New Issue!

Spring 2017 Issue ADDitude magazine Read the 'ADHD Therapies That Work' issue now!

The New ADDitude Forums Are Live!

Reach our full community by posting to ADDitude's discussion forums here

Couples With One ADHD Partner

How to Respond?

My husband has ADHD.  We have been married for 3 years, and I have experienced much of what has been written.  His temper, however, takes over and anger sets in over non-issues that will result in him not talking for days.  After me reaching out multiple times and being ignored, he will eventually talk about every days things. He never says sorry or admits to anything.  I am always to blame no matter if he misreads, says words that cut, or even how I look when I say something.  Yet, he turns the situation around on me.

He goes from loving me to telling me he hates me-get divorce.  I don’t know what to really believe anymore.  We separated for over 1 year, sold our dream home, and are now about to be reconciled to live together again.  But after all this work, he seems to be creating fights and controlling the situation. 

What words do I say?  What ways are best to respond when you have truly made progress and then out of nowhere feel like you get hit by a truck with his words?  He knows what he is doing.

Thank you.


I am the ADD partner, but my non ADD partner is the one who goes from nice to not talking for weeks or days, to say he wants to divorce me, etc., and then one day he is nice again.

This used to hurt me very much, so one day I game him some guidelines as to what reactions are acceptable depending on the size of the matter, because he used to hurt me so much for any reason or no reason.

For example, I told him that if he is mad because I forgot to buy bread and there’s no bed for breakfast, he can give me the cold shoulder for that morning, but beyond that, it would be overkill. Instead, if we really disagreed too much or if I betray him as in spending all of our savings without telling him, that is another matter that understandably is a lot more serious, so for that, he could stop taking to me, let’s say, one week, but we have to eventually do something about it.

Last but not least, I learned to ignore his temper and just live my happy life without giving so much importance to his reactions.

Posted by najn on Jan 04, 2014 at 6:15am

Your post sounds very familiar.  My ADHD husband and I separated for 6 months last year and it was very, very painful.  When we did move back in together, the transition was extremely difficult.  We both worked very hard; we worked with a good marriage counselor who specializes in ADHD.  Things are better now.  Not perfect, but better.

To echo najn above, it’s important to set your own clear boundaries with your husband as to what is acceptable behavior for you. But then when he crosses those boundaries—and he will—it’s important for you not to let it affect you. What I’ve discovered about my husband is that much of his bad behavior has nothing to do with me.  He’s yelling at me because he’s intense and impulsive, not because I’ve done anything wrong.  In short—and I know this is VERY hard—don’t take his behavior personally.

I’ve had to do a lot of my own personal healing with my own counselor during this time.  Not letting my husband’s behavior trigger me has helped our marriage a lot. When I do react, it inevitably leads to one of our epic fights. Not reacting nips it in the bud.

You do need to take care of yourself in order to be able to separate his behavior from you. I still react emotionally when my husband snaps at me or is rude.  I have to take a deep breath, let it roll off me, and try to address the problem at hand. It’s very, very hard.

In some ways, it could be your husband’s current bad behavior could be a way of testing you.  Maybe he’s distrustful and scared bc of your separation and he’s having a hard time believing you really love him and want this marriage to work out. Maybe, like a lot of folks with ADHD, his self-esteem is in the gutter and he doesn’t think he’s worthy of you.  I don’t know, but in hindsight, I saw some of that in my husband. 

It’s almost like a kid having a tantrum to test his parents’ boundaries.  Set boundaries for the kid’s behavior, and don’t take it personally.  The kid needs the parent to love him enough to see past the bad behavior, but also love him enough to set the boundaries.

Posted by trying2be hopeful on Jan 04, 2014 at 7:40am

Honestly, if anyone knows something that can be said to someone with ADHD to change their behavior let me know, because I feel like I’ve said everything in 26 years!

I’ve finally come to understand that even though I have every right to expect my husband to love and cherish me, if I expect that I’m setting myself up for failure for sure.

That said your husband needs to be medicated and to see a therapist on a regular basis - otherwise there is no way things will get better. People with ADHD just have no way to regulate their emotions in the moment. Meds can help, but regular therapy and some sort of behavioral modification is necessary. If Dr Barkley is right people with ADHD are functionally 30% less than their chronological age and so you have to make an adjustment. There is no such thing as ‘adult’ in ADHD symptoms, and all the behaviors you talk about are ADHD symptoms.

If he’s unwilling to seek therapy and treatment you need to do what you need to do to protect yourself, even if that means leaving.

