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Couples Where Both Partners Have ADHD

Spouse doesn't notice social cues - how to help?

Sorry for the very long post, but I’ve been storing this up for a while.

My husband has ADHD, while I have the inattentive type. I’ve tried to become more aware of my habits in social situations, like interrupting, talking too loudly, and going off on rabbit trails. I think some of it has to do with anxiety as much as ADD. Even though I’m an introvert, certain situations bring out these behaviors.

My husband seems clueless about his own socially awkward habits. They seem to get worse around men; he has no real male friends. For instance, at parties or dinners out with work friends he’ll pull out his phone and start showing funny pictures or videos to the point that it’s interfering with conversation, and it’s obvious to me that no one is interested and they’re just trying to be polite. He doesn’t seem to get that people want to interact with each other and not stare at a screen.

Another thing he does is laugh at inappropriate times, at things that aren’t funny, usually after something he says. It’s like a nervous tic, as if to cushion what he is saying or as if his laughing will make the other person laugh. Instead you are in the position to laugh with him in a fake way to avoid awkwardness, or stay straight-faced and feel awkward. Sometimes when I try this, he asks me what’s wrong. I want to say, “You didn’t say anything funny. Why should I laugh?” It’s exhausting at times.

He also gets into a kind of one-upsmanship with other men. He might tell a story, and when the conversation moves on to another person’s related story, instead of responding politely and showing interest, he’ll keep dragging the conversation back to his own story to add details or exaggerate some point he made, as if his experience was funnier/weirder/better. If the other person pauses for a split second to take a breath, he interrupts. He does this to me sometimes, and it’s really annoying because I often lose my train of thought entirely, so I tend to call him on it. But in social situations I don’t want to embarrass him. I always feel on edge trying to tell a story or listen to someone else tell one because I’m afraid he’ll interrupt before they (or I) can finish. He seems to have a hard time listening to other people, participating in a conversation, and just going with the flow. He also seems to get wrapped up in impressing people with anecdotes or knowledge and getting a big reaction, so there’s no room to just listen, relax, and BE. I can relate to the social anxiety but over the years I have learned how to show interest and listen, and he says I’m really good at that.

Sometimes this behavior is so embarrassing that I’ve had to leave the room. I don’t want to embarrass him in front of others by saying something then and there, and I don’t know how to approach it later without shaming him because he can be sensitive and defensive. He also completely forgets what he said or did and will argue about it, so bringing it up later can be pointless. (I also have difficulty with confrontation.)

He has told me that he does have some anxiety in social situations, like at parties, and he’s always ready to leave before I am. In some situations he will hardly say two words (like with my family).

I’m sure a lot of this has to do with anxiety and not being able to just relax and let people get to know him for him. I love him and he has lots of wonderful ideas and qualities, and if he could overcome some of this I think he could make friends more easily. As it is we have very few friends, and I’ve seen him get pushed to the margins of social groups many times. He had no friends at his last job - acquaintances who were friendly, but not friends. Meanwhile everyone else was going out together, going camping, etc. He felt very excluded.

He has encouraged me to talk about anything that bothers me and has helped me a lot in overcoming my fear of confrontation. But I don’t know how to talk to him about this. If he could work on these things it would help both of us. The lack of socializing on his part is making me crazy. I feel claustrophobic when he has no one else to hang out with but me, and bad for him. We need our own social lives.



I don’t know if I can help, but I’ll give you a bit of info about me, and also my own situation and experiences.

I’ll do my best to be brief, but I ramble, which tends to be an issue in social settings!!

I haven’t always been super social, but somewhere in the last 8 or so years, that changed. I managed to find a few people like me, who understand me, and they are my rocks. I do go to parties and gatherings, and socialize, but I rarely make connections with those people.

Important things I have done, include beginning medication, and also seeing a counselor who specializes in working with adults with ADHD. In working with my counselor, I figured out a lot about myself, who I wanted to be, how I wanted to act, and also what I needed to do. 

Things over the last several years have been going well, but the biggest problem for me, is during a “roundtable” type situation. When in public, or if there are other distractions (television, someones cute dog, the wind chimes on the deck making noise), I can’t focus..

If I am with others, and they are talking, there’s a possibility of 3 things happening. On a great day, where I push myself, “excellent” conversation is had. Sometimes, it’s boring as heck, but I really force myself, and I am able to participate, and be proper.

