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How to Support Your Spouse Through ADHD Burnout: Tips for Non-ADHD Partners

Updated: Mar 22

How can a non-ADHD spouse support ADHD spouse during ADHD burnout

Want to listen instead? Just click 'Play'!Life with an ADHD Spouse

For those of us who have been in an ADHD marriage for some time, navigating through a sea of emotions and situations that require understanding, patience, and support is a familiar challenge. One crucial aspect of this journey that demands attention is ADHD burnout and its impact on both partners. For many couples, especially those who are newly diagnosed, experiencing ADHD burnout can lead to frustrating times. I often liken ADHD burnout to hurricanes – powerful forces that can wreak havoc on our lives. In this blog post, we'll explore what ADHD burnout entails, its common signs, and how I've learned to cope with it to minimize damage to our marriage. Let's dive in.


What is ADHD Burnout?


At a recent ADHD Toolkit event, speaker Kevin Bailey, an ADHD coach with ADHD himself, eloquently described ADHD burnout as follows:



ADHD burnout occurs when the challenges of managing ADHD symptoms become overwhelming, leading to physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion. Despite my partner being on medication, I've encountered ADHD burnout monthly in our marriage. It can be triggered by seemingly minor issues, escalating to major stressors like family emergencies.


Common Signs of ADHD Burnout:

Let's discuss the signs I've observed when ADHD burnout sets in within my own ADHD marriage:


1. Hyperfocus and Disengagement:


One significant sign for me to recognize when my ADHD spouse is experiencing burnout is when he exhibits both hyperfocus and disengagement simultaneously. He may hyperfocus on what is bothering him while neglecting others, such as his daily household responsibilities. For example, on his last burnout, he kept repeating, "I am so exhausted". He struggled to get out of bed on days without early morning client appointments, and neglecting his usual exercise routine in the morning. This state of hyperfocus, coupled with disengagement from routine tasks, adds to my frustration as I must compensate for his inaction.


2. Increased Forgetfulness and Slow to Action:


Forgetfulness coupled with slow action is another 2 hallmarks of his ADHD burnout. These behaviors often intensify, frustrating the me. For instance, during a recent burnout episode, my spouse repeatedly forgot tasks I asked him to do, leading to incomplete and delayed actions. For example, I asked him to bring in the groceries from the car, which many items required refrigeration. Although he responded with a "Yes, I will help," it took him multiple attempts and considerable time before he slowly began the task, only completing half of it before returning to bed. This forgetfulness, coupled with slow action and incomplete tasks, triggered frustration because what should have been a simple task became burdensome due to burnout.


3. Emotional Dysregulation:


ADHD burnout can lead to heightened emotional sensitivity and irritability. Non-ADHD spouses may find themselves walking on eggshells, unsure of what might trigger emotional outbursts or conflicts.


When reasoning with my ADHD spouse during his ADHD burnouts, he becomes irritable and often raises his voice, even when reminded of pressing tasks. For instance, when his friend was due to stay at our home for a short visit, he barricaded himself in bed on the day of the visit, unwilling to prepare the guest room. When reminded, he reacted angrily, raising his voice and expressing frustration. These instances of emotional dysregulation can strain communication and lead to conflicts within the relationship.


Key Principles to Weathering ADHD Burnouts More Effectively:


Even though these ADHD burnouts eventually subside, they leave behind lasting damage akin to the aftermath of a hurricane, where emotions and trust are shattered, creating fractures in the marriage. In the past, I allowed these burnouts to affect me deeply, allowing hurt feelings and damaged trust to fester. It wasn't until I recognized the destructive impact of these burnouts on my marriage that I decided to take action. Here are a few principles I've adopted to cope with ADHD burnouts, enabling both of us to navigate through these challenging times more effectively.


1. Control My Negative Response During ADHD Burnouts:


Recognizing any negative responses, like being passive-aggressive or yelling, is crucial as it can exacerbate the situation. By controlling my own negative reactions towards my ADHD spouse, I can help limit the duration and severity of the ADHD burnout, allowing the burnout to pass sooner.


2. Focus On A Handful Of Tasks For My ADHD Spouse to Complete:


Executive Functions are at the weakest during ADHD burnouts. Picking straight forward and simple tasks like taking out the trash each day, getting him to shave or shower, help my ADHD spouse build positive momentum to move out of ADHD burnouts. Furthermore, it helps reduce stress for me because task completion translates to some contribution to the marriage from my ADHD spouse. For the remaining tasks, defer them until my ADHD spouse emerges from the burnout. The priority is to allow the burnout to pass, so life can return to normalcy.



3. Explain My Actions When Needed:


I've found that clear and simple explanations help my spouse understand the situation better and reduce emotional dysregulation. For instance, recently he accused me of nagging him about getting the guest bedroom organized, I calmly explained that it was because we have guests arriving, and it was his responsibility to prepare since he offered his friend to stay with us. Though it may take a few minutes for the explanation to sink in, it pointed explanation helps my spouse realized that my request made sense. After a short time, he calmed down and apologized for his behavior, providing me an opportunity to negotiate those handful of daily tasks he needs to complete.


Conclusion:


Living with a partner affected by ADHD comes with its unique challenges, and ADHD burnout is undoubtedly one of them. While it's challenging for non-ADHD spouses to navigate during ADHD burnout, it's essential to remember that this is just temporary, and things will eventually return to normal. By recognizing the signs of burnout and implementing coping strategies, we can navigate these challenging times more effectively and minimize the compromise of our trust with our ADHD spouse.


Remember, you're not alone on this journey. Together, we can connect the dots in our ADHD marriages faster and create a supportive and loving environment for both partners. By fostering open communication, understanding, and patience, we can weather the storms of ADHD burnout and emerge stronger as a couple.

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