Posted by YellaRyan on Jan 04, 2014 at 9:48am

Najn - Thank you for your feedback.  Yesterday, my husband responded to my text to call only to say yes and never did.  Going on day 5 no contact.  Emotionally, I am so devastated each time he says he doesn’t love me, and I’m not worth the effort.  I have endured so much that I’ve kept to myself.  I liked your suggestions for guidelines.  I will do this; I did with the name calling, and it worked.  Thank you.

trying2behopeful & YellaRyan - Your name has been my attitude, and I’m still holding on.  I sensed my husband was being purposeful with his words and our soon to be living conditions (if he was truly just impulsive with his words).  I have tried to avoid certain subjects and comments, and it worked. 

I believe he takes out his anger and frustration out on me, especially on subjects that I finally trust him on - which is so painful.  I wanted to cry when I read that you cannot expect your husband to love and cherish you.  This is what attracted me to my husband, and I find that this is the dangling carrot for him.  I feel so insecure in his love for me. 

His pride keeps him from getting educated on ADHD, we saw a counselor 5x and he stopped, stopped meds after 3 weeks a long time ago, and will NOT be embarrassed.  Even now, I know he is punishing me by not calling me.  It makes me so sad. 

I’m finding that I don’t even want to talk about the “argument” anymore because it never was one and recreates another one.  I use to chase him down trying and trying…now, I feel so rejected by him not valuing me enough to know how hurtful his words are. 

I am thankful for your wisdom - all of you and appreciate the direction as I try to heal and grow.

Posted by PA on Jan 05, 2014 at 4:53am

I’m an ADHD male and I would suggest if possible find a normal brain :(
if not then try to ignore his words as much as you can ADHD’s normally don’t mean what they say & stay away from arguments and once his bully session is over try to let him realise what damage his words has caused to your feelings/soul (this should work at least it worked for me This is what my girlfriend used to do and I started to apologize for those bully sessions unfortunately even then that relation lasted for only 3 years)

As far as financial issues concern you need to get into control of all financial decisions, ADHD’s make wrong decisions most of the time also they are bad in managing finances

Posted by Burraak on Jan 05, 2014 at 5:16pm

Burraak - thank you for your honesty.  I sense the struggle, sadness, and frustration on your end.  This is the longest relationship my husband has had 1 year dating, 3 married this month.

We connected today, and yes, he did not want to talk.  He feels second to my 18 year old even though the love and place for each in my life are so different. I let it go but life can not be just letting go all the time.  I am thankful that he does ask how to use his money best…but after spending lots during our separation.

I wonder if it must be difficult to read so much on how others with spouses/partners seem to be overwhelmed and in pain due to certain behaviors that come with ADHD.  I wish you lots of successes.  Having you around would be so enlightening!

Posted by PA on Jan 06, 2014 at 6:18am

I’m the ADHD partner.  Since you know he has ADHD I assume he does too, but how well does he - and you - understand the Disorder and its symptoms?  I say this because in general the more each of you learns about it and understand it, the easier it is to deal with outbursts and the aftermath.  Get him to read upon it if you can and read yourself even if he won’t.  It helps you understand that a lot of the problem is impulsivity and emotional intensity and not intentional abuse on his part, and it will help him understand the role impulsivity plays and hopefully help him to develop some coping or compensatory skills.  The other thing it helps both partners gain is some degree of context and am broader understanding that ADHD isn’t all bad news.  The same emotional intensity and lack of inhibitions and filters that makes him volatile is also the source of equally-intense affection that make us attractive as partners.  To some extent you have to accept the bad with the good, but it helps to understand that they are both the same thing underneath.  In more practical terms it might also help both of you find ways to re-focus anger and frustration in more positive directions. 

I would also set some limits on the non-communication problem and maybe ask him to explain.  I do the same thing, but part of the withdrawal is the fact that anger and frustration can take a while to diminish - I sometimes just need to buy time and if pressed to discuss issues too soon it just re-ignites the fire.

My spouse and I have had the same problems, and they have gotten worse when there are underlying stressors over work, money or other such factors, so consider also what his real frustrations are and whether he or the two of you can make changes to reduce or avoid these.  We still have them some times, but things have improved tremendously since I was diagnosed (only after 25y of marriage) and we have figured out what it is we are dealing with.  I’ve learned to compensate for, avoid or at least minimise the severity of outbursts, and she’s learned not to make the problem worse by over-reacting and that the frustration is not her fault or directed at her.  It is still a challenge, but the more we (and especially I) learned, the better it got.

Posted by Cedar on Jan 07, 2014 at 10:20am

To be married to ADHD is to be married to a tumultuous teenager. It is just a sad, hard fact. Just decide if this is what you can accept for your life. It will not change. They may want to do it differently, but this is what they will do. They just deal with life as - reflex first and maybe think later. After 40 years living among difficult people this is what I know for sure. If you are up for it bless you, if not move on and know you have every right to your precious life. If you add children to this situation know that the statistics are you will add to the ADHD challenges in your life, be prepared. We haven’t known about ADHD in the past. Now we are learning, but we are a long way from an answer. Take a breath and think hard.

