Friday, November 21, 2014

Where Did Your Attention Go?

Background: I am a spouse with an amazing husband who happens to have ADHD

As alluded to in my last post, after we were married, there were things that changed almost immediately. After the one week honeymoon was over, we got back to real life and that is when I started to notice some dramatic changes. Over the course of a couple weeks being back in our small apartment in Virginia - the weight of life became my sweethearts reality.

At the time, I didn't know what was happening. In retrospect, I saw that there were several life-changing things that led to this 'crash' including: 

  1. My sweetheart and I met while he was doing summer sales. This means he was only supposed to have been in Virginia for a short period of time. However, we met and fell in love, and continued our courtship when he was originally planning on going back to Idaho to complete his schooling. Imagine having somewhat of a life plan that took you away from family, and doing something you felt so right about, only to have it all changed within a short period of time. He sacrificed a lot for love - something I respect him for.
  2. Along with the move to Virginia, he moved physical locations twice. One move alone is enough to drive anyone up the wall, but he moved twice in a matter of 6 months.
  3. The question of "what am I going to do with my life now" was constantly on his mind. The almost immediate responsibility of being the 'head of a household' was very real and daunting. He went from having a plan to graduate from BYU-Idaho, to being across the country trying to figure out what to do.

What I Mean When I Say Crash

As a newlywed, I would come home so excited to see my sweetheart, hoping to get several kisses, and spending quality time with one another at night cooking, cleaning, R&R, working out, doing grocery shopping together - oh, I was so excited to be a newlywed couple. 

The fact was, I would often come home, my sweetheart would be frazzled, wouldn't want to leave the house, and would really have nothing to do with me or us. I often found myself leading a single life even though we were married. Here were some things I didn't expect:

  • He would often break down if I asked him to accompany me to do anything.
  • He hated the cooking process. There was always something wrong when I would cook dinner: The shelves in our apartment were too loud, and even when I tried silencing them, they were heard being opened and closed from outside our apartment. The smells were often too much. Without ventilation in the house, it was easy for smells in the kitchen to permeate the room. As the chef, I enjoyed those smells, but they were often too much for my sweetheart.
  • I would often eat alone. The sound of munching on food was too much for him, and we would often end up fighting about it.
  • I often felt ignored, ended up doing most of the chores around the house. If I mentioned chores, he would get angry and pout for the rest of the day - as if he were a little child and I had just scolded him or something.
  • When I wanted to be close to him in intimate ways, my requests were often not fulfilled. You can imagine what it felt like being in this situation.

After re-reading this list, it makes it sound like my sweetheart is this terrible person, but he wasn't and isn't. As alluded to in my other post, I had certain expectations during these experiences that made this newlywed situation even worse. My reaction to his sensitivities made the situation almost unbearable, and my heart was broken because I didn't know how to be.

It is Not Him, it's My Reaction and That Thing Called ADHD

Being a proud, stubborn, passionate woman - I found myself getting angry with my sweetheart for these sensitivities, blaming it on the fact that he hadn't lived in such close proximity to a woman, and he just needed to suck it up and learn how to be patient (the way I learned to be patient having worked on this attribute almost my whole life - yeah right). 

In addition to getting angry with him instead of trying to understand him, it was easy for me to ask: Why is he being this way? Why can't he just be patient with me? Is this just normal newlywed stuff? What am I doing wrong? What could I do better? Is it me? Did I make the biggest mistake of my life, I can't even make us a meal without a fight? Amy I really that needy?

There were other things that I won't dive into, but I think the situation that hurt me the most is losing the attention he gave me when we were dating. Where did it go?

After a couple months of feeling neglected, having constant anger, harboring resentment, having endless nights of fighting, ending up prostrate on the ground praying that it would get better, that I could understand, that he could love me again, it became apparent that something else was going on - beyond just sticking two people with very different lives and history together. 

Over the course of this experience, we really started to look at a previous diagnoses that we thought contributed to his focus at school, realizing that this was just the beginning of understanding what adult ADHD really meant.

