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Couples With One ADHD Partner

Just won't talk

Hi All,
Usually I’m answering questions… I feel like I got this ADHD thing sort of figured out most of the time.  I’m non-ADHD spouse.  I feel like I understand my husband to some extent, I understand my daughter and through her have been able to be more compassionate towards my husband’s disability.

But I am finding a really frustrating occurrence and I am wondering if this is an ADHD symptom and others are experiencing it too, or if, as my therapist suspects, it is some sort of personality disorder or even Autism spectrum.

My husband will simply not talk about anything of any importance to our lives.  TV, movies, sure, the dog and cats and how cute they are, politics, bring it on!  But if it is an issue that we grapple with at all, or even planning the family vacation for that matter, or discussing how to spend money, or how to deal with kids, he just won’t talk.  To be clear, he is not refusing to talk, he isn’t clamming up totally but he is not contributing.  And I have noticed of late all these tactics he uses to get out of the conversation (and HE never brings up anything of any importance either).  He deflects really well, like changing the subject, or slightly changing it to get us off topic.  He also uses his anxiety - within minutes of the start of a conversation he will become extremely anxious.  Also, almost immediately after bringing up a subject he will say to me “I just don’t want to fight” even though there is no fight happening nor is there any on the horizon that I am willing to create.  He also stonewalls, meaning he just sits and listens.  He also agrees with whatever I say and then I believe I have a consensus and then he goes off and does whatever it was he wanted to do to begin with (this most often happens with money).  He used to always say “We’ll have to work something out” and then never would visit the subject again.

As you can imagine this situation is not very conducive to a happy marriage.  Obviously you can never resolve what you refuse to talk about.  And he does not talk about himself but expects me to understand what he is going through.  For instance, he gets migraines.  If he seems irritable I will ask “Are you OK?” to which he will get defensive.  Then as the day goes on, if I question him again why he is grumpy, not feeling well, whatever, he’ll yell “I’ve been fighting a migraine all day” in a most accusatory tone of voice (which I know I should not take personally but sometimes its hard not to!) as if I should have known and treated him appropriately.  But he gets really irritated with me when I don’t know that he is tired, sad, worried, stressed, whatever it is but will not talk to me about what is going on with him.

What do y’all think?  A symptom or a set up?  He needs to have someone to be angry with at all times, and currently because he likes his job he can’t be angry at them so its come down to me I think…  very frustrating and don’t know how the hell to deal with it.  All attempts to address, ignore, accept completely backfire.


This is my life.  It is the biggest problem in my relationship by far.  My husband shuts down or deflects.  He has told me that he is less likely to respond to my messages if they contain anything “negative,” which I’ve interpreted to mean anything concerning a problem.  So he’s gone from not initiating discussion of problems to telling me that I shouldn’t initiate discussion, either.  It’s horrible.

Posted by rosered on Jul 02, 2014 at 1:53am

Hi, YellaRyan;
Wow!  How interesting! I am the ADD spouse and my husband behaves -when it comes to substantive matters- exactly like yours.

He gives me the most minimal response when I try to discuss a serious issue, becomes defensive when I ask him more than once if he’s OK - then gives me the accusatory ‘you should have known’ attitude while describing all the pain my ADD has caused him.

Gee.  Maybe the problem is not your husband’s ADD.
A person can be a jerk without being ADD. (not saying your husband is a jerk-just pointing out that not every personality flaw is caused by ADD)

I’ve noticed a really negative attitude from many of the non-ADD spouses on this board.  I wonder why, If their lives are so hard with the ADD spouse, they choose to be in the relationship at all.

I married late (50’s) and even with the ADD, I managed to plow through and create a comfortable life for myself.

I have told my non-communicative husband that the instant he finds that the difficulty of living with my ADD outweighs the benefits he gets from my loving him and him loving me, the door - with no rancor - is open.

I’ll be hurt but I will muddle through, because that’s what ADDers do.

Good luck to you.

