One of the most common complaints in a marriage is lack of communication, a sense of not being listened to or really heard. Maybe it's not that he or she's not that into you.
It could be that your spouse isn't a self-absorbed jerk for spacing out when you're trying to decompress and talk about your day. It's possible that your inattentive honey is suffering from an undiagnosed case of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
ADHD may be behind many of the annoyances of marriage: A spouse that blows off family commitments, misses appointments and "forgets" to take care of business may seem irresponsible, but in fact be struggling to keep up. Tara Parker-Pope of the New York Times writes that medical experts are starting to take note of the effects attention deficit can have on marriage.
Experts estimate that between 4 and 5 percent of adults have ADHD. Symptoms include not only difficulty in listening or paying attention, but also inability to handle responsibility and emotional overreaction that can lead to arguments.
Melissa Orlov and Ned Hallowell, MD, authors of the forthcoming book The A.D.H.D. Effect on Marriage, say that the very traits associated with this disorder that attracted you to your mate in the first place can, over time, bring your marriage down. Writes Orlov, who is married to a man with ADHD:
At first, it can be absolutely exhilarating to be with a person who has ADHD. The energy! The intense focus! The creativity! Dating a person with ADHD takes the thrill of any new relationship and magnifies it many times.
Then, once things settle down a bit, things can change dramatically. I found myself completely confused and somewhat resentful, when the man I had married seemed to stop paying attention to me and started to spend much more time with his computer and his hobbies. What about all that attention he lavished on me? It felt as if he didn't really care about me any more, and wasn't tuned into my needs or our relationship.
Many years later, my resentment at feeling ignored had hardened into anger. I started to nag him - a lot - he wasn't doing ANYTHING around the house, and he wasn't really taking me (or my needs) into account as he lived his life. I would ask him to, and he would agree, but then he would forget. After several reminders he would still forget. I started to call him "reliably unreliable" — and it wasn't a joke. I thought I had signed up for a partnership, only to find out that I got stuck doing all the "unfun" stuff in our marriage with a man who seemed to not be tuned in at all.
There are several written tests designed to uncover ADHD, and many of them are available online. This screening quiz from CounselingResource.com is scored online — and you can then share your results on Facebook, although we think this might fall into the TMI category.
It's never too late to get a grip on ADHD. Medication can really help, as can cognitive behavior therapy. In fact, some adults without the diagnosis prevail on their doctors for prescriptions for stimulant drugs such as Adderall because it helps them concentrate and be productive.
Here are some tips for coping, whether or not your spouse has been diagnosed:
1. Pick your battles. Do you argue with your spouse or your kids in which you argue about what exactly you asked them to do? That's a fight nobody wins. "It doesn't matter what was said, it matters what was heard," Orlov and Hallowell say. Instead of blaming the other person for not listening, focus on making sure that your communication is received and understood.
2. Coaching may be effective in helping your spouse stay on track with things like time management. Choose a coach who specializes in attention deficit disorder.
3. Keep to routine. If you plan recurring tasks, like balancing the checkbook or going grocery shopping, at the same time every day, week or month, they start to become habits, making them easier to remember.
4. Write things down. If your spouse can't remember things, get over it. "Make your house Post-It heaven," says J. Matthew Orr, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Mercer University School of Medicine in Macon, Georgia.
5. Stop criticizing. Your partner may be trying as hard as he or she can, so blame can just make things worse. Instead, offer to pitch in and complete the task together.