Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) impairs about eight million adult Americans, according to WebMD. Most ADHD diagnoses occur in childhood, when around 12 percent of boys and six percent of girls are identified. Men are diagnosed at a rate of 5.4 percent and women at 3.2 percent. These adults with ADHD often make relationships difficult. A high conflict ADHD spouse can be an enormous challenge to divorce in Virginia.

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ADHD and Marriage

Not every adult with ADHD makes marriage impossible. The National Library of Medicine, though, points to “unfavorable patterns” of conflict across many ADHD marriages. The findings included:

  • Marital problems of individuals with ADHD correlate to the severity of symptoms
  • Individuals with ADHD dispute more issues and more frequently in their marriage
  • Individuals with ADHD use dysfunctional conflict resolution styles more frequently in their marriage
  • Untreated ADHD can lead to the termination of marriages

High-Conflict ADHD

Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) Bill Eddy has coined the term “high-conflict ADHD spouse” to describe a marital partner who makes the relationship difficult and often miserable. The ADHD spouse:

  • Refuses to be evaluated or diagnosed
  • If diagnosed, refuses to medicate or seek treatment
  • Is unpredictable and impulsive
  • Loves provocation
  • Enjoys arguments and fights over inconsequential issues
  • Deliberately opposes you
  • Superficially participates in marriage counseling or therapy
  • Gaslights you over finances, conflicts with others, and work
  • Seems unaware of adult responsibilities while keenly aware of rights

While most adults with ADHD are not “high-conflict” partners, enough are that the spouse needs to be aware of the danger signs. Eddy says divorcing such a spouse tends to follow a pattern:

  1. You finally stop trying to adjust your behavior to your ADHD spouse’s behavior and file for divorce
  2. You endure a barrage of misbehavior as the high-conflict ADHD spouse’s oppositional behavior and gaslighting kicks into high gear
  3. The high-conflict ADHD spouse drags out the separation and divorce long past the typical six to twelve months needed in Virginia

She Has ADHD

Though girls and women make up a small part of the ADHD population at 9.2 percent overall, those disordered with ADHD grow up and forge relationships. If your spouse has ADHD, you already know the daily struggles:

The unafflicted spouse carries most of the burden of dealing with reality, handling conflict, and resolving issues. Eddy offers these suggestions for dealing with the delays and eruptions you can expect when you work with a Virginia family law attorney to file for divorce:

  1. Refuse to let your spouse shift the focus to you — her behavior and choices are the reason for the split
  2. Take nothing personally — Despite the supposed intimate nature of your relationship, remember that your spouse treats everyone, to a degree, the way she treats you
  3. Do not attempt to change your spouse’s behavior
  4. Avoid trying to be “helpful” or offer remedies when she is hyperactive and emotional; her defensive brain cannot downshift to logic

E.A.R. and B.I.F.F.

Two psychological tips are useful in dealing with your ADHD spouse. E.A.R. statements can help keep communication lines open throughout separation and divorce from a high-conflict ADHD spouse:

  • Offer Empathy — Defuse her by saying you do acknowledge her challenges and frustrations
  • Convey Attention — No matter how minor, find something positive you notice in your spouse that shows you are paying attention to her
  • Show Respect — High-Conflict ADHD adults usually mirror the emotions of anyone with whom they interact, so if you show respect for your spouse, she will respect you

B.I.F.F. statements are used to calm your ADHD spouse in verbal communications. In writing or in spoken responses, be:

  • Brief — no more than five sentences
  • Informative — Avoid offering opinions or advice
  • Friendly — Use the same light, superficial tone you would use with a restaurant hostess or apartment doorman
  • Firm — Set deadlines for your spouse’s response; end discussions that become unproductive

Eyes on the Prize

Being married to a high-conflict ADHD spouse can be exhausting, deflating, and frustrating. Divorcing one can be an even worse experience. Your lawyer is not your therapist, but most family law attorneys offer one piece of advice for all difficult divorces:

With every angry episode, every attempt at gaslighting you, remember to keep your eye on the prize. Even the worst procrastinator cannot hold back the inevitability of the divorce, and eventually you will be free.

You Have ADHD

What if, though, it is you who is the high-conflict ADHD spouse? After all, males have the disorder more than females. If you are the source of the tension, anger, resentment, and isolation in your marriage, you are entirely comfortable with your symptoms.

But recognizing your shortcomings can provide you with a path to improvement. Your spouse is divorcing you because of behaviors. Are you aware of and can you control your behaviors? Think of times in your life when you did control your impulse to argue:

  • Job interviews
  • Military service
  • Religious observances
  • Movie theatres
  • Formal galas

In all those cases, you ceded power. You let go. Letting go of your worst behaviors can set you free. Acknowledge that you are not a reliable narrator of your own behavior. Hire an experienced family law attorney and cede power to your lawyer. Early in your legal relationship, explain your diagnosis and behaviors, and allow your attorney to make the appropriate, timely responses to your spouse’s motions.

The Firm For Men is dedicated to representing Virginia’s men — all men, whether in the military, having high assets, or afflicted with ADHD — in all aspects of family law. Call our offices at (757) 383-9184 or contact us online today.