Marriage’s Underwater Mines: ADD

by | May 29, 2012

In some marriages, a dark cloud hangs over the home, going by many different names: bills unpaid, appointments missed, chores ignored or unfinished, kids not picked up, calls not made—maybe poor job performance to boot.

Many of these things happen as a normal occurrence from time to time, and the marriage does not always suffer. Given the daily logistics and shared responsibilities of most marriages—often combined with both partners working full-time jobs these days—those endless domestic tasks can test any person\’s follow-through skills. And a busy period can sometimes stress one partner more than the other. Normally, however, mutual understanding and caring can forgive the occasional screw-up. That\’s why the words read “for better or worse.”

But what happens when one partner is continually guilty of many or all of these problems, and there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel? When a partner has every intention of following through, but it never seems to happen? When the other partner\’s emotional suffering has become intolerable?

If the behavior is chronic, the problem partner could be suffering from undiagnosed ADD. A disorder of the young, most people think. But a growing body of research says that for many—estimates range up to 4 or 5 percent of the population—it lingers through life, even when the hyperactivity (ADHD) component diminishes. If ADD is a factor, and one partner is not holding up his or her end, the stress can undermine the marriage.

Is it treatable? The good news is that ADD is one of the most treatable disorders. It can benefit significantly from a mix of evaluation, counseling, and, in some cases, drugs. If you have reached a point where you need help to keep your marriage afloat, consider contacting our Orange County Relationship Counseling center, which offers expertise and referrals in the following areas:

  • ADD is not a character flaw. Studies have shown that people with ADD have lower activity in parts of the brain that control attention, sustained focus, and follow-through. Couples counseling and individual therapy—for one or both—can help partners get over the blame game. And the blame is not just in one direction. ADD sufferers can blame the partner for not being patient enough. As with most couples counseling, shared responsibility, not mutual blame, is crucial to a good outcome. Information, understanding, and reshaping of attitudes are key ingredients in this phase of treatment.
  • The ADD partner can sometimes seem like a dependent child, unable to meet adult obligations. To compensate and survive, the non-ADD partner then either takes over tasks or becomes a taskmaster. This type of relationship does not promote consistent intimacy and can foster resentment and disconnection. Testing and the correct counseling strategy can help the ADD partner meet responsibilities, recover strengths, realize potential, and once again become an equal partner. Individual cognitive and behavioral therapy can address self-esteem issues. Relaxation techniques and stress reduction practices can reduce anxiety. Coaching can make a significant difference in following through in the home or improving job performance. I can\’t overemphasize this part enough: equal strength in a relationship is one of a marriage\’s best cornerstones.
  • Depression and anxiety are often associated with ADHD, and can happen to either or both partners. The ADD partner feels anxious when confronted with too many tasks and can become depressed when failure becomes constant. The non-ADHD partner can take on too much of a home\’s responsibilities, and feel stuck in the relationship with no options, which can also lead to depression. Depression counseling can separate the ADD component from these emotional responses and bring clarity into the emotional life of both partners. It can then treat the emotional symptoms more effectively over time.
  • ADD\’s positives are often overlooked. Understanding them can lead to significant improvements in the ADD partner\’s life and in the marriage. Understand first that focus problems and intelligence are not correlated. ADD sufferers are often intelligent and creative. And they can be highly selective in their focus, able to do great amounts of high-quality work when their interest is high—and perform poorly when interest is low. Problems tend to crop up when they can\’t find or settle on an absorbing passion in life, whether in their career or avocation. The feeling of being out of place or unfulfilled or of not fitting into a conventional lifestyle can result in anxiety, depression, constant irritation, and failed relationships. Even an avocation, such as off-hours music or sports, can focus the ADD partner\’s life. The passion becomes an outlet for their mind and talents and can provide the consistent motivation needed to keep their day job and marriage running acceptably well.
  • Since ADHD is a neurological disorder, drugs can help in certain cases. I am cautious in this area, and it\’s my experience that the counselor and partners should work together to determine if this is the right treatment for your case.

Orange County couples and marriage counseling approaches range from talking therapy for the ADD partner to couples counseling to family education to cognitive-behavioral approaches that prepare the ADD partner for more effective task management and follow-through.

Think about it. You\’ve been perplexed, irritated, depressed, and distant from your partner—and vice versa. With counseling, you can clarify the issues and reconnect with your partner. The benefits of that process are huge!

Nancy Travers is an Orange County Counseling professional.  If you need safe, effective counseling services, please get in touch.  You can reach her here:



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