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Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.
Dr. Schwartz's Weblog

Adult ADHD: The Importance of Learning Social Skills

Allan N. Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. Updated: May 10th 2007

Previous log entries have discussed Adult Attention Deficit Disorder and its treatment. One of the major areas of concern with Adult ADHD is the fate of the spouse who does not have the disorder. Several spouses married to partners with ADHD have pleadingly expressed their frustration to me with the following exclamation: "He (She) is driving me crazy." It is for this reason that many ADHD marriages do not fare very well.

The ability to interact well with other people, including spouses, friends, and people in the workplace and in the classroom depends on the ability to:

1. Be attentive.

2. Behave in responsible ways.

3. Control impulsive behaviors.

4. Remember important details.

All four are these abilities are precisely what is lacking in those with ADHD and that is why people feel "driven crazy" by them. On the surface nothing seems wrong with ADHD people. For this reason people have difficulty understanding why they act the way they do and often misinterpret their behaviors. They are often blamed for being rude, inconsiderate, self centered, irresponsible, lazy and ill mannered. It is mistakenly thought by people that these behaviors are deliberate and willful. Even those husbands and wives married to ADHD partners and knowing about the disorder tend to be in denial and insist that they are deliberately being thoughtless and provocative.

More than a few people have written in to us in a various states of exhaustion and anger in dealing with their spouse and at the "end of their rope" about what to do.

Let's talk about some of what can be done with the hope that some marriages can find their way towards a more normalized life.

First, while medication is an important help in reducing the acuteness of many ADHD symptoms it is not a cure for this disorder. The fact is that even after a regimen of medication has been started it will be necessary for the patient and their spouse to learn how to cope with this disorder. In other words, both husband and wife should learn the necessary skills and techniques to reduce their sources of conflict and enable the ADHD person to live a better adjusted life. To this end Social Skills Training is very important.

Social Skills training can be provided by either a coach or therapist who specializes in this area of work. More information about either coaches or therapists can be found at a number of web sites but the best is probably CHADD, or Children and Adults with Attention Deficit Disorder. The URL for the part of the site dealing with adults is: http://www.help4adhd.org/living/relandsoc

Here are a number of strategies that ADHD people can use and that their families can practice with them:

1. Read everything you can about ADHD and developing social skills. Reading should be done by the individual with the disorder and their spouse. Remember the old saying: Knowledge is power.

2. Have a positive attitude about ADHD. The tendency is for those with the disorder to be very bright and creative. They often have a good sense of humor even though they can get depressed due to the frustrations of dealing with ADHD and with the problems that accompany having it.

3. People with ADHD often blank out at times, missing important pieces of information. This is why they are often late to places or fail to get to them at all. It is important for them to ask others about what was just said, to repeat the information, to have a calendar or palm pilot in which they can transcribe dates and times of events and even names of people. Upon meeting new people it is a good idea to repeat their names.

4. It is important to observe others and the way they interact. This is called Observational Learning and is an important part of the way we become socialized. It never stops and we learn gestures and expressions from watching other people. ADHD people should make a conscious effort to do this and with the help of their partner so as to learn what their errors are and to learn new and better ways of interacting.

5. Help your partner identify those social behaviors that they are really good at and develop those further. There is nothing wrong with enhancing strengths while learning new behaviors.

6. Rehearsing and role playing social situations is another helpful way to go about improving social skills and married couples can have fun with this.

Keep a sense of humor about things. A lot of what seems to go wrong when you have ADHD can be really amusing. Laughter is the best medicine if you learn to laugh together. And remember, your spouse is not doing these things on purpose.

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

Readers who live in the Boulder, Colorado metro area, or in Southwest Florida may contact Dr. Schwartz for face-to-face consultation. He is also available for psychotherapy through Skype video for those who are not in Florida or Colorado. He can be reached via email at dransphd@aol.com for details.

