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How to Better Recognize and Manage Your Spouse's ADHD Triggers Together


It's astounding how triggers can spiral out of control in mere minutes for our spouses with ADHD. These triggers as being like tornados. The minute before the triggers, everything looks fine, and the next few minutes, a formation of a tornado begins, and from nothing to an EF 5 tornado in no time. These triggers, often a result of ADHD-related challenges, can test the strength of any relationship. Today, we explore the different types of ADHD triggers, how to recognize them, and the best ways to provide support to our ADHD partners.


The Trigger Landscape


Let's begin by unraveling the diverse landscape of ADHD triggers, and some examples, each with its own set of complexities.

  1. Sensory Overload: Imagine a quiet evening at home suddenly transformed into chaos as your partner is overwhelmed by the noise of the television, the hum of the refrigerator, and the clatter of dishes. This is sensory overload, and it's a common trigger for those with ADHD.

  2. Procrastination and Forgetfulness: A missed anniversary, an overdue bill, or a forgotten promise can quickly turn into a trigger. Procrastination and forgetfulness often create tension in ADHD relationships.

  3. Emotional Rollercoaster: From joy to frustration to anger and back again – living with an ADHD partner can sometimes feel like riding an emotional rollercoaster. Understanding these emotional swings is key to offering support.

  4. Hyperfocus: Hyperfocus, while a remarkable trait, can also be a trigger. Your partner may become so absorbed in a task that they forget everything else, including your plans or commitments.


Recognizing Triggers


To support our ADHD partners, we must first become adept at recognizing triggers. These moments may appear as subtle shifts in behavior or escalate into full-blown conflicts quickly.


Recognizing triggers involves keen observation, active listening, and a willingness to understand the context. It's not about assigning blame but rather about comprehending the factors that contribute to these triggers.


Even though we might have better memories than our ADHD spouses, noting down the triggers and observations each time a trigger happens would be valuable to both of you. By putting it down on paper, it helps you see patterns and allows you to use hard data to support discussions with the ADHD spouse at the appropriate time to find solutions.


Providing Support


Supporting our ADHD partners during trigger moments is an art that requires patience, empathy, and communication. Here are some strategies that have proven effective:


Educate Yourself


Knowledge is power. Understanding ADHD and its impact is the first step toward providing better support. Explore reliable resources, engage with healthcare professionals, and gain insights into your partner's unique experience. I find that the ADHD Iceberg poster is super helpful as a visual aid for myself. As I pass by it each day, the symptoms become secondary to me, allowing me to connect the dots faster between my spouse's behavior and symptoms and then determine which method I want to use to help calm my husband down.


Open and Honest Communication


Fostering a safe space for open and honest communication is crucial. Encourage your partner to share their feelings and concerns without fear of judgment. Be an active listener, ask clarifying questions, and express your own feelings and needs.


We have adapted a weekly check-in from Anita Robertson from her book, "ADHD & US" every Saturday morning. The check-in is a structured approach to foster meaningful communication between the two of us. It allows us to express our joint marriage values, weekly appreciation, have constructive conversation on difficult topics that allow us to understand the reasons behind a behavior and collectively determine a solution for it. This weekly check-in has become a time and place for us to talk about what happened with triggers and discuss solutions on how I could better support him when the next triggers show up. This, in turn, allows us to have a collective game plan on handling the same triggers that happen in the future.


Implement Structure


Creating routines and systems can help both you and your partner navigate daily life more smoothly. Establishing a structured environment can reduce the occurrence of triggers related to forgetfulness and disorganization. Structured examples could include blocking out time for particular tasks like house chores, labels to help your ADHD spouse put things in the right place, whiteboards for visual schedules, and electronic devices/apps to help with tasks and appointment reminders.


Furthermore, removing surprises in those routines helps alleviate unnecessary triggers. For example, as a neurotypical and an efficient person, I love to add stops when we do our grocery shopping because these stops are on the way to and from the grocery store. it saves time when you do one single trip verses multiple individual trips. By the time we leave the house, I would have added 4 or 5 more stops to the grocery trip, and this will trigger my husband's emotions, making him irritable and frustrated before we even leave the house. We leveraged one of our weekly check-ins to talk about this challenge. By recognizing his triggers when they are tripped and what those triggers are doing to him, it made me realize that "I" was causing the problem. Luckily, the check-in provided a platform for us to communicate and collectively find a compromise that we both agreed on - for any grocery trip, we can have up to 3 stops, including the grocery store.


Explore Medication and Therapy


There will be situations where through both your own efforts like a check-in, could not be solved. This is when professional help and medication could be valuable to help find a solution. Regardless of whether it is therapy sessions where your spouse attends alone or both of you attend, an unbiased third party could help identify the issues that trigger the triggers and help find a solution when it comes up again. Of course, medication could be one of the tools that the therapist might suggest to help with calming the triggers. From my own experience, medication has helped us tremendously. On days when he is on medication, triggers rarely happen. This gives me some relief and reduces my stress level on most days.


Conclusion


In an ADHD marriage, understanding and supporting your partner through triggers is an ongoing journey. It's about patience, empathy, and continuous learning. While I can't say that this solves all ADHD triggers, the approach I now take, listed above, along with his medication and therapy, has greatly reduced his ADHD triggers, which has created more harmony and less stress in my marriage.


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