Posted by GoGrrl55 on Jul 02, 2014 at 1:57am

Here is another tactic, like the anxiety I think, it is extreme.  So if I lay out an issue we need to discuss and then wait for him to say something he just won’t for minutes. I wait, still nothing. So I’ll say, “Do you have anything to add?” and he’ll either jump on my sentence and say “I was just going to talk and you interrupted me. You never let me talk” then he won’t say anything, claim he can’t remember, or he’ll say something like “I"ve just be called the worst husband/father/fill in the blank of all time, what am I supposed to say” even though I’ve never said anything about him.  Once I was just trying to get some help in figuring out how to get the kids to sleep and he jumped on my sentences and said “I’ve just be accused of being the worst parent ever”.  I mean, how do you respond constructively to that?  All of these tactics are such a derailment of constructive conversation.  I have found that if I try to respond to any of his tactics it leads to a fight. I’ve even pointed out to him that all these tactics are his way of starting arguments where there weren’t any before, he agreed yet still does them… so we are in a constant state of relationship derailment!  I’m getting sick of being sideways!

Posted by YellaRyan on Jul 02, 2014 at 2:13am

GoGrrl55, I’m nearly relentlessly positive in person with my husband.  But no relationship is problem free, and so when problems come up, I try to resolve them.  THe mere fact of me mentioning them brings shutdown, hostility, or accusations of negativity.

Posted by rosered on Jul 02, 2014 at 2:22am

Sounds like that relationship just isn’t working.

Posted by GoGrrl55 on Jul 02, 2014 at 2:22am

GoGrrl55 - thanks for the insight.  I have often wondered if the women’s revolution didn’t make a huge mistake when it didn’t bring men along.  Maybe it is just a man thing?  My husband is in his 50s and the parenting he saw was very much that Leave it to Beaver thing where husband was never questioned and was always right.  My husband does get very upset when I don’t agree with him, and I often don’t because he has an angry/negative bent, and I really try hard to leave the cynical side of me behind!  I don’t want my children to grow up in a bitter atmosphere so I try to be upbeat. 

I wonder if because men didn’t necessarily change their attitudes during the women’s movement that hasn’t come back to haunt wives.  My husband claims to be very liberal - but I think in his mind he might just be translating that into being OK with me working, but not OK with me not agreeing with him.  It’s like the position boys were shown they would be in when they became husbands doesn’t exist anymore. Did I mention it really, really bothers him when I don’t agree with him?

And I wanted to address what you interpret as a negative attitude of non-ADD spouses.  This is a forum, and part of the purpose for a forum is for people to be able to vent and get feedback.  I don’t think most people here are intending to hurt anyone’s feelings but to express the very, very difficult position it is to be a non-ADD spouse.  I can tell that some people are angry, discouraged, frustrated.  But isn’t that to be expected?  Isn’t it better that people express that here?  After all venting is really a kind of call for help and a different perspective in order to better cope.  And I doubt if you’d really buy it if spouses came on here and acted all pollyanna about the disorder.  You wouldn’t believe the non-ADD spouses anymore than you’d probably believe an ADD person if they said ADD was all good and made them a better person, etc.  We just have to let people be where they are.  No frustration lasts forever and you can’t be the arbiter of another couple’s relationship and when it should or shouldn’t end.  At best we offer each other a little insight into our own very narrow perspective in hopes that it might be different enough to spark a solution.

Posted by YellaRyan on Jul 02, 2014 at 2:31am

rosered, I hear ya, what a bummer.  I used to think the defensiveness was the worst thing, but I think in the long run this is worse. It just accumulates over time along with resentment.  And he resents me big time!  It is because nothing ever gets resolved or talked through, but even the person refusing to talk is harboring resentments!  Of course in my husband’s case he tells me “You are always angry with me” but I am not of course, but he feels his own anger and attributes it to me so he doesn’t then have to deal with anything real.  It hurts him so much more than it hurts me.  He has been in therapy for years and is only now addressing his feelings about his father’s death - which was 40 years ago!  I can work on things and work through things on my own if I must, but he is always, in his words “trying to put it behind me” which we all know does not work!  Does your spouse do this too, squash things?

