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When she forgets things...should I help her or does that make things worse?


I feel so bad and ashamed for being on here and writing this. But, I am writing because my wife has ADD and we have been married for less than 5 years.  I never really noticed the signs when we were dating and engaged. (she seemed to have things together eventhough there were a few times she was chronically late or seemed last minute) She didn't know she had it either and began exploring the option after we got  married. So she was diagnosed like a year into our marriage and thats when it seems that all of the signs revealed themselves vividly and profusely. I was not ready.


Initially I was skeptical and thought she just needed to "get up and come on". But as the marriage continued I began to realize this may be something worth considering, as she tried to keep things together only to watch them crumble. (losing keys, procrastination on school assignments, hibernation periods, piles & piles of clothes, compulsive shopping, finance/paying bill challenges, anxiety, etc.)  When I finally accepted this, I became very disheartned as I began reading up on ADD. The more I read, the more disheartened and sad I became, and I remember thinking "OMG...I've been duped and my life will be a disorganized late mess. I didn't sign up for this. Why me?" Plus we both are in  Ph.D. programs and work full time (she is a mental health therapist), so our lives were very full. We had sooo many issues and I would find myself getting so frustrated, angry, and overwhelmed with dealing her "can't get it together energy" without her even knowing it, seemingly.  It was like I was on the outside until something major happend, then we HAVE to talk about "why the savings account is in the negative or the light bill hadn't been paid in 3 months." 

So we both started counseling.  Things improved immensely, and I know she tries sooo hard and its a struggle to stay on top of her job and school. So I try to be as patient as I can. ..But its like things will go well for a time frame and then go miserably wrong.  I still find myself getting tired of the roller coaster of things and always having to be in "damage control" mode.  When I have these moments I go back to researching the ADD and I begin to feel better and empathetic.  But I don't know what to do or how to help. For instance, a couple weeks ago she texted and asked me to pick up her medicaton when I got off work because she forgot.  My immediate thought was, "Dang I gotta go way across town. She didn't have to work today until 2pm today , what was she doing? Sleeping all day like she tends to do? Is this an ADD moment? If I help her will she expect me to do this all time and enable the behavior?" So I am struggling with when and how to help and if my help will enable or truly assist her.

She says I should consider counseling to deal with my frustrations. I think I will do it, but it's like I'll be going to vent and then come back to the same problems.  But I feel bad for thinking that.  I love her so much, but I get so frustrated. Can someone help?


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I guess the first thing that comes to my mind is the question: Is she getting treatment for her ADD? But the thing is you have not been duped and you are not enabling her behavior by helping her. ADHD is not a bad habit or any moral choice. it is a neurobiological disorder. Treatment is possible and helpful, but the treatment depends on the individual as to what will help best. It's not your fault and it is not her fault. It's ADD and it is not going to go away, although it can be improved with the correct treatment for her. There are many options available, so I highly recommend an ADHD specialist for evaluation and treatment options.


Sorry that I don't have time for a longer answer right now. We have many professionals who help people like you and your wife, as well as others who have 'been there, done that' here on ADDer World, I am sure you will get some helpful responses.




Thanks for the respons Bryan....she is getting treatment but not from an ADD specialist. She has her own therapist and takes some meds.

I agree with Bryan. It will be very easy for you to be resentful that things don't get done. The fact of the mater is everyone has their own abilities and weaknesses.  Identify what is going to be a loosing battle (paying bills) and automate it or do it yourself. It took my wife a year of marriage (30 years this summer) to take over the books of our family. Your credit is important. My wife is the one who forgets things, I tend to avoid what does not interest me.

My wife still complains about my failings but with 2 kids with ADD I think she may have to deal with it. Counseling helps. You have another issue to deal with: she is a woman and probably has additional emotions the we don't understand. Our counselor recommended 

The Relationship Cure: A 5 Step Guide to Strengthening Your Marriag...

And I found this one very good: 

Good Husband, Great Marriage

With these my marriage may be better but the ADD is something that will me an ongoing work in progress.

Good luck and keep venting here. We want to help any way we can.




Thanks for the genuine and informative response. I will definitely check on those books.


First of all, there is no need to feel bad and ashamed for coming on here!! Looking for help is perfectly okay.

