Saturday, June 2, 2012

Helping Your ADHD Spouse (and a To Do List suggestion)

These are REAL conversations I have had with my ADHD husband.

ME: "Why are you cleaning out the garage, I thought you were going to cut the grass?"
HIM: "I was going to cut the grass, but there was stuff in front of the lawn mower, so I had to move the stuff out of the way, so I decided to clean out the garage BEFORE I cut the grass."

HIM: "I really have to do this or that." A week later… "I really, really have to do this or that." A month later… "I still haven't done this or that, but I really have to do it."

If you are married to a man with ADHD then perhaps you, too, have had similar conversations with him. They likely leave one or both of you feeling frustrated. Or maybe you just throw your arms up because that's just how he is and you don't know how to help him.

Since the summer of 2011 I have been traveling the road of ADHD with my spouse. We went through the testing, and then decided to try medication in October. The next 6 months was tinkering with milligrams to find the right amount, not too high (made him very irritable), not too low. It's not been a year on them yet, but all in all it seems to be helping, when he remembers to take it.

Before I go on I want to reiterate that sharing our ADHD "struggles" is meant to be helpful. To let others in the same boat know that someone else out there gets it. But also to share some things that have been hard or helpful to us. I love my husband very much and think he is a very smart, gifted, and capable person. We are just two people who do things differently trying to work that out in our every day life, without pulling out too much hair (not sure I can keep the gray ones from coming, though).

I am an organized and detail oriented person. It makes for an interesting combination, my husband and I. Without awareness it could be very easy to just overtake him in the areas he finds difficult, like the organization, the details, etc. Sometimes it feels like we're waltzing (in my head, anyway). Only one person can lead. If I want him to lead me, I cannot lead the steps. We need to move and step together or the whole thing falls apart. I imagine someone with ADHD can probably survive pretty well on their own. Add a spouse who sees the world differently and you are potentially on a collision course for disaster.

A friend said recently that she figured out fast that jumping in and reorganizing her ADD husband's space (life) only serves to make her feel better about the chaos. Unless he's actively involved in the process and it is organized to meet his needs (not hers) then he will never keep it up and it's only a matter of time before everything is back to the mess it was before.

As I navigate life with my husband I'm slowly learning to take cues from him. It shouldn't be long before you figure out some areas/patterns of doing things that are not working for him. And if they aren't working for him, chances are he will express his frustration to you at some point. This happened not too long ago to us. My husband, although not a scheduler, appreciates, even needs, a schedule. As the quotes above reveal, he is also not a great planner. And by planner I mean he operates very much in the present moment, not necessarily considering the "big picture" or the time a task will take him. This is how the simple task of getting the lawn mower can turn into a full out garage cleaning project.

I wanted to share with you a strategy we created (together) to help him manage the tasks on his "To Do" list and prioritize them. All it took was a piece of paper, 4 colored highlighters, and a willing spouse.


1. First figure out the various categories the "to do" items will fall under (i.e. exterior house related, interior house, yard, vehicle, work, life/relationships, etc.). Ask your spouse to think of as many of the outstanding "to do" list items he has on his "mental list". You can help him with this if he needs/wants it.

2. List the items on a piece of paper under the categories you decided on above. Next to each item, estimate how much time the activity would take (minutes, hours, days). Your spouse may not be great at estimating time. You only need a rough idea. Once these 2 steps are completed, sit down together and go over it.

3. Get 3-4 different colored highlighters and discuss with your husband which items are a "top priority, "secondary, "third, and/or "future project". Color code each item on the list based on its level of priority. You may need to help your husband decide what needs to be done now and what can wait until a later time.

4. After the initial written list was done I re-created it on excel so it would be neater and I could sort it for him. I created 5 column headers; CK (a space to check the task off), ORDER (1 = top priority thru 4 = future), TIME, TO DO, and LOCATION (or category; outside, inside, car, work, etc.). Then I just filled in the rows with the information. I highlighted each item according to the ORDER. Then, I sorted the document by ORDER. All the 1's at the top, all the 4's at the bottom. I think it's important to keep the color coding intact along with the order #'s as a visual way to see the priority of the items.

So far, this list has been helpful to my husband. Since the time is estimated he can go to the "top priority" items and decide which he has time for in that moment. For the items that take longer periods of time to complete we can then discuss and schedule when he might be able to accomplish those tasks.

It is a working list, so it may require consistent revisions over time. As things get checked off, perhaps new items will need to be added or second or third priority items may need to be moved up. But atleast it is a means to discuss what needs to be done and you can do it together, which emphasizes that you are on the same team and you want to be helpful and supportive. And you'll both feel a sense of accomplishment when you start seeing things from the list get done.

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