“You’ll never be bored,” my mother-in-law said to me on the dance floor at our wedding reception. She was smiling but also raised her eyebrows, so I think it was equal parts blessing and warning.
Either way, I already knew she was right. And it’s one of the main reasons I chose my husband. I’ve always hated being bored and truly admired his creativity, zest for life, and adventure-seeking ways. His spontaneity during the early years of our relationship helped me break out of my “plan everything” mindset. And it still does, 18 years later.
When Opposites Attract
It’s not always been easy, though. I thrive on order, structure, plans, and routines. I do enjoy new things, and I don’t mind change, but I like it best when those new things work their way into my day planner — instead of just throwing a curveball into my day.
My husband, on the other hand, thrives on curveballs — and lots of them. Routines get old fast. He doesn’t mind plans, as long as they include plenty of fun or fulfilling activities.
So how do we make it work? How do we complement each other instead of ending up in constant conflict? Well, it’s taken a lot of time, intentional effort, trial-and-error, practice, and self-reflection. (And tons of patience, forgiveness, and grace.)
We still have our moments of conflict — all relationships do — but we’ve made so much progress in our two decades together. If your spouse or partner has ADHD and you’re struggling to work together: I see you, I get it, and I’ve been there. But don’t give up. Progress is possible!
Eight Tips for Being Married to Someone with ADHD
Here, I’ll share a few things I’ve learned about myself and my husband that’s made all the difference:
1. It’s not me; it’s you. Yes, you read that right. The typical breakup line — in reverse — was a recent discovery that really opened things up for us. And, perhaps ironically, it’s the thing that helped us get on the same page. Because for much of our marriage, I blamed myself for the difficulties in our marriage.
For example, my husband rarely came home from work at the same time, which I translated as: “He’s bored with me” or “I’m not a priority,” when in fact, it was usually time blindness.
Time blindness is something that many people with ADHD struggle with, and as a person who is constantly aware of time (even without a clock nearby), I had no idea that there was any other way to operate or think. I had no idea that some people — my husband in particular — struggle with having a sense of how long things take or how much time passes between tasks. So when colleagues would come into his classroom at the end of the day and they’d start chatting, he thought of it as a few minutes when it often was more like an hour (or sometimes two).
2. Be willing to change your expectations. Flexibility and compromise are key ingredients in a successful and healthy relationship. But don’t lower the bar, just adjust the bar. Or, forget about the bar altogether and learn when to go with the flow and when to put your foot down.
Sometimes changing expectations really means changing your perspective or approach. My husband almost never plans anything, and he’s rarely home from work at the same time. And I’ve learned to be ok with that. When it comes to organizing his clutter and stuff, I’ve come to accept that “clean and organized” looks different for him than it does for me. But that doesn’t mean I don’t expect him to clean up his stuff now and then.
3. Encourage personal growth and responsibility on their own terms. Don’t force your spouse or partner to do something that’s difficult just for the sake of “learning” or for some other hidden agenda. There’s pushing someone out of their comfort zone, and then there’s just pushing someone. Make sure you have a realistic goal or purpose for stretching them or encouraging personal growth, and do it in a way that’s compassionate and makes sense to them.
My husband typically gets motivated to clear his clutter in spurts, while I like to knock it out in one fell swoop. While he sometimes asks me to help him get the ball rolling, it always works better when he decides to clean up on his own.
4. Keep your clothes and personal items in separate rooms. While we’re on the topic of cleaning and organizing personal items, this is a rule of thumb I’ve used since we were newlyweds and it’s one I recommend to just about all soon-to-be-married couples. If you like going to bed in a clean and organized room (like me), have your spouse/partner keep their clothes and other personal items in a guest room or other extra space that isn’t used often. You can apply this rule to bathrooms too, if you have more than one. The other perk of this? When their clothes are all over the floor in “their” room, just shut the door so you don’t have to see the mess!
5. Find what you have in common and build on those things. Both of us have brains that are constantly moving and thinking and generating new ideas. The difference is he shares those rambling thoughts out loud as a verbal processor, and I have an internal dialogue going (or I put those thoughts to paper). But we find that driving somewhere together is a good time for both of us to let our minds wander — out loud.
6. Remember, new ideas (usually) do not equal actual plans. As a newlywed — and for many years beyond — I would get completely overwhelmed and stressed by hearing about all the things my husband wanted to do, all the places he wanted to go, where he wanted to move, what jobs he wanted to try, what hobbies he wanted to explore. I’ve learned to just listen and realize that many of the things he says are just ideas.
It’s not that he doesn’t want to do them. I know he would do every single one if he had 1,000 hours in a day. But he’s often thinking out loud and not necessarily planning to quit his job that he just started, or move to a new state a few weeks after moving to a new city.
7. Educate yourself on the diagnosis and your spouse or partner’s unique presentation of it. Everyone with ADHD is different. Don’t assume you know it all, or that change isn’t possible. Therapy and meds may help — or they may not. Discover together what works best and what helps them most.
Movement has made a huge difference in my husband’s stress level. When we moved to our current home in the mountains, he’s found joy — and healthy stress management — through hiking, biking, yard work, tree work … just about anything that allows him to be physically active outdoors.
8. Appreciate the challenges and affirm successes. I can’t imagine not being aware of time. As a writer, time management is key to being able to get things submitted by the deadline, and how to structure and use my time well just comes naturally. That said, compliment your spouse or partner when they do something that you know is exceptionally hard for them. And don’t forget to celebrate their neurodiversity instead of always fighting against it. This goes a long way in keeping you from fighting against each other all the time — which is kind of a big deal when you’re married.
Want to read more about marriage and ADHD? Check out this piece He Said, She Said: How ADHD Impacts My Marriage by Sarah Ludwig Rausch.