The ADHD Homestead

Building a good life with ADHD.

Tag: social cues

Boundaries in the ADHD home

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?

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Use a signal for bad ADHD behavior…and don’t forget to laugh.

Sometimes — maybe even most times — we don’t realize we’re making a scene until it’s too late.

Many ADHD adults are plagued by emotional reactivity, impulsive outbursts, and overreactions. Dr. Michele Novotni, author of What does everybody else know that I don’t?: Social skills help for adults with ADHD, describes this behavior as “ready, fire, aim.” We progress so quickly from stimulus to response, we don’t understand the meaning of the phrase think before you speak.

This is a source of anger and embarrassment for our long-suffering spouses, especially in group social settings.

Angry outbursts at home leave our partners feeling hurt and confused. Paradoxically, these outbursts often lead to periods of calm, and we may not understand why our spouse is still hurting. “Your angry thoughts are like a flash flood,” writes Novotni, “rushing through gullies and then quickly drying up again.”

Granted, overreactions can be funny. I’ll never live down the time I placed my hands over my ears and wailed “I’m so confused!” in the middle of a discussion at the office. They can also propel a situation from mundane to catastrophic in a split second.

These moments don’t need to be a runaway train. You can install an emergency brake: a signal that communicates hey, you’re doing it again instantly and wordlessly.

Words can put an already volatile ADHD’er on the defensive, especially if you’re tempted to say exactly what you’re thinking. Look for a discreet hand sign or gesture. Make sure it’s something you both feel okay about and, ideally, will smirk at even if you’re angry. “Instead of criticism and belittlement, try humor,” suggests Gina Pera in Is It You, Me, or Adult A.D.D.?

Our outburst signal was born years ago, at the dinner table. I don’t remember what provoked me. Maybe I’d had a long day at work. Maybe the salt shaker fell over. It doesn’t matter. What matters is I pounded my fist on the table so hard, several months’ worth of crumbs ejected from the crack where the leaves join together.

A tense silence stretched between us as we stared at the line of food bits bisecting the otherwise smooth surface.

Then we laughed until our sides hurt.

Now, when my husband sees me start to tumble into meltdown mode, he makes a tabletop with one hand, looks me in the eye, and lowers his other fist onto it.

Signs are objective, general, and can remind us of a funny moment — even if it’s a dark comedy.

Have you and your partner tried signals to help derail bad behavior? How do you send a message without making things worse?

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“You’re doing it again.” Developing a signal for problem ADHD behavior.

natalie portman ear pull gif

Our outburst signal was born at the dinner table. Maybe my husband made light of a frustrating situation. Maybe I’d had a long day at work. Maybe the salt shaker fell over. It doesn’t matter. What matters is I pounded my fist on the table so hard, several months’ worth of crumbs ejected from the crack where the leaves join together.

A tense silence stretched between us as we both stared at that line of food bits bisecting the otherwise smooth surface.

Then we laughed.

We laughed until our sides hurt. Most importantly, we laughed until our tension and frustration were all but forgotten.

ADHD overreactions can be funny, but they can also escalate a situation from mundane to catastrophic in a split second.

In the moment, words can put an already volatile ADHD’er on the defensive — especially if you’re tempted to say exactly what you’re thinking (e.g., your spouse is acting like a toddler).

“Instead of criticism and belittlement,” suggests Gina Pera, award-winning author of Is It You, Me, or Adult A.D.D.?“try humor.”

If you or a family member struggle frequently with overreactions and sudden outbursts, create a sign. Make sure it’s something you both feel okay about and, ideally, will smirk at even if you’re angry.

Ever since that night at the dinner table, my husband has a signal to let me know I’m overreacting. He looks me in the eye and pointedly lowers his fist onto the palm of his other hand.

Signs help break the moment, make you laugh (or at least crack a smile), and inform you in a non-confrontational way that you’re doing it again. Signs are objective, not situation-specific, and can remind us of a funny moment — even if it’s a dark comedy.

Communication — especially reading moods and social cues — is often a major struggle for adults with ADHD. What coping strategies have you and your partner implemented? Which ones have been successful, and which have flopped? Why do you think that is?

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