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Couples With One ADHD Partner

Lost and Confused

My ADHD partner and I have been together 9 years, living together 7.5 years, and married for 7 years.  His hyperfocus on me and our relationship literally ended on our honeymoon.  Prior to that I never saw any signs of his ADHD.  The first 3 years of our marriage were really rocky because of the drastic attitude change between dating and marriage. I didn’t know until recently (I’ve been devoting a lot more time learning more about his ADHD) how almost all of our problems are a result of his ADHD not being treated properly (and me not responding the best to his ADHD symptoms). 

More and more I’m feeling like I don’t even know who my husband is anymore.  He’s anxious, angry a lot, gotten cynical, complains constantly, and has a negative outlook on life.  Last night I confronted him about how he’s been treating/reacting to our cat and he admitted he’s “lost the appeal of even having her” because she bugs us for food in the morning and he “can’t sleep on the weekends like he used to” (it’s been 4 months since we’ve adopted her).  He’s also been frustrated with work for the last year and gets angry and/or depressed a few days a week because of it.  He tells me he messes up a lot at work and thinks he would have been fired already if he weren’t such good friends with his boss.

I have tried to get him into counseling for the last few years and his doctor has been suggesting it as well but he says it’s too expense and doesn’t think it’s worth the cost.  About 2 years ago he switched from Concerta to Adderall, and I thought that would help but I believe this still isn’t right for him based on his symptoms.  Last fall he finally told his doctor and ME! about how depressed he is and has tried several anti-depressants since.  I don’t think they’ve found the right one yet either. 

Lately he’s been having explosive episodes to the point where he seems like a completely different person.  It scares and confuses me.  He is both the sweetest person and biggest jerk I’ve ever met.  I’ve talked to him about this and some other things I’ve noticed/realized recently but I feel so lost.  I’ve tried looking for (in-person) support groups but the closest one is almost 2 hours away.  I’ve also tried reaching out to some close friends but that hasn’t been enough.  I think today I’ll be looking for counselors for myself.

I’m more so here to vent but anyone else that’s gone through this as the non-ADHD partner, how did you cope?  What can I do to take care of myself while my partner is sorting out his medication?


Welcome to the world of bait and switch that is ADHD.  I had a very similar experience with my husband, the hyperfocus during dating and then once we were married it dissipated.  I’ve now seen him do the same with our children.  Love them to pieces in the first few years but now he treats us all like we are one big inconvenience to him and we should be grateful to him that he is doing us all the favor of earning a living.

It is painful no matter how you look at it.  But you have the option of leaving easier now before you have children (if you intend to).  I know that too is painful to contemplate.  But you do have to realize that everything you are now experiencing will continue.  There is no cure and medication is just like love - the honeymoon of them feeling better on it wears off and then it back to moody and explosive.  So while he may find one medication or another works better for him with focus and organization, there is no medication that will work on all the symptoms.  So it is a trade off between your needs and his needs.  My husband tried Strattera which made him much easier to get along with at home but did nothing for his focus and his organizational ability so it was a bust for work.

And there is nothing you can “do” for him particularly except stay calm.  Be prepared however to be, in his mind, the “cause” in his mind of all his problems, stress, anxiety, “depression” etc. I don’t mean to scare you, I just mean to give you a reality check.  There is no cure.  So it is a constant wax and wane situation.

If this sounds unbearable then you might seriously think of leaving.  You do have a right to be happy you know and if this life will make you unhappy there is no reason you should stay.  If you do decide to stay though you must find coping strategies that work for you. 

Here is what I have done.  Since my husband moved us to a place where I am unable to find a full time job - because of his needs to be out of the city, not my preference - my career was cut short.  So I have put my focus and effort into raising our children.  That is not so different from many other women with normal husbands.  However, I cannot count on any input on parenting.  Sometimes he’ll contribute but for the most part I have to direct all his activities with the kids, tell him to feed them lunch or he forgets, where to take them and drop them off, etc when I am at my job.  The rest of the time I am just in charge of the household completely.  It is much like being a single parent but having a roommate who is erratically helpful.