Secondly, you wife needs to learn some skills for dealing with ADHD. What you need to understand, though, is that learning skills is very difficult for us ADDers. And your description of things going well for a time, then crumbling, well, that is the story of MY life, and probably many others on here. Think about it from your wife's point of view for a minute - how disheartening is it for her to struggle and "fail" at things that are seemingly very easy for you, and are important to you? It is hard. I personally find that when one of my coping skills fail, they all fail!! I don't know why that is, it just seems to be the way of it, for me.


I am wondering if her meds need to be tweaked somewhat. It can take quite a while to find the right dose of the right med, or combination of them, to work for each individual. Skills can be learned, but it is much easier if the meds are working well!! (yes, not for everyone, but for a lot of us).

As for your question about helping her out when she forgets - I will ask you this. Let's say you could ice skate really well, and she had never been on skates. If she was learning to skate, and you were skating with her, would you initially hold her hand until she got the hang of it? If she fell, would you go over and help her up, brush her off, and give her some tips on how not to fall next time? Of course you would!! Would that "enable" her to fall next time, or give her the confidence to try again? Your wife is learning a skill. We all need some help when we are learning something. She may never perfect this skill, but it will get better over time. You mentioned that you feel you are on the outside until something really big happens and you have to talk about it. If your wife knows that she can rely on you to be understanding and helpful when little things happen, she may feel more comfortable turning to you when the problems are still small, or at least medium sized, instead of gigantic. It is much easier to fix the problem when it is little (Oh, darn, honey, I forgot to send in the check for the electric this month - can you help me to remember?) instead of huge (Ummmm, dear, I have been forgetting to pay the electric for the last 3 months and they are going to turn off the electricity).

In my marriage, my husband has taken over the finances, as to him they make sense, and they have never made sense to me. It has helped our marriage immensely!!

ADDers are fun, spontaneous and creative. You are not doomed to a life of chronic disorganization and lateness. Be careful what you read - some of it is truely really negative. One thing though, if your wife is tending to sleep all day, is she possilby also depressed? That really throws a wrench into things as well. However, it can also be really tiring being ADHD - every thing takes about 3x as much effort to do!

It sounds like you really love your wife - you guys can make this work! I found a book that was very helpful for me, called  "ADHD Friendly Ways to Organize Your Life." Get it, have a read, and give it to your wife, maybe along with an offer to be an aide in some of the ways the book suggests.

Oh, and as to meds - pick them up for her - you really don't want her to be without them either!! And, personally, I use a pharmacy that delivers, and automatically refills my meds at the one month mark and calls me!!!lol


Your response is very helpful. Thanks so much. 

Hello. I'm really sorry about your frustration. I understand. My partner was diagnosed with A.D.D. About 7 years ago. We have been together for 2 yrs. We just started couple couseling because I didn't like that I was getting frustrated way to easy. I was not like that in the beginning but I got there because I'm always trying to fix things all the time. My partner is an amazing soul. So kind to people and to our pets. Just adorable. But she will always be A.D.D. And I love that because I will continue to find solutions that will help her and me. The project that I'm working on right now is how to communicate and organize our home. I recently purchased a book called organizing solution for people with A.D.D. The book has helped me on how to get my partner to take less steps so she can complete her task. I have retail back ground so I though if our house was my store how can I get the shopper, my partner, know where things where at without a sales person, which is me. I refolded and organized the closet. I put labels so she she knew where the clothes went. Tshirts here, shorts here and etc I organized ALL the hygiene, Vitamins (in alphabetcal order), all the cleaning supplies all in a row and on a Shelf like in a store. Everything with a label. Everything. It was a lot of work but fun. She realized that we had way to much conditioner and no shampoo. This has helped her so so much. It has helped with her shopping and over spending. So While she has 20 things going through her head, she doesn't have to think hard on where to put the shampoo. One task completed. Good luck

