5 Ways We Make Our ADHD Marriage Work
When new-agey people (there are a lot here, so it happens often) find out my husband and I are both Geminis, it gets a predictable, knowing “oooooh” response that implies that our relationship must be both interesting and difficult to maintain. While I enjoy a good horoscope from time to time, the qualities that many people assign to my husband and me regarding our Gemini-ness are classic ADHD traits. We’re both hyperverbal, spacey, big-picture thinkers with the ability to access a deeply focused state about as easily as Danny Rand accesses his Iron Fist powers (hint for non-nerds, it’s not as easy as we’d like and dependent on replenishing internal resources.)
We knew each other for years before we first really connected at a BBQ, tuning out all other discussions and going back and forth sharing our favorite moments from the debate between Noam Chomsky and William F. Buckley. He was working 112 hours a week running the campaign for the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, something he had absolutely no experience with but did an exceptional job at, and I was working full time at a methadone clinic, volunteering at a community recovery drop-in center, and in school for a certificate program ( that I never ended up finishing.) This should have been an indicator of the frenetic pace of our life together would take. We stayed up all night most nights those first few months, shooting questions back and forth, excitedly and straightforwardly interviewing each other for the job of life partner.
It’s a couple weeks away from five years since our first of those inquisitive all-nighters, we’ve bought two houses, renovated and sold one, collectively worked at 10 + jobs, struggled through infertility and a very difficult pregnancy, and now enjoyed 20 months of parenting together, and we’ve learned to help keep each other functioning and adulting with the best of them. There are lots of resources out there about how to handle it if your spouse has ADHD, but I haven’t yet found one regarding if both partners have diagnosed attention issues. Here are some of the most important coping mechanisms we’ve developed as a couple over the last five years:
We remind each other of basic self-care tasks, and we help each other do them. We both seem to struggle with remembering to follow the advice we would give someone else, so when one of us expresses an ache, illness, pain or struggle, we kindly remind each other to take basic actions to take care of ourselves and offer to help however we can. Getting the other a glass of water, making a meal when the other forgot to eat, taking care of a task that the other keeps forgetting and then stresses about, these little things help keep us both on an even keel. It often doesn’t occur to us to ask for help, so just asking “is there something I can take off your plate?” when our partner seems stressed can make a huge difference in how well we are functioning. (If you haven’t already, you should check out my 5 Day Self Care Kickstart, maybe do it with your partner!)
We automate all our bills. Without automation, we are seriously the worst at paying bills. We are so busy thinking about ten kajillion other things the thought never crosses our minds to go through our ever-growing pile of mail and look for unpaid bills. When we set up our Mint.com account we realized that a bill we thought we automated wasn’t, and we had literally never paid it since we moved into our new house 5 months before that. We only found out because I was reviewing our transaction history when we first signed up for Mint and noticed we had exactly zero payments to our electric company. No idea why they didn’t call us or turn the lights off, and thankfully they were happy to set up a payment plan, but you better believe we automated that sh*t immediately and checked the rest of our bills after that.
We are in charge of different things, and we budget deliberately. If we’re both in charge of something, it may never get done. As far as our ADHD brains go, we need really clear guidelines about what our responsibilities are. We have our own bank accounts and our own budgets, but we share resources, we just each have our own money to keep track of, and our own budget items we are responsible for. This way we also don’t need to judge each other’s random expenditures, as long as we are taking care of our key budget items. If we want to save up for something specific we have to agree to put the money in a separate account or it will always just get lost in the shuffle.
We make time to connect and enjoy life together. We both get so far into our own things, and so distracted by the minutiae of everyday life, that it’s easy to use up all our ability to focus on the individual things we are passionate about and committed to. I admit this is one we need to be better about these days. My husband works full time, is in grad school, plays guitar in two bands, and teaches muay thai kickboxing one night a week. I take care of our toddler son full time, watch another child part-time, and work from home on Hey Jillian about 40 hours a week. We make sure we get out together at least every other week for a few hours for a quiet meal alone, and we have a few nerdy shows at any given time that we both enjoy watching together and talking about after our toddler goes to bed. We are both passionate about politics, and we talk through the news of the day together and really hash out and deepen our understanding of issues together, sharing resources and raising new questions. It’s easy to miss these moments to connect when we are both always waffling between a state of spacey and hyperfocused, but taking that time to really be present with each other is critical to our relationship.
We are forgiving of each other’s faults and weak points. We both know what it’s like to have a few basic things just be way too f*cking hard for no good reason. I try to take over the little administrative tasks that linger forever on his to-do list for when I can, and he is great about washing the dishes or tidying up toys when for whatever reason my brain doesn’t even register the mess. We lovingly keep an eye on each other, knowing that it would be easy for either or both of us to get distracted and absorbed in something, thinking the other has got their eye on our toddler. We both forgive each other when we forget to tell the other about an obligation that impacts us both. We know it’s literally never helpful to fight over these things.
We build systems into our lives to make adulting easier. We have a wall covered in a chalkboard paint organization system- calendars, to do lists, grocery lists, meal planning schedules. If this stuff was in a planner it would never get used, and even huge and on the wall, it’s an imperfect system. We have laundry baskets in almost every room. We bought a house near grocery stores, drug stores and take out in part because we forget things and run out to get things at last minute all the d*mn time. We keep a pretty regular schedule and daily rhythm, and that helps us regulate ourselves as well as make sure our son isn’t negatively impacted by our dual ADHD parenting.
In addition to all these things, we are also mindful that it’s very possible our son could face some of the same challenges that we do, given that ADHD has a strong genetic basis. With that in mind, we are working to give him the tools we lacked as young people, by doing things like praising hard work and persistence rather than talent. We are also already thinking about educational choices for him, to hopefully avoid the soul-crushing experience we each had in grades K-12. We know no matter where he goes to school, we will have to nurture a constantly open dialogue with him about what is happening at school, so that we know if something isn’t working for him long before it becomes a crisis. Parenting in a two ADHD parent household is in many ways a gift because we both understand the struggles the other has faced, and we take each other’s concern for our son’s future seriously.
There are things we’re still not great at. Mowing our lawn, watering plants, remembering to put the recycling out, and other sometimes but not all the time jobs are still areas for major improvement. Overall I think our relationship is far stronger for our mutual struggles, and certainly more interesting for the positive aspects of the ADHD brain.
ADHD or not, every couple comes up with coping mechanisms to deal with each other’s weak points, what are some of yours?
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