How Attention Deficit Disorder Could Affect Marriage

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“Attention Deficit Disorder is not a disease, and people who have it, are in no way ‘sick.’ It is a difference —a big difference —in the way the brain handles information. While most people think in a one-thing-at-a-time way, the Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) person takes in everything at once. Sometimes they overlook the trees because they see the forest. This can be frustrating for a non-ADD partner who doesn’t understand the ADD thought process. However, communication is one area where people with ADD shine; it is well worth learning a few special skills so that you and your ADD spouse can understand each other.” (Rick Fowler)

And that’s what we want to give you a glimpse of in this article. We can’t possibly give you all of the information you need to handle living with a spouse with Attention Deficit Disorder. However, we can at least give you some help through the insightful writings of psychologist, Dr Rick Fowler, who has Attention Deficit Disorder. Dr Fowler, along with his wife Jerilyn, wrote the book, Honey Are You Listening?

Please Note on this Subject of Attention Deficit Disorder:

We’ll give more information at the bottom of this article so you can possibly obtain the book. Additionally, we have web site links to other articles that could help you further. But for now, we’re sharing quotes from the book so you can both learn things about Adult Attention Deficit Disorder. This way you can also get a “flavoring” of what’s contained in the book itself. We pray you will find it helpful.

Here Are a Few Quotes to Consider:

• It seems that often an ADD adult will choose a non-ADD logic freak for a partner and soul mate. In many ways the ADD mate and non-ADD spouse complement each other. Unfortunately, too often they each find the other’s differences irritating, especially as time unfolds and the relationship matures. Married persons tend to polarize. That is, instead of becoming more like each other, the two partners often take extreme positions as if balancing an invisible teeter-totter. One becomes more responsible as the other grows more reckless; one becomes more solemn as the other grows more carefree. They spend their life together trying to fix the faulty partner.

The most difficult relationship an ADD adult can attempt is to team up with a perfectionist. Picture an accountant who must reconcile books to the penny working with an accountant whose motto is, “If it comes out within five bucks, it’s balanced.” In my marriage counseling I have seen many divorces result from this attempted wedding of the perfectionist and the ADD adult. My experience suggests that perhaps 20 percent of all marriages problems stem from ADD tendencies in one of the spouses.

Trial and Error Learning

Married over 36 years, we have learned by trial and error to forge a relationship that works past the problems. Ours is not a happy-ever-after story; it is a we’re-hanging-in-there story that gets easier and better as time goes by. We’ve each accepted the changes we must make individually in order to create a successful marriage that by all rights should have failed, and it succeeds well.

The ADD person must make significant changes. So must the spouse. The non-ADD spouse must go the extra mile to tactfully help the ADD mate compensate for his or her differences. The ADD mate also has a long mile to walk, making changes, adjusting to the realities of the majority world. Is the effort worth it? Absolutely! It is impossible for some people —that is, have some couples drifted past the point at which repair is possible? We don’t think so.


• ADD adults seem to have a special touch for goofy humor. Sometimes our joking gets a little raw, even hurtful.

• ADD individuals tend to think a sentence or two ahead of what they’re saying. The brain gets ahead of the mouth, so the mouth quits before a sentence is finished and starts the next sentence, trying to keep up. Our handwriting is usually poor for much the same reason. We think faster than our hand can form the letters.

After years of marriage, the non-ADD mates can sometimes understand us even when we fail to complete the thought. But we must never assume our mate already has that skill! If the thought is incomplete, the non-ADD mate ought to call a halt and ask the spouse to rephrase, repeat, and recast the thought. The idea is to communicate. Half a loaf may be better than none, but half a thought is a thought not communicated.


You can expect it, actually. Because we let feelings surface, anger floats right to the top. Mix an irreverent sense of humor with a short fuse, and you’ve got sarcasm. … Down at the very deepest level, sarcasm is an expression of control and insecurity. If by my acid tongue I can control your feelings and run you down, especially in public, I’m in charge of the situation, and control is a big, big issue with ADD adults. We’ll get it any way we can, and a caustic wit is one of the tools that comes easiest for us.

For the longest time, Jeri let my sarcasm, both intentional and unintentional, hurt her. She suffered in silence to the detriment of us both. Now she knows better. There are two ways in which the non-ADD mate can be of help.

• Don’t let snide comments go unchallenged.

Refusing to let such comments slide is really hard to do. Jeri has learned she must say something like, “I feel as though you’re trying to hurt my feelings by [making fun of my comment], [joking at my expense], [belittling me], [fill in the blank], I won’t accept that.” …In any case, don’t carry a grudge. That’s lethal to any relationship, especially a marriage.

• Be forgiving.

