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Why Midlife Is More Challenging for ADHD Spouses


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Navigating midlife is a universal challenge marked by transitions, reflections, and increased responsibilities. While only 10-20% of adults will experience a midlife crisis(1), recent data from an ADDitude survey sheds light on a striking contrast. More than 50% of respondents aged 40 and over reported experiencing a midlife crisis, with over 71% attributing their crisis to ADHD symptoms and attributes(2). As an ADHD therapist and an ADHD spouse myself, in today's article, we delve into the unique challenges that midlife poses for ADHD spouses and help other non-ADHD spouses understand these challenges.


The Collision of Responsibilities:


One key aspect that makes midlife particularly challenging for ADHD spouses is the collision of personal and professional responsibilities. For those with ADHD, who may already grapple with executive function challenges like organizational and time management, the convergence of these responsibilities becomes a daunting balancing act.


I often explain that an ADHD spouse is like a Jenga tower that already has some missing pieces (or pieces stacked precariously)– the initial structural fragility makes the addition of new blocks, representing increased responsibilities, a precarious endeavor.



Here are a few examples of the increasing demands of executive functions due to increasing demands:


Planning and Organization:

  • Managing complex projects and deadlines (Work Responsibilities)

  • Balancing household tasks and responsibilities (Family Obligations)

  • Budgeting and financial planning for the family's future (Financial Management)

  • Managing invitations and commitments effectively (Social Commitments)

  • Pursuing further education or career advancements (Personal Development)

  • Managing personal health routines and appointments (Health and Well-being)

Time Management:

  • Juggling increased workloads and responsibilities (Work Responsibilities)

  • Coordinating children's schedules and after-school activities (Family Obligations)

  • Balancing social engagements and maintaining relationships (Social Commitments)

Goal-directed Persistence:

  • Setting and achieving personal goals (Personal Development)

Self-Regulation:

  • Balancing exercise, nutrition, and self-care (Health and Well-being)



As ADHD spouses navigate these increased demands, the Jenga tower of executive functions becomes more intricate, requiring careful balancing and strategic planning to prevent the structure from becoming too fragile.


ADHD spouses trying to manage added responsibilities on his/her own.


The Stress Amplifier: Impairing Executive Function


The weak executive functions associated with ADHD play a significant role in intensifying the stress experienced during midlife. As midlife brings a surge of new responsibilities, the strain on executive functions becomes more pronounced. Think back to the Jenga block with missing pieces to start with, now as the stress amplifier starts pulling out blocks from the already fragile tower of executive functions, leaving the structure even more precarious and the ADHD spouse "less" functioning.


Stress and more responsibilities is causing more gaps in the executive functions

Here are a few examples of daily life impacts on ADHD spouses that lead to the executive functions becoming more pronounced:


  • Lack of Sleep

  • Health challenges that come with age and often old bad habits

  • Perimenopause

  • Increased financial pressure due to rising living costs, job loss, etc.


Unpredictable Life Events: Adding Complexity to the Equation


Midlife is often accompanied by unexpected life events. For ADHD spouses, these events can trigger intense emotions and add another layer of complexity to an already challenging phase. The unpredictable nature of such events can make planning and organization even more challenging, and emotional dysregulation can peak. Yet, the inherent difficulties associated with ADHD hinder effective coping. Now think about that Jenga tower becoming more fragile as unexpected life events pull out additional blocks, making it even harder for ADHD spouses to effectively manage their lives.


Here are a few examples of unpredictable life events that could further lead to more emotion dysregulation that impact ADHD spouses:


  • Job Loss or Career Changes

  • Lost of loved ones

  • Family Changes

  • Parental Responsibilities

  • Caring for aging family members or relatives

  • Legal issues


The Importance of Planning and Support


In the face of these challenges, planning emerges as a crucial tool for navigating midlife successfully for ADHD spouses. Seeking support, both professionally and within one's social network, becomes imperative. Creating structured routines, employing organizational tools, and fostering open communication within relationships can significantly contribute to a more resilient journey through midlife for ADHD spouses.


Join Me at the ADHD & Midlife Sandwich Webinar



I openly invite all to join the ADHD & Midlife Sandwich free webinar on February 23rd, crafted for ADHD spouses and their partners in mind. Hosted by Alice from Life with the ADHD Spouse, facilitated by me and LeAnn Levering, a therapist who focuses on helping adults with ADHD, this session offers practical strategies and tools tailored to the challenges faced by ADHD spouses and couples navigating the complexities of the sandwich generation.


Conclusion


The unique combination of increased responsibilities, amplified stress, and unexpected life events make midlife especially challenging for ADHD spouses. By acknowledging these challenges and implementing targeted strategies, individuals and their partners can navigate this phase with greater resilience and strive towards a fulfilling future. If you're seeking more in-depth insights and practical tools, join us in our upcoming ADHD & Midlife Sandwich webinar. Together, let's explore strategies to overcome the hurdles and thrive during the complex journey of midlife with ADHD.


Sources:

(1)Lachman, Margie E. (2003). Development in Midlife. Annual Review of Psychology. Vol. 55:305-331. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.psych.55.090902.141521

(2) Title: 'Hormonal Changes & ADHD: A Lifelong Tug-of-War' by Anni Layne Rodgers (Dec 12, 2023) at ADDitude Magazine. Read More

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