Adult ADHD and Relationships

Aug 3 07:48 2010 Brunetti Brunetti Print This Article


The monthly meeting comes to order in the heart of California's Silicon Valley,Guest Posting a world center of leading-edge technology.

Attendees this evening include software developers and computer scientists. What’s on tonight’s agenda? The Next Big Thing in high-tech? Not exactly. Not unless you have adult ADHD (Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder). In that case, keeping track of your keys might be a very big thing indeed.

Phillip, 32, a talented software programmer with a beautiful smile and an engaging personality, begins: “Okay, I’ve been practicing some of the suggestions we talked about last time for keeping track of my keys, and I can’t believe how well they’re working.”
No one snickers. No one rolls their eyes. Most people attending this support group for adults with ADHD chuckle and nod in agreement, relieved to hear someone speak openly about an embarrassing problem that they, too, have, or a problem similar to theirs.

Make no mistake: Silicon Valley might be a worldwide magnet for people with ADHD, what with their stereotypical love of the new and novel. But even here, ADHD is not limited to young men who tinker in high-tech, and its challenges aren’t limited to lost keys.

The people gathered tonight— male and female, professionals and blue-collar workers, teens and retirees, long-time locals and new immigrants from many different nations—find themselves dogged by a few or many of these other difficulties:
* Losing track of priorities
* Arriving late to events and missing deadlines
* Having trouble initiating tasks and following through to completion
* Being chronically disorganized
* Managing finances poorly
* Losing their temper easily
* Overspending, smoking, video gaming, and other addictions
* Not being “present” in relationships

As you would expect, behaviors like these seldom won them kudos from bosses, coworkers, family members, or even grade-school teachers. As a result, some people have lost jobs, partnerships, houses, large fortunes, and self-worth. Or, at best, they believe (or have been told often enough) they have fallen far short of their potential.
Many of these late-to-diagnosis adults have long suspected that they were a bit “different.” When they finally learn about ADHD, most wish they’d learned sooner. Much sooner. It explains a lot about how their unwitting actions generated unpleasant consequences as well as why, just when they started getting traction in life, they’d often slip on that invisible banana peel.
Meanwhile, tonight, as these adults share their triumphs and difficulties, ones that their families and the public frequently fail to understand or accept, you can almost see the lightbulbs flashing on. Apprehensive newcomers relax their jaws. Arms unfold. Possibilities expand as they realize that they are not alone, that other smart people, accomplished people, well-meaning people ride the same roller coaster. And there are evidence-based solutions that can help to elevate their  lives.

They learn that ADHD challenges have little to do with intelligence, caring, the lessons their parents tried to teach, or what they know to be right or wrong. It has more to do with
• having difficulty focusing one’s attention right now,
 • on the most critical task, speaker, or activity, and
• once focus has been achieved, maintaining it instead of yielding to distraction.
So, instead of calling it an attention-deficit disorder, we could call it an intention-inhibition disorder. That’s because it’s a condition in which the best intentions go awry.

Same Meeting Room, the Following Tuesday, 8 PM

Be careful talking about good intentions to newcomers at this week’s gathering! It’s the same room but a very different crowd.

The people gathered here tonight aren’t adults with ADHD; they are their partners. And most have had it with good intentions. They are also done with being doormat and “dumpee,” warden and watchdog, crisis manager and caretaker, and a parent instead of a partner.

Ironically, the two meetings that take place one week apart—one for adults with ADHD and the other for the partners of adults with ADHD— typically show little overlap. That is, one partner or the other in a couple is either “in denial” about ADHD or feels no need to learn about it.

It’s too bad, because when couples act as a team in learning about ADHD, they tend to speed through the learning curve—with fewer bumps and bruises, too. The group assembled tonight has come seeking knowledge. They also seek clarity and hope that they can somehow stabilize their lives with partners who seem focused on destabilization.

Until recently, most did not know that adult ADHD exists, much less that it can affect their lives so profoundly. Or they’ve suspected ADHD for a long time, but they just can’t get their partners to consider the idea or do anything about it.

