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How do you cope with an ADHD partner?

Updated on March 28, 2016
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Jan T Urquhart Baillie has many sides to her personality, born out of a difficult life, and success due to her optimism and practical skills

My new husband is ADHD

And how!


...recently at a trade show I met up with someone who asked how was married life going.

I replied that it was great, but that Bob drove me insane sometimes as he is ADHD.

She said, "Two of you!"

Attention span of a gnat?

Or hyper-focussed, oblivious to all around?

That describes both of us, at different times.

Bob is undiagnosed, but it is not necessary to have a formal diagnosis. His life could be used as a case study. Or a text book example.

When I suggested the idea to the family doctor, she said that the head doctor from the pain clinic Bob attends had talked to the doctors at the practice about patients with work injuries.

Almost all of them are undiagnosed ADHD adults. Because their attention wanders, they don't concentrate on the job at hand, and injure themselves. Conversely they are so focussed on it that they don't even see danger coming.

And who had a very serious work accident and ended up with screws in his spine?

And who had her hand caught in a circular saw while shooing flies?

What is ADHD?

Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder


attention deficit hyperactivity disorder

A syndrome of disordered behavior, usually diagnosed in childhood, characterized by a persistent pattern of impulsiveness, inattentiveness, and sometimes hyperactivity that interferes with academic, occupational, or social performance. Also called attention deficit disorder.

ADHD, and ADD were both thought to be child related, but evidence is mounting that it persists in many throughout their adult lives.

A complete discussion on this disorder is available on Wikipedia

Attention Deficit is not a LACK of attention

it's the inability to CONTROL attention

He is so distracted by all the things going on around him. His attention wanders (no, it flits) from thing to thing. What then happens is that Bobby doesn't react properly to the world around him.

He can't concentrate on anything long enough to follow what's happening. If I ask him to listen, I have to make sure he is looking right at me, or else I see his eye wandering around, and I have to remind him to listen.

"It's important", I have to say.

As a result we have some quite funny things that go on in our lives.

The good bits

  • absolute dedication to a task
  • enthusiastic
  • lively
  • busy
  • talkative
  • distractable
  • impulsive

The bad bits

  • absolute dedication to a task
  • enthusiastic
  • lively
  • busy
  • talkative
  • distractable
  • impulsive

The good bits = The bad bits

See how far apart the two lists aren't?

It's so true that what's great about ADHD people is also what's the most annoying.

A person who is ADHD is always active, always looking for a challenge. That's because once they climb one ladder, they need another one, because they've finished with that one.

They often are so focussed on the task that they are currently doing, that they don't know the potatos are boiling over. (Done that, many times. I have to put a kitchen timer on to keep getting up to check the dinner!)

This is called hyper-focussing. The world could fall down around the person and he or she would be oblivious to it all.

An anecdote about my ADD

My late husband and I went for a brief holiday, and the neighbours agreed to water the garden. On the first day, the man found a pot near the tap.

Puzzled he asked of his wife, "Why has Jan got lumps of coal in this saucepan?"

She laughed and told him it wasn't coal, it was burnt spuds from where I let them boil dry and they almost caught fire!

He makes people happy everywhere we go

Bobby and I, and my daughter, were standing in line to claim our medical benefits and he was 'doing his thing'. Lots of giggling and tom-foolery was happening.

When Angela went up to the counter, the lady asked. "Did he have jumping beans for lunch?" She replied that he was always like that. The clerk told my daughter that it was refreshing, as most people who came in to their office were so serious.

The owner of the local grocery store always calls, "Hi, you two!" The local shopkeepers all call him by name. He spreads joy to all and sundry.

Most days he hits the ground running


When Bobby wakes up, chaos ensues. He dances while he cleans his teeth, drums on the basin while he's shaving. He stomps on the floor to some inaudible music.

He wrestles with me, does the dishwasher, gets out the medicine, talks, sings, does his breakfast, does the dishwasher...

It's like being in a washing machine. Early in our marriage I would scream, "Stop!"

Now I wait for him to get rid of the excess energy and only say shoosh when I want to hear something on the TV.

Constantly in a state of flux

To and fro, here and there

Bob's life is switching from one activity to another constantly. He can't sit still for very long. I can't tell him long stories about something, he will get distracted by a movement outside, or some other thing.

Having to forever shift gears from one thing to another causes an ADHD person to struggle for focus. The result of that is poor self-esteem.

I once asked Bob who had done such a job on him that his self image was so poor, saying that whoever it was needed to be flogged.

I now understand that his brain did it to him.

I hate shopping and Bob loves it

So he does the fortnightly shopping at the big centre. I have to give him a typed note with explicit descriptions of what we need.

His purchases are often interesting, to say the least.

I have to give him the empty packets, or bottles for things we use every day, so that he won't come home with something different. I am an asthmatic and have other allergies, so the product brands are important.

The last disaster happened when I wanted some of what we call 'red' tea. It is in fact a herbal infusion of raspberry, strawberry and cranberry. I tore the front of the box off and gave it to him, reminding him that it wasn't really called red tea.

"I know, I know. I'm not dumb!"

And he isn't either, he's very intelligent.