    Reader Comments
    Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

    Struggleing with adult adhd - - Apr 2nd 2011

    I have adult adhd. And because of this I believe I cant find a match. No one will take the chance on me. I am a loving kind mature adult. I just have a bigger struggle. No one understands me because they dont have ADHD. They cant even understand what I am going threw. So I guess what I want to say is those spouses who are married to someone with Adhd put your self in there shoes. Try to understand what its like to be dealing with this. People who have this did not ask for this to happen to them. I am very intellegent but because of adhd I have not been successesful as I could be. I have a high Iq for things i am interested in. I try not to yell at people but I get easily frustrated. I know its wrong but I feel every part of my body tightening and I have to realease it. I sit in a chair and even to type this comment I feel irritated because I am not moveing. I am just sitting. I am late for things I hate being late. I forget appointments and loose my stuff. I blank out alot and miss important things. I have deppression and anxiety caused from untreated adult adhd. I get irritated if I have to stand in line and wait. I hate acting like that. It is so hard for me to wake up in the morning. It takes hours. Its so hard for me to fall asleep even when I am so tired. I try to take good care of my dog but I get easily frusterated. I want to sit and do stuff and go and enjoy stuff. But really my attention span is seriously short. Anything after the first few minutes I am fakeing Im already bored. I forget things all the time. I have wonderful Ideas things I could be doing to better myself. Get a higher paying job. But I rarely start things I finish. Even though I had great intentions. So before you throw your spouse away or start hateing them remember thats its not there fault. Create an adhd simulator of some sort and see how your person struggles. If you can understand then maybe you wont be so frusterated with them.

    advice - sam - Jul 9th 2010

    my ex gf knew i had adhd and used it to her advantage  rather than understand it an even worse moved new man in 5 days later.she had me charged which i didnt tell judge about my adhd would that made a difference? he ordered me to supervised probation and anger management now probation threatin me if i dont keep appointments by havin me jailed. no assult charges or anything that bad was done     should i appeal this or ???

    rebellion - Bill Bays - May 25th 2010

    I've been pretty successful (whatever that is) in spite of not knowing I have adhd.  But there is one element I've just began to discover and that is that the resistance and rejection factor can be higher for us.  I've noticed I'll do a routine well then boom!---reject it completely for a while.  Can't seem to figure it out.  Trying too hard?  Too much?  Doesn't seem to be the elements of the plan.  Seems to be the plan itself.  Thanks for any help.

    Going for testing in 15 minutes! - larry - Nov 30th 2009

    I am 50 years old and have had what appears to be adhd forever without knowing.

    i would go to the dr. and beg him to help me with my anger problem but was always treated for depression. I also say things and regret them later, can't focus even though I know I need to.

     

    I am praying I can be helped as this seems my last resort. Can a 50 year old be treated? Am I to old. I am leaving in 5 minutes and honestly think this could be the day that changes my life. I have 2 young children who I cherish and a beautiful wife. Even my wife told me to give up on my dreams because I never do anything about them (so hard to focus).

    Any thoughts anyone? I am hoping to get a prescription TODAY. Thanks for this message board I don't feel alone anymore! Wish me luck (is it lucky to be adhd... maybe not but to KNOW what my problem is will be a miracle)

    ADHD - Allan N. Schwartz, PhD - Apr 30th 2009

    Hi Noah,You will find an answer under "Reader Questions."Dr. Schwartz

    what should I do? - noah - Apr 30th 2009

    ok so where to begin? I'm a 20 year old college student, and I'm wondering what to do. I was diagnosed with ADHD when I was in elementary school, prescribed medicine and took it for years. I finally got sick of being on meds and stopped. I havent been on the medicine for some years now, but I've just recently started looking back on my performances in the past year or so. I have many friends and people say that I'm very smart and creative, with an exceptional ability to think outside the box. Unfortunately I have an extremely hard time keeping a job or a girlfriend, its almost always my choice to end either of the two, but I normally regret the desicion. I recently moved back into my moms house and I'm having a very hard time living with them. I'm a very reasonable person and really only get upset if someone starts yelling at me, but when my mom or sisters do yell at me I feel like a lot of my frustrations come out in response. I'm very unorganized, as my room is normally pretty messy (car also) and school supplies and binders. I withdrew from all my classes last semester because I fell too far behind in my work. I'm enrolled in school again this semester and find it very hard to stay on top of things. I often show up to class on the day something is due with out it because i didnt even know about it, and if I do know about an assignment then I wait until the night before or wake up really really early the morning of to get it done. I also really enjoy smoking weed, it calms me down, helps me focus and relax. I've been reading up on some facts about ADHD recently and I'm concerned I might need some help. ps- I'm sure there are more things that I do in my life that i think might be because of my potential adult ADHD, i just cant really remember all..thanks for reading

    Dr. Schwartz ADHD response - Katie - Apr 29th 2009

    Thank you for your quick response Dr. Schwartz. Peers say that I am pretty chill and laid back, but I just say things that is better left unsaid. I am seeing a therapist, which helps to an extent. I am trying a lot of other ways to cope with it like blogging for example. After writing my first comment I felt really good afterwards. I really appreciate your quick response, I never expected it. I know pot does not help much, but what about my epilepsy? I know there are other ways, but it is just one more thing that prevents me from having a siezure infront of my friends or family. Sounds silly I know... Thank you for your input, means a lot. : )-Katie

    ADHD - Allan N. Schwartz, PhD - Apr 28th 2009

    Hi Katie,Adderal alone only serves as a partial solution to your problem. You need to be in a specific type of psychotherapy called coaching with a psychologist or in cognitive behavioral therapy. The reason is you need to helped to learn better coping mechanisms and you need the help of someone trained in this. By the way, even though you are not hyperactive I have the impression that you could have a few of those symptoms which is why you blurt out what you are thinking.I am sorry to hear about your mother's attitude. She seems to have no understanding of ADD. If she did it could help both of you.I assume that a psychiatrist is prescribing Adderal. You should ask him for a referral to a psychologist who could give give you the type of training you need. Lastly, stop smoking pot. It is making things worse for you. Dr. Schwartz

    trouble - Katie - Apr 27th 2009

    I have ADHD, but without the hyperactivity. I take adderall everyday for not only myself but others as well. I take a lot of things at heart, so if someone says something in one way, I think of it as another. I am very social and I have a lot of friends because of my personality, but I sometimes have trouble keeping my feelings inside when I know I should. I know that some things are better left unsaid, but I always end up saying it anyways. I always ask myself, "why do I have this disability? What did I do to deserve this?" I also have another brain disorder called epilepsy, which also doesnt help my self esteem about myself as a whole. People do see me coming off as selfish, but I honestly don't even realize it until someone says something about it, or not even at all. My mom doesnt want me living at home with her over the summer because she said I am to disrespectful. That hurts me, and I know that is my fault, but after reading these symptoms on social ability I realized that some of my social disfunctions is from my disability. Sometimes I can't even control myself in bad situations, I make stupid decisions, say unnessisary comments, and don't listen to anyone else except me. Sometimes I think that I am always right, but most of the time I am not! I don't mean to hurt my mother or my peers, it's an issue that I have with myself and I sometimes cannot help but take it out on others (mostly the people I love the most.) It's hard to change my way of thinking, and decision making. I struggle so much with school, was never good at it nor ever liked it.  I forget things very easily ex: when I need to write a paper, and I think of something to write and then seconds later I completly forget what I was just thinking.  It's so hard, so so hard, and coping with it is even harder. Everday I wake up in the morning and the second thing I think of is that I have a disability that I wish I did not have. People always say to me "oh I think that I have ADD too." Bitch no you don't, you have no idea what it is like, just because someone zones off into space does not mean you have ADD. The reason why I am writing such a long comment is because I have no one else to talk to about it, I don't want anyone to know that I am truly upset by it, no matter how much I joke about it. People always say that I am lucky I am perscribed to adderall, well... I wish I did not need it ill tell you that. So I do other things to get that off my mind (which I know this does not help at all) but I smoke weed to relax. I am sure a lot of people know what that is like and where I am coming from. I will stop talking now, I don't expect to many responses back because I know a lot of people with ADD do not like reading for a long period of time (some, not all). Comments on this would be nice though, specially hearing it from someone who is suffering from it as well. Thanks : )-Katie

    rocko - bethan - Oct 12th 2008

    Wife of adhd partner, he is wonderful in a lot of ways and i cant imagine being without him but he can be so hurtful at times and i know he blurts things out but most of the time it is the truth.  For example we were recently in australia with friends and he was so revolting saying i was fat and disgusting & im 5 foot 3 and weigh 60 kg  he ruined our whole holiday by just continuosly going on about my weight.  and im not happy with my weight i was 50kg when we got married & ive had 2 kids since then but im disapointed with the way my husband deals with it he does not want to exercise together or join any clubs.  Anyway ill always stand by him even if he leaves me because i do undrstand what he is going through we have a son that he has passed it onto also. 

