ADHD Relationship Dysfunction: Wiping the Slate Clean

My Fellow Distractoids,

Let’s say you are in relationship that is unhappy and that’s maybe been unhappy for a long time. You and your significant other know you need to do something major to repair the damage and reset the course, but you don’t know how to break the grip of negative patterns resulting from untreated and under-treated ADHD. When you try to talk, you just wind up in the same old bad place.

Distractoids keep banging their heads against the wall doing the same old thing. But Masters of Distraction know they must do something different: It’s time to Wipe the Slate Clean. To get a brand new start free of negative emotions so that you can begin communicating with more clarity, mutual trust, respect, and of course love. In other words, start communicating and stop miscommunicating.

What are the components of Wiping the Slate Clean?

1. Recognize that until now the root problem in the relationship is a genetic, physiological condition that very likely has been untreated or under-treated.

2. Recognize that you and your partner have very different brains and that you really don’t experience life in the same way. If you are the ADDer, get very clear that your ADD behavior likely has far more impact on your partner than you currently realize and likely has been far more damaging to the relationship than you now know. If you are the non-ADDer, get very clear that it’s not all your partner’s fault and that it is very likely your misperceptions and reactions, though logical-seeming, are also major contributors to the negative spiral.

3. Understand that your brain and your partner’s brain sometimes get their wires crossed, which results in miscommunication, dysfunction, and unhappiness.

4. Get clear that you both are good people and that each of you has been doing their best under the circumstances.

5. Combining points 1-4, let go of anger, resentment, and grievance and make a firm resolution to stop blaming one-another and cease with negative judgments.

6. Get clear that we are all one hundred per cent responsible for our feelings and our happiness. Your partner is not “making” and has not “made” you unhappy. If I am angry, stressed out, or upset, it’s because that is how I am choosing to react to words and actions. Let me say it another way: I am totally responsible for what I say and do and how I feel because those are choices I make. Conversely, what other people think and how they feel are totally outside my control. Let me say it a third way: stop blaming the other person and allowing yourself to act from a victim position. You are not a victim.

7. Forgive your partner for all past actions and forgive yourself for the misconceptions and negative judgments and self-judgments that may have contributed to conflict and mutual upset.

8. Do not attempt to communicate when you are emotionally triggered or holding negative judgments about your partner. Wait until you are feeling good or at the very least neutral.

Note: I have know people who have gone weeks and months choosing not to communicate or barely to communicate because they always felt triggered. These people have come out the other side with their relationships vastly strengthened.

9. Put aside any feelings of hopelessness for the time being and trust that you are truly beginning a new and better chapter in your life. Try to be open and curious about the changes you are making. You might be surprised by what you find.

To repair a broken relationship is maybe one of the most challenging but also most rewarding things you can do in life. If you need support, make sure and get it! A coach who is knowledgeable about ADHD can help.

-Coach Drew

Communication: Seeing Destructive Patterns

My Fellow Distractoids,*

Are you and a loved one living too much (or all) of the time in a negative feedback loop of reactivity and anger? Are you living in a relationship where there is chronic anger and stress?

Today I want to talk about a common pattern found in relationships between ADHD and non-ADHD partners. Call it the ACTION (or NON-ACTION) – REACTION – REACTION – REACTION rut.

MASTERS OF DISTRACTION see the miscommunication likely present in this pattern, and they take steps to end the cycle. DISTRACTOIDS stay in the pattern, digging deeper and deeper ruts.

Let’s break down an example —

  1. Action — I impulsively blurt something insensitive while my spouse is speaking.
  2. Reaction — He/She takes offense and angrily tells me that I am a rude, nasty person.
  3. Reaction — Under attack and ashamed of myself, I shut down and clam up.
  4. Reaction — Feeling unheard, my spouse turns up the volume and yells at me that I amnot only rude but clueless and unapologetic. Maybe she asks me if I am an adult or a 5-year old (and I shut down even more, etc.).

Sound familiar? So what the hell is really going on?

ACTION — Yes, I blurted something out, but that’s part of impulsivity aspect of my ADHD. Sometimes, despite not wanting to, I get excited and talk over people. I didn’t mean to say anything rude; it just came out the wrong way. And I really am sorry. In truth, though I might have had an awkward moment, I am not a rude, nasty person. (Note: this could also be a non-action, like …. Ummmm … failure to take out the trash.)

REACTION — Instead of looking at my blurting for what it is, a symptom of ADHD, my spouse judges me harshly and attributes my ADHD symptom to a negative character trait, i.e. that I am rude and nasty. The judgment, though seemingly logical, is based on misunderstanding my behavior.

REACTION — I want to take back what I said. I want to apologize. But now I physically can’t do that. Why? Suddenly my brain is no longer working. I am super-anxious and at a loss for words. The reason is that I’ve had a shame reaction and my brain has been flooded with fight/flight/freeze neurotransmitters. I can no longer communicate effectively because my thoughts and memory are locked up.

REACTION — My spouse misinterprets my involuntary sudden shut-down and withdrawal as willful avoidance, not caring, maybe even not loving her/him. Again, the reaction looks and seems logical, but is based on the misperception that I still have control of all my faculties when in reality I do not. As I retreat and withdraw in an effort to overwhelmed, emotionally flooded-out system, my spouse more aggressively pursues in order to connect and be heard.

As you can see, the pattern is reactive and self-reinforcing. It’s a pattern of pursuit on the part of the non-ADHD partner and retreat by the ADDer. It very often can take on the characteristics of parent-child type dynamics.

So what do you do?
1. Recognize that you and your partner have very different brains that perceive things and communicate in very different ways.

2. Wipe the slate clean. Know that ADHD-related miscommunication, not character flaws and incompatible personalities, is the culprit here. (I will say more about this in another post.

3. Make a firm resolution to engage and try to communicate when either of you is triggered and upset. This will likely go nowhere.

4. Make a firm resolution to set up a regular time and place to talk when both of you are feeling calm and relatively free of conflict. Make sure these conversations are focused and free of distractions. And that they are a time when both of you can “speak from the heart.”

5. When you talk, do so in a mindful, respectful, non-judgmental fashion. Ask questions that will lead you to a full understanding of what your significant other is going through. (I will have more to say about communication in another post.)

The idea is to replace dysfunctional, damaging, and hurtful communication with effective, respectful, useful communication and to raise the level of empathy and understanding on both sides. It’s a lot easier for two good people to fall into this destructive pattern than it is for them to get out of it. But it will be worth it.

-Coach Drew

*NOTE: I am greatly indebted to the writing of Melissa Orlov for the ideas and information in this post. I highly recommend her books.