ten years. Here’s what I learned:
Being an ADHD Spouse is terribly lonely. Unless you can find someone who is also a spouse of a person with ADHD, most people will not understand where you’re coming from. At best, they will assume your life is somewhat chaotic, with the husband (in my case, my husband is the one with ADHD) being sometimes forgetful, but with a lot of energy. In reality, ADHD has far more reaching effects than that.
ADHD affects relationships. A lot. When you consider marriage or dating relationships, focus and attention are pretty important. Your spouse, if he is a decent one, will make some time to focus on you — what you’re saying, how you’re feeling, and “being there.” Unfortunately, these are the very things that a person with ADHD lacks. It’s an Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
If you have ADHD, and are also a parent, things are even tougher. How do you parent, when your attention is lacking? When my son Aidan was younger, I worried about his safety a lot. Especially on days I go to work, when my husband watched him. I’ve had incidents where neighbors contacted me, saying they’ve seen Aidan wandering the street, with no one watching him. There were times also, when he would be in dangerous situations, and my husband would be unaware.
Thankfully, this has never happened to us, but I’ve heard of a case where an adhd husband left his young son in the house, and went over to talk to a neighbor. The husband was enthusiastically talking to the neighbor, completely unaware, that right behind him, his house was on fire and burning down. The kind neighbor pointed it out, and everyone was safe, thankfully.
It would be nice, if this kind of deficit was consistent, then at least you know what to expect. But the only thing consistent about ADHD is attention is inconsistent. Meaning, there are days when my husband is a great husband and parent. He’s involved, caring, cleans the house over-the-top, makes dinner. Those are the times when he’s hyperfocused, and he’s a whirlwind of superamazing activity and ability. Then there are times, when for no reason, he’s totally unmotivated and depressed. These usually occur when I least expect them, as there is no consistent pattern. So I’m always on edge, wondering when the other shoe will drop.
You need extra money to deal with ADHD. Medication is hard to come by and controlled tightly, and you need to see psychiatrist to have access to medicine. Without insurance, medication is very expensive. A person with ADHD needs medicine, every day, for the rest of his or her life.
There are on-the-whim expenses sometimes, but thankfully, my husband loves saving money, so these are rare.
Then there are the expenses that come with broken things — household things, car parts, furniture, that come about because the person with ADHD was not paying attention and something got broken.
There are expenses with purchasing lost items, redoing something, or smoothing over relationships, because the person with ADHD became involved in something at a loss, or made a poor, not-well-thought-out decision.
There are childcare expenses, because when you’re out, especially late at night, you can’t count on consistent attention in the evenings, when the meds start to wear off, so you need a babysitter.
There are date-night expenses, which I don’t mind, because people in ADHD relationships need to go on dates, or their marriages will go down the tubes. I am constantly on the verge of exhaustion and resentment, and it takes a lot of prayer and God’s intervention, to prevent me from throwing in the towel and giving up.
You can’t die. Ever. Many people who are caregivers to someone with a disorder, often feel this. As with many households with ADHD, the ADHD spouse is the one who keeps things sane. They’re the ones often bearing the financial burden, primary childcare, making the primary decisions, or overseeing decisions that are made. They smooth over the parenting mistakes the person with ADHD makes. The ADHD spouse also tries to be a decent parent, and be the steady rock to their child in the midst of the person with ADHD’s chaos and inconsistency. (The flip side is, an ADHD parent can be fun, though irresponsible, as they are often child-like). The ADHD spouse tries to keep the husband connected with the rest of society, and prevent the house from becoming a jungled mess — literally.
They keep things organized for the person with ADHD, writing them notes on whiteboards, calling throughout the day, keeping track of appointments. They make sure the person with ADHD takes their meds at the same time everyday, so there are minimal mood swings or dips later. This is all on top of trying to hold down a job, making sure your child keeps up with an ever-demanding school curriculum (common core-dread!), and making sure everyone has enough toilet paper before making the next Costco run.
My prayer, unlike most wives, is that I die after my husband. I imagine without me, my son being late to school for a month, or getting critically maimed in an accident. House and home would rapidly unravel. My husband would forget to take his meds, or take them inconsistently, with dire consequences. He would end up getting in trouble with people at church, and spiral into depression and isolation. My husband would give up on Aidan because he could not handle him, and my son would be taken into child care services. Eventually, people will end up despising my husband, blaming him for all his troubles. Some people estimate that more than 50% of the prison population has undiagnosed ADHD.
If God takes me before my husband, I pray some kind soul can learn about ADHD, and be willing to take in my son at least, and/or find help for my husband.
On a brighter note, ADHD can be managed. It’s taken me ten years to get a handle on things, and sometimes things slip. But, with God’s help, and a lot of support from people around me, I can safely say that we are close to a normal family.
Strategies such as touching my husband to get his attention, and asking him (nicely) to repeat what I said to him, are some of the tools I use.
Taking time out with friends, or calling my support people when things are out of whack helps tremendously.
Discussing and doing important things when my husband’s meds are in full swing helps too — for example, talks in the morning, not evening, when meds are just taken and his mind clear.
Taking date nights helps.
I try to take time out and have fun, and laugh with my husband and son. It is so trivial, yet helps so much. This gives us all a break from the stress of daily ADHD management.
Finally, I pray a lot for all the daily stresses and even trivial matters related with ADHD. God has come through so many times, in deeply personal ways. I’ve found out, when living in a family where your spouse has ADHD, you learn to be strong. God helps you to be strong. He puts people around you to help you to be strong. He is there in every situation, and I mean every.
As Bob Marley once said,
You don’t know how strong you are until being strong is the only option you have.