ADD Partners – When Good Love Goes Bad

Drawing of a man and a woman sitting back to back, arms crossed, and clearly not communicating.He said, She said

by Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC

Marriage therapists say there are three sides to every story:  his side, her side, and what happened.

Misunderstandings abound, even in relationships
where neither partner is struggling with one of the Alphabet Disorders.

But I’d be tempted to argue for a fourth side with ADD/EFD in the picture — especially when it has been recently diagnosed or (holy moly!) undiagnosed, maybe barely suspected.

It seems to make no difference if the participants are intelligent, psychologically savvy individuals — without the knowledge of the impact of kludgy Executive Functioning on perception and pragmatics, the curve ball injected when ADD/EFD is part of the dynamic can set up situations that defy analysis.

In fact, psychological models often muddy the waters, aiming terms like “resistance,” “struggles for control,” passive-aggressive behavior,” and “ambivalence” at situations where ADD/EFD is clearly the one and only culprit — but only to the EFD knowledgeable who remember to look for it there first.

Help that didn’t

I spent almost a year in therapy working on my “feelings of ambivalence” toward my sister — “repressed,” of course.  The presenting evidence?  I was chronically late to any activity we planned together, often because I was unable to find my keys so I could lock the door behind me when I left my Manhattan apartment.

I knew that my sister interpreted my lateness as a sign that I didn’t want to spend time with her or that I didn’t  care about her feelings.  Every shared event began with a tense half-hour at the very least, if only because I was so frazzled from my attempts to make it on time.

“You could at least call!   Why don’t you do that?”  hung in the air,
even on those occasions when she didn’t actually say it.

The answer????? 

Why didn’t I call?

Remember, this was before cell phones – which changes things a bit today.

Back then it seemed to me that calling to tell her that I would not make it on time would only make things worse!   Not only would it take additional time to make the call from the land-line at my apartment, I’d have to deal with her annoyance or anger on the telephone, which would require time to recenter before I could realistically expect to solve the problem that prompted the call to begin with!

THEN, if anything else went wrong I was doubly damned.

If I had to wait for the subway at the station near my apartment and again at the station where I needed to change trains (or if the train stopped in any of the stations between us for any length of time), and I arrived later than the amended arrival time, I was pretty sure that everything would escalate.

I was afraid I’d have to deal with her experience of having her feelings “overlooked” twice, along with my own feelings of anxiety during the entire trip, counting down the seconds as I prayed that I wouldn’t be later than my original estimate.

You see what you expect to see

My well-meaning therapist led me down an exploration of why I “allowed” the dynamic to continue.  I couldn’t say, other than to attempt to describe the process leading up to leaving my apartment, far too late to make it to my sister’s apartment on time.

“Why don’t you start earlier?”

Good question.

“Why don’t you hang your keys on a hook by the door
so you will always be able to find them?”

Another good question

“Why don’t you give yourself a buffer  — set the amended
arrival time later than you actually expect to arrive?”

It certainly would make good sense to do so.  I wonder why I don’t?

In subsequent articles I will answer these questions. I will also explain some of the systems I have put into place to change the process — so that those of you dealing with a similar dynamic around similar issues can model your solutions after mine.

Right now, I offer this sad tale to illustrate two important points:

  1. That you don’t have to be romantic partners (or of the opposite sex) to get into messes that ADD Partner Coaching could ease you out of, and
  2. How easy it is to personalize, assuming “won’t” instead of “can’t,” even among the ADD knowledgeable.

My therapist and I both trudged down the resistance trail, even with the knowledge that:

a.  I had an ADD diagnosis,
b.  ADDers often have no sense of time beyond the now, and
c.  that we tend to Boggle under pressure (making the sheer importance of punctuality the very thing that reduced the likelihood of its occurring)

Black-eyed smiley with bandage on forehead and band-aid on chin - totally beaten up!It didn’t help to SOLVE the problem
in fact it made things worse!!

  • Alerted to the possibility that I probably harbored some unconscious enmity for my sister, I was primed to notice that I actually didn’t enjoy spending time with her when the time of my arrival overshadowed everything else.
  • I noticed that I resented the fact that she didn’t believe I was really trying,
  • I resented being forced to experience repeated distress over the fact that I couldn’t manage to get out the door.
  • I began to wonder why she insisted on my naming an arrival time when she knew it was practically impossible for me to know in advance how long it would take me to get from my apartment to hers.
  • I began to feel that she didn’t care very much about my feelings!

We spent increasingly less time together and our relationship deteriorated.**

My therapist and I created exactly the dynamic that we were trying to avoid!

After months and months of “exploring my unconscious anger,” I was now fully aware of my ambivalence toward spending time with my sister.  So I didn’t.

My “unconscious enmity” was now conscious.

One of my favorite sayings is the one that goes:

Drawing of a hammer driving a nail into a board.IF all you’ve got’s a hammer, everything’s a nail.

  • As long as we look for blocks, resistance and procrastination as we Sherlock relationship dynamics, that’s exactly what we’re going to see.
  • A screw looks a lot like a nail too, unless the distinction “screwdriver” helps you to remember to notice that the “nails” with the ridges and the slotted heads are actually screws!

