67. ADHD & Relationships: Emotions & Having a Ferrari Brain with Bicycle Brakes



Dealing with emotions can feel like a full-time job for a person with ADHD — and it can be incredibly confusing for the neurotypical people in our lives! Especially our partners.

On today’s episode, Lindsay dives into the power that emotions can hold in an ADHD-impacted relationship with ADHD relationship expert Melissa Orlov. Melissa talks about the intensity of anger, shame and self-esteem and how the non-ADHD partner can help support specific emotional needs of their ADHD partner. She also offers a ton of suggestions on how couples can get started on a path to better understanding and communication. 

This is part three of Lindsay’s four-part conversation with Melissa. To start at the beginning, go back to episode 65 ADHD & Relationships with Melissa Orlov released on February 6th.


  • How the ADHD brain works with anger
  • Depths of shame, grief, and ADHD  
  • What is the very present moment focus?
  • Defensiveness and cover-ups mechanisms

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Lindsay Guentzel (00:00):

Well, we have survived Valentine’s Day, and we are halfway through our four-part conversation with ADHD relationship expert, Melissa Orlov. Feeling pretty good about life right now, you guys. I hope you’re feeling the same. My name is Lindsay Guentzel. By now, you should all know the drill. Refocused is a podcast all about attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. And as I mentioned, we’re in the midst of talking all about relationships with Melissa Orlov, the wonderful human behind adhdmarriage.com. There’s two episodes with Melissa already online waiting for you to listen to, so if this is your first time joining us, welcome, I’m glad you’re here. Now scoot yourself on back so you don’t miss anything. And we’ll see you back here soon. For the rest of you, episode 67 is coming up right after this.


Are you loving what you’re hearing right now? Are there lots of light bulbs going off? Same, during every single interview. It would be such a big help to us if you would share those moments with us. One, it’s so nice to know what our listeners are connecting with when we plan interviews and episode topics. Two, it makes us feel nice, like the recently diagnosed adult listener who reached out on Instagram and told me that her mom actually found our podcast because she wanted to understand her daughter’s diagnosis better. And if that isn’t exactly what we wanted from day one, more awareness and acceptance and growth and learning and healing, and it’s heart string moments like that, that get us through the tough days. So thank you to everyone who has reached out already. If you haven’t, we would love to hear from you. You can email us at [email protected]. That’s hell[email protected]. We’re also on social at Refocused Pod.


This is Refocused. I am your host, Lindsay Guentzel. And today, we are talking about ADHD relationships and the emotions that come with that, and all of the good stuff in between. And I am so excited to welcome Melissa Orlov back to the podcast. Again, this is my reminder to you that if this is your first time listening, welcome. We are so glad you’re here. But there’s so much that you’ve missed, and especially, there’s so much that you’ve missed with Melissa. So make sure that you go back to February 6th, that’s the first of the four episodes that we are sharing throughout the month of February as we talk about ADHD and relationships. If you are unfamiliar with Melissa, she is one of the first names that I learned about when I did my little rabbit deep dive into learning all the things that I could about ADHD.


She’s the founder of adhdmarriage.com, a marriage consultant, and she’s also the author of two award-winning books on how ADHD impacts couples, The ADHD Effect on Marriage, which was published in 2010, and was then updated in 2020 with all of the new information. And that helps couples understand what’s going on in their relationship and how they can respond to find the love that they feel they’ve lost. Her second book, The Couples Guide to Thriving with ADHD, delves into particularly difficult interactions that couples may need extra help addressing. And she also blogs about ADHD and marriage, provides insight and resources for couples and for therapists over on her website, adhdmarriage.com.


She also teaches therapists how to help couples navigate challenges associated with ADHD, and her expertise has been highlighted in the New York Times, US News World Report, and many, many more. And I am so grateful to have her here on Refocused. And like I said, this episode three of four, so there’s so much that you’ve missed. Make sure you go back and listen to it because today, Melissa, we are going to dive into emotions. And there is a lot that goes there, the good, the bad, the ugly. And I’m curious. Where do we start?