Well it seems that you have a lot of support from others who deal with us who have add. I am not going to justify your wife's ADD. I can only share my story. I was diagnosed at 38 and I am pretty good at hiding it until I get home. Then I have nothing and go to lala land. (I don't know I am there) everyone around me does. I am also very irrational when a deficit is pointed out. This I am working on. That is why I am responding. I knew 10 years before being diagnosed and denied it. I got diagnosed and went on meds...I saw a difference but they were not long lasting and i could return to what felt comfortable...which lead to forgetting to take the meds....I tried the long lasting meds and I felt like an alien in my own body...not to mention the cotton mouth. So it was easier to go back to what was familiar, hyperfocus in the world and hypofocus (lala land) at home. I was in denial (you all expect too much why cant you accept that i am lazy....and the excuses go on) I did my initial research on line ADD and loving it...  how bloody wonderful it is....barf. I then picked up driven to distraction and realized that their are people who are in the same boat (not loving it)...I found a on line support group for women and started reading their stories and talking to them. Those stories gave me the courage to think that there was hope. I then read you Mean I am not lazy, stupid or crazy. This was the book that helped me understand my reactions to conflict and how I impact those around me who are not ADD. I am taking long lasting meds now and I am starting to forgive myself. It has improved my relationships. My recommendation is to get her to want to change...It was nuts here trying to get me to break through the denial. I could say I had it but I felt powerless to change because I was reading the wrong things. You want your wife to laugh tell her I was stressed about a presentation I was giving one morning and I forgot to take my shirt off to get in the shower and later I was putting my shoes on. one on and I saw a glass that should be put in the sink. so i put my shoe where the glass was. I am wearing the other shoe and took the glass to the sink. it took me 10 minutes to find my shoe. All I can say is I was thinking about the presentation...distracted by the glass, thinking about the presentation...where is the other show....presentation. I know you don't understand the craziness of it all but I think a support group is the way it changed my life and understanding. It also taught me to connect to the reading differently. I hope this helped.

LOTS of parameters to your question - and lots of imbedded questions included in that question as well.  If your marriage is to survive, you need to come up with some solutions together that will allow her to feel lovingly supported and you to feel appreciated, but not like "the only grown-up in this relationship."

I am writing a book about this: When Beloved Has ADD (alternatives to murder and divorce), but it is not available in any format I can send to you at this time.  I WILL move it upon my "put excerpts on my blog" list, so check out the "from my books" option from time to time, or sign up for notification of new posts.


#1 - throw the word "enable" in the garbage.  If she had a physical disability that you could see, it would be easier to understand how inappropriate it is to collapse enabling with assisting, but I promise it is equally wrong-headed in the majority of ADD interactions -- and will make your decision-process of HOW to help much harder.  

Is it enabling to go get the crutches in the corner for someone who needs them to get out of bed and go to the bathroom?  Bottom line analogy: compare what the person in bed would have to do to go get those crutches with your easy ability to walk ten steps and back, crutches in hand.  

My suggestion, using this situation as a metaphor, would be for the two of you to work out some [ADD-appropriate] trades, with some clear boundaries.  

For example: you would agree to be "step-and-fetch-it" for her (when it doesn't totally unbalance your own life & with clear rights to say "No" or "not right now" without penalty) in exchange for her (for example) mending and ironing for YOU whenever you need it (same caveats).

The caveats are what keeps things cleanly and clearly out of the "enabling" category where possible, but there will alwaysbe those times when oopses happen.  In those cases, the loving thing would be for either of you to pitch in sans grousing.

(For example, using this metaphor, you forgot that your interview suit needed a button until the last minute, or she didn't ask you to get the crutches for her the moment she noticed they'd slid away from the bed, and now she's desperate for a potty break)

#2 - MEDS are a different matter, IMHO.  I consider myself extremely high functioning, but when I run out of meds it is MUCH harder than you could imagine to get it together to get them working again  (don't judge - we have to jump through A LOT of ADD-unfriendly hoops to stay medicated, and sometimes it is not possible to keep things flowing smoothly)  Medication, for me at least, is what makes it POSSIBLE for me to drive my brain intentionally.  Expect "lazy, stupid, crazy"behavior when I'm unmedicated - it's highly likely!

IN ADDITION, the pressure of import makes me MORE likely to drop out one of the "keep medicated" steps, even when I AM medicated. (not true for all ADDers, btw., but a great many)

So picking up the meds (or the script/driving to the pharmacy to drop it off, meds appt. reminders, etc.) might be one of the things that you remain ready to step in lovingly when she "ADDs-out."  I have been on medication for almost 30 years now - jumping through those monthly hoops - and it has not gotten one whit easier because it is not entirely within my control to systematize.  If she is new to this, you have to expect that SHE will struggle here, unless EVERYTHING runs as expected and she doesn't get distracted in the middle of one of the many steps.

#3 - SLEEP ISSUES: quickly, were you aware that 75% of us in the ADD population struggle with some form of sleep disturbance?  You assumption that her "sleeping all day" is within volitional control might not be warranted.  That changes the rules of the game a bit, huh?  

