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The Power of Encouragement in Communicating with an ADHD Spouse

As a non-ADHD spouse, I've come to realize that successful communication is not only about understanding their condition but also about offering the right kind of support. Encouragement has proven to be a game-changer in our relationship, fostering understanding, empathy, and effective communication. In this blog, I'll share my experiences and insights on why encouragement is critical to maintaining a healthy and happy relationship with my ADHD spouse.

Understanding ADHD: The Hidden Struggles

Before diving into the significance of encouragement, it's essential to understand the hidden struggles faced by individuals with ADHD. People with ADHD often hear way more discouragement throughout their lives compared to those without the condition. This is particularly true for those who remain undiagnosed until later in life, like my husband, who was diagnosed in his late twenties. They might have been labeled as forgetful, lazy, or unfocused, facing constant criticism that can profoundly impact their self-esteem. Therefore, often, they have developed ways to handle those negative labels, such as reacting defensively, walking away as soon as the conversation starts, or bring up other topics to get you to focus on another issue, etc. These are not great ways of handling it, but know that from their perspective, these are efficient methods that curb negative labels or comments because it changes the dynamics of the conversation.

The Communication Struggle

One of the primary issues we faced as a couple is communication. My spouse often struggled with staying attentive during conversations, forgetting important details, mis-interpreting what I say, or interrupting me mid-sentence. At times, I found myself feeling frustrated and unheard, and I needed to remind myself that he is not doing intentionally, this is the ADHD symptom acting up.

Encouragement: A Guiding Light

In the often turbulent journey of an ADHD-affected marriage, encouragement serves as the guiding light that illuminates the path forward. It's the compass that keeps both partners moving in the right direction. My experiences have taught me that offering consistent encouragement to my ADHD spouse is not just about being supportive; it's about being a beacon of positivity in the face of challenges.

The Significance of Encouragement

Encouragement helps my marriage in these 3 ways:

1. Boosting Self-Esteem: My ADHD spouse often struggles with self-esteem issues due to the daily challenges they face. Offering genuine and consistent encouragement can boost their confidence and make them feel valued and loved.

2. Improved Communication: When my ADHD spouse feels encouraged, they are more likely to open up and communicate with me. This can lead to more meaningful and productive conversations, allowing both of us to better understand each other's perspectives.

3. Building Resilience: Life with ADHD can be frustrating and sometimes disheartening. My encouragement can serve as a source of resilience, helping my spouse cope with setbacks and keep moving forward.

Practical Tips for Providing Encouragement

1. Active Listening: Encouragement isn't just about offering compliments; it's also about practicing active listening and showing empathy. When my spouse shares his thoughts or experiences, I make a concerted effort to give him my full attention. I validate his feelings and make him feel heard and understood. This validation is incredibly powerful and helps create a safe space for open communication.

Check out my other blog here on how I leverage the "rules of engagement" to help me be a better listener and have better conversation.

2. Use Positive Language: I choose my words carefully. Instead of criticizing or pointing out mistakes, I focus on their strengths and efforts. For example, instead of saying, "You always forget things," I say, "I appreciate your effort in remembering important details."

Celebrate Small Achievements

Living with ADHD can be overwhelming at times, and even small achievements can be significant milestones for my spouse. Whether it's completing a task he's been putting off or remembering to take his medication, I celebrate these accomplishments with genuine enthusiasm. Recognizing his efforts motivates him to keep trying, fostering a positive cycle of growth and understanding.

When I came across a short video by Anita Robertson about the level of praise and encouragement people with ADHD people need, I finally realized that what I giving, which was once or twice, just doesn't cut it for him. While neurotypical people like myself, only need 1 or 2 praises to get motivated, Anita's video showed me that ADHD people need way more, maybe 10 to 100 times more in order to get motivated.

Furthermore, I realized that the repeat praises at different times has a multiplier affect for my husband. For example, I like to keep my kitchen sink clean, clear of dishes and debris. Since doing the dishes is on my ADHD husband's chore list, it is he job to keep the kitchen sink clean. Every time, I walk by the sink when the sink is clean and he is near, I would give him a praise to thank him for doing so. After awhile, I noticed he started to even wipe down the counter tops without me telling. Once I noticed the countertops, I moved to praising him on wiping down the countertops each time I walk by. This practice has given our marriage a positive boost. For me, it helped fill my head with much more positive thoughts each time we communicate. For him, it made him more confident, allowing him to go out of his shell to do more without me telling him.

Offer Unconditional Support

I let my spouse know that I am there for them, no matter what. This sense of security can be a great comfort to someone with ADHD. I know this is not an easy step, especially when you are be upset. If you can't do it in the moment, do it when you are calm. Offering unconditional support along with encouragement is like peanut butter and jelly in a sandwich. They just go well together.

Seek Professional Help Together: If my spouse's ADHD symptoms are causing significant issues in our marriage, considering seeking professional help together is a wise step. Therapy and counseling can provide valuable strategies for both of us to navigate the challenges.

Encouragement plays a pivotal role in maintaining successful communication with my ADHD spouse. By offering positive reinforcement, active listening, empathy, and patience, we've built a stronger, more understanding relationship. Instead of adding to the discouragement he's faced throughout his life, we celebrate each other's successes and find practical ways to navigate the complexities of ADHD together. Encouragement acts as a guiding light, illuminating the path out of the darkness that has overshadowed my spouse for so long. Remember, communication is a two-way street, and by creating an environment of support and encouragement, we can grow as a couple and overcome any obstacles that come our way.


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