Melissa Orlov (03:57):

You know, [inaudible 00:03:58].

Lindsay Guentzel (03:59):

Yeah, exactly. Yes. I don’t know that I quite understood or really fully comprehend how much my ADHD plays a role in my emotions, so I guess that might be a great place to start.

Melissa Orlov (04:13):

It’s interesting. I listened to a talk not too long ago about the history of ADHD and emotions. And it turns out that one of the diagnostic criteria for ADHD for a long time was actually emotional difficulty with managing emotions, and that it was taken out by the APA in their wisdom at some point not that long ago. And now they’re having a conversation about putting it back in because the research is really clear that one of the core characteristics of ADHD is emotional dysregulation, ups and downs. Ed Hallowell likes to talk about ADHD as the race car brain with the bicycle brakes. And that’s very much what goes on with the emotions, very big emotions, and not very good brakes on those emotions.

Lindsay Guentzel (04:59):

The example that I will share from my own life is I feel like I’m in a very healthy relationship. I’ve mentioned we are in couples therapy. It helps immensely. I feel very privileged and lucky that we have the time and the resources to go. That being said, even the smallest hiccup, even the smallest argument, even the smallest irritation, and I am on my way to the bedroom, starting to pack my suitcase, planning my life. How do I disconnect all of these things? And you’re right, it is these ups and downs, and I’m curious. Do we know, or can we pinpoint, are there specific emotions that tend to be at the top of the list for people with ADHD? Grief and anger, but what else is there?

Melissa Orlov (05:43):

Well, it’s interesting. So there are the emotions you notice, and then the ones you don’t. So the ones you notice are the anger, the irritability, the defensiveness, and some more intense negative emotions. The ones you don’t notice are the intensity of shame, lack of self-esteem, the desire to escape, to move away from things that feel difficult. There’s a huge fight, flight, freeze thing going on for people who have ADHD. And it describes a lot. Their body goes into that high alert very quickly, and so that’s part of it.

Lindsay Guentzel (06:20):

Let’s start with anger because I think it’s probably the one that people notice the quickest. It’s the one that I think we talk about a lot when it comes to the emotions that you said we notice. It’s easy to notice. When you know how somebody responds when they’re angry, it’s very easy to pick out.

Melissa Orlov (06:39):

Yes. And since the emotional dysregulation is actually part of the ADHD symptomology, people have been angry or having these very fast zero to 60 immediately kinds of responses for their entire lives. So for a person with ADHD, this emotional up and down just feels like life. That’s just the way it happens. And when you get into these struggling relationships, there’s a lot of blame. Well, if you would just treat me better, I wouldn’t be so angry or whatever. And they’re not taking into account the fact that the anger’s there. But what you see is very, very fast escalation into anger, immediate irritability. It’s not really understandable to the other partner because the things that trigger that anger don’t seem to be that big, lots of times, to the other partner.


But what’s going on underneath is that there’s a trigger around often shame, or fear, or feeling like you’re going to be criticized. Typically, that’s the thing that’s underneath the anger or underneath the defensiveness. Stop telling me who I am. Don’t tell me what to do. Stop critiquing me. And Ed Hallowell actually calls it the constant critique, and it’s not just partners who are doing it, it’s friends, it’s teachers, it’s coaches, all those folks who’ve been saying, “Well, you could do better if you just tried harder,” or whatever. And the person with the ADHD knows, so they’re tired of being critiqued. So there’s this very, very huge emotion that comes up, and then again, difficulty managing those emotions, so that’s the anger.


There’s an interesting statistic. This is so pervasive. I read recently that 50% of court mandated anger management program attendees have undiagnosed ADHD, which is a huge percentage given that about 5% to 7% of the population has it, so 10 times as many people who are being asked to go to these anger management issues, it’s a huge, huge deal.

