“I feel like you’ve given up on me,” my husband said.
The conversation about his work schedule had bubbled to the surface again. His erratic hours. His worrisome sleep hygiene. Stagnating projects around the house.
“I didn’t give up,” I rushed to clarify, “I just adjusted my expectations.”
It sounds like splitting hairs, but it’s not. Giving up is such a strong phrase, such a negative phrase. What I’d done wasn’t giving up, it was a conscious effort to eliminate excess stress from my life. Yes, I’d “given up” calling him at 10:00 p.m., then 1:00 a.m., and then sometimes even 3:00 a.m. to remind him to come home. It hadn’t worked anyway.
But our conversation raised an interesting question: what does it mean to give up on someone? To let them learn from their mistakes? To enable bad behavior? To be supportive without overextending yourself or sacrificing your own peace of mind?
Every ADHD’er has bad habits, and they drive our loved ones crazy. Here are some ways to reframe your expectations and lower your stress without giving up.
Take control of your feelings
“If our feelings control our actions,” writes Stephen Covey in his famous The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, “it is because we have abdicated our responsibility and empowered them to do so.”
When I used to call my husband in the middle of the night to cajole him into leaving work, it took a toll on my well-being. Initially, I blamed this on him:
“I don’t sleep well when you’re not here.”
“You make me feel so frustrated and stressed, I can’t get back to sleep once I wake up in the middle of the night.”
In doing this, I placed my sleep habits and emotional state in someone else’s control. That needed to change.
This may be hard to accept, especially when someone else is behaving badly. However, positive change can be slow. Remember that while you can’t control others, you can control how you react.
In my case, I decided my own sleep and sanity were my priority. I stopped calling, stopped wondering when he’d come home, and stopped expecting him anytime before I went to bed. That way, anything else — even arriving home three minutes before I fell asleep — felt like a success. I also started sleeping with a pillow next to me so I wouldn’t notice the empty bed.
Take control of your own reaction. Take care of you. Don’t let another person ruin your day.
Is your spouse’s bad habit driving you nuts? Keep a diary, and I don’t mean an ongoing rant (see above). Just because you’ve talked about the behavior and agreed it needs to change doesn’t mean you can expect a complete 180 overnight. One study showed the average person can take anywhere from 18 to 254 days to form a new habit. I’m not sure we have any average people living in our house.
Real change happens slowly, over time, with many setbacks. Ask yourself: is there a slow trend in the right direction?
Sure, my husband still comes home from work in the middle of the night, but he a.) does it slightly less often and b.) actually realizes it’s happening. Both are small victories.
Believe it or not, your loved one isn’t trying to drive you crazy. Bad habits make us feel out of control of ourselves, which lowers our willpower and capacity to make positive change.
In other words, they’re hurting, too. Don’t tear your partner or child down in her moment of weakness. Acknowledge any small victories to make room for solution-focused thinking.
Recently, we had some work schedule slip-ups. The week started out great and crashed and burned by Friday. On Saturday morning, we sat around the table for our family meeting and shared appreciations. I made sure to say, “thank you for being home in plenty of time for me to get to my meeting on Tuesday evening, and for being flexible enough with your schedule that you could take over with R. on Thursday morning while I went to the doctor.”
It’s so easy to get wrapped up in our own reactions and forget that others evaluate themselves at least as harshly. When you’re tempted to blow up, pause. Acknowledge your own feelings as valid, but imagine it from your loved one’s perspective, too. How would you want to be treated?
In families especially, we shouldn’t bail each other out or pick up slack all time time , which cultivates resentment. We must also find ways to support, rather than tear down, someone who’s having trouble. Praise the good, forgive the bad, and keep trying to find a solution.
How do you maintain sanity and compassion in the face of crazy-making ADHD behavior?