Most people celebrate St-Valentine’s Day because they’re in love. But some people wonder what there is to celebrate! If you’ve ever felt like that, we understand. Duane and I have wondered what the fuss was about, and yes, that was while we were married!
When you hear about the challenges we faced, you’ll wonder why we’d want to remember them at all! And we would be more than happy to forget most of them, but recalling these challenges reminds us of how much better life is once you learn to overcome the many challenges that spring from the often-ignored third party, ADHD, in relationships.
Who would want to recall three-hour shouting matches followed by three days of icy silence? Unless we could also share how we’ve now learned to keep the communication channels open.
Fighting Stimulates the ADHD Brain
Your ADHD spouse likely enjoys fights because the big rush of adrenaline allows them to focus. It doesn’t help that they are likely carrying a lot of shame and guilt that makes any criticism or innocent comment feel like an attack. And as the non-ADHD spouse in our relationship, I can tell you that I was exhausted and resented carrying the entire burden of the household responsibilities.
I was so frustrated that Duane couldn’t remember what I’d asked him to do 15 minutes ago but he could quote me word-for-word on something I’d said five years ago… if it would help him win the argument! There was no way out!
How to Communicate When You Can’t Communicate
Of course, until you can communicate, you can’t even begin to address any other issues in your relationship. We couldn’t talk to each other because every conversation ended in a shouting match, but we desperately wanted to save our marriage because we still loved each other. Instead, we agreed to write to each other using rules you can apply in your own situation:
- Tell your spouse how you feel, not what he/she is doing wrong. For example, “When you commit to doing something and then don’t do it, it makes me feel as if I’m not important.”
- Write with the intent of being heard and understood, not with the intent of winning or being right.
- Beware of words like “always,” “never,” and “should.”
- Re-read and edit your writing, asking:
a) Could my spouse interpret this as an attack? If the answer is yes, change how you say it.
b) Am I saying this because I want to be right, or because I want to be heard? If the answer is, “I want to be right,” adjust it so that your intent is strictly to be heard.
- In each letter, state your love and reiterate your desire to understand and to be understood. Remember, the objective is always to improve your relationship.
Once you’ve finished your letter, don’t deliver it and then stand with your hand on your hips, tapping your foot while your spouse reads it. Give your spouse plenty of time to read it, mull it over and to respond in writing. The secret of this process is that it removes the lure of instant gratification and the adrenaline rush ADHDers get from a fight.
For Duane and I, this approach finally enabled us to communicate in a way that information was flowing in both directions. It wasn’t long before we realized that both of us were in pain, and that we both wanted exactly the same things… a better relationship in which we both could grow and feel fulfilled.
If you want to improve your relationship with an ADHD spouse, the good news is that it’s never too late to take steps (like this one) that will make a positive impact. You can have the partnership of your dreams, and even though it’s hard to believe when you’re in the middle of a shouting match, it’s rarely easier to start over than it is to rebuild the relationship you’re in, ADHD or not.
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