Getting along when only ONE of you has ADD/EFD

When you love someone who seems to respond in non-loving ways
Adjusting expectations of HOW to get to WHAT

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

She is so selfish;
He never listens;
It’s like s/he disobeys deliberately!
At this point s/he’s just making excuses.

The blind leading the blind?

Whether you are a parent, a partner or a teacher of someone with Executive Functioning challenges, unless you truly understand the parameters of the problem you are, essentially, “blind” about how to interact with them to get what you want from the relationship.

And they are, essentially, “blind” to your expectations and why you are so frustrated when they don’t measure up to your standards.

Related Post: Executive Functioning Disorders – NOT just kid stuff

The hallmark symptoms of Executive Functioning Disorders (of which ADD/HD is only one) negatively impact what I refer to as attentional mechanisms. That can show up a number of ways in day-to-day behavior, but the symptoms that seem to be the most frustrating — the ones I hear about most often — include inattentiveness or forgetfulness, difficulty completing tasks, and impulsivity.

Related Posts: Symptoms of Attentional Struggles
Types of Attentional Deficits

How ADD/EFD Affects Relationships

Alone or in combination, each of the hallmark symptoms can have a devastating impact on relationships. When responsibility for children are part of the puzzle, these issues become all the more complex.

Without the appropriate diagnosis and treatment, ANY of the implications of Executive Functioning struggles can destroy marriages and other relationships — needlessly.

Below are only some of the problems that have been reported to me most often when partners, children or students have Executive Functioning issues, interfering with their ability to direct attention at will.

  • Seeming inability to handle responsibilities
    Forgetting to turn in completed assignments, pay bills or put a toxic substance away from the reach of children, neglecting to clear debris or mend a hole in the fence that keeps the family dog from running into the street are only a few of the many complaints I have heard over the years.
  • Difficulty listening and paying attention
    Many tend to “zone out,” interrupt and talk out of turn, making communication a struggle for both of you. It can also cause the “vanilla” partner to feel as though what s/he has to say isn’t valued or important to the “EFD flavored” partner.
  • Trouble remembering promises & completing tasks
    Thanks to glitches in the short-term to long-term memory circuit, problems with Executive Functioning regulation frequently lead to forgetfulness, which usually shows up as poor organizational skills like: missing important events like birthdays and anniversaries, or repeatedly forgetting to stop at the store on the way home to purchase the ingredients for that very night’s dinner. What may look like a lack of willingness to do what they say they would do (or to finish what they start) may translate into an apparent lack of commitment when it comes to jobs as well as relationships.
  • Impulsive behavior
    Attempts to wake up a sluggish brain often leads to a craving for stimulation. With little attention to thinking through the consequences of their actions, this can result in irresponsible, even reckless behaviors (from experimenting with drugs to speeding and jumping from lane to lane despite the fact that there are children in the car).
  • Emotional volatility
    They may seem to simmer with chronic low-grade irritability, or temper tantrums may flair over things that seem inconsequential to you, leading to harsh words and major misunderstandings. Arguments can quickly spiral out of control because the person with “the problem” seems unable to talk through issues calmly.  The truth is that conversational hot buttons are being pushed on both sides, inadvertently instigated by a frustrated “vanilla” partner.

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Putting the Pieces of Relationship Problems back together

The first step is to identify the symptoms that are interfering with clear communication and follow-through in your relationship.

Many of the same treatments that are used with ADD/HD children can also help adults with ADD/HD, TBI and other Executive Functioning struggles to improve focus and follow-through, which helps deal with many of the relationship issues and calms down some of the emotional volatility.

If there hasn’t already been a formal diagnosis, make an appointment with an ADD/EFD-aware psychologist, psychiatrist or neurologist (ask when you call to make the appointment).

Related Post: Ten Questions to ask to identify a g-r-r-r-eat ADD-doc

Ironing out the Wrinkles

Couples therapy or coaching can help both halves of the partnership better understand one another, and will set things on the pathway to help heal any rifts that have opened in your relationship as a result of Executive Functioning struggles.  That handles only part of the problem, however.

The personal skills that most need refinement and assistance in Alphabet City are those that fall under the banner of the Executive Functionsneurological, not psychological – barely recognized or mentioned by most forms of coaching or therapy.

All over the internet you will read strategies to help with EFD-related relationship problems like the following – and every single one of them is a great idea that will never be actuated without some specific EFD-related understanding of what’s in the way:

  • Making daily to-do lists: everything from responsibilities to items you need to purchase or make sure you have with you. In addition, keep a calendar of important dates and deadlines.
  • Simplifying your life: clean up clutter and reduce the number of tasks expected each day or week to a small, easily manageable number.
  • Developing routines into habits: plan or review the weekly menu (or homework assignments) on a certain night each week, and pick a different night to review finances or cleaning to-dos, for example.
  • Communicating with power: make sure you repeat back any requests and agreements, to make sure you both have the same understanding what is expected.