Forgiveness should be extended by both partners, of course, but it will be especially difficult for the offended loved one. Jeri has had to forgive me a million times over. And I have forgiven her. It’s an ongoing process, not a once-and-done thing. There can be much to be forgiven, for above all, we ADD adults are, to quote the old saying, bulls in china shop conversationally.


Although we can often focus intensely on a particular subject, most of the time our thoughts fly like buckshot from a sawed-off shotgun. And the farther from our interest the target is, the broader the pattern. Our minds are often bounding off in three or four directions at once. …Scatter-shot thoughts don’t damage communication when the level of communication is not intense or deep.

But at home, when the non-ADD mate is trying to get an in-depth discussion going on a topic of limited interest to the ADD spouse (upcoming dental appointments or the leak in the back porch), that scattering of thoughts can be maddening.

How can the non-ADD mate combat it? Bring the conversation back to the subject, over and over if necessary, until the salient points are worked out.


Sharing feelings is very hard for a lot of people. Yet if you stuff your feelings, you block communication. Jeri did that a lot in the beginning. In her desire to prevent friction, she let me go my merry way without telling me how my words and actions really affected her. She had to learn to open up, to make herself vulnerable. The ADD mate is not going to pick up messages about feelings —or anything else —spontaneously.

You’ve often heard that one of the big problems in many marriages is that each spouse assumes the other can read minds. You hear things like, “Well, if he really loved me, he’d know I don’t like such-and-so.” “I so want her to do this-and-that! Why won’t she?!” It takes a while for some people to realize that mental telepathy gets them nowhere.

Revealing Feelings

The ADD adult isn’t going to bother sending out any telepathic messages. But pretty quickly you will know how that person feels about something. Jeri claims I hang it all out like wash on a line.

Sometimes the gift for expressing feelings backfires when it is matched with the ADD adult’s natural impulsivity. Often feelings are shared instantly with whoever is handy.

Happy? Tell the world! That’s okay unless you’re at a funeral. Angry? Dump it on whoever is handy. Unfortunately, you can burn a lot of innocent people that way. The ADD adult goes away feeling fine. He got it off his chest. But the dumped-upon victim is often hurt and furious.

The non-ADD mate can help out a lot here. He or she can deal with this Jekyll-and-Hyde aspect of expressing feelings in a couple of helpful ways.

Let the ADD mate know that he or she is speaking inappropriately.

We don’t recognize what’s inappropriate, but we want to know. Arrange a signal. It can be a kick in the shins, a loud “Harumph,” or a couple of tugs on the ear. Whatever. Work something out. This will save both the spouse and the ADD mate potential embarrassment and problems.

Of course, the other side of this coin is that the ADD mate has to decide in advance to accept the spouse’s judgment call as being accurate. It’s really easy to brush off the spouse’s subtle or not so subtle signals.

Don’t assume mind reading.

Open up. It took Jeri ten years to realize she had to change in this respect, and she still struggles with it at times. She still wants to back off from confrontation or friction, even though she knows absolutely that it’s neither wise nor healthy to do so.

Remind your ADD mate to stop and think.

Let’s face it, we ADD adults all too frequently blurt out our thoughts and feelings. We need our spouse’s good ear and common sense at times we least think about it. We’re not going to remember, “Think before you speak” when we’re all wrapped up in a conversation, even though we very much wish we could. We’re just not wired that way. Our spouse can perform a real service by hauling in the checkrein.


The non-ADD mate tries to be sensitive to an ADD-mate’s feelings about control. “Why should I be sensitive to her needs,” the non-ADD mate asks, “when she is so insensitive to mine?”

From a human point of view, that’s not a bad question. The answer of course, goes right back to the description of love in 1 Corinthians. Consider also the golden rule. It’s not, “Do unto others because they do unto you. Nothing good happens in a marriage (or any other relationship) when the two persons are keeping score.

Control is a big, big issue with Attention Deficit adults. We have so little control over so many areas of our life that we grasp every shred of it we can. Then we guard it with everything we have.


Am I overstating the problem? No. Everyone seeks a measure of control in their life, so control becomes an issue in any marriage in ADD partner’s unions, expect it to cause some conflict. Here’s how to minimize the problems.

Let’s face it. Without Jeri’s sound advice and help from time to time, I’d be sunk. I know it. She knows it. I need her steadying hand, her wisdom to tell me when I’m goofing up. Yet when she calls me on some infraction or expresses concern about something I’ve done or failed to do, I feel threatened. Here’s this woman trying to control me.

So I have specifically given her permission to point out the faulty behaviors she sees in me. She phrases her corrections for example, like this: “you asked me to tell you when you are [riding this subject too hard] [annoying Mrs. Jones] [not finishing the job I asked you to do] [whatever]. Well, you are.”