By looking for underlying psychological reasons for my lateness we found them — because we created them!

A more effective model

With ADD/EFD Relationship Coaching we consider first the troublesome dynamics that can be explained by looking at the implications of struggles with Executive Functioning.  Then, BOTH partners need to have enough ADD/EFD information to change the paradigm before attempting to change the behavior.

When one partner in the relationship is struggling with one of the types of Executive Functioning Disorders, it’s critical for BOTH of them to understand not just how EFD effects the person struggling, but also how it effects relationships with them.

  • The functioning of the ADD/EFDer is likely to be less predictable than either partner would prefer, but that doesn’t mean that they care less, or that they are purposely behaving in ways designed to drive the non-EFDer nuts, consciously or unconsciously
  • It’s all too easy for the non-EFD partner to develop some unproductive shame and blame habits out of sheer frustration — which usually makes everything much worse.

In ADD/EFD Relationship Coaching, we’re Sherlocking reasons for behavior, not excuses for it.  We want to start by identifying the real elements at the root of the problematic actions, for a couple of reasons:

  • To mitigate the emotional effect on our relationships that comes from personalizing the behavior, and
  • To find a solution that allows both people to get what they want and need from the interaction and the relationship, despite the challenges of ADD.

If you’d rather be HAPPY than “right”

The functioning of the ADD/EFDer is likely to be less organized and less attentive, which may require more than a few work-arounds, but if both partners are willing to give up being “right” to be able to focus on finding a solution that meets both of their needs, I’ve never met a couple who couldn’t find one.

The BEHAVIORS are the problem, not the people or the relationship — so that’s where the focus needs to stay.

With the assistance of an ADD/EFD-knowledgeable relationship expert, you will be able to slow down, disconnect from the same-ole’-same-ole’, and discuss specific problems and behaviors so that you can, together, make some changes in how things are done.

Any couple, with or without ADD/EFD, has to do that same kind of work.  The difference is no greater than having to accommodate job demands that impact the relationship, or working out new ways to relate once you start a family — or any one of a hundred things that couples must negotiate in their partnership — except for one not-so-insignificant detail: the implication of the ADD/EFD information you BOTH need to consider.

Use the e-me form to let me know you’d like some relationship coaching help with that!  I’ll get back to you ASAP. (You can always get to it from right side of the darker/top menubar at the top of every post and page.)

**For those who worry
– several years later, my sister Jaye and I were able to work out our difficulties (including the implications of my ADD).  We became good friends before her untimely death from breast cancer exacerbated by Type I Diabetes.  Unfortunately, I had moved away from New York by that time, so we never had the kind of day-to-day, week-to-week closeness we might have had if my therapist had been more ADD-literate and less steeped in psychological models.  

So I urge you to make SURE you pick a therapist who knows a LOT about the implications of ADD.  Don’t trust your relationship to one who doesn’t.

As always, if you want notification of new articles in the Partnership Series – or any new posts on this blog – give your email address to the nice form on the top of the skinny column to the right. (You only have to do this once, so if you’ve already asked for notification about a prior series, you’re covered for this one too). STRICT No Spam Policy

IN ANY CASE, stay tuned.
There’s a lot to know, a lot here already, and a lot more to come – in this Series and in others.
Get it here while it’s still free for the taking.

Want to work directly with me? If you’d like some one-on-one (couples or group) coaching help with anything that came up while you were reading this Series, click HERE for Brain-based Coaching with mgh, with a contact form at its end, or click the E-me link on the menubar at the top of every page. Fill out the form, submit, and an email SOS is on its way to me; we’ll schedule a call to talk about what you need. I’ll get back to you ASAP (accent on the “P”ossible!)

Related articles right here on
(in case you missed them above)

BY THE WAY: Since is an Evergreen site, I revisit all my content periodically to update links — when you link back, like, follow or comment, you STAY on the page. When you do not, you run a high risk of getting replaced by a site with a more generous come-from.


About Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, MCC, SCAC
Award-winning ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching field co-founder; [life] Coaching pioneer -- Neurodiversity Advocate, Coach, Mentor & Poster Girl -- Multi-Certified -- 25 years working with EFD [Executive Functioning disorders] and struggles in hundreds of people from all walks of life. I developed and delivered the world's first ADD-specific coach training curriculum: multi-year, brain-based, and ICF Certification tracked. In addition to my expertise in ADD/EF Systems Development Coaching, I am known for training and mentoring globally well-informed ADD Coach LEADERS with the vision to innovate, many of the most visible, knowledgeable and successful ADD Coaches in the field today (several of whom now deliver highly visible ADD coach trainings themselves). For almost a decade, I personally sponsored and facilitated seven monthly, virtual and global, no-charge support and information groups The ADD Hours™ - including The ADD Expert Speakers Series, hosting well-known ADD Professionals who were generous with their information and expertise, joining me in my belief that "It takes a village to educate a world." I am committed to being a thorn in the side of ADD-ignorance in service of changing the way neurodiversity is thought about and treated - seeing "a world that works for everyone" in my lifetime. Get in touch when you're ready to have a life that works BECAUSE of who you are, building on strengths to step off that frustrating treadmill "when 'wanting to' just doesn't get it DONE!"

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