top of page

Unlocking Connection with Melissa Orlov's 4 Practical ADHD Couples Communications Exercises

Updated: Jun 7



Want to listen instead? Just click 'Play'!

During the last ADHD international online conference, my favorite ADHD marriage expert, Melissa Orlov, presented a session for ADHD couples. This time, she offered up 4 awesome communications exercises for ADHD couples to try out to improve the relationship. Over the past 60+ days, my husband and I actively engaged in these exercises. In today's post, I'll be sharing our insights on the level of difficulty, effort, and effectiveness we encountered with each one, providing a guide for anyone interested in trying them out themselves.


Who is Melissa Orlov?


Melissa Orlov, a recognized author and expert in adult ADHD, focuses on relationships and marriages. Her books, including "The ADHD Effect on Marriage" and "The Couple's Guide to Thriving with ADHD," offer valuable insights, strategies, and support for couples grappling with ADHD-related challenges.


The 4 Communication Exercises and Our Experience


Exercise 1: Verbal Cue


Melissa suggests using a verbal cue, a predetermined word agreed upon by both partners to address specific behaviors they wish to modify within the context of their ADHD relationship. Couples collectively choose a word they will use when the unwanted behavior arise. The cue serves as a signal to pause, fostering awareness and enabling positive behavior change.



Examples of Verbal Cues

How did we go about the exercise?


For us, we want to curb negative talks. I have a tendency of making unfavorable comments to my ADHD husband, while he often engages in rumination talk that brings him down. We established "Alibaba" as our verbal cue (under Melissa recommendation on using a word that can really get each other's attention), with an agreement to rephrase our statements once the cue is activated. Though it took some getting used to, the cue effectively interrupted our negative talk habits. Personally, upon cue usage, I promptly stop and rephrase my statement or opt to cease talking altogether. This decision stems from the realization that certain remarks (e.g., criticizing his cleaning skills or questioning his methods) are unhelpful for my husband, as they don't motivate him to address the issue—a result I want to avoid. For my husband, the cue serves as a prompt to recognize negative thoughts, leading him to pause and attempt to halt those thoughts. When I cue my husband, I employ jokes or positive statements, aiming to make him laugh in order to shift him to a more positive perspective.


Verdict?


Highly effective and the easiest implement between the two of us. Now, majority of our negative talk had ceased or caught in time to prevent significant damage. For me, my husband is now much more willing to attempt things again if they weren't done to my standards initially. As for him, he pivots out of rumination more swiftly.


Level of Difficulty

Effort Required

Effectiveness

Low

Moderate

High


My tip: Have fun with picking the verbal cue. Choose a funny cue can foster engagement from both spouses.


Exercise 2: Learning Conversations


This exercise centers on structured learning conversations crafted to prevent misinterpretations and enhance understanding between partners in an ADHD marriage. It employs the speaker-listener technique, a communication strategy designed to facilitate constructive and empathetic interactions, particularly in relationships or situations where emotions may run high. This technique is commonly utilized in couples' therapy or conflict resolution scenarios. The basic rules or guidelines for learning conversations are as follows:


Take Turns: Ensure that both speakers and listeners take turns, providing each person with an opportunity to express themselves and be heard.


No Interruptions: Maintain a focused and respectful exchange by refraining from interrupting while one person is speaking.


Paraphrasing: Listeners should paraphrase what the speaker has said to confirm understanding. Speakers can correct the listener if the paraphrasing is off, helping to prevent miscommunication and ensuring both parties are on the same page.


Time Limits: Prevent extended monologues or overwhelming the listener by agreeing upon time limits for each person's turn.


How did we go about the exercise?


We have actually been using this exercise for some time, even before Melissa's session. This is one of our staple exercises during our weekly check-in. Having the conversation structure established proved crucial, as it accelerate recollection of the exercise each week. We settled on the following structure because it is super easy to follow:


Speaker: I feel X when you do Y because of Z

Listener: Always start with "Let me make sure I understand what you say" and paraphrase what the listener heard.


For my husband, having the structure written down was incredibly beneficial, as recalling it from his working memory posed a challenge. Typically, I take the lead in the exercise by being the speaker first. My experience provides him with a good template when it's his turn to be the speaker


Verdict?


Extremely effective. This exercise is very good at dispelling assumptions about each other. For example, I learned why my husband leaves dirty dishes in the sink – he finds it most efficient at the end of the night, not because he doesn't care. By correcting our assumptions, we realized we both had misconceptions, fostering more open communication.


