Dear Dr. Yael,
I am reaching out in the hope you can help me with my marriage. Baruch Hashem, my husband is a very good man, but he struggles with ADHD. He has difficulty finishing any tasks and although his intention is always to help me, he usually does not follow through.
For example, if we go away with our children for Shabbos, packing up and leaving Motzei Shabbos can be very challenging. We have a nice size family, and our children are relatively young, so they cannot really help out. My husband always promises that he will come straight home from shul to help me, but then he seems to disappear right after Havdalah. He usually gets into a conversation for an hour, while I end up doing everything myself. He will come back apologetic and feeling badly that I did it all myself, but if I had waited for him, we would never have gotten home and that’s just not feasible with little kids.
In general, he has no time management skills and will often come home an hour later than he is supposed to. He tells me he feels terrible and does not mean to hurt me.
I am feeling frustrated and am tired of doing everything myself. I love my husband, but having him act like an “extra child” instead of my partner is making me feel very overwhelmed and uncared for.
To make things more difficult, one of our children has just been diagnosed with ADHD and is presenting with all kinds of challenges. I need my husband to help me raise our family. I know my husband loves me and means well, but I don’t know how to keep doing this on my own. Please help me.
A Desperate Wife
Dear Desperate Wife,
Thank you for your letter. I hear your pain and feel so sorry that you are struggling with this difficult situation.
While things are challenging, if both you and your husband are willing to put in the effort, I do believe that you can make real and lasting changes – and have a beautiful marriage. It sounds like you are not a stranger to hard work, and I’m hoping that your husband is also on board.
A lot of research has been done on ADHD and relationships. Lynn Weiss, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and expert on the subject, has found that women usually love to date guys with ADHD because they’re active, fun, joyful, and outgoing. The trouble comes when you marry someone with ADHD and then you have to run a household and raise a family together. Spouses with ADHD often show up late or forget important dates/moments, making it seem like they don’t care. While intellectually, you know that he has a hard time paying attention or following through with requests, when you have to ask him to do something several times, it’s hard not to feel unloved and uncared for.
As you already noted, difficulty focusing and staying on task are prime symptoms of ADHD. Going forward, you need to learn to make your requests in a way that will insure a greater chance of him following through. Dr. Weiss has developed a four-point strategy to help spouses reframe requests.
- Use some sort of touch (if possible) when you make your request as people with ADHD receive information better through a multisensory approach (when more than one sense is engaged). If touch is not possible, try to engage your husband’s other senses. For example, write him a reminder so he hears and sees your request. Something like, “Thanks for agreeing to help me out later today with…. It means a lot to me. Love you!”
- Make sure you have eye contact when you make a request and try to engage your husband in a short conversation so you know he’s plugged in. Additionally, make sure he responds, so you know he heard you.
- Give your spouse a time limit. Say something like, “I would like to leave right after Shabbos. Please come back right after Havdallah so we can pack together and get out within the hour. I would love to be home by 9:00 so we can get the kids in to bed and have some time to spend together afterward.” Make sure it’s positive and loving, so your husband does not feel slighted or like you are trying to manage him.
- Remind your husband before the intended time of what you wanted (e.g., remind him
before Maariv that you want to leave right after Shabbos and that you will need his help.)
This seems like a lot of work, so most spouses don’t bother and just do it themselves, but this is a mistake. If you always do things yourself, your husband will get used to this state of affairs and never be there for you. On the other hand, if you encourage your husband to take responsibility and help him form a routine and better habits, he will become a helpmate. You may have to remind him a few times, in a loving and non-judgmental way, of course. However, once the activity becomes routine for him, he won’t get distracted and abandon you.
If there are a number of things that need to get accomplished, Dr. Weiss suggests checking in with your spouse periodically to make sure he is on track. This can seem like nagging or being annoying, but if you make a pre-arranged plan to check in and you do it in a nice and loving way – text something like, “Hey honey, just wanted to see what you’re up to. Love you” – then it is simply being helpful.
There will have to be a lot of compromise, acceptance, open communication, and hard work, but if you do not let any bad feelings build up, you won’t feel this overwhelmed and frustrated. All relationships have their struggles and if your husband is loving and wants to be good to you, you have a great chance of making this work.
Please seek professional help if these suggestions are not helping you effect real change. Having someone you can talk with and who can guide you and your husband can be very helpful. Hatzlocha in your challenging situation and I hope to hear good news from you in the near future!