Lindsay Guentzel (08:34):

When you hear that, is there something that comes to your mind of how we got to that statistic? What are we not teaching people? Or how are we not learning to manage some of these things? That is a crazy number.

Melissa Orlov (08:47):

I don’t think it’s about teaching people per se. I think there’s an awareness issue because even the professional community hasn’t been thinking about emotional dysregulation and specifically anger as related to ADHD. People tend to believe that anger is environmentally produced. Something happened to me, and therefore, I got angry. And they think because it’s them looking out at the world through their own lens that it’s rational. Everybody else would respond exactly the same way. And it turns out that the large amount of emotional content that the ADHD brain creates isn’t like other people’s amount of emotional content that’s created. And again, it’s not just anger. It could be overwhelm is a really common emotion that people with ADHD feel that, and much greater and much faster. There’s a word for it, actually, emotional lability, which means more emotions faster than other people get.

Lindsay Guentzel (09:42):

How does the idea of what happened versus the story we’re telling ourselves, how does that play into when anger comes out?

Melissa Orlov (09:51):

Well, it’s really hard in relationships because the partners have completely different experiences. The ADHD brain and the non ADHD brain, if you have this mixed relationship, physiologically function differently. So you experience the same events differently. And so there’s confusion there in the first place like, “Wait, that’s not what I thought happened at all.” And then you have this difference in emotional response and intensity of emotional response. Now of course, once you get to a very intense emotion, you’re back in the primitive part of the brain. You’re back in the fight, flight, freeze, I can never say that, part of the brain where you’re no longer thinking logically. Blood flow actually moves away from the logical thinking part of the brain back to support the more primitive survival parts of the brain, so you can’t logic your way out of it.


You can’t just say, “Okay, well, calm down, calm down.” The person’s like, “No, I’m not going to calm down. No way.” It’s just you’re done. And then people dig in. Right? So when you’re in that really lit up kind of a place, you dig into where you want. You’re not going to give in, thank you very much. And your partner responds the same way. When somebody’s really yelling at you or whatever, you do the same thing. Your brain does the same thing. You want to escape, or you dig in, or whatever. It never works for couples to have this work. So of course, it’s a huge issue because here it is, it’s part of ADHD. It’s part of the symptomology. And it’s not on the diagnostic criteria, so people don’t know that. And there’s a lot of blame that goes around, a lot of hard feelings, a lot of hurt, a lot of pain. It’s very difficult to manage.

Lindsay Guentzel (11:29):

We talk about anger and we talk about the connection with critiques. And you mentioned a statistic about the number of times a girl is critiqued in life. And can we go back to that for just one second?

Melissa Orlov (11:40):

Yeah. It’s not gender-specific.

Lindsay Guentzel (11:41):

Okay, sorry.

Melissa Orlov (11:42):

Yeah. No, it’s okay. It’s a kid before the age of 12, receives about 20,000 additional critiques if they have ADHD than of their peers who don’t. So it’s a huge, huge issue and one of the underpinnings of the anger. Anger is sort of this over, doesn’t feel good, emotion, but underneath it, there’s something more nuanced. And lots of times, underneath it for ADHD is the shame, or low self-esteem, or not feeling like you’re going to be able to handle whatever the situation is.

Lindsay Guentzel (12:12):

I mentioned my partner is very A to Z. I get to Z, but how I get there is going to look different every single time. And one of the things that we’ve had to work on communicating is when I want help and when I don’t want help, and what unsolicited advice will do to me, which is it does make me angry because all of a sudden, it kind of probably brings back these memories of feeling like I’m not capable of doing something, or that the way I do something is wrong because it’s not quote, unquote, the right way. And I have to imagine that communication in this is probably one of the toughest parts to add in because no one wants to communicate calmly when you’re angry. Well, and even before you get angry, what you’re talking about is really setting boundaries, kind of.