NOT that its ok to sleep one's life away, OR to make it someone else's responsibility to make sure you don't (or to pick up the slack if you do), but you might want to explore what assists might be helpful to make sure she is awake when she needs to be.  (Another time on MY OWN struggles with this one)


#4- Don't be so hard on yourself for your frustrations OR for posting them here.  I admire your willingness to use this safety valve and the honesty with which you post your frustrations.  It IS frustrating to be "forced" to deal with a disability that isn't even your own! 

One of the things I always need to remind the ADD half in couples coaching is that the non-ADDers deserve extra credit for sticking rather than running away screaming - being pre-frontal cortex backup is NOT an appropriate part of the "standard" deal.

BTW- non-ADD women have an easier time with the "life support" role (unfortunately, a "standard expectation" of women in most cultures) than non-ADD men (for whom the "standard expectation" is that the wife handles this kind of stuff) - but the point remains valid either way!

SEE my post on Jeff Tytel's blog post 'When a spouse says, " I'm not sure I can live with your ADHD"' for more on this.

#5- Counseling is a super idea to deal with the FEELINGS - coaching will help you deal with the pragmatics (so that, over time, you have increasingly occasions where negative feelings get triggered.)

At the risk of sounding self-serving, I highly recommend that the two of you hire a well-trained ADD Coach for her (one willing to let you attend some of the sessions) vs. a second "handle the feelings" counselor for you!  ESPECIALLY since the two of you are Ph.D. candidates and need to get those pragmatics in place if you ever expect to append those initials to your names.


mgh (Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, SCAC, MCC - blogging at ADDerWorld and ADDandSoMuchMore - dot com!)
"It takes a village to transform a world!"

At 3:26pm on January 16, 2012, donna fergusondonna fergusonsaid…   

Hi, Sometimes we "think" too much about living. We all bring our own issues  to relationships, just don't have labels for them. These can even stay in  the background when our spouse's disrupts and gets diagnosed.  So......great!! Work on that one(ADD) and I will guarentee you will notice  an improvement in your whole life together. What I have learned............don't  let her handle too much responsibility, she WILL burn out. Do sit together  and make a schedule of bills, meds, dinner at mom's etc. Maybe a  monthy one, biweekly, your choice. Work it together, in the schedule,  schedule time to check to make sure the schedule is working........Get it?

 Things  need to become routine, dependable,important things need to be remembered.  Communicate, easy to say. You academic folks can tend to live in the head a bit.  So stay in touch with your heart as well, speak simple to each other and stay on  task. Be careful not to let things build up, maybe at the end of each day have a  touch base........make it a habit.

 Remember, you are both responsible for the light bill :) 

Make sure and take time to be kind to each other and don't forget to  laugh!

cheers Donna


I totally agree that one of the first things you can do for yourself and for your wife is to eliminate the belief that you are enabling her by helping her.  That is a little bit like thinking that you are enabling your cat by opening the refrigerator to get his food out instead of making him do it himself.  No. You do it because he CAN'T.  And there are probably many things that your wife, due to the ADHD, just can't do. However since you express your  love for this woman there must be at least as many things that your wife CAN do and do very well. Otherwise, I assume you would not have married her. ADHD is not a moral failing.  It is not something that you can just will yourself out of any more that you can will yourself to be three inches taller. She is who she is, as you are.  Go see an ADHD specialist, both of you, and see if there are different meds or a combo that works better. Then work together with you wife to figure out organization systems that will work for you both. Get a big calendar,color code things if it helps but don't make it too complicated.  Look into using a digital recorder to make reminders or get a smart phone that lets lets you set alarms or sends you messages, like pick up my meds today.  Set up autopay for the bills. Maybe you could actually time you wife doing all of the usual day to day things and then help her allot that much time in her schedule so that some of that stuff gets done without making you late. Get her a gorgeous wristwatch with multiple, and I do mean multiple alarm settings and sit down together to program it with all the usual schedule stuff.  There are even watches which allow you to choose visual messages which show up when the alarm goes off so that you don't stand there scratching your head trying to remember what this one is for. Then read up on sleep disturbances that often accompany ADHD and stop thinking that "sleeping all day like she tends to do" is a sign of laziness.( no you didn't say it but I can read between the lines) And after you have done all of this why don't you sit down and write up a list of all of the things that you ain't so good at and give it to you wife. If you actually think that the only reason you might need to go to counseling is to vent and that you have nothing to learn, then I would suggest that you should... well um... GET some Counseling. and I say this as your most loving auntie might are not perfect either Bozo. Honestly I say that with love.  Take good care of yourself and your wife. She is probably stronger than you think.


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