Reader Fed Up writes,
I have been married for 20 years and had on-going issues with my husband that are, to me, related to our roles and responsibilities. It has affected our sex life for a long time because I feel stressed, resentful and overwhelmed a lot. My low libido and lack of desire, according to my husband, are the reasons for our troubled marriage. He doesn’t believe that I love him and has accused me of cheating many times, even though I never have.
I have always worked full time, and put myself through school to obtain my master’s degree. I like my job, but would have worked part time at any point to have more time for my two kids. (Some time for myself would be nice too.) I have never been able to work part-time because we can’t afford for me to do so. My husband has been through many jobs, and had his own business for a decade, which didn’t make much money. In fact it cost us money quite often. But I have tried to be supportive and encouraged him to pursue his passions.
In addition to working full-time, I have had the bulk of the domestic responsibilities too. He will do bigger projects that I really can’t do (he’s physically strong and quite handy), but often those projects take forever or are left incomplete. Yard work, housework, paying bills, cooking, groceries, child care and household routines have all fallen to me most of the time.
I ask for help, thank him when he does help, don’t complain about how anything is done, make lists to help him remember, ask what he would like to do, etc but nothing sticks. He either doesn’t see what needs to be done, has a reason why he can’t help, or is distracted so he forgets or ignores me. I end up nagging or doing it all and feeling angry. In spite of this and what he thinks, I still love him, still find him attractive, want our marriage to survive and I want us both to be happy.
My husband was diagnosed with ADHD 15 years ago, during treatment for a serious bout of depression (he was suicidal, hospitalized and received ECT). He has not been to counselling since but we both saw his psychiatrist during that time.
We haven’t had counseling as a couple even though I have asked many times. I have been a few times for myself and feel I have looked at my part in our dynamic closely. I have a helping personality, want to please others and tend to take on too much – then I get frustrated when it is not reciprocated.
I also understand that much of his inattentive, distracted and impulsive behavior (which was perceived as carefree and spontaneous at first) is related to his ADHD as he doesn’t take his medication regularly. When he does take it, we fight less and he is much more attentive and focused. But it doesn’t last because he forgets to renew his prescription, or says it doesn’t make a difference because I still don’t desire him like I did when we were first together. (Yes, I have told him about monotogamy.)
We have had good times over the past 20 years and have two amazing kids who need both of us. I am worried about what we are teaching them about how respectful relationships work. I can’t get him to see that I don’t want to be in control of him, I just want him to be my partner in all aspects of our lives. The good, the bad and the mundane. I don’t want to be a martyr, or a care-taker any more. I am exhausted. If he won’t go to counseling and won’t manage his ADHD, am I just prolonging a doomed relationship by trying so hard?
Dear FU (thought the moniker initials I gave you could help you vent some of your anger at your husband),
First of all, your situation and feelings are very common in spouses of individuals with ADHD. You are not alone (my husband has ADHD too actually, though not this severe), and I highly recommend The ADHD Effect on Marriage: Understand and Rebuild Your Relationship in Six Steps to help you see that your feelings are shared by many others. The upshot of this book is that it is really important for the ADHD partner to own his part in the problem and take medications as necessary. Couples counseling is also essential for dealing with this, and here is something I wrote on how to convince your partner to go to couples counseling.
The number one thing that makes a difference with ADHD is medication, as you said yourself. But if he won’t take the meds, his behavior is fairly normal for ADHD, unfortunately for you and all spouses of individuals with ADHD. Forgetting tasks, procrastinating, defensiveness, and blame are all par for the course with untreated ADHD. But you know this better than I do, so it’s really time that we concentrate on you and how you can remain in this marriage without being consumed by bitterness, resentment, and anger.
There are some ways I can think of to ease your burden with household responsibilities. I am sure from what you’ve said that you tend to save money for your kids and just for your own piece of mind. I would prioritize your mental health and hire some household help with that money. Even if it’s a bimonthly cleaning and yard service.
If your kids would rather you spend this money on them and their activities, then the housework and yard work can fall to them as chores. I hereby command you not to ever again do 100% of the housework in an entire week. That is just ridiculous and unfair. You work full time, so you definitely need help with these things, and your husband cannot be relied upon.
I know you and other readers may think this sounds absurd, but honestly, how is it different than where you’re at now? Without counseling or an epiphany of some sort, your husband has about zero chance of doing any house or yard work in a timely fashion, at least without you nagging him.
So it’s really this choice: do you want to have him do nothing and fight about it, or do you want to have him do nothing and accept it and not fight about it? Also in this latter case, you actually get stuff done, because you hire people to do it. I think it’s a no brainer. What it’s really called is acceptance, and I’ll get to more about that in a bit.
I would recommend that you seek individual intensive counseling to address your tendency to take on too much and then be angry when it’s not reciprocated. When did this same pattern crop up in your childhood? Why does it feel familiar to you to give and give and get nothing in return? Was there a parent or sibling with whom you had this same dynamic, where you gave them whatever they needed and got very little back, and were always disappointed? I would imagine this is the case, or else you would not have stayed in this marriage for 20 years.