Melissa Orlov (13:00):

Well, no. I was actually going to go in a different direction. I mean, setting boundaries is really important, and we can talk about that. But partners think they’re helping. Let me help you with this. The rest of that sentence when you have ADHD is, because you can’t do it yourself. Right? Oh, why don’t you sort the laundry this way? The rest of the sentence is, because you’re not sorting it the way I like. And so all of these quote, unquote helpful things really trigger people with ADHD. And it’s confusing for the other folks. They’re trying to do their best, even though once you say to them, I say this all the time to non ADHD partners, “Okay, let’s think about what you’re really saying here.”


You say, “Oh, that’s not a critique. I’m just helping out.” I’m going, “Yeah. No, it is a critique. Absolutely, it’s a critique.” So let’s actually look it in the eye and call it what it is, which is your partner’s not doing what you expect or want, and you want to change that. And they hear that loud and clear, and so that’s part of what triggers that sensitivity. So when you talk about having this communication around when you need help or when you don’t, one way to do that is to make the relationship be open and trustworthy enough so that the time that you get help is when you ask for it, not when your partner is critiquing, like, “Oh, well, they could use help right now.” You don’t want that. You want it when you ask for it, you know you could need it for whatever the assistance is. And at that point, the partner willingly jumps in to do whatever the thing is you’re asking.

Lindsay Guentzel (14:27):

Do you find that people with ADHD who come to you and who are having these conversations have a hard time going back to some of those triggering moments and explaining that to their partners? Because I think for me, a lot of the stuff that really shaped who I am right now, and not in a good way, is stuff that I have packed away in boxes and I’ve taped up, double time, and I’ve thrown into the warehouse in the back of my brain. And it’s not until I connect the dots where I go, “Oh, that’s what that is.” But it’s not fun to revisit that stuff.

Melissa Orlov (15:00):

No, it’s not. And I would say in general, so one of the benefits of having ADHD is a very present moment focus. And I try to work with couples to say, “Look, let’s just take most of the past, you can’t take it all, but let’s take most of the past and put it as, we did the best we could do, we didn’t really know what was going on, and start fresh as best you can.” There will be things that you bring forward, the shame, interactions that trigger one or the other of you, an anger, a resentment, a feeling that you bring forward. But deal with that in the present moment as it’s showing up for you right now, rather than trying to understand what was happening in the past because what was happening in the past was undiagnosed ADHD symptomatic behaviors, and not particularly nuanced or good responses to those behaviors because neither one of you knew what was going on.


And you can sort of just all lump it together. So if you focus in on what’s going on right now, then you can use the tools, you can use more empathy and understanding to start changing things that make sense for you moving into the future.

Lindsay Guentzel (16:07):

From where we are right now, does it make sense to talk about shame? Because I kind of feel like shame and anger tie together in some ways, especially with how we respond to things.

Melissa Orlov (16:19):

They do, for sure. The wells of shame are very deep for most adults who have ADHD. If they don’t feel they have much shame, they probably just haven’t addressed it yet, quite frankly, just because it’s hard not to walk away from that experience that those kids have with people, teachers, parents, coaches, people that they wanted to trust and who inadvertently lots of times gave these critical messages to them. So it’s a place of great hurt and trauma, actually. And one of the things that is helpful for adults with ADHD is to actually name it as such. Yes, there’s a great deal of shame and embarrassment. Yes, it is, as Freud says, this is a master emotion. It is an emotion that impacts everything else, what you choose to respond to, what you choose to escape from, how you respond to something, all of that stuff is impacted by shame.


You can go to therapy, particularly cognitive behavioral therapy, to try to address feelings of shame. But having it be sort of out on the table is really hard, but also really useful. If you can say, “Look, that starts to feel … ” Hey, Mr. Partner or Mrs. Partner, or whomever, however you want to genderize it, if that’s a word, I’m starting to feel shame, or I’m starting to feel these negative emotions. I need to step back and recalibrate for a while. If you can get to a place where you’re capable of doing that, the relationship and the interactions in that relationship will be improved. Really hard to get there because of the nature of shame. You don’t want to name it when you’re feeling it because you’re ashamed of it. Right? So it takes a good deal of work and bravery and courage to be able to actually start to make it more visible to yourself and to a partner. It’s a huge factor is defensiveness. It’s really often behind defensiveness.


