Are you angry that your ADD spouse is able to focus on something of great interest to him, and not to anything you want him to do (like the dishes, or childcare)? If so, you would not be alone. I’ve been reading a whole series of forum posts lately on this topic by women who are really frustrated by lack of attention to chores and to them. I would like to address it, because I think the conversations are missing some important points.
Here’s what the forum writers are complaining about:
And here’s a typical comment on this topic:
It’s a drag that the chores and distraction are becoming a battleground in these relationships, but nurturing bad feelings is really compounding the problems that these women are having. I would like to talk a bit about what it is about ADD that makes it so hard for people to focus on uninteresting stuff, then provide some ideas about how to get around this.
It’s important to understand that ADD is best described as a dysregulation of the attention system…so it’s not that someone can never focus, it’s that he or she focuses in a dysregulated way – sometimes intensely, sometimes not at all. You can see that this is a much more accurate way to assess what is troubling these women.
The hyperfocus present in courtship isn’t controllable at all. It just happens, because there is a ton of emotional stimulation in courtship – it’s all new and wonderful and highly stimulating…boy, does courtship play right into what ADD people do best!
It would be great if that high interest translated into wanting to do the dishes for your wife because you love your wife, but that’s not how it works. Dishes and household chores are never on the “10 most interesting things I know” list for anyone, and for folks with ADD that’s the kiss of death when it comes to getting chores done. Furthermore, as the non-ADD spouse gets frustrated, the conflict that chores start to represent means that most men (again, forget ADD) won’t want to go near them. Too much conflict, too much potential to let down your spouse. I know, it doesn’t seem rational, but that’s the inside workings.
And it’s not so easy for an ADD person to just say “I must do this because if I don’t my wife will be mad at me tomorrow.” There is a lot of research that shows that people with ADD live so much in the present that they often can’t force themselves to do something today that they hate in order to be able to have a better tomorrow (this has to do with the executive function parts of the brain). Think about why you do chores – it’s not because you love them. It’s either because you know that if you don’t do them for a while you’ll be even more unhappy in the future or because seeing things clean gives you pleasure. Again, not a great fit with the ADD brain.
It would also be great if the focus on the relationship that is experienced in courtship lasted, but it doesn't (not even for non-ADD couples). Eventually, (often right after the wedding) things return to a more "normal" state, which in the case of ADD means "distracted". This feels like "I don't love you" to the non-ADD spouse.
Does this mean that a person with ADD can’t do chores or won't ever pay attention? No! There are plenty of folks with ADD who pull their weight around the house as well as doting ADD husbands. But they need to train themselves to do so, literally. And creating the right environment in which that training can take place is an important part of making it happen. Which is one of the reasons why the frustration that these women are expressing is getting in the way of the goal of getting their spouse involved. Their frustration tends to poison the environment and demotivate the spouse to make the changes needed.
Here are three examples of ADD spouses taking over things they hated:
There is a theme here. Teenagers don’t take on responsibilities such as cleaning their room because they think it is fun. They do so because it is what is expected of them. This is also the case with adults with ADD…to a point, and the difference is important to understand.
The very important caveat here is that non-ADD spouses cannot simply say “you must do this” or “this is your chore” and enforce it the way parents can with their teens. Rather, they need to be sensitive to the interplay of emotional environment, skillsets, ADD, and interests. You can’t “expect” someone into not having ADD. They have ADD, and it does affect what/how they function. In the dishwashing case above, that couple chose that as the primary chore of the ADD spouse because it was a chore that he said he could deal with. His success in doing it has encouraged him to take on other chores periodically when he sees something that needs doing. As you can imagine, his volunteering to help out works very well for both members of the couple. But it still took a couple of no-conflict months to get him fully to a point where he “owned” doing the dishes and six more before he started picking up other things.
In the billing example, the emotional issues surrounding the man’s ability to provide for his family were so sensitive that it took a counselor’s interference to get him to implement the fairly obvious solution of getting billing help.
When it comes to issues of showing affection through attention, a non-ADD spouse often needs to overcome a feeling that a man should be in charge of setting up their dates. If you wait for him to be organized enough to plan a date when not hyperfocusing you may wait a long time. Or, you can just make the date and then have fun.
Here are my specific recommendations: