Hi Dr. Julie, My husband has ADHD and I try very hard not to parent him when he doesn’t complete a task or completes it so quickly that he isn’t thorough. I often will go back and complete it myself, but then I feel resentful.
I have committed to not nagging him about these things as it doesn’t feel good to either of us. I’m his wife, not his mother and I would like to have an adult relationship with him, not a parent/child relationship as often happens. How would you advise me to approach him without nagging or criticizing?
--Looking For A Better Way
Dear Looking, ADHD is a tough one because the individual usually means well, but isn't organized enough or tracking details well-enough to follow-through. In cases like this, you are right nagging doesn't work and you want to avoid feeling resentful.
First, I recommend that the two of you talk about the ways ADHD is showing up in your relationship and chart the pattern so that you both are aware and agree on the pattern. He doesn't want you to mother or nag him any more than you want to.
The pattern is a symptom-response-response pattern, where the two of you layout how a symptom (not unloading the dishwasher in a timely manner like he agreed to), results in how you feel and what you say (e.g., feel resentful and say something that nags him), which results in how he feels (e.g., resentful, ashamed, etc.) and what he says or does (e.g., avoid, fight with you, etc.). Then talk about how to avoid that pattern. How can you help him and what will he agree to do so as to avoid the pattern.
I highly recommend that as a spouse of a person with ADHD that you work to provide supports that the two of you agree on, rather than assume "he's an adult and should be able to figure this out on his own." That approach isn't working. For example, you ask him to do a task and then you support him by having a conversation where the two of you agree on (a) whether he will do it, (b) when he will do, and (c) what reminder system he will use to remember to do the task (e.g., a timer, alarm on his watch/phone, etc.). You wouldn't have to do that with a spouse that doesn't have ADHD, but that's not what you have.
The bottom line is that the two of you work out how you both are going to handle the symptoms-response-response cycle.
Second, I have a word about feeling resentful. When we feel resentful, we are walking around muttering, "I shouldn't have to do this. Why can't he just do it like he said he would?" Or, something like that. In this case the "should" statement is starting a cycle of resentment. Hopefully, you the two of you talk about the symptom-response-response cycle and you can replace the "should" statement with what the two of you agreed you would say to him in this situation.
Also, recognize that when you feel resentful, you have an expectation that is being violated. Check in with yourself about whether he knew what the expectation was. It's not fair to have an expectation that goes unsaid. (Yes, that includes expectations for how things are done that seem obvious or have always been that way. 😉)
Finally, despite all your efforts, there will still be those times that an ADHD symptom shows up. Learn how you are going to manage yourself in the face of symptoms. You want to be able to communicate clearly and directly and behave with integrity.
And one more thing, I highly recommend that your spouse be treated for ADHD. That means medication and/or ADHD coaching or therapy. It will make both your lives easier.
A book I highly recommend for this situation is "The ADHD Effect on Marriage" by Melissa Orlov. She talks about symptoms of ADHD and how to address them, as well as the symptom-response-response pattern. (affiliate link)
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