Now it’s not just on the ADHD partner. Also, the other partner has a role to play being much more sensitive to what they’re actually saying to their partner between the lines is really helpful. Being more compassionate about how hard it is to live with that shame and to manage it and get around it as best as possible to make the responses when shame or other things are brought forward. Be positive and rewarding rather than punishing or cutting down a partner or whatever. And on the non ADHD partner side, there’s a lot of resentment and other things that are going on, so those aren’t always easy to access either.

Lindsay Guentzel (18:48):

I’m wondering if you could help paint a picture of how shame can come out for a person with ADHD because I can think of my own experience, and it comes out in the way that you think it would, like embarrassment and pulling away and hiding. But I also have read stuff where shame can produce almost like love bombing behavior. And so it feels like it’s both ends of the spectrum and I think there are a lot of people who are processing shame and maybe don’t even realize that’s what’s happening.

Melissa Orlov (19:18):

Yeah. I haven’t seen too much of love bombing behavior, to be honest with you, because typically it’s so difficult to engage with shame that there’s an escape mechanism going on. Defensiveness is one of the most common ones. You say something and your partner’s like, “Who made you the boss of me?” And then that’s sort of the end of that. Another actually way that it comes up is in coverups and lying. And I give an example in my course about a man who agreed and told his partner, “I’m not going to use chewing tobacco anymore.” And then he went out and he bought some chewing tobacco on an impulsivity thing. He just saw it and like, “Oh, I’ll get some of that.” And then he realized what he had done, so he hid it in his drawer, and she found it. And she got furious with him. And of course, that was a shame thing like, “Oh, oops. I made a mistake again. I better hide it.”


If he had gone to her and said, “Okay, you might see this chewing tobacco in the trash. That’s because I bought it impulsively. And now I’m tossing it out because I didn’t really mean to do that, and we have this agreement,” she would’ve been fine. It was the fact that he hid it that made the interaction so negative.

Lindsay Guentzel (20:22):

And what’s behind that? And I asked that.

Melissa Orlov (20:24):

That’s the shame.

Lindsay Guentzel (20:25):

Yes. I asked that. My partner, John, doesn’t think I’m a good liar, but I think I’m a pretty good liar because I spent my entire life covering up little white lies because it is shame. You make plans with someone and you don’t put it on your calendar, and you forget, so then you lie about traffic, or you lie about a flat tire, or whatever it is because somewhere along the line you made a mistake and someone made you feel a certain way about it. And so then the rest of your life now is spent in this balance of white lies. And if you just came forward and said, “Hey, I bought this chewing tobacco. I made a mistake. I don’t want to do this, but it was this impulsivity.” And in a sense, it also is an addiction, and so you have to kind of clear the air.

Melissa Orlov (21:06):

Yeah. You do. Sometimes it’s small things and sometimes it’s really big things. I had a man who lost his job because he had difficulty with the paperwork and the organization stuff, so directly related to his ADHD executive function issues. Then he went and got another job, same title, lost that one for the exact same reason. Then he went and got another job, lost that one for the exact same reason. And by the third time that he had lost it, he ended up pretending that he still had his job and going out of the house in the morning, and then coming back at the right time. His wife figured it out because she saw his job posted in a newsletter. It makes you want to cry when you hear stories about that. But there was so much shame about that.


And of course, the obvious answer to that is for him to get executive function training so that he can in fact not have that problem again in the future. But he also didn’t want to deal with the fact that he had these problems and that was part of the shame as well. So as they say, it’s a master emotion, it keeps you from doing things that make logical sense, but which emotionally, you just can’t quite face because it triggers that shame.

Lindsay Guentzel (22:16):

Is it possible to move past shame?

Melissa Orlov (22:18):

Yes, it is. It’s hard because this is many, many, many years of people telling you … You have this voice on your shoulder going, “See, you did it again.” And you have to really fight that and replace that story with something else. And I think it’s a multi-prong approach. First of all, getting better management of the ADHD so that you make mistakes less often, or you’re more reliable, another way to think about it. So that’s one part of it. And another part of that is probably cognitive behavioral therapy again, which works specifically on identifying the stories that hurt you and giving you replacement stories that you can use when you start to fall into those feelings again.


I’d say the third area is making sure your partner is well aware of it so that they’re not triggering it by mistake. Sometimes they’re going to trigger it anyway, but so that they’re not just sort of stumbling into that shame and triggering you. This is, I talked before about imbalances of power in the parent child thing, this is one of the problems with parent child is that parent figure regularly makes the ADHD partner feel less than.

Lindsay Guentzel (23:26):

You mentioned when we started talking about shame and looking back at kind of our lives when maybe there was a point where an adult let us down. And it made me realize this moment that I had a realization. It was actually at the International Conference on ADHD in Dallas just in November. And I had an incident happen in middle school where a couple of my classmates made the We Hate Lindsay Guentzel petition, went around the school and had everyone sign it, and then they delivered it to my locker at the end of the day.


In my mind it was like trumpets were blaring and whatnot, and I didn’t tell anyone. I was so embarrassed. I didn’t go home and tell my mom. I didn’t go home and tell my dad. In fact, I didn’t tell my mom until a few years ago. I think my sister found out. One of the latest episodes of the podcast that came out after I had this realization because I had this moment at the conference where I had this kind of the dots connecting, where I thought … I volunteer in a school, so I hear so much, and I’m only there for four hours a week.


And in my head, I’m going, “There’s no way that in that school there was not one adult.” They knew what was going on, or they had heard rumblings of it, and not one person stepped in. And I get it, it’s probably 1998. It was let’s say a different time. But in my head, it was that moment of realizing I got let down there, and I let that moment where kids did something cruel, and kids do cruel things because we don’t know better. But again, you go back and you think of all the things that teachers hear on a day to day basis, and not one person pulled me aside or called my parents. And I would like to believe that maybe they didn’t know, but I also have a really hard time believing that. There’s so much there.

Melissa Orlov (25:00):

I’m so sorry that happened to you. It’s really horrible.

Lindsay Guentzel (25:03):

It was horrible. Again, I go back to kind of the things that you tuck away in boxes and pack up. But it’s hard to move on from something when you are not the one who has any control over it. I didn’t do anything.

Melissa Orlov (25:15):

Right. And if you think about those 20,000 injuries before the age of 12, it’s not just one or two adults, it’s many, many of the other people in the lives of that child. It’s hugely traumatic. And I’m not surprised at all that you’re packing it away in boxes because I sure would too. It would be just really hard to look at that. And you can know rationally that you couldn’t control it. You weren’t in charge of it. But that doesn’t make it feel any better.

Lindsay Guentzel (25:43):

No, it doesn’t.

Melissa Orlov (25:44):

And the way the brain works is when you ruminate on those kinds of things, you actually relive them. And that is one of the reasons why I say to people, “Hey, can you cut the past? Let’s just not think about the past until it actually is intruding on the present moment,” which that still might because that sounds like a very traumatic episode for you, and a standout episode. I mean, I can’t imagine the pain that felt.

Lindsay Guentzel (26:07):

I actually think in the moment, I locked a lot of it away. And I think now I’m looking back and going, “What else did I lock away?” If I could put that away, what else was there? And I’m glad you said the word rumination because it’s one of the first things that I learned about after I was diagnosed where I went, “Oh, this is what I have been doing for so long,” this feeling of I’m going to sit and think about this thing for as long as possible, but never really telling myself the outcome’s not going to change.

Melissa Orlov (26:37):

Well, as human beings, one of the drives that we have is to create a story that makes sense of things. And I think the story that makes sense of things in that one is pretty straightforward. You had ADHD. You got treated the way people with ADHD get treated. You didn’t know about it at the time. You had no coping strategies for it other than to lock it away. And you can’t do anything about it. You did the best you could do as that child and as a young adult, et cetera. And so just to sort of use that as a story without having to do any other look at it can be very freeing. Otherwise, you’re just mucking around in it. As you say, it’s not going to change what happened.

Lindsay Guentzel (27:17):


Melissa Orlov (27:18):

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t grieve it. And there is a lot of grief. When people get diagnosed with ADHD, one of the things they say is, “Wow, now finally I have an explanation.” And the next thing they say often is, “I wish I had known about this 20 years ago because my life would’ve been completely different.” And they’re right. It might well have been very different, but they didn’t know, and many people didn’t know 20 years ago. For that matter, many people don’t know now.

Lindsay Guentzel (27:42):

Yeah, the grief that comes with it, and I feel like that’s a great segue to it because it is astronomical. And I feel it all the time as somebody who is, I’ve mentioned very career driven. And I look back at failing out of college twice and this undiagnosed ADHD that was sitting there, and these dopamine trips I was chasing around campus, not going to class and doing all of these things. And it is a challenge every day to stay on course. But a part of my path forward is working through the grief of that time and that energy, and that opportunity that’s lost. And I think the more people who are being diagnosed later in life, it’s just going to continue to grow because we are losing out on things because of these unknowns.


People didn’t know, and they still don’t know, and there’s still people out there, I see them in the comments all the time who are saying, “ADHD isn’t real. This isn’t a thing. This is just your excuse to be lazy.” I have to say, I am the least lazy person I have ever met. I don’t know how to be lazy. So when you say that to somebody who has ADHD, it just proves you have no idea what you’re talking about.

Melissa Orlov (28:48):

Right. And actually, I see that all the time. People that I know with ADHD are definitely not lazy, almost without exception.

Lindsay Guentzel (28:55):


Melissa Orlov (28:55):

Because they have all this work to do to manage their lives to keep them on track, as you say. The grief is interesting. There’s grief about the past. And actually, in a couple, both partners experience that grief. They experience the: What would our relationship have been like if we had known what was happening at the point at which, for example, we went from that hyper focused courtship into the regular life, and weren’t so confused by it and knew how to handle it? And I had all these dreams of what my relationship would be like, and it’s turned out to be completely different than I thought, and so there’s grieving over that. And then there’s grieving over: What could the ADHD person have accomplished? Or could they have held their job, or whatever it is? So there’s a lot of stuff in the past.


There’s also grief in the present moment, which is: Why is it so hard? Why does it have to be so hard? Every day, I can’t let up. My life is ready to fall apart if I do, and how unfair that feels. And so there’s just dealing with that also, which is just sort of the reality of having ADHD. ADHD has been demonstrated over and over and over again to be a true challenge in one’s life across almost every domain of that life, and it isn’t fair. You got it from your parents, most likely, not all the time. And that’s just the way it is.

Lindsay Guentzel (30:13):

What would be your suggestion to somebody with ADHD who’s listening to this and is hearing us talk about the emotions and is feeling like some of the things that they do in life is a manifestation of them responding to these feelings? And maybe it’s coming out in a way that they don’t like, that they’re getting angry because the they’re getting critiqued, and they don’t know how to communicate that. Is there a starting point? Is there a good way to move forward that is helping them heal the past, but also working towards a better future?