I have found friends with whom I can relate to and spend fun time with.  Otherwise I wouldn’t have any fun time and adult conversation at all.  My husband’s primary relationship at this point is with Facebook so he has nothing left for me.  I’ve also found activities that I like to do and I do them whenever I want.  I bring my kids whenever I can so they don’t have to be with him too much as he can be prickly and then they have terrible days.

I also have a therapist I can go to when I really need to talk to someone.  Because talking to friends and family about my frustrations is untenable and unfair to my husband.  He has a relationship with all these people too and I am not the one to spoil that by telling them things about him they can’t handle or don’t want to know.  I do have one family member I can talk to openly which is nice.  It is nice to have empathy - we need that as human beings and I’m not going to get it from my husband so…

And I have had to distance myself from him at the same rate that he has distanced himself from me.  Meaning, there is not much intimacy of any kind between us but I was in a position of longing for so many years and that is its own hellish pain.  Wanting the kind of relationship with someone you once had, or one you are not likely to get is very unhealthy.  What we normally do in life is leave right?  But if you are not in a position to leave, like I am not, then you have to develop a coping mechanism.  So I have tried really, really hard not to slip into cynicism and bitterness but on the other hand I am not going to continue to pine for the closeness if he is absolutely refusing to even talk about it or spend any time with me and work on it.

At some point when my children are older and if I can support myself I will probably have to leave.  Although I want my children to grow up with their father I fully realize the view they are getting of adult relationships and marriage is not healthy and I worry that it will have lifelong negative impact.  We do tend recreate our childhood families in our adult life so I worry that I am doing a disservice to my kids.  But my husband is able to maintain some emotional stability which I don’t know if he is capable of if we broke up.  And the impact of that in my calculation is worse than the alternative.  No matter how you look at it, it is not an optimal situation for any of us.  My husband just wants to be left alone most of the time, be free to stick his face in his computer or phone and then be treated like he is “head of household” and a terrific parent.  But I am not going to get into the game of pretending something is true that is not.  I think that is destructive in its own way too.

And my husband does see his therapist regularly now, he does take his meds religiously, he does meditate sometimes, and he is still incredibly difficult to live with, deal with, relate to.  So you have to understand that.  Nothing you do is going to make much of an impact on his behavior, no matter what he says.  If anything my husband’s behavior has gotten worse over time, as our kids grow and can tell him their feelings, as they have more needs and complicated schedules, etc.  Life gets more complicated and people with ADHD cannot deal with complicated.  But you should also not take ANY of it personally.  That is the really hard one.  You have to know that he would be the same with you, without you, with someone else, no matter.  It is a brain disorder.  He can’t behave the way you would like him to, the way a normal person behaves, because his brain malfunctions.  So, just as you wouldn’t take it personally if he had to wear glasses, you have to not take the ADHD symptoms personally.

Best to you.  I know how incredibly difficult it is to stay on an even keel with someone with ADHD. But do your best and stick with reality.  I’ve found it to be the most useful tool of all, reality.

Posted by YellaRyan on Jul 21, 2014 at 5:53pm

Hi josiesmall!

I’m sorry you are going through such a rough time. The first thing that stands out to me in your message is that your husband is suddenly explosive when he wasn’t before. This could be caused by medication interaction if he’s taking Adderall and an anti-depressant, especially if he’s taking Prozac or Paxil with it (there’s a serious interaction with those specific combinations:

Secondly, I commend you for looking to take care of yourself. That is exactly the right move. Try simple things like taking a walk, regular “appointments” with yourself for exercise, a monthly night out with the girls, immersing yourself in a good book, etc. Counseling will be very helpful too.