That day he came home with the wrong brand of baked beans, different biscuits from what were on the list, other things that were not on the list and that we already had enough of, and red tea.

Not THE red tea he was supposed to buy.

Oh, no! What he brought home was black tea, which I don't drink.

I was so mad at him

He brought home tea that had a large red label (the brand), claiming that it was red tea.

He claimed a lady told him it was red tea!

And what about the label in his pocket?

Since then I have related the story to friends who thought it was so funny,

I've got my sense of humour back about it.

Let's go!

And he means right now!

Obsessive about being on time, we have to get to the station to catch a train at least half an hour before the train. And the train has to get us to our destination at least half an hour before our specialist appointment.

I like to be a little early, in case of traffic or train problems, but sitting in the cold on the station for half an hour is not my idea of fun.

If we are to go out in the afternoon, he starts asking me when I'll be ready to go from the time he gets up out of bed.

I found a way to deal with that, too.

I tell him what time he can start to hurry me. I won't get ready any earlier. He can handle that, but I need to be up and ready at the agreed time or he gets very 'toe-y'.

We are about to go on a caravan holiday. We arranged it about six weeks ago, and he started on the 'what we need to do for the trip' stuff straight away.

I told him that I wouldn't pay any attention until it was only a week to go. Otherwise he would send me to the funny farm by the time the holiday arrived.

He was so good, but now it's: do we have batteries for the torch, when are we getting the shopping, and so on.

Because he did as I asked, I'm getting the batteries, and the camera, and whatever, as soon as he asks.

Bob drives me to distraction

But I could not imagine life without him

He never sits quietly in the armchair to watch TV, he drums on the arm, he repeats what the ads say, he editorialises the news, and he almost always talks right at the crucial moment of a movie.

He interrupts when he 'needs' to tell me something, even if I'm on the phone.

He can't wait until I'm finished whatever I'm doing because he'll forget what it is he wants to say.

Short term memory is another key trait of ADHD.

When Bob is being especially exasperatiing, I sometimes ask, "How old are you?" "Thix", he'll say in a little boy voice.

"I've brought up my kids, I want a husband, not a kid."

Bobby just laughs.

Did you know?

Many of the world's greatest

inventors, scientists,

artists, actors, comics,

are/were ADHD?

Einstein, van Gogh,

Jim Carrey, Robin Williams, Galileo,

Thomas Edison, Mozart

are just a few

of the names on the list.

Highly creative, inventive and

exciting people.

But would you be able to

live with

any one of them?

Impulsiveness reigns supreme in Bob's life

He was watching a band one day and enjoyed the saxophone playing. He decided to buy a sax.

He saw a kid's scooter from the 50s and decided that he'd take up restoring them, bought two and a pedal car, even though he lived in the tiniest flat at the time.

We can be driving along and he'll see something in the street and say that he's going to buy one of [whatevers].

Another strange thing he does from time to time is, if he sees something he wants to look at, he'll stop the car in the middle of the road and have a look!

Of course I yell, "Bob! You're in the middle of the road! Pull over if you want to have a look."

"There's no-one behind me", is his usual retort. Big deal.

Going visiting

Sometimes good, sometimes not

Often when we go to friends' houses, or to my sister's, when Bob has had enough and is bored, he stands up.

He's ready to go home. Finished with the visit now.

He doesn't say anything, just sort of inches closer to the door. I used to get cross, and stay longer, just because I won't be controlled.

Now that I know that it just means his span of attention is up, I say something about needing to get going and we leave. Nobody's upset, no tension between us, and it works.

He is really patient and will wait around if I'm not ready, but if I see that nothing is holding his interest, I make a move to go.

I tell him:

Be in the moment.

Stop trying to be in the

next moment

How do I cope?

Depends on the mood I'm in!

In the beginning I didn't think I could live with him. He's so full on.

People have always said that about me, but I learned when it was OK and when it was not. He never has.

I had a choice. Live with him and learn to cope. Or tell him to go.

He is my love. So I had to find mechanisms to cope.

One day when I was berating him, he asked me to give him three reasons why I loved him. My reply was that there were many more than three.

I told him that the things I hate about him most are also the things I love about him most.

A nightmare? I hear you say

Not so.

This marriage could have been over before it got started if I had let it become a nightmare. I prayed for peace in my heart, and my prayers were answered.

After I had realised that the very things that I was whinging about, were also the best things about Bobby, I had a whole new attitude towards our life together.

Of course I love him to bits so taking on a new perspective about his ADHD was easy.

It made all the difference.

Funny, romantic, caring, loyal, and handsome too

Bobby is all those things and so much more.

Working around the ADHD lets us have a full and rich life.

He claims that he keeps me young having to cope with his antics.

Who knows? Perhaps he's right.

You Mean I'm Not Lazy, Stupid or Crazy?!: A Self-help Book for Adults with Attention Deficit Disorder
You Mean I'm Not Lazy, Stupid or Crazy?!: A Self-help Book for Adults with Attention Deficit Disorder
I had this book given to me and wow! Opened my eyes completely. ADHD is good. When it's managed.

© 2016 Jan T Urquhart Baillie


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