Boundaries in our home are simple — they may even seem trivial — but they’re mighty. They’re the key to domestic peace (or ceasefire, if that’s where you are on your journey). ADHD adults living under the same roof need to learn, create, and respect boundaries.
The ADHD interruption paradox
We ADHD’ers struggle with interruptions. Interrupting shows up multiple times in the diagnostic criteria for ADHD. Ironically, many of us can’t tolerate interruptions to our own work or train of thought. I get cranky when I fear I’ll lose my place or forget what I was doing. My husband experiences intense task inertia, making interruptions especially uncomfortable because they intrude on his hyperfocus. While ADHD’ers dish out interruptions like it’s our full-time job, we might respond with a temper tantrum.
Thanks to our limited grasp on social cues, we don’t always know when interruptions are acceptable, either. My favorite solution: spell it out. What seems obvious to you may not make any sense to me.
When my husband lamented, “I never know when it’s okay to interrupt your reading!” I gave him a basic ground rule: magazines are always interruptable. Books are not.
I tend to say whatever pops into my mind. My husband can’t stand when I start talking every two minutes because it prevents him from getting anything done. Once he’s distracted, it takes him a while to settle back down to the task. Interruptions feel costly to him but negligible to me because I interrupt myself all the time. I didn’t know it stressed him out until he said so.
Being mindful of meds
Knowing when our meds are effective is one of the most important boundaries — and the toughest lesson — we’ve learned. In a high-stakes conversation, unmedicated me is extreme, volatile, passionate, and uncompromising. I’ll fixate on an issue and fight for it tooth and nail, yet lose track of why I felt so strongly once the moment has passed. I’ll yell and cry and make ultimatums. Medicated me has read several books about communication skills. I repeat what others have said to make sure I understand. I make the conversation about solutions, not problems. I entertain the possibility of compromise. Clearly, some conversations should be off-limits when one or both of us is unmedicated.
Deferring a conversation for meds can feel uncomfortable. For one, it’s hard to defer anything without the help of stimulant medication. We also exist in a culture that cracks jokes about people being “off their meds” and creates stigma around psychiatric disorders. Saying, “we should discuss this when we both have the benefit of our medication” can make us feel weak and incapable.
To that I say, imagine you’re lactose intolerant. Does it give you more self-confidence to eat ice cream whenever you want? Or does it make sense to wait until after you’ve taken some Lactaid?
ADHD meds don’t just keep you from getting fired. They also help you build a strong marriage. I’ve learned it the hard way, we need to use them accordingly.
Spelling it out
No matter what the boundaries are, they need to be explicit. People with ADHD don’t get subtlety. We tend to freak out a little when we’re expected to read between the lines. Even if something feels like a “duh,” it may not be on the other person’s radar. Successful relationships require an abundance of clarity — and then a little more on top of that.
What are some boundaries you and your partner have created over the years? How does your home life change when you respect these boundaries?