When “EFD-flavored” lives are struggling with foundational elements that people with “vanilla-flavored” brains can take for granted, it’s difficult to follow-through with even the most basic advice.

Reasons, not excuses

In ADD/EFD Relationships, 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 EFD.


Finding a better way to relate

In ADD/EFD Relationship Coaching we consider first the troublesome dynamics that can be explained by looking at the implications of struggles with Executive Functioning.

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 just how EFD effects the person struggling.

With a kludgy sense of time, for example, the inner prompts for regular and recurring activities go haywire.  Unless there is an agreement in place about what kind of assistance is welcome – no matter how necessary – even gentle reminders come across as nagging and censure.

When there is little awareness of a tendency to drift off, asking a partner or a child to repeat his or her understanding of what was said is likely to make them believe that you think they’re stupid.

Survival Tactics in ADD/EFD Relationships

Even more important, is understanding how Executive Functioning struggles effect relationships with those who are struggling.

Check out an earlier article for my ideas of what is more likely to work with ADD/EFD Beloveds: Ten Tips when the ADD/EFD is Beloved’s

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 seen a relationship that couldn’t find a satisfactory middle ground.

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 relationship, 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 partnerships must negotiate — except for one not-so-insignificant detail: the implication of the ADD/EFD information you BOTH need to consider.

To accumulate some of that information,
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Don’t waste this free resource.

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If you’ll “like” or comment after the pages you’ve read, it will help you keep track and will point others to posts you find especially helpful (as well as helping ME to know what you want me to write about).

No TIME to read all this stuff? Want more help?

Don’t forget that Peer Coaching Basic Training is an inexpensive way to learn how to talk so that others can hear you.

It will help you sort through a great many “functional issues” so that you can design an action plan guaranteed to be more effective than what most of you are currently attempting to do.

Classes are a much cheaper alternative to hiring my personal coaching services (and the FIRST time I offer a new class is always your least expensive option by far). As always, class size will be small to allow for personal attention, so don’t miss the announcement if you want to make sure you sign up before the first class fills.

If you already know that this is something you are going to want to be part of, let me know in a comment below and I’ll make sure you have notice before the class is full (don’t forget to fill in your name and email on the comment form or I won’t be able to contact you).

Click and HOLD on the top menu above every page for a drop-down menu with more information about Peer Coaching Basic Training.

And I’d REALLY appreciate it if you would help me out by taking a few moments from your own life to spread the word about the blog and the upcoming TeleClass, OK?

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IN ANY CASE, do 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 privately with me? If you’d like some private coaching help with anything that came up while you were reading this Series (one-on-one couples or group), I have a few openings in my practice. 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!)

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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!"

13 Responses to Getting along when only ONE of you has ADD/EFD

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  4. Dizzy Chick says:

    I sent this to someone I think could use your help.
    Just reading the post could be a big help.
    sorry I haven’t been around for a while.
    I know you know that means something has been going on, and you would be right.


    • I’m glad you’re back – because that means that you are feeling better!

      I’ll be over to see what’s new on your site shortly (God willing and the crick don’t rise, as they say).

      I have been less active on other blogs while I’ve been spending a great deal of time updating & setting up the infrastructure for the “new & improved edition” of my Peer Coaching class that I hope to have enough folks enrolled to be able to start as scheduled. I’m spending a great deal of time setting things up NOW (when it’s too hot to go outside anyway lol)

      Thanks for passing this on and, as always, for reading and taking the time to comment.


      • Dizzy Chick says:

        I hope your Peer Coaching class works out!! I think it would be great!
        I wasn’t really away because of how I was feeling, my father died and it’s taken me a bit to get back up and running.
        I’ve been posting fairly regularly, but getting around to other blogs has been slow going.


        • Thanks for your good wishes for my class – for their benefit as much as mine, actually.

          I am so sorry to hear about your Dad, for your sake, and doubly sorry if you blogged about it and I haven’t caught up to that post yet.

          I know how long it took me to recover functionally when my father passed away – worse than my mother, even though I was closer to her, and younger when it happened. I can’t say I’m over either of their death’s emotionally YET (but I always say it would be so much worse if the passing of a loved one were a simple thing to get over).

          Sending prayers for heart healing.


  5. Now the re-blg button is back :0)


  6. Hello Madelyn. I can’t see your re-blog button?


    • Ah yes – the WordPress gremlins again – fix one thing, break another. I don’t know where to place the blame. Either one or more of them don’t test, or the higher-ups don’t give any of them TIME to test.

      I think my landlord is taking a page from their Happiness Engineers, however — so politely concerned about the problems vs. making the problems go away! (are they taught to stall or what?!)

      Thanks for trying.


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