Do you see? By giving her permission, I retain control without losing the value of her insight. And because she reminded me that I had given her permission, she is not nagging. The ADD mate must give this blanket permission to the person whose guidance he or she needs. And the non-ADD spouse must remind the mate of that permission.

Part of the subject of control in a relationship is surprises. I hope the non-ADD mate can understand that as much as ADD folks love variety and spontaneity, we hate surprises. Surprises are beyond the ADD adult’s ability to control. Nearly all surprises are nasty to us.

Surprises Can Be Scary

Jeri threw me a surprise birthday party once. She never tried something like that again, but she was really hurt by my cold, even angry response. I walked into this preplanned event and found myself being swept along. Everybody but me knew what was supposed to happen next. That was both scary and intimidating. I reacted from the gut, as always, and my reaction was negative.

During the first ten years of our marriage, I got angry if any little thing was changed without my knowledge. Jeri couldn’t even rearrange the furniture without irritating me. It seemed to her, and rightly so, that I had some sort of executive privilege to be spontaneous, changing plans (or furniture layouts) on the spur of the moment, but she did not. In a way, she was right.

We finally figured out what bothered me was the surprise. Easy fix. Now she simply mentions in advance about some change she’s going to make. Using rearranging the furniture as an example, she might say, “I think I’m going to change the furniture around this afternoon.” She’s not asking permission. She’s not testing the waters. She’s simply dulling the surprise element.

This kind of solution probably will not be communicated in the course of normal give and take. Often neither spouse understands what’s causing friction between them. Sometimes talking is not the cure-all answer.


In the case above, Jeri inadvertently scared and intimidated me and I inadvertently spoiled her happiness with my response. But talking about it probably would not have brought enlightenment for either of us. It’s worth a try—never ever would I suggest you don’t even try. But let’s assume that in your case, talking it out is fruitless. Even after words pass back and forth, neither of you knows what happened or why.

There are a couple ways to go from there. One is to ask counsel from someone who understands ADD people and can offer insight. Possibly all you need is another person’s fresh, objective look at the problem.

Another way to get past such an event is simply to forgive and forget. It happened. It wasn’t supposed to go that way. You both regret it didn’t go better. Put it away after you forgive each other. Not every lesson in life “takes.” Count this situation as one of the ones that didn’t.

This article comes from the very helpful book titled, Honey Are You Listening?: Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and Your Marriage. It is written by Dr Rick Fowler and Jerilyn Fowler, and is published by Fair Havens Publications. There was a lot more we would have loved to share with you concerning Adult Attention Disorder and how if affects marriage. But to honor the book’s copyright we instead encourage you to find a way to obtain this book if you’re dealing with Attention Deficit Disorder in your marriage. In this book, Rick and Jerilyn, his wife of over 36 years, share proven and practical tips for dealing with the sometimes exasperating traits of an ADD partner, and more.

— ALSO —

The Dr Phil Show aired an interesting program, which featured Attention Deficit Disorder and how it affected marriage. (Plus it contained additional helpful information to improve marriages where this disorder is causing problems.) To find out more, please click onto the link provided below.

(But first we must warn you that this is not a Christian web site. So please know that you may read some information that may not be consistent with scripture. Over-all, we find most of the information helpful on dealing with Attention Deficit—so just glean what you can use and throw that which you can’t use out. Seek God’s heart to be spiritually wise and discerning):


— ALSO, Concerning Attention Deficit —

Here is something written by numerous wives who live with husbands who have Attention Deficit Disorder. Some of their husbands also have Aspergers. I believe this information is SO beneficial, whether you’re the wife or husband who has these conditions. Please read:


If you have additional tips you can share to help others, please “Join the Discussion” by adding your comments below.

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11 responses to “How Attention Deficit Disorder Could Affect Marriage

  1. (UNITED STATES)  The scenarios above I have been through over and over again with my husband. Try as I might to be senstive and patient… I just can’t seem to stay that way. I was actually put on anti depressants so that I could handle life at home with him, but he refuses to do anything to change. Just tells me I have to understand and be patient. I don’t even know that he is ADD but he was on meds as a child. I don’t know what to do. I know we aren’t heading toward divorce, but I wonder if I am going to spend the rest of my life hiding and crying to myself so I don’t seem insensitive to him. What do I do?

    1. (USA)  Julia, I’m in the same boat. I understand how lonely it is. I’ll say a prayer for you. Please say a prayer for me :)

  2. (UNITED STATES)  I was wondering if ADD affects one’s sex drive…I am recently married and our sex life is not what I expected. As I get to know my husband better each day, I am focusing more on the ADD. I believe this is the case and was wondering if anybody else has difficulties in the bedroom.