Posted by YellaRyan on Jul 02, 2014 at 2:41am

It sounds like more of a guy thing in many ways. However, it might be less of that he WON’T talk as much as he CAN’T talk due to an ADD or coexisting problem. If his anxiety triggers the blankness that sets in at the worst possible moment, he truly may not be able to talk.
I also agree with GoGRRl that there is a lot of non add partner blaming many marital issues on the ADD. I’m the ADD partner and my first marriage lasted 34 years until my husband’s death. Currently celebrating 5 years with my sweetheart. On another board I asked how many AD/HD’ers were in or had been in good long term relationships. Answers were surprisingly upbeat. Many people had lifelong overall happy marriages. Yes, my ADD symptoms have been problems at times but my non ADD spouse/partner have had their own quirks also. It depends more on the degree of AD/HD or other ‘quirks’ than simply having the label AD/HD with everyone thrown in the same bucket and labeled extremely difficult to live with.
There are more people extremely difficult to live with in the world than the 5% or so who have AD/HD.
Might be an interesting thread to start on how frustrating the non AD/HD partner can be to the AD/HD partner when s/he is too conservative,can’t think outside the box, and so meticulous in detail he is late on everything. Or any other so called normal trait that AD/HD’ers may wonder about why anyone would want to be that way.
Being AD/HD isn’t equivalent to always being a jerk or hard to live with. My brilliant, successful partner found his ex difficult, he can be a pain in the backside when he’s on deadline and he considers me far and away the easiest woman to be around in any relationship he’s had.
Non AD/HD partners, do remember that it isn’t always easy having AD/HD and you may not be that easy to be around for your own quirks even if your partner didn’t have AD/HD. And with AD/HD, putting up with your quirks may require a lot more energy into self control than you realize.

Posted by Gadfly on Jul 02, 2014 at 2:50am

Gadfly, in trying to point out how critical non-ADD spouses are you are inadvertently being critical of non-ADD spouses.  You make a gross generalization to point out how you don’t like a gross generalization.

Doesn’t each individual have their own point of view?

Posted by YellaRyan on Jul 02, 2014 at 3:33am

Hi guys

I am the ADD husband in our relationship (my wife doesn’t have ADD) so I think I can offer some insight as to what might be causing his avoidance when it comes to talking about the important life issues.

Apologies if this has been covered already - I only read the first couple of posts.

My wife finds it hard to get me to talk about important issues. I avoid them, however I don’t realise that I am at the time. The problem really stems from a behavioural habit that has developed over the years of coping with inattention, poor memory and distractibility. These factors make important tasks, which are usually more complex and consequential, a near impossibility for the ADD brain to complete without horrendous failure.

Even though we find ourselves in more or less loving and tolerant relationships where important life issues are more easily dealt with, it is our automatic avoidance that prevents us from engaging. This avoidance is so deeply entrenched that we don’t see it happening.

My advice when it comes to engaging your husband and keeping him involved is to avoid framing issues holistically. What I mean by this is, instead of saying something like: “What do you want to do for this years holiday?”, try breaking it completely down to separate issues. For example, just chat about nice holiday destinations without reference to plans etc

If you get good at breaking things down, you will find that you’ll be able to get almost everything you wanted from your discussions anyway. Just stick to the basic rule - bite sized pieces of information + minimise perception of failure.


Posted by hank henderson on Jul 02, 2014 at 4:18am

I do have my own issues, and I don’t think that my husband’s issues are solely traceable to ADHD.  Nevertheless, communication is a huge problem for him, and that’s why I chimed in here.

Posted by rosered on Jul 02, 2014 at 5:20am

O/H (other half) does this or worse he decides to talk to me about it and then forgets to actually do it. Way round is to go to a nice rstuarant and talk about as not likely to throw tantrum in public. Also ask him to write stuff down.

TBH though I end up deciding most things and if he doesn’t like he had the chance - email is good for a record of that. Very tiring.  Worst bit is you end up storing up frustrations and then it explodes. I know that’s me being difficult but I got into a relationship to have a partnership not one where I have all the responsibility and associated blame,

I know there are things that annoy him about me - I’m socially anxious but him saying its my fault he tunes out is annoying and he does miss important stuff.

