Betty W. Phillips, Ph.D., Psychology
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Marriage Counseling, Coaching and ADD



Marriage Counseling, Coaching and ADD


Let's face it: marriage is wonderful and perilous, and too many marriages end up shipwrecked on the shoals of the painful differences that attracted during courtship. It is true that ADD marriages encounter more difficulties than non-ADD marriages and end up with higher divorce rates.  Counseling and coaching professionals are available to help guide these marriages toward partnership instead of war. As in the case of most marriages, I advise the couple to take advantage of assistance earlier rather than later; late is often too late.


Differences attract. You may date someone who is creative, enthusiastic, spontaneous, thinks outside the box, is fun-loving and inspires love. If you're the person I just described, you may be attracted to someone who is stable, dependable, admiring and a good listener. In short, the match seems perfect. Yes? No! I've written before about the wonderful, romantic honeymoon days and then the shock when reality sets in.  Let's not blame the person with the ADD brain style for the higher failure rates of these marriages.  Personality differences attract, but later the couple must settle down and work out their partnership agreements by adjusting to these opposites. Over time, fun-loving and adventuresome may appear flighty and irresponsible, while levelheaded and organized may appear rigid and controlling.


If you're still in the dating stage, take a hard look at these differences and consider premarital counseling before tying the knot. While you may delight in the spontaneity of your ADD lover, don't be blinded to the challenges of distractibility, fluctuating attention and inconsistent organization. Ideally the individual with the ADD brain style will have worked with an ADD coach or with self-help resources in order to learn to cope with these behaviors outside of the couple relationship. The premarital counseling will help you integrate these management techniques into the marriage partnership before the ADD/non-ADD differences hit the fan.


Consider whether your marriage has deteriorated into a war zone between two different personality types: one partner appearing to be unstable, irresponsible, distractible, engaging in too many impulsive, risk-taking behaviors, making the same mistakes over and over, while the other partner appears controlling and dominating, obsessive, judgmental and demeaning.  Some of these marriages unfortunately become even more polarized with one partner being declared the good spouse, perhaps taking a parental role, and the other one the bad child role.  Consider these personality differences as red-flags signaling a need for professional intervention and consideration as to whether ADD is one of the culprits. From occasional skirmishes to pitched battles to armed camps, these differences may lead to a destructive marriage and or eventually to divorce court.


It's possible that your spouse has undiagnosed ADD. The first step then would be to seek a comprehensive understanding of ADD, complete a diagnostic evaluation if warranted, then develop and implement a treatment plan.  Because there are many types and varieties of ADD, one or even both marriage partners may have undiagnosed ADD. You may have been diagnosed as a child but mistakenly told you would grow out of it.  You may live in a structured environment or have your schedule organized by a secretary in such a way that you may not be aware of ADD tendencies until you have to cope with an unstructured or disorganized environment. The first and second articles in this series will assist with these diagnostic questions.  Another complicating factor is that ADD is inherited, and your children may also need to be screened, diagnosed and treated for ADD.


I'll explain briefly how ADD becomes such a marriage wrecker.  Chronic but inconsistent forgetfulness (paying bills, finding keys, picking up clothes, completing chores, remembering birthdays) seems to signal lack of love and attention to the partner.  Disorganization in routines and scheduling may disrupt the household and possibly even threaten job loss. Difficulties in communication, speaking impulsively, blurting out comments and mind wandering all cause frustration, resentment and anger in the partner. ADD differences affect all parts of a relationship, and I mean all. Even fun, pleasure and intimacy can and will be interrupted when the ADD brain style takes over. As I explained earlier, a hallmark of the ADD brain style is that these difficulties appear and disappear inconsistently. You can see, then, how these differences become attributed to laziness, character problems or not caring about the marriage. The spousal relationship then becomes a blame game between the warring partners.


What to do? The first and most important step is awareness and understanding of the problem and then each spouse accepting responsibility for his or her role in the partnership problems. 


What can the ADD partner do? Medication is helpful but not enough. Without responsibility, in fact, the medication "cure" often turns into a nagging battle about taking the pills. The ADD individual must take responsibility for developing more functional behaviors using some of the strategies outlined in the last two articles. Individuals with ADD cannot expect to stay married if they careen through life leaving a wake of missed deadlines, unfinished chores, half-baked excuses and innumerable apologies. You can expect to slip up occasionally with apologies in order at that time, but new coping strategies must be developed and practiced as consistently as possible.


At the same time the non-ADD spouse must be wary of developing a parental, critical personality as described above. It's too easy to nag, criticize, and then in exasperation take over the chores while anger and frustration build. This spouse must understand ADD thoroughly, not to become the home coach, but to develop an ongoing acceptance of the continued challenges of the ADD brain style. Love, patience and forgiveness are virtues in a supportive relationship rather than an authoritarian mother or father figure.


In addition to these individual role responsibilities, the couple will need to develop a productive partnership style. The inevitable differences must be recognized and conquered. I've written about many strategies to develop a productive marriage relationship. Date nights will provide needed investments in the love bank. Anger explosions and nasty arguments need to be avoided. Couple "business" meetings can provide needed structure and organization with agreed-upon chore lists and schedules.


Additional assistance may be needed even when one or both partners are adequately diagnosed and treatment plans are developed. Sections of several self-help books address marriage issues including intimacy problems related to ADD: Lynn Weiss, Attention Deficit Disorder In Adults, fourth edition, Taylor Publishing, 2005 (Chapter 8, pp 185-217); and Stephanie Sarkis, 10 Simple Solutions to Adult ADD, New Harbinger, 2005 (Chapter 10, pp 11-129.) In many cases therapeutic ADD coaching and marital therapy are necessary investments. If the ADD individual already has a working ADD plan, the marital therapist can be the only professional working with the couple. Be sure to engage a marital therapist with a background in ADD diagnosis and coaching, as the ADD plan must be a crucial and integral part of the marital counseling approach. If the ADD is newly diagnosed, the extent of the work needed may necessitate two professionals working in tandem, the ADD therapeutic coach and the marital therapist experienced in ADD issues. Because ADD can cause major differences between the spouses, the ADD plan must be a centerpiece of the marital counseling approach. Just remember why you were attracted to your spouse, and remember why you love your spouse deeply, and then realize that your marriage is too important to let ADD conquer and ruin your relationship.


Humor helps too! Now it's time for my monthly joke.  One of my clients said, "Doctor, you gave me great advice. The road to true inner peace is to finish what I start. So far I've finished two bags of chips and I feel better already!"