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Unlocking Effective Communication in ADHD Marriages: Harnessing Rules of Engagement

Updated: Oct 30, 2023

After years of marriage, a profound realization dawned upon me: we often invest more energy into our careers than in nurturing our marital bonds. We commence our marriage with the conviction that we've found our life partner, only to gradually neglect the very foundation we hold dear. Unspoken presumptions and the distinctive challenges brought about by ADHD can accumulate, placing immense strain on the fabric of our union.

Much like many others, I submerged myself in a vast sea of expert counsel regarding ADHD marriages. Nevertheless, when emotions reached their peak amid fervent discussions with my ADHD-afflicted spouse, it appeared as though all that acquired wisdom vanished into thin air. Conversing with someone you love is an entirely different endeavor.

Then, one day, a light bulb went off, leading me to take a communication tool commonly employed in the realm of business, one that I often used in partnership management – the Rules of Engagement. Over the years, I have defined a set of rules for myself to follow before embarking on significant dialogues with my ADHD spouse. The objective? To ensure that our communication would be effective and that we'd truly hear each other out. Adhering to these rules is my responsibility because, unlike my spouse, I am not burdened by ADHD. I ardently hope that my one-sided Rules of Engagement will guide you toward smoother conversations within your ADHD marriage.

What are Rules of Engagement?

For those unacquainted with this concept, Rules of Engagement are a staple in the business world. They represent a set of principles and directives meticulously designed to establish a structured framework for communication between various departments within an organization or among partners in a collaborative venture. These rules serve as a navigational chart, guiding the way toward building trust, nurturing understanding, and fostering harmony within relationships.

Why I take a One-Sided Approach?

You might question my inclination toward a one-sided approach, perhaps pondering, "Wouldn't it be more beneficial if both parties adhered to these rules?" The rationale behind this choice is rooted in the necessity to govern my own emotional responses during our conversations.

In the realm of an ADHD-infused marriage, conversations can often escalate at an alarming rate due to impulsive reactions and heightened emotional intensity. Through the implementation of a one-sided approach, I maintain my composure and concentrate solely on my own reactions. This not only helps me sidestep unnecessary conflicts but also creates a safe haven wherein my spouse can express themselves without the looming fear of judgment.

What does my Rules of Engagement look like?

Here is a simplified version of my rules of engagement:

Only enter a conversation if I can provide my undivided attention. If not, request we schedule the conversation and list the topics in the calendar invite.

During the conversation, if it escalates, we will take a 5-minute break before we reconvene. If we can't finish the conversation after a 5-minute break, let's write each other a letter and share it with each other within 24 hours. We will reconvene the conversation in 48 hours.

All additional conversations must be scheduled immediately to ensure we don't drop the ball.

If I get upset, default to 2 and 3.

If he gets upset, we default to 2 and 3.

Yes, it is that simple because I hate complexity, and besides, complexity makes it hard to follow when a conversation becomes heated.

The one-sided approach endows me with the power to:

Maintain Control: By adhering to my own rules of engagement, it provides me with a clear plan of what to do when the conversation goes south. This allows me to stay composed and level-headed throughout the conversation.

Cultivate Empathy: When you enter a conversation that you can provide undivided attention to, it is easier to perform active listening and offer more empathy to what the other person is saying.

Prevent Misinterpretations: When you are calm, there is less of a reflex to make assumptions and draw conclusions. I find that I will ask more clarifying questions to truly understand what my husband is saying to avoid misinterpretation.

Conclusion – Nurturing Effective Communication

Incorporating the Rules of Engagement into our communication strategy on top of ADHD expert advice on communication, like active listening, having patience and empathy, has helped our ADHD-married life. It's not about stifling our conversations or imposing rigid regulations; rather, it's about cultivating an environment where both partners feel genuinely heard and respected.

By wholeheartedly focusing on enhancing my own communication skills, I've managed to forge a deeper connection with my spouse. Consequently, they have become more receptive to my thoughts and emotions. What were once heated arguments have metamorphosed into thoughtful discussions, and misunderstandings have gracefully given way to mutual support.

How are you helping yourself with effective communication with your ADHD spouse? Share it below in the comments section.


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