Level of Difficulty

Effort Required

Effectiveness

Low

Moderate

High

My Tip: Begin practicing with something small and minor, and document the structured format. This approach will lessen the cognitive load on your ADHD spouse's brain, making it easier for both of you to successfully complete the exercise.


Exercise 3: Structured Apology


The structured apology exercise underscores the significance of meaningful apologies with actionable steps for improvement within an ADHD marriage. Couples are encouraged to move beyond mere words of remorse and incorporate specific actions into their apologies.



How did we go about the exercise?


This one proved a bit challenging for us, as Melissa points out that many couples use apologies to justify their actions. In her session, she shared these two apology examples to illustrate the difference between a good and a bad apology – red is bad, green is good. Once again, we decided to agreed on a structured approach to communicate our apologies:


I am sorry for X; I can understand why you feel Y. I will do Z next time.


This approach prevents us from apologizing immediately without truly understanding what and why we are apologizing. By attempting to discern the other's feelings independently, we become more empathic, aiding us in adhering to the commitments one makes. Furthermore, the receiver has the right to confirm whether the other spouse correctly understands the feelings at the moment or not, provide feedback on the commitment, and both reach an agreement if on the commitment.


Verdict?


I consider this exercise is a real breakthrough for us. It serves as the tool to help us regain some of our trust in each other. This exercise steers us away from the often assumed 'meaningless' apology towards something more trustworthy. I believe that because there is actual time for either of us to try to decipher why we are upset or make the effort to ask each other why we feel the way we do, we are more inclined to go the extra mile to stick with the commitments we make in each other's apologies.

Level of Difficulty

Effort Required

Effectiveness

Moderate

Moderate

High


My Tip: It is beneficial to discuss the supportive structure that aids the ADHD spouse in achieving commitment immediately following the apology. For example, the commitment is to turn on the dishwasher every night before going to sleep, ask your spouse what help your spouse needs to remember the task before bedtime.


Exercise 4: Conflict Intimacy Conversation


The most advanced exercise, Conflict Intimacy Conversation, is tailored for couples with well-established boundaries, allowing them to converse without following any communication structure listed in the listening conversation exercise above. It provides a platform for articulating emotions without defensiveness.


How did we go about the exercise?


This was undoubtedly the most challenging exercise for us as we were unsure about how to practice it. I even reached out to Melissa for clarification. To us, this seems like a variation of the learning conversation, albeit without the structured framework we typically use. It assumes the couple is at an advanced stage of communication where entering a defensive mode is less likely.


Verdict?


As for us, the verdict is still pending on this one. We lack sufficient data to make a judgment. Over the course of 60 days, we believed we attempted this exercise only once, focusing on a conversation about my husband forgetting his commitment from the previous week's check-in. While we still drew upon elements of the learning conversation ('I feel x when you do y because of z') to initiate the discussion, it was not as structured, involving a lot of back-and-forth. Despite moments of upset, both of us managed to express our feelings, control our tempers, and conclude the conversation without harboring resentment. For us, this accomplishment is noteworthy.


Level of Difficulty

Effort Required

Effectiveness

High

High

Pending


Conclusion:


Over the past 60+ days, my husband and I embraced Melissa Orlov's four transformative communication exercises designed for ADHD couples. As we navigated the challenges of verbal cues, structured learning conversations, thoughtful apologies, and advanced conflict intimacy dialogues, our relationship underwent a profound evolution. Melissa's expertise, coupled with our commitment to these exercises, resulted in improved communication, dispelled assumptions, and enhanced empathy. Each exercise built upon the other, creating a holistic toolkit for fostering a deeper connection. While some exercises posed initial challenges, the positive outcomes were undeniable. Although we faced instances where ADHD symptoms affected our progress, the reality is we are not expecting perfection.


With Melissa's four exercises, along with my experience and tips, I hope they help you unlock a deeper connection with your spouse. Try them out, come back and share your experiences in the comments section below.


Like more insights like this?


I created this blog site as a centralized resource hub dedicated to providing support, resources, and motivation for those navigating the unique aspects of ADHD couples. Be the first to get first-hand insights, access upcoming ADHD couples training, enriching courses, and reviews to help you in every stage of your ADHD relationship journey. Skip hours of scouring the web for help — get it all at your fingertips by subscribing to our blog.




1 Comment

Rated 0 out of 5 stars.
No ratings yet

Add a rating
Guest
4 days ago
Rated 1 out of 5 stars.

you have poor taste in "experts"

Like
bottom of page