The idea behind imago therapy (read Getting the Love You Want: A Guide for Couples for more on this) is that you are attracted to a partner because, unconsciously, they have both the positive and negative traits of one of your caregivers. At first (and this is particularly true for ADHD partners because of their wonderful courtship phase when they are hyperfocused on you) you only see the positive traits, but subconsciously, you’re seeing the negative ones too, and that’s what hooks you in and makes you feel “in love.” Then, your fantasy is to change this person into the caregiver you always wanted and never got.
In your case, I would assume you had a caregiver that could be charming, loving, and carefree but also could be self centered, unreliable, and irresponsible. The fantasy as a child would be to have a more reliable and emotionally present caregiver, but a child cannot change their parent in this way.
So you grew up and were attracted to a man that embodied all of these traits, the good and the bad, and then made it your life’s work to make him more reliable, responsible, and giving. There are multiple problems with this. First of all, it doesn’t work, as you have experienced. Second of all, your husband is always feeling (correctly!) that you want to change him and that you don’t love him as he is. So he becomes even more recalcitrant and digs in his heels even more, not wanting to lose his dignity by changing for a woman that doesn’t even seem to accept and love him in the first place.
Moreover, I believe it is highly possible that you witnessed this caregiver/martyr/enabler and irresponsible spouse dynamic in your own home growing up. Was one parent always making excuses for the other, enabling them to be irresponsible and not do their share of the work around the home and family?
It is essential to explore why this martyr role is familiar to you, going back before you even met your husband. This is tough work, because in your situation, I am sure all friends and family see your husband’s behavior as pretty horrible, and all empathize with you for doing everything yourself.
So you’ll have to take a step back and reflect on what about you makes you drawn to this dynamic, and what you need to work on personally (giving too much is one thing that you said; what about also liking to be “the good one”? Did you experience this dynamic ever, possibly with a sibling? Were you the oldest or the most responsible?)
After all of this reading, introspection, and therapy, what else can lead you out of this conundrum? If your husband refuses to go to couples work, you can do the following. First, accept that he is who he is (the outsourcing of the house and yard stuff is part and parcel of this idea).
Next, love him in the way he needs to be loved. You say you love him now, but he says he doesn’t feel it. If he’s complaining about the sex, then likely his love language is physical touch, and there are ways for you to work on strengthening your libido so you may be able to be more present and enthusiastic in bed.
Also, make a conscious decision to be happy. Look, you could be a single mom and have to do all the same housework you are doing now, without the small help of whatever money he does make and whatever effort he does put in around the house. And if you were in that position, would you definitely say, “Oh yes, I should certainly be unhappy and feel martyred”? No, you would try to look on the bright side, and you would accept what you had to do and do it. So don’t let his presence in your life make you unhappy.
I know this is hard to do, but you must take ownership for your own actions and happiness. Nobody can make you feel unhappy in the long run. Sure, people can offend and hurt you a few times, but after that, you are choosing to remain in the situation and therefore you ought to try and make the best of it. (More on if this is impossible in a bit.)
Do NOT do these things, any of them, with the secret hope that he is going to change in response to you changing. Yes, this would be nice, but it cannot be your goal, because then everything you do will be done from a disingenuous tit-for-tat emotional place, and not out of genuine love and the desire to make the marriage work. He will sense it, and he will be suspicious, rightly so. You have to unconditionally love and accept him, and see if this changes your outlook. It may.
Your next step is to communicate to him everything I am advising you to do. Openly tell him,
“Look, I really wish we could go to marriage counseling, but I’m working on accepting that you don’t want to go. So instead, I am working on being more accepting, loving, and present in this marriage. That is why I am hiring some people to help with housework; not to be passive aggressive and hope that you’ll be spurred into doing stuff if you see them here (note: make sure this is true!) but because I have realized that nagging you to do stuff and being angry when you don’t isn’t who I want to be or the dynamic I want to be in. I am also going to try to love you the way that you need, like in bed, because I have realized I may not be walking the walk when I want you to do stuff that makes me feel loved but then I don’t do stuff that makes you feel loved, like being into sex with you. Hopefully, the changes I make will have a positive effect on us and I will feel less overwhelmed, less angry, and more loving, and you will too.”
Now let’s say you do everything I say for a good length of time, like six months, and he still acts rude, forgetful, blaming, and so forth. You have accepted that he is who he is, you love it, you’re having sex, you’re in counseling, and the whole nine yards. And you’re still unhappy, angry, resentful, and secretly wanting him to change and being mad when he doesn’t. Well, then it is time to answer this question: Can you ever feel truly whole, happy, loved, and loving in this partnership? If not, you will have some tough decisions to make about whether to stay. But you will know that you did your best, and your best involved listening to me, the best advice giver on the internet.
Good luck and I hope you notice that I gave you a really thoughtful and detailed answer because I really feel for you and I also sense that you’re a person who has the capacity to introspect and make your situation more tenable and happier (I think it’s pretty classy to point out how awesome my own answer is). I have faith in you and I think you’ll be at a different and better place in a few months. Till we meet again, I remain, Your Devoted Blogapist Who Says, Seriously, Read Up On ADHD.
This post was originally published here on Dr. Psych Mom. Follow Dr. Rodman on Dr. Psych Mom, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest. Order her book, How to Talk to Your Kids about Your Divorce: Healthy, Effective Communication Techniques for Your Changing Family.
This blog is not intended as diagnosis, assessment, or treatment, and should not replace consultation with your medical provider.
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