It’s not the big stuff that typically destroys a relationship. It’s often the little things that happen repeatedly, over an extended period of time, which tend to eat away and then destroy the foundations upon which a relationship needs to flourish. We refer to these “repeated” events as mini-upsets. When they happen the first time they often seem insignificant. When they occur with mind numbing regularity the effect can be overwhelming.
Mini-upsets can occur dozens of times throughout the day in a relationship that involves an ADHD partner. The ADHD partner often forgets to do something; breaks a promise, arrives late or leaves too early, forgets an appointment, or makes another big mess. When confronted with their action they think that simply saying, “I’m sorry,” will somehow make everything magically O.K. It’s difficult to hear their “I’m sorry” when the same actions continue to occur.
Those annoying little actions tend to add up. While no single act is a big deal, when all the mini-upsets start piling up and multiplying – Watch Out! The relationship is at risk!
Over time, the mini-upsets start to feel like termites ferociously eating away at the foundation of a relationship. The result is a relationship filled with holes and destroyed one small bite at a time. The partner without ADHD begins asking the question, “if I can’t trust my partner with the small, everyday tasks, how can I depend on them for the important things in life?”
That question, if left unanswered, magnifies the attention on the ADHD partner’s unreliable nature and creates distance as well as resentment. If unchecked the resentment can cause the relationship to collapse or implode. Adding to the problem is the fact that the partner with ADHD is often oblivious to the resentment and thinks everything is fine. What an unpleasant shock when confronted with a mad spouse who has finally had enough!
Focus on Your Reaction
Attempting to change a person with ADHD does not work. If it were possible you probably would have done so by now. The real question is what can you do to alter the effects of their mini-upsets? Knowing that mini-upsets have an enormous impact on your relationship and that they are a part of the ADHD personality, the only thing you really have control over is your reaction.
A key element of controlling your reaction is to establish the habit of really talking to your ADHD partner every day. As you talk you should learn to accentuate what they do right. Let them know how much you appreciate their uniqueness or the way they do those things you really appreciate. Do not be condescending and only tell the truth as you express genuine appreciation.
Controlling your reaction is vital when events occur that really cause upsets. The feelings that go along with big upsets must be expressed but in a way that is not damaging to the partner. Be sure to leave out absolutes (you always do this or never do that); avoid negatives (why don’t you think before you do something?) and don’t bring up the past (you did the same thing last month!). Instead, tell them you need to talk about something that happened and then gently explain how you feel.
The purpose of talking is not to condemn or bring up a laundry list of things done wrong. The purpose is to bring awareness to the situation from your perspective and lovingly talk about the repercussions of the event.
A Real World Example
So what would control or your reactions look like in the real world? Let’s say you came home from work to find that your spouse had started planting some flowers along the walkway in the morning. Apparently halfway through the project they suddenly decided to go into the kitchen to bake some bread.
The flowers that were planted look like they may survive but the ones that were left in the cartons have wilted in the sun and look like they won’t make it. Dirt from the planting project is all over the sidewalk and the gardening tools are scattered on the lawn. Water from the hose that was left on has created a small stream that is flowing down the driveway into the street. It’s a mess and your blood begins to boil.
Inside the house there is the aroma of freshly baked bread with a hint of something burning. Apparently the timer wasn’t set again even though you have explained the importance of that important tool many times. Your spouse is tired but happy with all that was “accomplished” during the day. You approval and appreciation is all that is missing!
While the results may not be what you want or expect from an adult, your spouse really has worked hard all day and is eager to share the “results” with you. Your choice at this point is whether to focus on the mess or the intention behind their action.
Dare you burst their bubble by saying something critical now? You know from experience that it could literally be days or weeks before the flower mess is even addressed. You groan inwardly wondering if this is going to be a repeat of last year when the same project was left unfinished all summer long?
What should you do? How do you turn this into a positive?
Now is the time to focus on YOUR reaction. To turn a negative into a positive it helps to express heart-felt appreciation.
Look at the things that were accomplished and more importantly the intentions that were behind them. Tell your spouse the flowers that were planted are beautiful and will be a colorful addition the yard. Let them know the bread smells wonderful and you’re looking forward to eating it warm with butter and a smile.
Follow up with a suggestion that after dinner the two of you could go outside and spend time together finishing up the planting. The positives are accentuated. Your spouse is appreciated. The mess provides the two of you ‘together time’ and by the end of the day, it can be all nice and neat.
Will it happen this way every time? No. But every time you focus on your reaction you can use it to create something wonderful and productive.
Let us reiterate: You Aren’t Going to Change Your Spouse.
They are what they are. You are what you are. We all are what we all are.
Focus on how you react to each situation. Focus on you!
Learning to look at situations a little differently; addressing a problem with kindness and love, can make all the difference in the world when it comes to rebuilding your marriage.
Don’t let the mini-upsets of an ADHD partner drive you crazy or cause you to give up on your relationship. If you’re feeling overwhelmed and don’t think you can make it work by yourself, get outside assistance from a professional. You can get the results you want. Start by being patient with your partner and also learn to be patient with yourself.