    family not involved- dont understand my disorder - Punching bag - Sep 6th 2008

    I'm adult female 41, I have never been married, nor ever had children. Not by my choosing, but it just hasnt happened for me. Call me emotionaly intelligent dual diagnosed , tripled actual , and twice exceptional as well as lefthandedness. I have  a strength in an abilty to be an artist gifted from day one. star student artist and full of compashion dreams and want so much to help save all the wrongdoings in the world by being the vioce of first the star artist i knew i was and still am. I dropped out of high school learning disability, not addressed by family ever but by schools. Stagnet to a invissible torando that now destructs my will to live at times. A elder mother im the aid to her as a good daughter should be but now im addicted to stimulants because it was the only way to fox everything in the stressful enviroment of many conflicts. I'm messed up and missunderstood unable to help myself without the disorder creeping up and out it sets the trigger for reuse and relapse. Im alone and why did this have to take such a isolated miserable turn in my life. How will I continue this way. Im stresed out right now because i feel my family doesnt get it and the stigma of mental health. Yes its difficult for everyone but whos fault is this realy. Nones but i chose to try and do all i was reqired from me and i was ignored when relizing what was need by the medical docters i was diagnosed by. suicide hints and drug use hints to family mebers was my plee little by little to them it might as well be on deaf ears becuse im invissible here when i realy need some emotion support and unstanding on treatment and the disorder is not even a reality in others that i love . they choose to stay uneducated and old schooled thinking passing judgement making it worse for me to reach out to help them help themselves by helping me help me. There hasnt been a person or situation that i can find besides docters that can help me with moral support. This isnt a shared comminmet although im pulled out of habit phycologily by easly reponxded to senistive needs of theirs mine are invisble  even though im fighting to communate to them how if left untreated or enabled i might become completely in the place i try to not go . jail for dual diagnosis. I cant cope here as cinderlkla im fighting a losing battle what can i do so i wont give up on life as though it has been my idea it one day might be one of the worst symptoms of imulsive behavior ever acted out and im not going to kill myself . but it hurts tremedesly when not even your family is trying to do their part. It tells me they just dont get it or just dont care and i need to be acknolwed i want to belong as what dreams showed me as a child i could achieve, i just dont know where to go for help . Maybe im already dead. no. Im special and took my heart and extended even at my own risk because im probably one of those last genius freaks in the world that feels everyones pain and wants to help but when i look for help hands are not etended but waves verbal to shove off. how do i sepperate my love for my family without killing myself at there demands on there needs only when im rthe one who has done the golden rule thing im the one with hidden disabilites i wish i could just hide . but im thriving for the reasons of why i have help in so long and basicly abused my health in the process so i can cope with this missunderstood and nnot serious enough to belive in me pain by my own mother brother and sisiter . help help help. Kevin Spacey where are you I ve got a musical i wrote for the theater in reguards to being there for me when my famulliy wasnt just by the artistic pure form speaking hope and inspiring me to write and choose to live. resuce me three years ago i chose to live and i need a lucky break because i produced a masterpiec of my life in an aweinspiring work in musical plays that god first gave me the sight to do something that was my stegth. Oh god where do einstiens like me go . i want to vioce who we are for others like me through wring movies i have seven great ones waiting but day by day this is the most desperate thing ive ever done in reaching out for a future in the bigger picture. im for life but im alone and realy feeling a despar ive never felt before . Will anyone help me get a hand up . a resourse , a shared experienced like mine. Iam i the last decnt person on the planert , cause its lonely to feel for others when they dont even see you as someone worth getting educated or showing some kind of leeway here in this house im now getting mentopause in . i grew up in. is anyone listening ? adhd ld and alone, is a nightmare and a blessing wich way do i lean today ? a blessing because im reaching out still for contact of any others in my seat.

