Finally, hopelessness. By the time couples find me they are often near divorce and have had dysfunctional relationships for a long time. They have little energy for more work. I will try to provide them a glimpse of what their future might look like if they can pull themselves up and try again – this time by trying differently (in ways that acknowledge the ADHD issues), rather than trying harder. Usually they can see why it makes sense to try again.
Leslie: What is the best kind of help couples facing these challenges need to get? And where do they go to find this kind of help?
Melissa: The best sort of help is from a professional counselor who is familiar with ADHD and its issues. The patterns created by having a symptom, then a response to that symptom, then a response to that response, mean that if a therapist isn’t aware of the underlying symptom then the work that is done tends to be on too superficial a level. You might be able to temporarily address anger, for example, but if you don’t also improve the reliability of the ADHD partner by helping him or her manage their ADHD, then the anger will return.
Leslie: In your practice, what percentage of the couples you see have success in growing their relationship and learning how to rebuild their lives together in a healthier way?
Melissa: Some couples don’t make it, as you would expect, particularly given that most are in big trouble when they start with me. But a surprisingly large percentage do improve their relationship quite significantly. One of the reasons I remain so enthusiastic about the niche that I work in, in fact, is that so many people tell me how great a difference my advice has made in their lives. It’s very rewarding to feel you are genuinely helping people learn to thrive again!
Leslie: What do you feel is the single most important thing that a couple can do to strengthen their trust in each other, despite a long history of distrust?
Melissa: Rebuilding trust takes time, and there is no “quick” way to get there. In a nutshell, to learn to trust again, a couple must do the hard work necessary to create a “new norm” in their relationship – one in which they treat each other with respect, where ADHD symptoms and anger are no longer major factors in their interactions, and where they are both feeling satisfied or joyous in their relationship. Then they need to be in this new norm for a while in order to trust it will stay that way, as well as to trust each other again. Typically it can take about a year or more to move through all of the steps, once a couple is out of denial and really focused on creating change.
Leslie: When do you know it’s time to give up?