Melissa Orlov (30:46):

Yes. So I would separate anger from other emotions, anxiety, depression, we haven’t talked about, but those are really common as well. There’s quite a bit of work right now on the anger and what you do with the anger. And it turns out that these big emotions, and particularly the anger emotions, they depend upon the biology of the brain, depending upon what version you have, and which areas of the brain are impacted specifically for you. One of the best options is actually medication. And the medications are different classes of medications that work across these different brain areas that work differently. So you have to figure out which one is the best one for you. But for some people with ADHD, that’s the first place to go, is to talk to a doctor about the anger management through medications because if it works for you, it’s life changing, completely life changing, and really sets you on a completely new path.


With the other emotions, the shame and some of the other issues that are going on, that is more likely to be dealt with through therapy, also by being open with your partner about it and getting co-educated on it. So a partner who’s married to somebody or partnered with somebody who has ADHD, who does not acknowledge the importance of that ADHD, and also to their own responses, is really hard to work with. So getting the other partner aware that this is not intentional, this is not that the partner is a good person or a bad person. It has to do with symptoms, and to learn much more about it is a good first step. And then a professional therapist, who understands ADHD. One of the issues is a lot of therapists don’t understand ADHD. And particularly in couples therapy, that’s a problem because they tend to side with a non ADHD partner, say, “Oh, well. You should just try this. And why can’t you do that? What’s wrong with you?” And it goes really bad very fast, so you have to find somebody who’s ADHD savvy.

Lindsay Guentzel (32:44):

I want to talk about that, but I’m going to save that for our fourth and final episode as we dive into ADHD and relationships throughout the month of February. So I’m going to write that down, we’re going to talk about therapists and ADHD and what you should be looking for. And also, I’m curious to know the changes you’ve seen, and if more therapists are adding ADHD into their specialty, so we will get to that on our fourth and final episode of Refocused. This is a conversation that we’re having. There’s four of them. You can go back and listen to number one, number two. This was number three. And next week, we’ll have number four with Melissa Orlov. She is the founder of adhdmarriage.com. She’s also a marriage consultant and the author of two award-winning books on how ADHD impacts couples.


And if you have not been to her website, adhdmarriage.com, I highly, highly recommend heading over there and checking it out. She has a bunch of stuff that will provide you so many insights and resources. And one of the things that I am really, really pushing you to check out are the couples seminars that she does. She does two to three a year. They’re live via Zoom. They’ve helped out so many couples improve their ADHD impacted relationships. And the amazing news is that if you can’t attend one of the live versions, there is a self study version available through her website, so that is adhdmarriage.com.


Refocused is a collaboration between me, Lindsay Guentzel, and ADHD Online, a telemedicine mental health care company that provides affordable and accessible ADHD assessments and treatment plans, including medication management and teletherapy. To learn more about how they can help you, head to adhdonline.com. The talented folks behind today’s episode include, and I’m so grateful to be working with them, coordinating producer, Phil Rodemann, Sarah Platanitis, writer, Sarah Gelbard, who led research for today’s convo, Al Chaplin, who managed all of our social media production. As always shout out to Keith Boswell, Claudia Gatti, Melanie Meyrl, and Susanne Spruit, and the entire team at ADHD Online for all of their ongoing support.


Bear Beat Productions is the team behind today’s edit. And a big shout-out to the team at PS Creative in Phoenix for handling all of our production needs onsite. Our show art is created by Sissy Yee of Berlin Grey, and our music was created by Louis Inglis, a singer-songwriter from Perth, Australia, who was diagnosed with a ADHD in 2020 at the age of 39. Links to all of our partners we work with are available in the show notes.


To connect with the show or with me, you can find us online at Refocused Pod, as well as at Lindsay Guentzel. And of course, you can email us, [email protected]. That’s [email protected]. And of course, coming up we have part four of our conversation with Melissa Orlov, where we talk about so much great stuff, but most importantly, one of my favorites, well, one of my least favorite parts of ADHD, but a favorite topic to talk about, rejection sensitive dysphoria. That’s coming up next week on episode 68 of Refocused with Lindsay Guentzel.

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