5 Simple Steps to Deal with … What was I Saying?

How Trevor Sprague and his wife remain happily married despite Trevor’s ADHD.

I have an incredibly hard time listening to my wife. There, now I’ve said it. I am your stereotypical guy. She’s just talking and talking away, and I might as well be on the other side of the planet for all the care I’m giving her. Except I’m not. I’m sitting right next to her on the couch, after just telling her how much I want to have a talk with her.

What’s my deal? Why do I set her up for such an obvious frustration? What reasonable man would walk willingly into that trap—devaluing the thing that women prize most in relationships?

I am one of the estimated 3-5% of the population diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Personally, I’ve opted for the more energetic variety that so completely entertained my teachers. I’m a fidgiter, and I would tap out desk-top drum solos like a 10-year old Neil Peart. I’m also one of the eight million sufferers who didn’t outgrow the problem.

While this issue has been on the books since the 1970s—actually well before, but in terms of its contemporary understanding, the 70s work—something interesting is happening in the Self-Help section of bookstores everywhere. People have started to figure out that some of the first generations of kids diagnosed with these disorders are grown up. They’re getting married and having kids, and many of them are still dealing with the same issues that made getting through a day at school an unending struggle.

I’m not sure if my wife knew I have ADHD when we were married in 2008. For a long time, I felt that I had things under control. Frankly, I had never considered that it was something I’d have to handle when I was older. I’ve managed, I suppose. It’s in our relationship that I now see the biggest strain, and it’s starting to draw my attention to the many ways I might not be getting on so well in the rest of my life, after all.

Communication is important to any relationship. I would argue it’s more important to my wife than to anyone else on the planet. She thrives on intense, intricate, philosophical, and difficult discussions. I like them too, and that’s one of the reasons we’re good for each other. We share our thoughts with one another absolutely, as much as possible, and through these discussions, each of us inspires the other to grow and to become a better human being.

You can see then, why it drives her crazy when in mid-sentence, I’m suddenly not there.

I can’t even describe what it’s like. Because when she tells me I’m not listening, the first thing I remember is that I was listening. “She can’t possibly be mad at me this time, I’m sitting right here looking at her!” The trouble is, she’s right—sometimes I couldn’t repeat the sentence she’d interrupted to ask me whether I was listening. Then I have to look back, and try to figure out where I went astray. I have to try to explain it, to make it feel like less of a personal attack against her. Wish me luck.

One problem is that it seems as though I can focus all right on things I want—sex, for an easy example—but when she needs me to share in her interests, it’s a constant struggle. I am a caring guy, and I’m genuinely interested in what she has to share with me. My struggle with ADHD becomes one of self-worth when I can’t help but feel that I’m just not a very good husband. It’s especially terrifying to think there just may not be much I can do about it.

Tons of websites and books exist to help the ADHD sufferer; a cottage industry of coping. The trouble is, there don’t seem to be 5 Easy Steps to solve all your problems with ADHD. I’m willing to bet that people who regularly go out looking for “steps” in any situation rarely, if ever, find them. That’s because life doesn’t operate along a systematic series of steps for success. The way to deal with this issue, like so many others, is with patience and understanding. And it can’t just be one partner’s problem. I can’t make all the necessary changes to ensure that my wife never feels negatively affected by my condition. I’m going to fail her. Probably often.

It’s a miracle that she loves me anyway.

For me, this is a problem that becomes worse the more I’m made aware of it. When she points out my horrible track record of remembering to do simple things or follow through on chores I said I’d take care of, it only makes me more distracted. I get angry, at myself, mostly, but I also feel judged and a little humiliated. Every now and then she’ll do it in front of our friends, not out of malice, but simply because she may not be thinking just how I feel about my attention deficit disorder.

If you need some steps for being married with ADHD, maybe there are a few steps to follow.

1. Remember that you love each other no matter what.

2. Remember that sometimes things will be hard.  Sometimes things will be downright intolerable.

3. Remember that you can only be responsible for how you act and how you respond, and choose not to make the problems worse when they arise.

4. Recognize that there is a problem, and that you’re both doing your best.

5. Remind each other of all the good things you do for one another, rather than focusing on the few times when one partner falls short.

Rinse and repeat.


Read more on Health, Psych & Addiction and Sex & Relationships.

 Image of beautiful young couple courtesy of Shutterstock

About Trevor Sprague

Trevor Sprague is a writing teacher in Wisconsin who loves to ask big questions.  Burning questions, like "Why on earth did I think I could be a writer?"  You can check out his blog at Wandering Aloud and see his other writing on manly issues, anxiety, language, and life.


  1. Wow. Marriage is already a gong show without having to deal with the added challenge of ADHD. Really puts things into perspective. Thanks for sharing. Sounds like you two have some great teamwork going on there.