Posted by hilaauk on Jul 02, 2014 at 2:50pm

I was searching online for information about relationships and ADD when I came across this group. This thread really caught my attention because it is currently an issue I am facing with my ADD partner. I am as opposite of ADD as possible, I crave order and solutions and organization. It has been quite a learning experience to try to understand that my partner just doesn’t have the same brain function I do and that some things that are easy for me are very difficult for him, including discussing difficult issues.

I want to say thank you to Hank, the ADD spouse who commented on his perspective. I found that very helpful and I appreciate the advice to break things down into pieces. I will try to put that into play in my relationship and hope for the best!

Posted by hhnp on Jul 02, 2014 at 4:55pm

Wow! I too can relate to so much of what has been said here. My husband is not diagnosed, but I am very, very certain our son inherited ADHD from him. It was immediately clear when I began learning about ADHD. He has muddled through due to very high intelligence and through musical gifts.

He too avoids serious conversation. He also constantly feels personally attacked when no such thing happened. Any time I point something out to him (even as minute as his zipper being down), he says, “I know.” Or, “I’m sure.” or the like. I’m sure he has had to answer for his differences his whole life and now those responses are ingrained. He also grew up with an abusive parent, which added insult to injury.

As hhnp said, I am as opposite of ADHD as it gets. I crave order, organization, planning, etc. My husband and my kids can’t even execute those things in most aspects.

I have my issues too. I have pretty significant anxiety. Not only does my brain crave order and symmetry, but my anxiety requires it.

Our household is quite a mixed bag! Never dull, for sure.

As for the (likely) ADHD husband, I have learned to step in and cover those responsibilities where his weaknesses lie. I am solely responsible for our finances. All utilities, credit cards, and any other accounts are all in my name to manage. I keep the family calendar. I make sure everyone gets up on time. I make sure everyone takes their medications (my husband has an autoimmune disorder).

So, to answer YellaRyan’s initial question, is this ADHD… I think yes, at least partly. I think our ADHD spouses have spent years being questioned and 2nd guessed and see that quality sometimes or put up that wall out of habit.

This article has some good tips on communication in ADHD relationships too (since, clearly, I haven’t mastered that either):

ADDconnect Moderator, Author & Mom to Tween Boy with ADHD and LDs

Posted by adhdmomma on Jul 02, 2014 at 9:39pm

It’s sad that you think of his ADD as a disability. 

People with ADD/ADHD communicate on a different level.  Give him something specific to do with his hands and then talk.  Let him surf his phone, play a video game, something that focuses the H, then while that is going on, talk.  I have to do two things at once if I need to listen to someone talk.  Otherwise I have jumped ahead in the conversation, know the outcome and appear uninterested…which I’m just waiting for them to get to their point or I’m fighting not to jump in a say something…sometimes unrelated.

Posted by Kimberly928 on Jul 03, 2014 at 3:14pm

ADHD is a disability or if you’d rather a disorder of the brain involving the uptake of seratonin - it doesn’t work properly. When your eyes don’t work that is a disability and you need the assistance of glasses to aide you to see better. There is no difference. Trying to debate whether it is a disability or not in part adds to the stigma about it. I would much rather peor understand it as a disability because otherwise it is categorized as a character issue which implies that those afflicted have control over it. And they don’t. It is not just a different way of thinking.

I have a daughter with the disorder and I would much rather it be understood for her sake as a disability. Because when it is not then the assumption of teachers, administrators, and other adults she comes in contact with look at her as if she is bad or wrong. That is way more destructive than thinking of it as a disability.

Posted by YellaRyan on Jul 04, 2014 at 5:33am

It’s not so much serotonin as norepinephrine and dopamine. Acetylcholine and GABA are also possible involved in some AD/HD. Serotonin is more related to OCD obsessiveness and in depression the obsessive rumination on negative thoughts. But the stimulants Ritalin and Adderall plus their offshoots and Strattera, the non stim med, either act to release more NE and DA, or act as reuptake inhibitors. Possibly they and Straterra also improve the sensitivity of receptors. Serotonin has different functions than the NE/DA needed to help activate the parts of the brain that underperform in AD/HD.

Posted by Gadfly on Jul 04, 2014 at 6:48am

I’m the non-ADD spouse and this is a second marriage for both of us. I didn’t know much about ADD before we started dating (in our 50s.)  He gave me a couple of books to read and said, “If we’re going to be spending much time together, you should know what you’re getting.”  I don’t have ADD, but I have my own issues.  I do understand that different brains work differently. So, I thought I “got it.”

