End the ADHD Cycle of Broken PromisesAugust 1st, 2012 by lexiewinslow
Either it’s very quick, with a personality clash that is probably driven by a pet peeve; or it’s deep into the relationship after a long cycle of disappointments and apologies, when one broken promise finally becomes the straw that breaks the camel’s back.
Personality Clashes, Personality Complements
If you have ADHD, you already know that some new friendships will fizzle away as quickly as they start. Life with a new ADHD relationship for someone without ADHD means getting used to behaviors like blurting, fidgeting, misplacing items, chattering to fill up silence, impulsivity, and constant go-go-go energy. To put it bluntly, for some people these habits are like nails on a chalkboard. Every interaction involving these pet peeves will breed compounding annoyance, and soon enough the relationship ends.
For other new friends or romantic partners, such ADHD behaviors simply will not bug them. A good rule of thumb is that the best friends and romantic partners to have around are the ones who naturally don’t take things personally, don’t sweat the small stuff, and whose feelings aren’t easily bruised. When you hope that the new person will be in your life for a while, I recommend that you explain the neuroscience behind your brain type, and acknowledge that you don’t want tendencies like blurting or fidgeting to harm the relationship. This helps to avoid any miscommunication about whether you mean to cause offense. Invite your new friend or romantic interest to help you keep your symptoms in check with a signal or quiet word. That way the friend feels like a teammate instead of an unlucky bystander.
The Big Three
Yet even the mellowest person can lose patience when ADHD-driven behaviors significantly interrupt daily life. After getting to know a charming, intelligent person, they come to discover that their ADHD friend acts like an uncontrolled teenager sometimes. When having a discussion about a topic, it suddenly becomes a loud, intense argument. They find themselves waiting for an email, a call or a ride that never shows up. This spawns an unhealthy cycle of fighting over hurt feelings, listening to the same old apologies and excuses, and then watching it happen all over again. With no change in sight, the non-ADHD person will probably suffer through the cycle a few times, then say goodbye.
In my experience, the three tendencies most likely to doom ADHD relationships are argumentativeness, distractibility, and forgetfulness. The effects of these behaviors can truly interfere with others’ lives, and can feel like personal attacks and deliberate gestures of disrespect. I recently shared my tips for curbing reactionary argumentativeness, and while I wrote in the context of family relationships, the message translates to ADHD relationships of all kinds. Now, I will focus on the dangerous duo of easy distraction and difficulty remembering…and the trail of broken promises left behind.
Dealing with Distraction
At the best of times, the ADHD hunger for stimulation is a super-intensified sense of curiosity, and it can be a very positive attribute. But when it’s time for a heart-to-heart chat with your new boyfriend or girlfriend at the end of the day, and 30 seconds in you’re zoning out…that’s when distractibility can really do damage. The message you send isn’t, ‘My brain does not respond well to such a quiet, slow-paced activity.’ On the contrary, the perception is, ‘I AM SO BORED! Who cares about your day?’
The most important step when curbing the distraction habit is noting the circumstances that cause or encourage it. Pay attention to the particular scenarios that bother your loved one so much. Where does this happen? When during the day? Do you respond to questions without really listening to them? Do you mimic paying attention, while really playing with an app or listening to the TV? How do you feel? Is this normal distraction, the mind wandering away? Or is it defensive distraction, shutting down when a sensitive subject comes up, or when you are being criticized? My prescription is to air out both sides of the situation in a non-confrontational, non-judgmental way. Do not do this in the heat of the moment; wait until you have cooled off from any argument. You will both feel better when you know where the other is coming from. You should also both reflect on the conversation in private later. As the ADHD partner, remember your loved one’s expressions and words, and fully let the importance of this issue sink in. Then decide on what you need to change, and creatively think about how to make the situation better.
A few tips to bump up your success rate:
- When it’s time to focus on your loved one, eliminate the other sources of stimulation. Ringer off, television off, smartphone off. Out of sight, out of mind.
- Try doing a low-impact activity while talking, like going for an evening walk. With your body in motion, your mind may find it easier to tune in to your loved one’s words.
- Work together to clarify expectations and goals, so there is something easier to work towards than a vague statement like “be less distracted.”
- When the distraction warning signs flare up, take a break and get it out of your system, then come back to giving your loved one your full attention.
Forgetfulness is distraction’s partner-in-crime. In a distracted moment, you will hastily agree to something without thinking it through, like attending a party with your loved one. Then the forgetfulness wipes away the half-formed idea from your mind, and your loved one gets stood up. When the two of you talk about it later, most of the time you might be genuinely surprised that you ever said ‘yes’ in the first place.
The truth is, your ADHD brain remembers things differently, but non-ADHDers have held you to their standards your whole life. You have been embarrassed and punished since childhood for this inability to remember the way other people do. This is not comfortable, and not fair. And yet, it’s life. The good news is that your brain is creative and highly adaptable. Even though it will be challenging, put your powers of solution-generation to the test and figure out tricks and work-arounds towards a better memory. Another incentive, besides improving your relationships is that a better memory will benefit every part of your life, from work to family to home life to finances.
Develop a system particular to you, that you find easy to use and can apply to multiple situations without any fuss. If your system involves physical objects like paper, make sure everything is as portable as possible. Here are some systems to try:
- Keep to-do lists and urgent notes on small index cards, and put the cards in an item you can’t live without (wallet, cell phone case, etc.).
- Use paper to draw what you need to remember. Create a picture of what your item looks like, and connect it to related tasks.
- Rely on digital calendars and task lists, available on smartphones and computers alike from Google, Microsoft Office, Apple, and smaller app companies. When you create your account, usually you can access the same calendar from all of your devices.
- Try mnemonics or memory tricks to remember things. The Internet overflows with lists of them, and Wikipedia is a good place to start. [LINK: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mnemonics ] Popular systems include Acronyms or acrostics to help you recall items in a category, such as “M-PACK:” money, planner, Adderall, cell phone, keys.
- To commit a task to memory you can visualize it. First complete the physical act of recording the task, whether it’s writing, drawing, or typing. Then picture yourself completing the task. Adding so much depth to this mental experience will make more connections across the brain, and increase the likelihood of remembering.
A Brighter Future
Promises define our important relationships. They can function like home runs – as if we track them on the scoreboard to see if a relationship is championship-level or no good. And what is a wedding, but a day to stand in front of everyone you know and say your promises out loud? It takes a tremendous amount of effort to follow through with commitments, big and small, especially when bad habits are working against you. The most important thing to remember is that your loved one wants to be respected and valued. When it comes to demonstrating that love, words are good, but actions are better.