I have had the pleasure of knowing Melissa Orlov over the past few years and when asked recently to write a “six word biography,” She wrote “Failed marriage resuscitated. Now helping others.” Melissa has blended her personal experience of coming back from the brink of divorce with an ADHD spouse with knowledge about ADHD in adults, becoming one of the top experts in how ADHD impacts relationships. I asked Melissa if she would be willing to answer some important quiestions regarding the problems facing couples with ADHD and she graciously accepted. The following is the result;
Leslie: If there was one piece of advice that you would give to a couple (in which one or both partners had ADHD) that was struggling with their relationship what would that be?
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Melissa: Learn all that you can about the issues that ADHD symptoms introduce into relationships. Right now you may be frustrated that nothing ever seems to change – no matter how much effort you put into making your relationship better. But learning about ADHD symptoms and their impact is really GOOD – in fact it is a turning point for many couples. And, it’s important to note here, that though it is the ADHD partner with the symptoms, it is not his or her “fault.” A non-ADHD partner (or second ADHD partner) plays a huge role in the dynamics the couple shares.
Leslie: Can you tell us what you feel are the 3 biggest obstacles that get in the way of couples affected by ADHD?
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Melissa: The most important obstacles are denial, fear and hopelessness. Let me start with denial. Over 80% of adults with ADHD are currently undiagnosed. But even after diagnosis, it’s common that a partner with ADHD will deny that ADHD might be playing a role in marital dysfunction. This is usually because they prefer to blame their partner’s obvious anger and frustration. Not incidentally, denial for the non-ADHD partner is typically around anger. He or she denies that anger is hurting the relationship. As long as each partner remains in denial, little changes. This is one of the powerful things about my book. At the beginning is a section that talks about what a relationship impacted by ADHD looks like. A lot of people read it and say “have you been sitting in my living room?!” At that point they tend to start wondering whether or not it might, after all, really be the ADHD symptoms and their responses to those symptoms, rather than a spouse being a pain.
Fear is also a huge obstacle, particularly for ADHD spouses. They fear that they will try really hard to do something to please their partner and fail at it (which they often have a track record of doing, since their untreated ADHD symptoms have gotten in the way). Fear tends to have a paralyzing effect on ADHD spouses, though sometimes it has the effect of making them defensive. On the non-ADHD spouse side of things, the most common fear is that they’ll make themselves vulnerable to feeling warm feelings for their partner, and that he or she will then “revert” back to old habits again, which will hurt. So fear tends to have the effect of “hardening” non-ADHD partners.