My husband’s first (long) marriage was unique in many ways but could also be a text-book example of an ADD/non-ADD relationship gone bad. He was diagnosed half way through it, but his ex never really accepted the diagnosis.  By that time, the contempt had grown too deep.

I’m sure it was hard on both of them, but it’s him I care about.  He was miserable. I don’t ever want him to feel that much pain for those reasons ever again. He loves me.  He doesn’t want me to be miserable. So, if we can’t work out how to live and partner together without festering anger, frustration and contempt on either of our sides, we will split up.  But it would be a separation done out of caring for both ourselves and each other.

I deeply trust that we’re on the same side of dealing with our individual “quirks” and their impact on our relationship, in the big picture.  But life isn’t lived in the big picture, it’s lived moment to often frustrating moment. My husband was aware of how ADD inconvenienced HIM (mostly memory and organization issues.)  He wasn’t as aware of it’s emotional impact on him and those around him.

It’s been really, really hard at times. Confusing. Painful. He would get angry for (to me) no reason and just walk out of the room.  I’m one to talk things out, NOW.

I’ve learned that doesn’t work.  I’ve also learned that a lot of his emotional reaction have very little to do with me. He’s learned that those reactions still impact me. We’ve worked out some communication strategies that help us.  Maybe they’ll be of use to someone else.

First, we figured out what was the best time of day for both of us, in terms of mood, concentration, etc.—when our personal reserves were at their highest. It’s morning, shortly after we wake up.  So, we schedule a daily talk first thing in the morning, so we get the best of each other. We do this in bed, with coffee, so we’re not distracted or tugged by other parts of our lives. Sometimes we just talk about little things.  Other times, one or the other of us will have an “agenda” item to discuss—a decision to be made or something that’s bothering us about the relationship.  About half the time, we end up making lists as a result of talking, but that’s not the point of it.  It’s our time to connect.

We’ve also accepted that, if we’re going to accommodate each other without squelching our own needs, we’re going to fight.  We squabble every. single. day. This is a huge change for me. But these fights aren’t about beating down the other person. We really like each other and do have each other’s back.

A phrase that I repeat to myself (and others, on occasion) is, “We’re both a couple of know-it-alls with conditions that tend to make us impatient and short-tempered.  What could go wrong?”  But openly acknowledging that helps a lot.

We’ve also developed a few code words/phrases to use when one or the other is emotional and doesn’t want or can’t explain it right then. It’s now okay for me to defer talking about something because I trust we will later, if that’s still needed.

Some of our code phrases are inside jokes. We even have names for some of our biggest fights.

Humor is really important.

And, when things are complicated and hard and we just don’t seem to be able to talk about them, we write each other letters/emails about the issue.  Writing lets each of us collect and express our thoughts without reacting emotionally to the other person.  Reading something the other wrote takes dedicated attention.

If it gets so hard that we’re writing each other, more often than not, one of the emails includes the phrase, “I miss you.”

Posted by zelda on Jul 05, 2014 at 7:04pm

Hi. ADHD-I spouse here (I’m the woman in the equation). We’ve been together or married for about 27 years.

ADHD or not, I’m the one who deals with bills, appointments, doctor’s appointments, the kids, etc and the House. OMG.

All my life I was told I was lazy, disorganized, etc etc etc. If you read other threads, you’ll see that’s a common theme.  My apparently non ADHD husband get extremely frustrated with me when (even after all these years) I can’t turn into June Cleaver or a 50s housewife. That combined with left-over coping mechanisms from when I was a kid with a neat-freak mother and sister, and a verbally/physically abusive brother often leaves me in the same situation as the OP’s husband. I shut down. Or it takes me a while to gather my thoughts, and my husband wants me to answer IMMEDIATELY.

I don’t know about the quirks of the other ADHD spouses talked about here, but if he can’t even accept written discussions (text, email, notes, etc) then I strongly suggest couples therapy is needed. Even childhood issues have to take a rest and the present needs to be dealt with. Especially if the entire load of the relationship feels like it’s on your back.

