Five Things You Didn’t Know Were ADHD – Part 5: We Make Our Partners Sick

Ok, it’s been a while and for good reason. I have mixed feelings about writing this particular blog. It’s uncomfortable for me, personally, but hopefully it serves a greater good.


5. We Make Our Partners and Spouses Sick.


Literally. And not the new version of “literally” that actually means “figuratively.” The original “literally.”

We might think of ourselves as a complete mess, screw-ups, or think we’re actually pretty chill. Maybe we feel that our “we’ll get there when we get there” vibe is really laid back and cool. Or maybe we just hate ourselves. Whatever. Other people hate it, for sure.

They hate the lateness, the forgotten conversations, the unreliability, the over-spending, the unnecessary arguments.

They hate second guessing themselves, second guessing you, and the perpetual feeling of waiting for the next disaster.

Don’t get me wrong, you and I are still incredibly lovable. Especially me. But being with us comes at a cost and that cost is stress. We often stress ourselves out, too. But its nothing compared to the tax we put on to the people that loves us.

It feels like the science of stress still has more discoveries to make, but we do know that there are a host of conditions that occur more frequently in stressed out people. From obesity, to memory impairment (how many spouses feel they caught their partner’s ADHD?), to full-blown autoimmune disorders like fibromyalgia and lupus, inflammatory bowel disease, and even skin conditions like psoriasis and eczema.

Stress will kill you. And your loved ones, too, apparently.

It’s at this point I want to include an excerpt from Gina Pera’s book, “Is It You, Me, or Adult A.D.D.?” Her book came after a survey of couples with at least one ADHD partner. I highly recommend the book for all couples experiencing problems whether consciously due to their ADHD or not, but I include this passage specifically just to provide the scope of the problem:

We all have a physical “weak link” that gives way under prolonged stress. Sixty percent of ADHD Partner Survey respondents said that their physical health had worsened due to their partner’s behavior. Of those reporting poor health effects, here’s how it breaks down:

• Digestive-tract problems—Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome, ulcer, and similar (25 percent)
• Migraines or tension headaches (36 percent) Sleep loss, mostly related to ADHD partners’ erratic or noisy sleep habits, sleep apnea, or restless legs syndrome (49 percent)
• Chronic fatigue syndrome or fibromyalgia (19 percent)

Moreover, of those who reported adverse health consequences and are now separated or divorced from their ADHD partner, half reported their condition as much improved or in complete recovery.

All this isn’t to say that you’re a terrible person, or that any health issues your partner has are definitely, absolutely, and completely your fault. But it’s likely – at a minimum – that you’re not helping.

Solving this problem isn’t a fast one. The negative health consequences take time to develop and so also take time to heal. But the changes you need to make in order to reduce the emotional burden of your partner are often small. Here are some things you can try:

• If you’re not medicated, re-consider that choice. The biggest improvement you will see in your relationship and your partner’s health will come with you seeking help first.

• My wife and I have some topics we will forever fight about. So we just stopped talking about them. We don’t stop talking to each other completely, just made a conscious agreement to leave certain topics alone.

• Know yourself. If you know that you get easily overwhelmed by sensory things (loud TV, too many people, etc.) manage your own state and remove yourself from those situations before you get overloaded and turn into a dick.

• Have a mindset that involves taking responsibility for everything that happens in your life – or at least around your home. This is tougher to implement but costs us nothing. We often get a reputation for being defensive. We can have an excuse (“Hey! That’s a legitimate REASON, not an excuse!” Sure.) for everything. Just knock it off. If you’re late getting somewhere, it wasn’t the fault of traffic. It was your fault. Apologize and leave more time next time. If the living room is a mess – even if it’s not your stuff – picking up is now your responsibility. You can see it there so there’s nothing stopping you from just picking it up.

This is not to say that you now have to do everything around the house. I have a long Todo list that will never be cleared before I die. I can’t beat myself up for not finishing everything I want to do, because there are a million things I want to do. Likewise, you can’t turn to self-loathing because there’s a basket of unfolded laundry in your living room.

HOWEVER, if you find yourself reaching for an answer as to why you didn’t do something. If your partner is frustrated you didn’t do something or that you don’t remember having a conversation about doing something. If there’s about to be an argument about the basket of unfolded laundry in the middle of the living room… stop. It’s your fault. Even If that conversation really didn’t happen, you can still see the laundry, you can see it needs to be folded, so take responsibility. Even if that responsibility just involves saying “Sorry, I really needed to take a break and play Merge Dragons for half an hour. I’ll do it now.” You’re not passing on the responsibility. You’re owning it. Own everything.

Ok, that was much too long to be a single bullet point.

Give your partner time off. Make sure, if they’re not relaxing a couple of times a week, that you’re encouraging them to do so. And making them feel secure in doing so.

Reduce your own stress. Whether it’s better planning and organization, or taking up a sport or meditation. Do things to reduce your own stress and it will reduce the stress in your household.