Is ADHD part of your marriage problem?

Research shows that upwards of 75% of adult ADHD is undiagnosed.  That means 3 out of every 4 adult ADHD cases are untreated. This is a shocking number, especially in light of the problems it can cause between you and your family, friends and co-workers.

In a recent episode of the Dr. Oz Show, Dr. Oz brings to his viewers the topic of undiagnosed adult male ADHD and its effect on marriages. Now while I'm NOT a fan of Dr. Oz, due to his reliance on woo science and anti-vaccine mentality, this episode actually addressed an important issue. 
Dr. Oz begins by explaining that ADHD affects not only children, but adults as well. And, that when an adult has ADHD and is in a marriage, it can make his or her partner feel as if they are in a tailspin. One member of the couple finds themselves feeling they are never listened to, ignored, that they constantly have to remind their partner of things, to do things, to remember things, to get organized. The simplest task is difficult. Often we hear that they got married and now find their is no partner, "just another child" that requires their constant attention. Over time this can wear a marriage, or any relationship, down.
In the show,Dr. Oz has a special guest, Dr. Edward Hallowell, MD who as an adult was diagnosed with ADHD. I often recommend Dr. Hallowell's books to patients. Dr. Hallowell and his wife Sue, who is a couple’s therapist - describe how before the diagnosis the two of them had different views of what their relationship was like and how much strain it placed on their marriage. According to their story, which Dr. Hallowell describes here, and in many of his books,  there were many daily tasks, such as parenting their children, that his wife felt she alone did...without support.  “There were moments I was pretty frustrated and I wondered how I was going to get through another day,” she admitted.  Dr. Hallowell says, “ADHD undiagnosed ruins marriages ....but when ADHD is diagnosed, (an treated) you see marriages saved - brought back from the brink of destruction.”
Since his diagnosis of ADHD, Dr. Hallowell has dedicated his career toward the problem of adult ADHD and how it affects marriages. “I discovered that the struggle [of ADHD] can be turned into a victory and I wanted other people to know that this need not be a marriage breaker, a career breaker,” he says. “That in fact, if you get the right help, you can turn it around totally and become a winner - victorious not only at work, but in your marriage as well.”
Dr. Hallowell is the author of a more recent book on this topic, “Married to Distraction.” It deals with the problems couples face when one of them has ADHD.
During the show audience members described the situations they find themselves in as couples. Dr. Hallowell says, “If there’s one message I can get out to folks listening is that it’s not that he doesn’t love you, it’s the way his brain is wired.” Education is the first step in treatment. Fully understanding ADHD and its symptoms leads to understanding interventions, knowing what to do, and just as importantly, why you are doing it.  During this episode Dr. Oz showed images from an article published in the New England Journal of Medicine that illustrates neural differences between someone with ADHD and someone without ADHD. Images comparing a normal brain with an ADHD-affected brain illustrated a normal brain lit up like a neon sign with activity, whereas the ADHD brain is significantly lacking in neuronal activity—indicating that the two brains are processing information differently. To help others determine whether their spouse may have undiagnosed ADHD, Dr. Oz offers four warning signs to watch out for. Honestly, one of the real problems we still face when it comes to ADHD is that many people do not believe it's a real disorder. They still think it's a set of behaviours made by choice. In spite of the decades of research, the brain studies and genetic work that has shown how ADHD is a genetic disorder, inherited, for the most part, and unavoidable.
I always warn against simple check lists and self diagnosis, and want to stress the danger of self diagnosis again! Remember, MANY things can look like ADHD, and you need a full assessment to tell.  Dr. Oz did make these suggestions (warning signs) when looking for symptoms of ADHD:
Warning sign #1: Your partner is easily distracted. Is he trying to do several things at once, but cannot stay focused on one single task?
Warning sign #2: Your partner is disorganized. Are clothes left lying about on the floor all the time? Does he have trouble locating his car keys?
Warning sign #3: Your partner has poor time management. Is he never on time for an appointment? Is he a procrastinator who tries to cram everything in the last 5 minutes?
Warning sign #4: Your partner is unreliable. Do you ask him to pick up eggs at the store and he comes back with pretzels? Does he forget to meet you at a school PTA meeting?
Just because someone has these symptoms doesn't mean they have ADHD. IT can mean many other disorders, ranging from anxiety to depression to mild strokes! If you experience these behaviours (warning signs) in your relationship, see a professional. If nothing else, you might benefit from some "light" couples counselling and coaching for organization and planning. Right?
When is it ADHD? When asking Dr. Hallowell how someone can differentiate whether a partner has ADHD or not, Dr. Hallowell said, “It’s a matter of intensity and duration of these symptoms, which last over a lifetime,” and he offers two things you can do to help your partner focus—whether he has ADHD or not:
Tip #1: Try to communicate differently, not harder. Do this by offering to help with suggestions rather than by hounding and pounding your message to your partner.
Tip #2: Set up structure. Give him a list, but with no more than three items on it at a time. And, be sure to place the list where he can see it.
Of course the topic of ADHD medications came up. Dr. Hallowell pointed out that, "If diagnosed with ADHD, your partner may or may not have to take medications for it. Medications for treating ADHD do not always work. but they are highly effective in helping with focus and concentration when they do work. “Don’t be afraid of meds,” he says. “When they are used properly they are among the safest medications we’ve got. They’re very effective.” Dr. Hallowell says that his three children have been diagnosed with ADHD, take medication for it, and are all doing very well.
If these warning signs are present in your relationship, or at work or school, try to see a professional as soon as possible. Individuals diagnosed with ADHD often respond well to both medication and behavioural treatments. Make sure the professional you see (a medical doctor of psychologist) is well versed in ADHD, and has treated children, adolescents as well as adults. Someone with experience with rehabilitation in school and workplace settings is probably the best direction to go in.

For information on counselling and therapy services in Burnaby, Vancouver, Coquitlam and surrounding areas contact Dr. Roche at: (Office phone) 778.998.7975

As usual, let me warn you that this blog, any of my other blogs, or my web pages are not designed to provide you with an assessment, diagnosis or treatment. If you are concerned you have a health issue such as ADHD, anxiety, depression or Asperger's | autism please see your health service provider, either a medical doctor or Registered Psychologist. What may appear to be symptoms of one disorder can often be caused by another unexpected disorder. Other disorders, such as ADHD, are very likely to exist at the same time as another disorder (called co-morbid disorder) such as anxiety, depressing or OCD. You need to see a professional to find this out. On-line symptom checklists will not provide this, and are often misleading.

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About Dr. Roche
My name is Dr. Jim Roche and I am a Registered Psychologist and a Registered Marriage and Family Therapist (RMFT) in British Columbia. In addition to my doctorate in clinical psychology, I hold a master's degree in family therapy, a certificate of advanced graduate studies (CAGS) in school and educational psychology from Norwich University, and have completed two years of post doctoral studies in neuro-psychology at The Fielding Institute in Santa Barbara, California. In addition to being a registered psychologist, I am a certified school psychologist, certified teacher of special education (New York and California), and a Clinical Member of the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists (AAMFT). I also hold a doctoral degree in law with an emphasis in medical malpractice and education law. Beyond my academic credentials, I have completed two years of supervised clinical experience in both hospital and community based clinics and two years of post doctoral training in neuropsychology. I have served as director of behaviour programming for several school districts, as a consultant on autism for the province, and have held numerous academic positions including Clinical Instructor in Psychiatry at New York University and Bellevue Hospital in New York as well as being a faculty member at NYU, Brooklyn College, SUNY New Paltz, and Norwich University.

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