You might have to Get Tough, and I mean Tough. He’s accusing you of being negative even when you’re not. If you can get a therapist to make a house call (some do!), get one to make a house call. Have a video tape going to document his behavior. Yup. Record it. Show the videos to the therapist. The therapist might be able to point out irrefutably what HE needs to do and what you might be doing without realizing it.

I’ve never just walked out on a conversation like your husband has, but then, I was trained by my family to lump it. (not able to leave) He has no excuse or reason at this point to stop discussing topics you need to discuss. ADHD is not a reason. He needs to cope, and learn how to. [sorry, that behavior ticks me off!]

Posted by JavaMonster on Jul 06, 2014 at 5:53am

The way you describe your husband sounds exactly the way I would describe myself. Personally, I find it hard to talk about the “important” issues in life, especially anything like finances, legal matters,etc. Its impossible to get me to talk and I also become very “moody” when confronted with these types of issues. I don’t fully understand why I lash out like I do, but I think that its because I stress about all of the important things in my life in my on way and address matters the same way I handle other situations, at the last moment ! This builds stress and I’ve adapted ways to procrastinate but still block the stress that comes from my procrastination. When a girlfriend or parent reminds me of a bill that’s coming due I take it as them “nagging” me, even though I’m sure they are only wanting to have a conversation which includes my input. I’m aware that the bill is due, but I have to figure out how to pay it on my own terms and if someone mentions it then it creates added stress which causes me to either withdraw, get defensive or change the subject.
This damages relationships because of how I react when others are only trying to get some input on whatever situation that they need to talk about. My advice is to be patient and find some way to address your situations on your own without even mentioning them to your husband. I think that after a while he will stop taking it as you causing him stress and start having conversations about them with you. On his own time of course.

Posted by Vamished on Jul 06, 2014 at 10:56pm

Thanks for the input JavaMonster - I wish I could feel more hopeful about your suggestions, they are good ones.  I don’t think we are anywhere close to being able to do those things.  We have been in therapy off and on for years.  It always seems to make things worse.  Any my husband has refused this time - says he wants to “work on himself” which is great but that does not necessarily translate into things getting better for us.

Varnished - thanks for the suggestions.  We’ve been married for 17 years, we wouldn’t still be married if I WASN’T patient!  I get that I can inadvertently trigger past stuff or stress.  What I don’t get is that I get blamed for the trigger being there in the first place.  That is not helpful, but that is what my husband insists is true - that I am the problem, that if I just didn’t trigger him everything would be fine and I should know how not to!  That is slightly impossible.

But I will keep trying nonetheless because we have children.

Posted by YellaRyan on Jul 10, 2014 at 1:17am

I haven’t read all of the responses here, I will after posting this, but I just had to say that this is the number one problem between my ADHD husband and I.  He will not discuss anything other than the every day things. As a result sometimes I feel our relationship is very shallow, although we’ve been married for 29 years.  If I try to discuss something that concerns me I am belittled, blamed, threatened with him leaving, yelled at, whatever he thinks he needs to do so that I will stop trying to discuss what needs to be discussed.  I used to cower, apologize for bringing up the subject and go along with his stuffing.  In the last year and a half I no longer do that and it has caused even more problems than we already had. 

His parents divorced after 19 years. I had a long discussion with my mother-in-law several years ago and she said his father was the same way.  He would never discuss anything with her, ignored her feelings, and focused on himself.  I know his mother had ADHD, but haven’t considered his father did also.  It very well could be. I know he had mental health issues.  In any case, my husband learned it and perhaps it is also part of ADHD.  We’re at the point now where our marriage is in shambles and we’re hanging on by a thread. I really don’t know where it’s going.  I keep trying to resolve things because we have a 15 year old son and I really don’t want to lose my family and hurt my son.  It is so hard, though.

Posted by MRLB on Jul 15, 2014 at 8:54pm

to all the women who describe husbands who deflect meaningful conversations, etc.,  I would like to suggest you read The Verbally Abusive Relationship, by Patricia Evans.  Changed my life.

Posted by no longer confused on Jul 16, 2014 at 6:46pm

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