  2. Walkingthatsameroad says:

    I’ll never forget the moment when my husband and I discovered what we were dealing with was ADD. Our daughter was about 5 months old when I read an article in the Sunday newspaper. What they described was exactly what I was dealing with with my husband. I had him read it and a lightbulb moment happened. He said, “Hey, this is me.” We discussed all the things the article talked about and he was relieved to know that what he had had a name. He wasn’t doing these things just to annoy me after all. What a relief. He really began in earnest to consider getting help when he thought about the fact that ADD is often an inherited problem. (He thinks his dad had it, but would never be able to discuss it with him. Way too much ego involved there, but we understand it now.) He tried the R-train (Ritalin) and the 1st day he took the first pill he called me from work in tears. He said it was like having a problem with your vision and getting glasses for the first time. Everything came into clear focus. He was so elated that there was help. Over time, R-train didn’t continue to work as well and he wasn’t able to continue because the side affects were too bothersome for him. He no longer is on any meds and still deals with the ADD issues, but it has made life for me so much more liveable. I don’t take things so personally anymore because I understand what he’s going through. I signed on ‘for better, for worse; in sickness and in health ’til death do us part’ and I meant it. (Love the 2 old people pic you described… So TRUE!) We’re just so relieved our daughter (now 18) has been spared from having ADD and now is having to learn to deal with it because of her dad. A double blessing to be sure. This way should she have a child (or spouse) who has it, she’ll be better prepared to cope.

  3. Thanks for writing about this. It sounds like you and your wife are a great team. My spouse/partner and I both have ADHD (sans the hyper) and I’m autistic as is our son. I’ve learned (over 36 years of errors and learning from them on occasion) to function. I’m not great at organization, keeping track of time, paying attention, but I make an effort and I also take responsibility for my deficits. I think that #5 above can be true if #4 is really, honestly happening… If both partners show up, take responsibility and there is give and take, as every person has flaws and strengths and only sometimes do they have a diagnostic label or are as pervasive as something like ADHD. I think marriages fail when partners take on more parent-child roles because one of the parties refuses to take responsibility for their actions- including those actions which are troublesome and can be explained by a diagnostic label. If the marriage tilts to that parent-child dynamic, then, it seems, resentment, frustration, isolation, abandonment set in. Without improvement, evidence of effort, and restoration of the healthy partner dynamic (or close to it, it’s really more of a give and take that balances out in the grand scheme of things) the relationship fails… I think that too much, in treatment of ADHD in adults, is focused on medication. I think medication is an important piece of the puzzle for many people (myself included), but so many adults with ADD/ADHD have been floundering their whole lives because they lack the executive functioning skills that could make a huge difference in their quality of life. Medication and teaching/reteaching skills and coping mechanisms can make a profound difference to individuals and families. Or at least that’s what I have been noticing in personal experience, observation, and reading accounts of other folks in this sort of relationship.

    • Thanks for all the comments–I’m interested in hearing more things that people do to cope with all sorts of issues.

      Bek, I think you’re exactly right–everyone has some sort of issue that can easily get in the way of a relationship, and not all of them have easy diagnostic labels. In fact, I worry that the ones that DO have labels can very easily become excuses for not “showing up,” as you put it. I have a friend, for one example, who constantly makes reference to his ADHD (which is admittedly severe), as though he were trying to apologize in advance for any way he might behave poorly.

      My wife pointed out to me after reading this that these “5 Steps” are good advice for ANY relationship, regardless of extra problems. The point I wanted to try and make about multi-step programs is that they’re largely bogus. I think if most people take some real time to think about it, they’d agree with me, and yet we’re constantly on the lookout for quick fixes and the newest program that will bring me peace and contentment in life.

      Life takes work, and ultimately we’ll all have to figure it out for ourselves. I saw a great picture on pinterest or something the other day, of two old people walking hand in hand. In the caption, one asks, “how did we ever make it together for so long?” The other replies, “We come from a generation that fixes things when they’re broken, rather than throwing them away.” I haven’t been struck by a thought so hard in quite awhile. I’m not a huge fan of consumer culture anyway, but it’s scary to think about the divorce rate, and the nonchalant way people seem to talk about relationships. My relationship is amazing–but that’s not the same thing as saying that it’s easy. It’s strong because it’s hard, and because we both work very hard to ensure it’s a success.

  4. A couple we know from college who are now married, the guy has ADHD. He has a goofy, fun loving, charismatic personality that is such that, for the longest time, I did not actually make the ADHD connection, until his GF told me. I thought it was just part of his energetic and outgoing personality, but it does make sense . They seem to manage pretty well, and I am happy for them. They’re a really good fit for one another. If I am honest with myself, I don’t think I could sustain a relationship like that myself, and admire those who can.

  5. wellokaythen says:

    What distracts me from listening well isn’t my ADHD, it’s my HDTV. It’s much more curable, but still hard to shake.

  6. Quite a challenge to be married to this… Texting helps when he doesn’t listen in person…way more efficient than trying to repeat myself and chase him when he suddenly leaves the room in the middle of a serious conversation! Quite another challenge to have a kid with ADD!

  7. J.R. Reed says:


    I can totally relate. I have a gnarly case of ADD and it kicks my ass more than I’d like to admit. Man hug, bro.

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