Unfortunately, much of the time, I tend to either get distracted, often to the point where I am glazed over, and like a student in a classroom, when someone asks me what I think…. I have no answer, or the other possibility, I take over the conversation with my stories.

This has been something in the past that has actually damaged relationships. Now mind you, I was also involved with men who were selfish, didn’t believe in ADHD, and couldn’t be bothered on working with me on this.

So anyway, I spoke with my counselor, and she gave me some ideas. She initially said, if I didn’t have a partner willing to understand, forget them. Luckily for your husband, you are supportive, and with the right understanding, and practice, maybe this will work out, so you both can enjoy yourselves in a social setting.

So what I do. I implemented a reward system, no phone unless I participate for “X” amount of time. I position myself relatively early with someone to chat, when I see an opening I can listen to and can participate in. I face them, have my back to tvs, the exciting people, etc.

Sometimes when driving to an event, I think of what I want to and can, talk about, which has actually been a challenge, because I tend to be a “one-upper”, not that I necessarily “one-up”, but my stories are way more exciting or make me seem better (so I’ve been told), so I try to pick a topic that I can stick to, and make everyone happy.

Most importantly, is the dinner table “cue”. When I am carrying on, interrupting, my now boyfriend, who also deals with ADHD, will give my knee a gentle squeeze under the table. It’s enough for me to know I am going overboard, or getting too intense. Sometimes I don’t always get the cue, so I may get a second harder squeeze. It has honestly been a “life saver”, so simple, but really what works for me.

Additionally, I try to set up times to get together where I know everyone will have a good time and people like me can stay active. Maybe a pub with some sort of game or trivia. It’s enough to keep me busy, without coming off as rude.

Lastly, if it gets to the point where he wants to leave, he should (as long as he doesn’t dine & dash), maybe he can drive separately??

In regards to his laugh, that is probably a tic, because on a subconscious/conscious level he knows the situation is awkward, and he isn’t comfortable.

The most important thing is to try stuff out, and figure out what works for you and your husband. Be sure to communicate about it, and if both of you are willing to try, repeatedly, you should have some successes.

You guys may even want to find someone in your area such as a counselor, who can meet with you and give you ideas.

I don’t know if this was helpful, and sorry if I rambled!! No one is here to squeeze my leg!!

Best of luck, and don’t give up.

Posted by LissaSaidWhat? on Feb 08, 2014 at 4:31am

Thank you so much, Lissa, you didn’t ramble at all. Can you remember what it was that triggered you to seek help on these issues? And how would you want your boyfriend to bring up something that he felt you were still doing that was really socially awkward or driving people away? Like, what words would you want to hear?

I’m trying to approach it in a way that’s not accusing, shaming, or know-it-all. I’m afraid that it’s such a personal topic that it will be hard for me not to step on his toes. I want to convey that it would help me but also might help him make better connections with others. Maybe talking about my own social awkwardness that I’ve struggled with.

I will likely seek out a counselor on this and other things. I asked one previously and all he could say was not to bring it up in public and just leave the room, and maybe talk about how it would help me if he did A or B. To be honest, I’m kind of tired of trying to make everything about me - sometimes it really is the other person! But maybe that attitude is not helpful.

He took meds in the past but doesn’t want to now because of side effects (he got headaches previously on one drug), but he has not tried the latest drugs.

Posted by wordsmith on Feb 08, 2014 at 4:47am

Oh, and thank you for the tips!

Posted by wordsmith on Feb 08, 2014 at 4:47am

you are super sweet and really have your husbands best interest at heart.  I, too, have ADHD as does hubby.  We present differently of course and I’m more into figuring things out and finding solutions than he is. This DOES make it difficult to bring anything up because he responds in the ways that you are looking to avoid—he (a) is either defensive and disagrees that he behaves in certain ways that are off-putting or (b) gets insulted and self-deprecating (“Oh, you’re saying I’m a shmuck? Right? You think I don’t know that?”). 

He is not one to sit at the table or couch with me and discuss personal issues, although we could discuss anything in the newspaper for a long time. So when there is something that’s not working in our relationship, its ALWAYS me that has to bring it up and I hate that.  Even though sometimes we get to a place that is really helpful, other times we don’t so its always nerve-wracking for me. We are going to a couples counselor and supposedly working on this, but so far I’m still the one to initiate, which makes me feel like his mom or his teacher….neither position I want to be in.