Melissa Orlov, author of “ADHD and Marriage,” authored a fantastic article on relationship problems and solutions with ADHD in the relationship. She offers some helpful strategies:

Here are a couple more articles on the subject you may find helpful as well:

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

Posted by adhdmomma on Jul 22, 2014 at 12:37pm

josiesmall, I don’t really have any advice to give you as I am new to a relationship with an ADHD partner (just over 1 year of dating) but I did want to comment to give you some moral support.

When I started dating my partner I knew nothing about ADHD. I consider our relationship very bi-polar - when it’s good it’s really really good, but when it’s bad, it’s awful. I started seeing a counselor on my own who has experience with ADHD and I have found that to be very helpful. She reminds me that his brain just simply functions differently than mine and there may be things about him that I can not change. But there are other things we can work on together. It helps to get a little perspective by talking to someone with expertise.

The thing about your post that concerns me is that it sounds like he’s not really willing to address the issues you are describing. Unless he is willing and able to work WITH you on these things I’m not sure how much you can do on your own to improve things. I agree that you absolutely deserve to be happy and to be treated with respect and loved. One of the things my counselor told me was that I had to decide what things I could accept and what I can’t. And are the things I can’t accept really that important to me? Are they deal-breakers?

You have been together a long time and it sounds like you really love him. Perhaps a frank conversation about how you are feeling is necessary - that you feel worried about the relationship and you miss the love you two used to share and you want to work together to be happy. If you want to stay with him then you may need to find a way to get him into therapy with you.

I’m really sorry for what you’re experiencing and I hope somehow everything works out. Stay strong.

Posted by hhnp on Jul 23, 2014 at 6:54pm

Josiesmall, I can totally identify with you when it comes to how you experienced a change in your relationship after the honeymoon… I have been married to my ADD husband for 7.5 years as well, and although we’ve had a few ups, it’s been mostly downs.

I don’t have any advise… I am actually also in a position where I’m desperately seeking advise on how to cope and hoping someone will direct me on how to have a happy, fulfilling relationship with my husband - which isn’t looking too positive right now!

YellaRyan, your post actually scares me.
You say nothing I do will make much of an impact on his behavior - no matter what he says… And he does say that there is a lot I do that is making it impossible for him to relate to me! Am I to now believe that I may as well not bother trying to change to suit him better, as his behavior will most probably just get worse as our kids get older?!
This is a very bleak picture you are painting for me here!

I want to believe that somehow, one day, we will be as happy as we were on honeymoon… That we will develop healthy relationship and communication skills… And that my kids will witness a healthy loving relationship which, like you say, they will most probably replicate in their own lives.

But am I really hoping for something completely unrealistic now?

Posted by Allice on Jul 23, 2014 at 7:47pm

Allice, I’m sorry to scare you!  I wish it doesn’t have to be scary.  But if you break it down in to what causes disappointment it is expectation crashing into reality.  So if you are just expecting/wanting things to someday go back to the honeymoon stage (which I also did by the way, for way too long) then you are guaranteed disappointment.  If, however, you try to work with reality and base your expectations squarely on the reality of your situation (rather than on how you wish things were which most people do, if not all the time, then at times) then there is hope that you will be able to make your relationship better. 

I don’t think though that any of us married the person we think we did.  That is why I say that ADHD can be bait and switch. A person with ADHD when they fall in love is going to behave more like a person with bipolar than a “normal” brained person in that it is so exciting, so stimulating, so unexpected that they have no way of regulating or tempering themselves - like the rest of us do.  We may FEEL like diving in to a relationship and hyperfocus on it but we don’t because of past experience (maybe we did that when we were 13 and totally drove the boy away), because of other constraints on our time and energies.  So what we met and married was an extreme version with, probably, all the negative parts left out - like a movie!  If you understand how the ADHD brain works it makes total sense - the ability to hyperfocus on something you like, the inability to use past experience to anticipate what is coming at you to make decisions on how to behave now.

