When it comes to communicating with loved ones, Distractoids can struggle mightily as they allow deep ruts of dysfunctional behavior to form and persist. Unless there is change, those relationships will either fail or continue indefinitely to be filled with stress, anger, and unhappiness.
Masters of Distraction know positive change is possible, even when things feel hopeless. Why? Because it’s likely that up until now, you and your partner have not really been in control of the relationship: ADHD — more specifically the miscommunication it causes — is the hidden culprit below the radar. MODS know that what’s needed is a fundamental change — a paradigm shift — not just a gradual or superficial evolution.
The downward spiralling pattern of Dysfunctional Communication is like this: Action (or non-Action – Reaction (Negative Judgment) – Reaction (Negative Judgment) – Reaction (Negative Judgment), etc.
The paradigm shift to Useful Communication is something more like: Mutual Issue – Neutral Non-Judgmental Mutual Inquiry/Evaluation – Mutual Agreement (as an experiment). In other words, there is an issue that merits discussion, both partners work towards a full understanding of the others position, and some sort of tentative agreement is struck about how to move forward.
Okay, what are the components of Useful Communication after you’ve Wiped the Slate Clean?
Step One, ADHD Partner: Recognize that in the past, your behavior has been far more stressful to your partner and damaging to the relationship than you realize. You wouldn’t be in this situation if that weren’t the case. If you want a better relationship, you’re likely going to want to step up to the plate in a way you haven’t in the past!
Step One, non-ADHD Partner: Recognize that your partner has a condition that is far more difficult for them to live with than you realize, and that your partner’s ADHD will sometimes cause him or her to make mistakes, no matter hard they try not to. Learn all about ADHD, and see how many ways the condition plays out in your partner’s behavior. If you see their actions in this light it is much easier to be compassionate and to come up with better strategies for behavior modification.If you must blame something, blame the ADHD rather than your partner.
Also recognize that turning up the volume — raising your voice or raising the consequences of ADHD-behaviors — will not work and is in fact counterproductive to what you want. If you attack and/or shame your partner, they will likely become totally defensive, either shutting down and clamming up or fighting back. Know that this is a physiological response that is outside their control.
Understand that your actions — however understandable and logical — have significantly contributed to the overall dysfunction. Yes, living with your ADHD partner has been a freaking nightmare at times, and anybody in their right mind would be angry and upset. But unintentionally, you have likely thrown gas on the fire, and it will behoove you to take responsibility for that.
You might need to grieve the relationship you imagined you would have but now know will be different than planned.
Step Two: Both Partners, set regular appointments for Conscious Communication, making sure that you both are neutral and not going in triggered, angry, and upset. Resolve not to work on issues when triggered, which leads nowhere while reinforcing bad habits.
Conscious Communication — What do I mean by Conscious Communication?
— See the Whole Person: One element is consciously seeing the whole person, especially their virtues. Locked in a reactive negative spiral, partners polarize and devalue one another, recognizing only negative traits. My teachers in Spiritual Psychology talked a lot about “Seeing the Loving Essence.” That means looking into the eyes of your partner and allowing yourself to experience the loving soul that is always present.
— Conscious, Active Listening: Active listening is listening with the whole being. In conversation, especially arguments, most of the time when our partner is talking we are not really listening. Instead, we are formulating what we are going to say next so we can get our point across. If you catch yourself talking and not listening or pre-thinking what you are going to say, remember the acronym WAIT, which stands for “Why Am I Talking?”
— Speak and Receive From the Heart: If your relationship has been deficient in honesty, openness, and intimacy, take the opportunity to bring your communication to a new level of intention and meaning. Soften your heart. Be brave in making yourself vulnerable. And be generous in how you hear your partner. Evaluate rather than judge. Give the benefit of the doubt. Treat your partner the way you want to be treated.
— Be On the Same Team: You will succeed or fail together. You are on the same team. Let your communication reflect that.
— Acknowledgment and Positive Reinforcement: Replace negative judgments and self judgments with acknowledgment of effort, good intentions, and success. ADHDers are often overly sensitive to criticism/rejection and prone to shame. A little positivity can go a long way. Positive recognition of even very small successes builds a foundation of bigger wins in the future.
— Making Agreements: When both parties feel that they have been fully heard and understood on a given issue, make an agreement about how to handle the issue in the future. Make it like an experiment. ADHDers struggle with agreements, which require staying a course over time and shifting circumstances — factors that challenge a combination of executive functions, where ADHDers are weak. So, for ADHDers it is important to be very careful when entering into agreements and strategizing about how agreements will be kept. Non-ADHDers will at times likely require patience, understanding that for the ADHD partner agreements pose much greater difficulties. If an agreement is broken, try and treat it as a learning experience and an occasion to examine what happened. Determine if the agreement needs to be adjusted, rather than casting blame.
Step 3: Let Shift Happen/Taking Responsibility
Okay, first I apologize for the pun. Second, this step is crucial. It’s the crux of all I am saying here. If you want to change your relationship, don’t count on changing your partner. That’s actually outside of your control. Take responsibility and control over how you see your partner and how you see your role in the relationship. Inner shifts in consciousness precede outer change.
Let me give a couple of examples of what I am talking about. Once I had a client who was depressed and sullen and resentful of his wife’s frequent criticism until he got a sense of humor about times when his ADHD symptoms would get the better of him. The lighter way he carried himself made it easier to see how some of his habits were hurting his relationship and to change his behavior. And for his wife to find humor in the situation, too. Another example is a man who came to the understanding that the things he loved the most about his wife — her creativity and magnetic personality — were closely connected to her struggles with organization and homemaking. After the epiphany he was much more accepting and forgiving of what he previously had judged as flaws.
As I said above, the same thinking that got you into the situation will not get you out. There must be a change of perception and belief. Recognizing how past miscommunication has lead to flawed conclusions and destructive behaviors is the first step. Practicing Useful Communication can serve to facilitate a deeper, permanent shift.
Andrew Avery aka Distractoid Drew
Factoid — facts and information relevant to Distractoids
Distractoid — a person living with untreated or undertreated ADHD
Master of Distraction (MOD) — a person who has learned to live in tune with, not against, ADHD