As the researcher I am, I purchased two books that, admittedly, I still have not completed, but was the impetus for me understanding certain coping mechanisms, and that made me start thinking that I DIDN'T make the biggest mistake of my life. 

After reading several reviews, and reading more about these authors, I purchased the books:

The ADHD Effect on Marriage, by Melissa Orlov
Is it You, Me, or Adult ADD, by Gena Pera

In addition, Melissa Orlov has a blog that helped me in this pursuit of trying to understand better and be better in my relationships with my sweetheart. There was one blog article in particular that really hit home for me within the first 6 months of being married.


  • The start of the relationship is exciting and very focused, for the ADHD spouse is "hyperfocusing" on you and you feel amazed and excited that someone cares that much about you
  • The relationship can change its character rather sharply as the ADHD person loses focus.  The non-ADHD spouse becomes confused and begins to feel ignored.  This generates frustration and resentment
  • This frustration leads to anger, particularly when the ADHD spouse does not respond to criticism that he is ignoring you
  • The non-ADHD spouse, particularly if this is a woman, ends up with all the scut work around the house, feeling like the maid, rather than a cherished wife.  This leads to arguments, nagging and further anger
  • The relationship goes in an up-and-down, seesaw sort of pattern as there are longer and longer periods when resentment and anger are the predominant feeling punctuated by spurts of great fun, energy and togetherness
The issue was really two-fold:  First, he really wasn't as focused on me as he had been.  Second, in my response to this I made the assumption that his lack of "interest" in me was due to the fact that he didn't like to be with me as much as he had previously.


I can't tell you the relief I felt after reading this article. This woman just described my situation. The realization that there was something else going on in our marriage contributing to its dysfunction was one of those moments where I can only express gratitude.

It wasn't entirely that I lacked patience, or that I was too needy. It wasn't that my sweetheart hated me, or didn't love me anymore, or that he didn't want to be with me. I wasn't being punished for my lack of trust or faith in Heavenly Father. It boiled down partially to ADHD, and partially to our reactions - which always escalated beyond a level that was emotionally stable.

The article continues:

"Most frequently, even though it doesn't feel this way to the non-ADHD spouse, the ADHD spouse is not intentionally ignoring his partner. My husband and I went through this exact pattern (and more!) and he could never understand why I felt so ignored by him at the outset of this pattern (which started almost as soon as we moved from courtship into marriage).  In his own mind he loved me just as much as he had before, and because he was just following what was interesting him at the time (often the computer) he didn't realize just how dramatically different our relationship became once he stopped hyperfocusing on me.  I could tell him that his actions affected me in a negative way, but he just didn't get it because they didn't seem to be affecting him (they were, of course, because my response to his actions was to be angry with him, but he didn't connect this cause/effect yet) my response to this I made the assumption that his lack of "interest" in me was due to the fact that he didn't like to be with me as much as he had previously.  In this scenario, my response to his actions was at least as hurtful to our relationship as his initial lack of attention.  And, because I assumed the worst (he didn't love me as much) I approached in about the problem in a resentful and angry way.  My approach - "why don't you pay attention to me any more?"; "why don't you listen to me?"; "why don't you ever bother to take me out any more?" made me hard to deal with...and suddenly he, too, was with a person whom he didn't really recognize.  As far as he was concerned, I was attacking him simply for being him, and he didn't like it much."


It was as if a bright light came on. I needed to look at our situation in a new way. I needed to stop being so angry with my sweetheart, and recognize him for the man I married. I needed to understand realistic needs, and develop more patience through this process of learning. That is where it started. There are so many other things I also needed to learn to make this work. 

I knew I wouldn't be able to make it through without a constant relationship with my Heavenly Father. I couldn't expect to understand the situation, and my role in it if I didn't have the enlightenment of heavenly help. I also understood that if the marriage was going to work that we needed to work together with a renewed commitment to understand and be patient with one another. 

This is where the learning all began.

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