You are extremely observant and articulate about his social faux pas.  One suggestion that may be helpful is to pick the one that you think he could be successful at changing if he chose to work on it.  Success breeds success. So if he’s successful in one area, it makes it more likely he would be willing to try in another area as well.  To tell someone a number of faults at once would be overwhelming and possibly depressing for them and make it seem to hard to overcome…and probably have repercussions for your relationship with him.

Also, does he want friends/real relationships with people? Does he want to “perform well” at a dinner party?

If so, does he ever voice this? That would be a perfect opportunity to say “actually i’ve noticed that too and I’ve been doing some thinking about it.  I have some ideas about why this might be happening and some ideas about how we can make it better. But I haven’t brought it up because I love you and don’t want to hurt your feelings. Do you want to talk about it?”

Although he might love you, ppl don’t generally change for someone else, they have to have self-motivation because change is difficult.  It has to be HIS goal, especially in this case because you’re bringing up ways in which he interacts with others - not with you.

Self-awareness is always the first step. Even if he doesn’t react in a good way initially, you have planted a seed that I doubt he will forget if you say it in a serious quiet setting.

A different idea is to start within your own relationship. You said he does that nervous laugh/tic thing with you too, so you can say “you know you always laugh after you say things that aren’t funny…why do you think you do that?”

However, I think I actually do that sometimes as do a lot of people.  That in itself is probably not damaging his relationship with other people. So if your goal is for him to be more successful in other relationships, you probably don’t want to begin there. 

My Dad does the thing about always bringing the conversation back to what he wants to talk about and its so annoying. I think he just loves to hear himself talk. He thinks some things are more interesting than other people do. And he’s very self-centered. This was not a good model for me growing up. 

And my mom just avoids all social situations so that wasn’t helpful for me either.  I now also have tremendous difficulty in large gatherings and prefer to avoid them altogether. I just don’t know how to do small talk.  I never think to ask the other person about themselves. I’m socially anxious and therefore can never think of an initial topic to bring up with someone I rarely see.

How does your husband do in a small setting? With people you guys know much better? I can only be in a larger setting if there are people there that I’m actually friends with.  I will gravitate towards them and not want them to leave me.  But sometimes it also leads me to be more relaxed and more able to carry on with new people.

Perhaps your focus shouldn’t be how he behaves in large gatherings (although i would probably bring it up if it were so embarrassing that you leave the room). If you want him to acquire REAL friends, then its more important how he deals one-on-one with people and in small groups.

IDK about male relationships, but for females (and I suspect for anyone), what a person wants is to be heard and understood - then they feel connected.  If your husband can develop better listening skills with anyone, and learn to validate their feelings/their experiences, rather than turn it back to himself, then he will have a much greater chance of finding at least one good friend.

My husbands friends all stem back to his childhood. But he rarely sees them. My best friend is from college. Other than that, all my new friends are from a 12-step group I joined 3 years ago. (Its called naranon - for the families of drug addicts.  But there are a gzillion different types of 12 step groups and they are all wonderful). I love 12 step groups or any self-improvement group or focus group (on something i’m passionate about in the community or the world) because we talk about REAL things. Everyone is brutally honest and brutally compassionate about one another.  I love that. I hate the bullshit.  I just don’t do it well or have an interest in it.  I know it is important in nearly every normal setting—even at my little kids preschool, if I want a relationship with other parents (leading to playdates for my kid) but its really difficult for me.  I haven’t picked it apart and made it better…and neither my current or former spouse has helped me with this.

It could be a real gift to your husband to present him with this BUT only if its presented AND received as a gift.  And you have to have that type of relationship with him already for that to be done.

If you don’t, I’d go to a counselor to help BOTH of you communicate with each other about difficult issues.  Therres also a great book called Difficult Conversations that would be helpful.

Good luck!

Posted by spaced-in on Feb 22, 2014 at 10:32pm

I am having similar issues. I have the inattentive type, and probably easier to shield as being quiet. My hubby, on the other hand is impulsive, and blurts out things that I find inappropriate for conversations. When I mention my feelings for this, he gets frustrated, and often denies these behaviors. An argument ensues, and nothing is achieved. My hubby is overly defensive.  I am frustrated by this.

Posted by Berta22 on May 17, 2016 at 1:33am

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