Sometimes Negotiating “Yes!” When He Says “No!” can be as important to an effective Adult ADD Treatment Plan as taking medication.
Patty: “Jim, we’ve just been invited to a fabulous weekend at the shore with Karen and Phil. I’ve got a babysitter lined up, and a kennel for the dog. Phil’s got a couple of tee times scheduled, and Karen and I will take care of all of the meals so it won’t cost us much. It sounds like such a great time, what do you think?”
After a lengthy pause and Patty needing to repeat herself, Jim’s initial response is“I don’t think so….I’ve been meaning to clean out the attic, and my ties need sorting, and it’s probably not a good idea…no, not this time.”
What the heck is he talking about? They’ve talked about going many times before and how much fun it would be to get away. Patty is confused, hurt and angry as to why he doesn’t see how great this mini-vacation would be for them. An exchange of harsh words ensues as Patty digs for the real reason behind Jim’s no. The more she pushes, the more combative Jim becomes. Finally, Patty calls Karen and declines the invitation, with great embarrassment and sadness.
Two days later, Jim says, “so, when do we leave?”
When AD/HD is part of a relationship, couples frequently struggle to find a non-combative means of moving forward in their decision-making process. When asked what goals my clients would like to work on, communication is generally at the top of the list. They cite anger, confusion, resentment, overwhelm, chaos, and rage as key components of their alleged communication process.
What are some of the reasons why AD/HD can derail effective communication?
Unrealistic Expectations. We expect that our spouse or partner should be able to listen to an idea and then sort through the details immediately, leading to an obvious yes, when invariably, they default to a no. Time and again, we find that we’re trapped in the insidious web of trying to sort out what’s really being said in order to get the answer that we’re seeking. This unmet expectation can go on for years without the knowledge that the AD/HD component, not necessarily willful behavior on the part of our partners, may be the reason why decision-making is so difficult.
With AD/HD, that process isn’t obvious or easy. There are a significant number of factors that can come into play and tangle us up. Let’s take a look at Patty and Jim’s scenario.
“Incoming.” When Patty started the conversation, Jim was in the middle of reading the sports section of the paper and enjoying a cup of coffee and was taken by surprise. He wasn’t aware that she was speaking to him until she said the words (a couple of times) “sounds like such a great time, what do you think?”
Based on many years of finding himself behind in a conversation due to his attention being focused elsewhere, Jim knows that he has no idea what Patty just said.
Embarrassed and ashamed, he responds as if he’s heard it all, thought about it and reached a logical decision. Before you begin a conversation with your spouse, make sure that you have their attention. Give them some time to digest and consider the decision before demanding an answer.
“Hello, anybody home?” Hyperfocusing, in this case on the paper, makes it difficult for the individual to easily pull himself away from the current task. Easing into the conversation would have helped Jim to more easily shift away from the sports to attend to the subject. Had Patty gotten Jim’s attention by touching his arm first and asking if he could talk for a minute, or asked when would be a good time to talk, Jim could have used this as a transition time to tune into a new idea.
“Whaddya say?” Distraction and/or the delay in shifting attention can result in the individual with AD/HD to not have heard correctly what was said. There is also a possibility that the individual with AD/HD may have misinterpreted what said. In either case, their response has a likely chance of being “off”, or random, or totally off topic. Interpretation from the spouse can range from “you don’t love me enough to listen to me,” to “do you ever listen?” Ask your partner to repeat what they’ve heard rather than responding from a position of insecurity and anger. When you become more emotional it can escalate the situation.
Feeling Out of Control: Not being able to attend to the conversation, or easily process the details can lead the individual with AD/HD to feel overwhelmed and out of control. This promotes a strong desire to gain control at all costs, through arguing, emotional outbursts, retreating and saying “no” when the person really wants to say yes. Give your partner some time to consider the proposition. Know that last minute decisions are not likely to get the results that you are seeking.
“Zero to 60 in seconds.” Some individuals with AD/HD have responses to situations that may seem to be excessive, or are based on little or no apparent provocation. In other words, it doesn’t take much to set them off. It can be difficult to converse about a decision knowing that at the drop of a hat, the wheels can come off. Navigating around the level of response requires being able to read the signals prior to a blow-up, or being able to re-direct the conversation to a calmer place for the moment.
“And They’re Off!” Besides feeling the need to defend and protect again the message of being wronged, the AD/HD partner may have a strong desire to engage in arguing as a means of stimulating his/her brain at that particular moment. At this point, the non-AD/HD partner is primed and ready to go to battle. In the end, they’re both so angry that they quit talking altogether.
“But, you said….” And yes, don’t be surprised if your beloved comes back to you later as if nothing ever happened, and is packed and ready to head for the shore. It’s as though they’ve forgotten the “discussion” ever occurred (and you know they probably did).
As they say, it’s complicated. There’s a lot of overlap between the contributing factors and many can be operating at the same time. It’s easy to be confused, hurt and resentful. But, now you know a little more about why the AD/HD factor can make communication so challenging.
Coaching question of the day: What will you do differently the next time you want to have a conversation with your AD/HD spouse?