    thanks

    just another vAAN GOH OR EDGATR allen poe

    Doesnt anyone want to see the good things my creaive side see . Einstin saw the fabric of space , thats why i love einstein and joseph merrick the elaphant man the two people i feel i can catergoze myself with. they are both not alive today but there example pushes me forward. doesnt anyone learn from these men of history, I sure did

    thanks for letting me be a nutcase im so proud of who iam. i feel a bit better. no matter what anyone might say or feel if its isnt for the better good it is not for a good thing at all.t. Im chosing to leave all this regurdless of my fears to post. its the only life i have right noe.

    maybe someone will actually get it and reply understand and perhaps it just might be what someone needs to read. i just do the work but i dont run this world.

    1000 tears

    Also agreeing - - Feb 20th 2008
    I feel like I am going crazy also.  I have been married to an ADHD spouse for almost 9 years now and it is soooo good to hear comments also expressing the same feelings I have had.  I am looking for ways to get my needs met when my husband acts like and talks like one of the children.  I feel so alone with this because outsiders only see what he wants them to.  He can come across as bigger than life and just wonderful but it isn't how he really is ona daily basis.  There are times I have been scared of his anger although this has been less since he has beeo Wellburtin.  It does not help though with remembering nor focusing on anything people say.  he spends alot of time and effort trying to prove to me he said something or told me something that he did not.  Any ideas on how to respond to that kind of thing would be great!

    agreeing - - Jan 29th 2008
    I agree...I could use a place to read from spouses of ADHD experiences and what they do.  Sometimes I think I am going crazy.

    Support Group - - Jan 6th 2008

    yes, please do include me if you start or know of an egroup for spouses of Adult ADDers- I would love to have someone to talk to! Please email me at romallama@aol.com. Thanks alot!

    ADHD and ME 2007 - Danielle - Dec 2nd 2007
     I have been told by I was rude, selfcentered and a bad boy problem. A big mouth. Talked about my self to much and knew how to change a topic to myself real quick. this year after working with Mental Health Center I was diagnosed with ADHD which explains alot of choices and corners I have put myself in. One month on medications and some reflections explains marriages divorces bankrupcty colleges drop in and outs and at 35 years of age I find myself with very little social skills. Is this a normal process?

    parent of an adult ADHD daughter - - Nov 2nd 2007
    It is heartbreaking to watch relationship after relationship fail. My 35 year old stepdaughter has landed back at our home. Her two children live with their respective dads, she is pregnant by yet another man, in the middle of a messy divorce from YET another man! She makes life-altering choices   running away to "parts unknown" by everyone for years at a time, returning drug-addicted and pregnant., aborting numerous pregnancies of her own choosing.  She leaves everyone in the wake.  We (but as a no nonsense person and a mother, I) want so much to help her prepare a different course of action for this new baby, but feel absolutely helpless as she does not follow through on even the simpliest of tasks. She also suffers from bipolar. She alienates people around her as they (ok, we!) all become utterly exhausted. I would do anything, but see this pending birth as a "train heading right at us all." Babies and children do not wait while adults "get it together." I fear she will abandon yet another innocent child, be heartbroken and we are beginning to realize the helplessness of the situation. I will continue to read, study and pray that we find a course of action that will intervene.

    Discussion/support group for the partners - Gina Pera - Sep 28th 2007

    Hello

    Thanks for bringing attention to this subject, Dr. Schwartz. I appreciate the important points that you made.  I lead an online discussion group for the partners of adults with ADHD, sponsored by CHADD of Northern California. One of the members suggested I post notice of it here.

    Here is the URL: http://health.groups.yahoo.com/group/ADHD_Partner/

    Best,Gina Pera
    http://www.GinaPera.com

    Laughter - Sarah - May 15th 2007

    I have just begun my daily search on this subject.My partner has Adult adhd and is finally on medication after 4 years together.My life is great and I will always feel that laughter got me and the kids through some really hard times.Keep laughing,keep positive and Its always workable.this site shed some light for me,things Ive always silently felt were true.thankyou.

    spouses of adhd partners - - May 14th 2007

    You mentioned that you have heard from many adhd spouses, could you form an e-group for us suffering spouses?  Thank you.

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