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What strategies can help me feel less overwhelmed in my relationship with my ADHD partner?

Updated: Jul 3

What strategies can help me as a non-ADHD spouse feel less overwhelmed in my relationship with my ADHD Partner

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As non-ADHD spouses, we often find ourselves taking on more and more responsibilities over time because we feel like we have to. We frequently play the roles of therapist, caretaker, and cheerleader for our ADHD partners, navigating the ups and downs of their needs. Additionally, as we get older, our responsibilities inevitably grow, both expectedly and unexpectedly. Caring for aging parents, raising children, coping with the loss of loved ones, and managing demanding careers can all push us to our limits. This increasing load of responsibilities, often referred to as the "midlife sandwich," typically affects those in their late 30s to 50s. When we reach our limits, the feeling of overwhelm can set in, leaving us stressed, exhausted, and unsure of how to manage it all.


Common Ways We Become Overwhelmed


1.Taking on Too Many Responsibilities

Often, non-ADHD spouses feel the need to compensate for their partner’s challenges by taking on extra tasks, leading to an unmanageable workload. This burden is compounded by the additional responsibilities of the "midlife sandwich," such as caring for aging parents and raising children.


2.Lack of Personal Time

With the continuous focus on supporting our ADHD partners and managing household responsibilities, personal time and self-care can fall by the wayside. The demands of the "midlife sandwich" further reduce the time available for self-care, increasing the feeling of being overwhelmed.


3.Bottling Up Feelings and Communication Breakdowns

Misunderstandings and communication difficulties can escalate stress and frustration. When we bottle up our feelings instead of expressing them for one reason or another, it exacerbates the sense of overwhelm, making it harder to manage daily challenges effectively.


Here are my 3-Step Strategies to Feel Less Overwhelmed


Step 1: Figure Out the Root Cause


When you feel overwhelmed, take stock of what is contributing to your feelings of overwhelm. By identifying the root cause, you can determine the appropriate steps to take.


Question to ask to determine it your ADHD spouse is making you overwhelmed or not

For me, I asked myself the following questions:

  • Is it because I took on more responsibilities from my ADHD spouse permanently?

  • Is it due to added life responsibilities, such as helping out my aging parent, increased demands at my job, or supporting a friend going through a difficult phase?

  • Is it that time of the month when I am moody and impatient? (Even my ADHD spouse admits to having mood swings, jokingly calling it his "man period.")


Often, the root cause is a mix of your ADHD spouse's behavior and life's curveballs. Knowing the mix helps you avoid placing all the blame on your ADHD spouse and allows you to address the real issues more effectively.


Step 2: Communicate Effectively


Now that you know the root cause, it's time to share it. Why is this important? We are all in our relationship because we want a partner we can lean on and trust to take care of us, too, when we are in need. While non-ADHD spouses try to be considerate by not wanting to burden our ADHD spouses, holding back on our feelings is often based on our own assumptions. The truth is, your ADHD spouse wants to support you and will often step up to the plate. The key is to communicate effectively so they can respond in a way that supports you. Here are some of my tips for effective communication:


  • Know What You Want to Communicate Ahead of Time

One common problem for ADHD couples during communication is the non-ADHD spouse wanting to have an open conversation and formulate a solution together during the conversation. While it might sound collaborative, you are doing yourself a disservice. The point of the communication is to help YOU. Being specific about what you need as an outcome of the conversation will help you have a much more effective discussion.


  • Express Your Feelings

Help your partner understand your perspective by connecting the dots for them. Explain how specific situations or behaviors contribute to your feelings of overwhelm. I love to lean on this version of the "I" statement because when you tie your feelings to what they are doing and how it impacts you, I find that my ADHD spouse is more engaged in the conversation, shows empathy, and often agrees to help.

3 Step I Statement - Effective ADHD Communications Tool

  • Use Imagery to Help Illustrate Your Point

If you can add imagery when you are explaining your feelings, it increases your ADHD partner's understanding. For example, I shared the imagery of pushing a wagon up the hill all by myself and wishing that he could help me push the wagon together. This immediately clicked with my ADHD spouse, who then said, "Honey, how can I help lighten the load?"


  • Choose a Different Method of Communication

If face-to-face conversations are uncomfortable, consider writing a letter, email, or even a text first. This can help you organize your thoughts and make the conversation less daunting. Written communication allows your ADHD spouse to revisit the information, which is less taxing on their working memory since recalling a conversation requires working memory.

Step 3: Get External Support


Sometimes, we need others like us to lend a helping hand or ear. Here are a few ways that I have leveraged to help reduce my load:


  • Join Support Groups

While there is a scarcity of non-ADHD partner support groups, a few do exist. I have curated a centralized calendar to save you time in locating the next one. Additionally, I include my reviews of the support groups I have attended.


  • Delegate Responsibilities

Consider delegating some tasks back to your ADHD spouse. Many non-ADHD spouses often assume that taking on more responsibilities is helping their ADHD spouse or themselves. The reality is that assumption is often misguided. Many ADHD spouses want to support us better but just don't know how to ask or what to do. When you are having a discussion about being overwhelmed, it is the perfect time to rebalance responsibilities and build trust. This not only reduces your burden but also encourages your partner to participate actively in managing household responsibilities.


Tip: Make sure you establish an agreeable standard between the two of you. This will help you avoid retaking the responsibility back once you have delegated it. Read this post to find out more on agreeable standards.


  • Outsource Help

Consider asking for help from family or friends or even hiring help for tasks like cleaning, childcare, or errands. Many ADHD experts recommend this. Outsourcing can provide significant relief and allow you to focus on more critical aspects of your life.


Conclusion


Feeling overwhelmed as a non-ADHD spouse is a common challenge, but it can be managed with the right steps. By figuring out the root cause, communicating effectively with your ADHD spouse, and getting the necessary support, you can reduce the feeling of overwhelm and create a more balanced, fulfilling relationship. Remember, taking care of yourself is just as important as supporting your partner, and finding that balance is key to a thriving partnership.

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