But of course just simply knowing anything only makes it so much better.  Our husbands are still hyperfocusing on those things now that we wish they weren’t they still are touchy, angry, negative, etc. whatever symptoms your husband suffers from. And medication only does so much.  I know medication cannot touch stress with my husband.  And nothing I myself do can help him to unstress. But HE can use his own mindfulness practice to alleviate his stress.  Whether he does it or not is totally 100% up to him and nothing I say can lean him in that direction, and often anything I say pushes him in the opposite direction.  That is oppositional defiance disorder - a symptom of ADHD in most people with the condition. 

This is what I mean when I say there is nothing you can do.  To be fair of course this is the position all spouses find themselves in.  But in marriages with both normal brained there probably isn’t yelling in response to “Honey, you seem stressed” or “I’d like to spend more time with you”.

What we all can do to the extent possible, to at least attempt not to make things worse, is stay calm and not take these things personally.  Of course, we wish that our spouses would likewise adopt this stance.  But bottom line is, it does no good to lose your cool, which I have figured out the hard way, or to take things to heart which they may not have total control over.

Maybe there needs to be a new definition of what a “healthy relationship” is when one partner has ADHD.  Just like if our partners had head trauma or alzeimers there would have to be a redefinition.  ADHD is not really so different.  You have to meet people where they are after all.

Posted by YellaRyan on Jul 23, 2014 at 9:38pm

Thanks YellaRyan,

That makes a lot of sense and I have a lot to think about. I have definitely had hopes that somehow I might be able to achieve a “normal” relationship with my husband, and this is probably unrealistic if I think about it in the light of ADD being a medical condition.

So I guess it pretty much comes down to understanding and acceptance - understanding why they act a certain way and then accepting it, and as you say, not taking it personally.

Something else I’m questioning is the impact of medication. My husband had all the symptoms of ADD but I have noticed a dramatic change in him since using medication - the change was positive for his work, but negative in almost every other way - it made him extremely unsociable and paid a huge toll on his health. He has just gone off of the meds a week ago and is now suffering terrible withdrawals which are causing depression and all the other things you guys talk about…
But now my thoughts are, maybe mediation isn’t the answer and maybe it is what is making them even harder to live with and relate to? Just a thought…
Perhaps if our husbands could manage their ADHD/ADD in other ways we would experience them differently?

Posted by Allice on Jul 24, 2014 at 7:06pm

YellaRyan thank you so much for sharing your experience.  It’s very sad that your are in such a situation but I think you have more options than what your considering.  You’ve devoted your time and energy into being a mother and homemaker, depending on the state you are in that means you would qualify for spousal support and child support. 

Frankly it sounds like your husband is very emotionally abusive and separation/divorce would be a healthier option for everyone in the family.  I would recommend finding a non-profit that helps women and children.  They often have shelters and people to help with finding a job, housing, getting other supports, etc.  Staying for the kids sake will not necessarily be the healthiest for the children.

Posted by josiesmall on Aug 04, 2014 at 8:37pm

Thank you so much adhdmomma/Penny for the articles.  I too think the sudden aggressiveness may be influenced by the new medication being added.  Since first writing I have had a great talk with my husband about this and the behavior I’ve been noticing and he has an appointment next week with his doctor.  We’re also taking steps for us both to identify and correct our habits of reacting defensively to each other and creating arguments on things of little or no importance.

Posted by josiesmall on Aug 04, 2014 at 8:43pm

Allice thank you for your reply.  What I’ve learned is no one can really tell you how to be happy and fullfilled, you have to first find it for yourself and then find it in your relationships.  I’ve found it beneficial to work on myself and try new hobbies without my husband.  It gives me time away but also something to look forward too or feel proud of accomplishing.  After that,I’m noticing I’m much happier in the hobbies that my husband and I share together.

Posted by josiesmall on Aug 04, 2014 at 8:50pm

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