Household needs to find better balance



November 21, 2023 - 3:09 PM

Adapted from an online discussion.

Hi, Carolyn: My hubby and I, both gay men, have been together more than 20 years. He’s diagnosed with ADHD and takes medication for it, which helps. The problems (for me) are that he is always late, he can never get out the door because of his forgetfulness and tendency to get distracted, and he creates a mess everywhere he goes.

I’ve tried to help by creating a “home” for items such as keys, wallets, phones, etc., but I serve as the “finder” of everything he has misplaced. He also takes EVERYTHING out and doesn’t put it back, which I understand because he is easily distracted. But I’m reaching the point where I’m more frustrated than ever and can’t deal with it very well. The constant picking up, cleaning and putting things away are getting to me. I know he can’t change, and he’s a great husband in all other ways. Any strategies for me so I can reduce my stress about this? — Stressed

Stressed: You’ve basically run into two walls: 1. He will not become tidy or prompt. 2. You will not assume a lifetime of extra daily work without feeling resentful.

So one potential answer that accounts for both walls is to: 1. Figure out roughly how much time you need every day to be the chaos-tamer. 2. Give him, by mutual agreement, some quality-of-life-enhancing responsibility that you don’t want that aligns with his natural strengths, such as errands or cooking.

This responsibility can really be anything, as long as it fits those basic criteria: It’s something he can and will do, it improves your life, and it requires similar effort to your chaos-taming sessions.

What would also help is to name and contain the jobs you’re suited to and stuck with: say, two 15-minute straightenings-up per day, which you limit by setting a timer, so it doesn’t feel like a constant, life-eating slog.

Readers’ thoughts:

• You might also get Bluetooth trackers for his keys and wallet so he can find them himself.

• I am this person in my relationship. Over time, we have come up with practical strategies: 1. Tracker tags. 2. A keyless entry system and a secure hide-a-key, so I don’t get locked out anymore. 3. Sometimes I just don’t really “see” mess, so my partner has learned to voice specific actions that are particularly annoying. 4. I can’t agree enough with setting up short intervals of cleanup time. 5. Cognitive behavioral therapy in addition to medication, for specific strategies to combat the worst symptoms.

• I have one of these partners, too. The dealbreaker question is: What is he willing to do to alleviate his problems OTHER THAN medication? Is he using tools such as visual timers? Is he availing himself of ADHD workarounds?

• As someone with ADHD: I hear you! This may sound counterintuitive, but I suggest your partner take on more in other aspects of your life, to balance his losing things. Your husband needs to “own” some tasks completely, from planning to execution.

• Highly recommend “Organizing Solutions for People With ADHD,” by Susan Pinsky. It might open your eyes to why your husband has these mental blocks.

• I am also the distracted ADHD person with a partner who is neat. Medication did not help me. What does work is, if I actually notice something that belongs in another room, placing it in a specific “staging area.” Every evening, I spend a bit of time moving things to the right room. We have both accepted that I will never be neat, but continual good-faith efforts help a great deal. Good luck!