When they finally hear other people voicing similar threads of befuddlement, the floodgates open. Let’s listen in as the new folks introduce themselves:

• “Communication problems” plague Donna and her husband. “When we started dating, we had great conversations. Now I can’t speak a word before he changes the subject or zones out. I hate the way this makes me feel, like I’m boring or not worth listening to. When I try breaking off the relationship, though, he becomes attentive again, only to backslide two weeks later. He finally told me last week that he has ADHD, but he insists it is an asset. I’ve read some Web sites that advise us spouses to be more understanding, but that’s not helping.”

• Jose’s partner has a spending problem. “On impulse, she bought 20 expensive handbags on sale months ago, planning to sell them online. She’s procrastinated and they sit in the spare bedroom, along with the other ‘bargains.’ I love her, but we can’t afford this. If I complain, though, she says I make her feel bad. She’s been treated for depression for years, but a friend recently suggested learning about ADHD.”

• Surrounded by clutter, Lauren feels she’s “catching” ADHD. “Our home is so crammed with my partner’s crafts projects that I can hardly move or think! I’ve read about the association between ADHD and hoarding, and came to learn more.”
 
• Brenda’s fiancé is the love of her life, but his difficulties at work are driving them apart. “Paperwork takes him twice as long as it does his coworkers, who seem half as smart as him. He loses track of time, works until midnight, and then forgets to phone me. He was diagnosed with ADHD as a kid but says he outgrew it. I don’t think so.”

• Doreen’s teen son says his Dad has ADHD, too. “Our son won’t accept that he has ADHD, but he’s failing in school. He also asks why he should take medication if Dad won’t. My husband ‘copes’ with his own ADHD by drinking beer and riding herd on our son. Their constant fighting is driving me nuts.”

• Frank can’t compete with his wife’s BlackBerry. “When she learned she might have ADHD, my wife researched it and hyperfocused on getting better organized. She claims her BlackBerry helps her focus on the job. Great, but where’s the focus on me? If I take more than 30 seconds to say something, she eyes her ‘CrackBerry’ for the latest text message. We both work hard, but she never turns it off.”

As these introductions continue, comments echo all around the room: “Your partner does that, too?” Some people laugh in amazed relief, but others fight back tears. Sure, they’re grateful for the long-overdue validation, but reality can hit hard:
* “You mean our problems aren’t all my fault—not me being rigid, anal, controlling, demanding, or ‘no fun’?”
* “You mean our problems aren’t all my partner’s fault—not bad temper, selfishness, or apathy?”
* "You mean the invisible enemy we’ve been battling not only has a name, it has a solution?”

Most group members here tonight still love their partners. That’s why they’ve come to this meeting.

The confusion crept up on them stealthily, they explain, and most of their partners’ behavior grew sharply more problematic with time and new responsibilities. They tackled each particular set of problems as it turned up, and so the roller coaster ride smoothed out, lulling them into the idea that their lives would stay less chaotic for a while. But then the next dip happened and the next and the next.

It’s not solely ADHD’s symptoms that afflict relationships, though, and double the rate of divorce for adults with ADHD. It’s the years of ignorance about the symptoms’ existence—and misattributing them to lack of caring, selfishness, and immaturity.

Moreover, people who’ve grown up with undiagnosed ADHD often lug around a lifetime of poor coping strategies. And typically, the same is true for their loved ones. With both of you reacting blindly, your life together might feel like a wild ride indeed. Could ADHD be contributing to your relationship woes? It's worth your while to learn more. Especially in these tough economic time, we all need to maximize our ability to stay employed, hold onto money, and find pleasure in life with less stress.

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Brunetti Brunetti
Brunetti Brunetti

This article by Adult ADHD expert Gina Pera is adapted from her bestselling book Is It You, Me, or Adult A.D.D.? –– an award-winning comprehensive guide to understanding Adult ADHD symptoms and its treatment strategies, especially as they affect relationships.

    Visit Gina Pera's website for free book excerpts on how relationships can be affected by Adult ADHD , the Adult ADHD diagnosis is made, and the surprising link between ADHD and sex

 Reproduction permitted only when all active hyperlinks are included. 2010 All rights reserved  Gina Pera.

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