Posted by A Karl on Jan 07, 2014 at 9:58pm

Thanks for the compliments,Success for me is more of a coincidence,This site is full of great people who try to motivate people like me and we ADHD’s also share our life experience which each other which help us in a lot of ways but of course that doesn’t cure our ADHD,
Actually it is not the behaviours coz behaviour can be changed ADHD is a genetic disorder i.e we are just not capable of doing so many things as “alice karl” said “they reflex first and maybe think later” it is so true We have no control over emotions and urges/cravings Our emotional imbalance effect our relationships and our uncontrollable urges/cravings effect our finances and decisions

Expecting an ADHD to behave like normal humans is like you are expecting a person on wheel chair to climb stairs by themselves .....
Only proper guidance and consistent support can help them to lose less in life but of course that 24/7 support is not possible

Posted by Burraak on Jan 08, 2014 at 4:39pm

YellaRyan, above, is worth listening to.  She is thoughtful and measured in her responses.  Importantly, she has dealt with an ADHD husband for many years.  A notable Yella quote:  “...there is no ‘adult’ in ADHD…”  Funny and painfully on the mark.

I have this thing and would not wish it, or myself on anyone.  Alice Karl, above,  likened us to a ‘tumultuous teenager’.  Yep… that about sums it up.

And you want to get back with this guy?  You do not mention if you have children.  If you don’t… What could possibly be the draw to reconcile?

I wish you luck in your decision.

Posted by LakeLife on Jan 08, 2014 at 8:35pm

Cedar & Alice Karl- thank you for the input! I have read everything online that I could regarding ADD ADHD ODD and any other connection that would make sense or apply. I am an educator and can tell within 15 minutes if my students didn’t take their meds. But having an adult, emotional relationship is so different.

I truly believe outside stressors as you mentioned, quick responses that get reactions, and a false perception of reality have been big factors in those arguments over nothings…this group plus my life experience has me responding with different words, not pressing issues that have no lasting meaning, and trying to let go of the hurt from painful words.

I do believe ADD is not just a learning but life component that needs to be strategized for success.  With that said, I still feel personal accountability is necessary. Loving my husband is worth the journey to me now-it requires a different mindset to be happy in marriage, however! Thank you for your insights!

Posted by PA on Jan 14, 2014 at 6:57pm

Several experts (Solden, Hallowell) have also mentioned explosions and general provocation of conflict as a result of the need for adrenaline and focus.  I have never done that, at least consciously, but my father had ADHD and did it all the time.  I’m not a therapist, but if the conflict is not transparent of if attempts to discuss and resolve it don’t work it might be because the issues he’s raising are different from why he’s raising them.

Good luck with this.  Most of your last post could have been written by my spouse almost word for word, and for what it is worth, we work pretty well as a couple. We actually made it 30 years before diagnosis and another 4 or 5 since, and have a child who has it, too.  Lots of ups and downs, but at least it isn’t boring.  The dinner table banter is wicked, and we’ve been known to reduce guests to tears of laughter.  The ADHD can be a pain, but its a big part of who we are and I’d say it adds at least as much as it takes away.  But each case is different and unique I think.

Posted by Cedar on Jan 15, 2014 at 10:42am

Thank you!

Posted by PA on Jan 20, 2014 at 6:36am

I am the ADHD partner diagnosed one year ago at age 50.  It did help to know the cause of some of my marriage’s stresses.  But, knowledge that you have ADHD is really not enough. 
The key for me has been pain, I have to admit.  I believe people with ADHD simply do not know the impact they have on others.  Their empathy is not at full power. 
If things go smoothly from their point of view, people with ADHD just assume they are doing everything fine. We need to feel our own pain for what we are doing to ourselves and others. If marriage partners just go along and continue to try to make up for our shortcomings, nothing really changes. 
My wife has taken a very objective attitude toward my anger and I think my anger has somewhat improved.  She does not make believe that what I am doing is OK, she just does not get into the storm I am trying to kick up.  So, good for her. 
If I want it to be good for me, I need to make steady progress toward being a decent partner to live with.  I do not always do that and can easily believe my own PR that our problems are essentially her fault.  It’s up to me. 
The key is to realize that your marriage is not all that defines you, makes you happy or gives meaning to your life.  Other than that, I really do not know what advice to give you, but thought you would be interested in how it is working for a similar sounding couple. 
Good luck with whatever you choose.

Posted by Yamalen on Jan 22, 2014 at 11:37am

Join the New ADDitude Forums

ADDConnect is shutting down on July 31.
To continue sharing and receiving support from the ADDitude community, visit our new discussion forums.

Search the ADDConnect Group Discussions