It’s been some years — I don’t remember how many — since my husband and I began treatment for ADHD. I use the word “treatment” loosely: we both began taking stimulant medications, and we still do, but treatment means more than that. The journey includes plenty of hard work and learning, not just a prescription.
That learning changed our lives. We both started reading about adult ADHD. We learned about ourselves, each other, and our marriage. We felt like our relationship could start over.
The ADHD diagnosis can give couples a chance to declare bankruptcy in our relationships — in the most positive, healing way possible.
When we owe more than we can repay
When people (or businesses) declare financial bankruptcy, it’s because they owe more than they can afford to pay.
What a thing to consider in a marriage: what does it mean to owe more than I can afford to pay? If you’ve struggled with late-diagnosis ADHD, you have an idea.
Many of us cling to a feeling that we shouldn’t let someone “get away” with bad behavior: the consequences should match the crime. We fear becoming a doormat or an enabler. But in marriage, we bind ourselves to another person. We create a new family, whether it becomes a family of two or sixteen. We shouldn’t underestimate the emotional and financial price of dissolving that marriage. Sometimes we focus so much on standing up for ourselves, we leave no one standing up for our relationships.
While my husband and I might not have imagined it several years ago, our little family is thriving. Our home is full of love and support and, yes, ADHD-related aggravations. Letting go of the past has freed us to build a strong future. We have the knowledge and power to forge a new path. Grudges will only us back.
Letting go, for our own sake
I used to take pride in stubbornness. I cursed my short attention span for my inability to stay angry when someone “deserved it.” As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned that I hurt myself more than anyone by holding onto negative emotions. Stress and anger are toxic to our minds and bodies. There was a time when I literally lost sleep over some of my husband’s ADHD-related behavior. I blamed him for my exhaustion and my elevated stress, and this fueled the cycle of anger and resentment.
Eventually, I realized I needed to take care of myself first. I needed to find a way to forgive and, most important, work around him. I needed to find a way to be content and effective on my own — to take control of my own emotional life. With that, I was free to care for myself, but also to support him in his desire to change.
We can’t build up when we’re busy tearing down
Which brings me to my next point: those of us with ADHD know we mess up all the time. We feel awful about it. Knowing others are angry and disappointed only makes it worse.
I remember when my husband rear-ended someone at a red light. In his defense, there were contributing factors, but it was still all ADHD.
I was livid. This was pre-ADHD treatment, so my own behavior — especially responses to frustration — was out of control. Having never been in an accident as a driver, I felt like I had a moral high ground. I wanted to stand in the middle of the road and berate him until I lost my voice.
Luckily, a close friend was in the car with us, and he pulled me to the other side of the road. Then he told me something I’ll never forget: your husband feels bad enough right now. The last thing he needs is for you to add to it.
I’ve remembered this conversation many times over the years. When we hurt someone we love, we don’t need the wronged party to tear us down. We need support. We needed a firm, kind response that will empower us to do better next time.
Letting go, to get to work
In many ways, treatment and education for our ADHD has given us new eyes. How should we ask to be repaid, except with a promise, now that we know better, to do better? What do I have to gain by creating unreasonable expectations, or by holding my husband to things he said before his diagnosis? Old hurts can be difficult to release, but when we learn to let go, we can find great peace, stability, and happiness in our relationships. Even when things go wrong.
For some, declaring financial bankruptcy can be the best first step toward a strong financial future. In the same way, for some couples, a declaration of relationship bankruptcy can be the best way forward following an ADHD diagnosis. All you need is two people willing to own their flaws and keep doing the best they can with what they have.
When have you struggled to let go of an ADHD partner’s misdeeds? How has letting go helped (or hurt)?