    1. (UK) If by difficulties you mean a short attention span, a tendency to think about something else & when getting down to it, it lasts about 5 min. Yeah, that I can empathise with.

      For me/us he is intrested in the flirting game. I have a high sex drive. I pretend not to be all that interested (which is really difficult for me) and suddenly he is. He knows he gets bored so a broad mind can be helpful. Fortunately (after some explaining) he has decided that the point of the activity is to make me happy.

      1. My wife and I are very much in love, though she refuses to blame any of our issues on ADD. Stating it’s just a cop out. She’s constantly saying, “I know you’re not lazy; you’re certainly not stupid.” She’s a perfectionist! Everything has a place, everything in perfect order.

        I’m a bull in a China shop. I constantly feel like I’m always behind the 8 ball when it comes to appeasing my wife. There is always something I didn’t finish/do. She claims I have no pride of ownership when it pertains to our house, and yet I’ve meticulously renovated it to be the nicest house in the neighborhood…for real. I have an enormous attention to detail, yet I constantly leave stuff lying around, and cluttered. How do I make my wife understand I have a legitimate problem with the way my brain interprets my/our world? We have been to counseling and she thinks it’s all just nonsense. Yours truly, Lazy, absent minded and always busy, never stop thinking

  3. (USA) I am ADHD. Some of the things you described are not me. I don’t talk fast and am not sarcastic at all… but in a fog most of the time and lose things, forget things all the time. The chaos is what is so hard on our marriage. My husband has Aspergers …is an inventor… a genius and detail is his whole world, but a short fuse that I can’t see coming, nor can the kids. We’ve been together over 20 years and have 4 kids.

    Life is so hard… sometimes I wonder if it’s good for the kids to stay in this chaos. Praying for 30 days… fasting from fb and praying two times a day for 30 days to make a decision. Don’t believe in divorce at all but feeling so hopeless as he will not get any help for his problem no matter how I explain to him how damaging he has been on the kids and on me. And the more angry he is, the more Jackle and Hyde, the worse my symptoms of ADHD as it takes days to recover from the last blast of emotional abuse. God knows we need a miracle.

    I’m going to counseling, taking meds, pray constantly. I just want God to step in. He is a believer but barely has his toes in the water, if you know what I mean. He had severe physical abuse with mild spiritual abuse and needs help with PTSD as well. But refuses. Any suggestions?

  4. (USA) There are several types of adult ADD, it helps to know which one you or your spouse are. As a Christian married to an ADD spouse it is very very difficult to us to forgive and forget! My husband is very carnal and fleshly. He seems self centered and just down right horrid at times. I don’t want to excuse sin behavior with a brain organization problem! How would you all address that? Love and prayers in Christ!

    1. Hello Corwin, Your post resonated with my life situation. I’ve been studying and practicing “choosing happiness”. The premises are so simple that they’re hard. 1. You decide how something will make you feel. Stop. Breathe. Let everything wash over you. Then decide how you feel. 2. Identify the situation/circumstance -this is punishment/jealousy/irrational behavior -it is what it is and it too will pass. 3. Ask yourself “what can I do for me to first acheive emotional balance then comfort and pleasure?” Then take the first action to get there.

      This is no cure all, however, it’s very effective for keeping yourself in a positive spiritual space. Much of our well being is based on the feeling that “I am not being victimized” and “I am in control”. This enables you to move through the emotions and control the only thing you can; yourself.

      Embrace the notion that you (and your spouse) are taking a temporary walk on this earth. There are a few more steps in front on you. In your mind, create a vision of the journey ahead that fulfills you. Then – take the next step. Also, take pleasure that your journey is being witnessed. Each step you take towards well being and spirituality is noted by something far greater than us.

    2. Hi Corwin, if your husband is carnal a fleshy with you, then it’s all good!!! If it’s with others, then not so good. ADD is no excuse for that.

  5. People with ADD use the disorder as an excuse for every kind of reprehensible act (at least five Commandments that I’ve had to see broken.) What is she going to say at Judgment? That I tried to honor my parents? That I strove to be faithful? Does she even pay attention in church?

    I believe the disorder is real. But I also think my wife habitually indulges her ego and excuses it as “just the way” she is. Raised in the Church, it’s a luxury I was never permitted. Christians expect to surrender “the way they are” to God’s will, not bend other people to their desires.

    Why is it we spouses have to carry all the weight for their disorder? …Of accommodating them? We’re the organized people… the considerate, giving ones… the ones that most other people would consider an asset in a marriage… the ones who are striving to adhere to a life in faith – a Christian marriage?