Earlier this month, Max and I had a wedding on our schedule. To avoid a last-minutelove-bank panic, we pulled the clothes Max planned on wearing out of the back of the closet and made sure everything was clean and pressed and still fit after a few years marked by the increased calorie consumption of a leisurely retirement. We also set a time to leave for the 5 p.m. ceremony. I suggested 4:30. Max, who used to be a wedding photographer, said 4:20. All eyes must stay riveted on the happy couple, he noted, and not swivel to inconsiderate guests trying to slip in the door with tat-a-tat high heels and squeaky dress shoes. “We can’t be late for a wedding.”

But when I arrived at his house to pick him up, what did I see? A man in grubby garden clothes, unshowered, unshaven, and—in my opinion—way too nonchalant.

Yes, my heart sank. Yes, I was angry. Did I shriek, cry, pound on his chest? No. Instead, I made a big withdrawal from the love bank.

The love bank is a simple concept, (more…)


SuitcaseIn February, Max and I took a vacation to Peru. It was fabulous. But the most astonishing part of the trip wasn’t the colorful local festival, the handwoven textiles, or even the ancient Inca ruins of Machu Picchu.  It was the sight of Max’s suitcase as my taxi pulled into his driveway at 5 a.m. the morning of our departure. Standing outside his door, it was packed and ready to go.

During our 15 years together, vacations have always given me stomach aches. Among all of the things to worry about was that we’d miss our flight because Max wasn’t ready. His vacation-prep non-methodology has been to leave packing till the night before, scramble to get laundry done before the sun comes up, and then, with no time to plan, throw so many things into his suitcase he nearly dislocates his arm zipping it up. (more…)

dirty dishes

Photo by vegadsl FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It could drive me crazy, if I let it. But I know the clutter in Max’s house is a symptom of deeper issues. As I wrote in the last post, he’s described the causes: impulsiveness, wishful thinking (“I’ll clean up later”), anxiety (“I can’t do it”), and despair (“I’ll never be able to do it”). But understanding doesn’t put the dishes in the dishwater or sort the papers lying on the floor. For that, we’ve developed strategies.

First, though, here are the things that don’t work:

  • Anger and shame. Your partner already feels lousy, even if he or she can’t admit it. Why make those feelings worse? He’ll only get defensive, get angry, or close up like a clam. And those papers will still be lying on the floor.
  • Picking up after your partner. Eventually, you’ll resent it. Resentment kills love.


cluttered desk-purchasedThis is what I asked Max recently after a reader posted a comment saying he had just moved in with his partner, who tends to messiness, and is wondering how to help him. (See the comment in the Survival Tools section.) Okay, “tends” is likely an understatement! In my partner Max’s house, papers are scattered across his office. A pair of underpants hangs on the bathroom doorknob. In his bedroom, a pair of jeans lies draped across one of the dressers on top of two fleece sweaters, a shirt used for painting his house last fall, an assortment of mismatched socks, and another bundle of papers. A mound of clean clothes lies crumpled in the corner. And his kitchen counters are so dense with dirty dishes, crumb-coated cutting boards, vegetable peelings, scraps of paper, and, far too often, unpaid bills that even the ants are daunted.

All of this is hard for me to understand. I’m tidy by nature. In fact, most of the time I enjoy tidying up. But even when I don’t feel like washing the dishes or hanging my clothes in the closet, I do it anyway.

So why is Max so messy? He gave me a list of answers, some of which I might have guessed and others that surprised me. (more…)

Neutralize anger with an antidote

Now that the holidays are over, it’s time to pick up the pieces. I’m not talking about the crumpled wrapping paper, the brownie crumbs, or the lamp Cousin Jerry knocked over when he demonstrated his new Wii-enabled golf swing. I mean the shards of your relationship, which may have been shattered by anger.

When I scan the online ADD forums, anger is everywhere. Partners say they’re bullied, snapped at, intimidated by rage. Anger was a problem for me, too. I’d get mad at Max–for being late, forgetting appointments, not getting things done, yadda, yadda, yadda. He’d defend himself vehemently–jaw tight, voice raised, eyes hard. You’re making too much of this, he’d say. You’re too bossy, too controlling. And I’d crumple like a tin can under a heavy boot.

The experts say that if you have ADD, you probably have a short fuse. “The ADHD group exhibited significantly higher levels of trait and state anger, more dysfunctional and socially inappropriate ways of expressing anger, as well as more symptoms of psychological distress … than the non-ADHD group,” concluded Ramirez et al in the summary of their study, described in the Journal of Attention Disorders.

Why? Difficulty managing emotions is a consequence of the larger disability in executive functioning. And your ADD partner has lots of negative emotions to manage. He’s been misjudged, blamed, and humiliated. Every day, he’s thwarted by the limits of his own brain, often frustrated, and frequently discouraged. That’s why criticizing your ADD partner is like throwing gasoline on a heap of dry tinder and lighting a match. It’s going to roar.

But I get mad, too. REALLY mad. When that happens, I’ve learned that for me, just as for Max, it’s not about the present but the past. (more…)

Available on Amazon for the Kindle

As the readers of this blog know, a relationship with an ADHD partner is often frustrating, rarely boring, and–if you can maintain the right attitude–funny. So my ADHD partner and I figured, Why not turn these experiences into a novel? So we did. Titled Prey for Zion and written under the pen name E.D. MacDavey, it’s a thriller/mystery/ comedy set in Zion National Park. Considering the central characters are a couple of retired folks in a trailer (which we own), we needed the ADHD spin to rev up the thrilling parts, but the comedy was natural. And the plot is timely: The antagonist is a powerful Mormon businessman running for political office. Polygamy, drones, provocative Morman tales, and a true historical mystery. You’ll find it here on Amazon.com as a Kindle book. Introductory price: 99 cents, free if you’re a member of Amazon Prime.

Why do we think Prey for Zion is worth a chunk of your weekend and the price of a McDonald’s hamburger? Well, I’m a former journalist, I’ve won a lot of awards for my nonfiction work, and I have another, traditionally published novel under my belt, so the writing is pretty good. My partner, aka Max, is an editor and photographer. He did most of the research and generated the basic concept, and in true ADHD style, unearthed massive amounts of detailed information and generated so many ideas it was like popcorn firing in a pan. But really, how many books do you know feature an ADHD/non-ADHD couple as accidental sleuths?

ADHD/non-ADHD couple on the road

ADHD husband wanders off where he’s not supposed to and … well, I can’t reveal that without spoiling the book.

Non-ADHD wife goes with ADHD husband and finds herself in situations (can’t say what) she never would have gotten into on her own.

ADHD husband breaks all the national park rules, which causes … hmm, can’t tell you that either.

Non-ADHD wife gets fed up with ADHD husband’s antics (of course) but as the more socially conventional partner, has befriended an array of characters who just might hold the key to the mystery.

ADHD husband pursues risk, strides off without telling his wife where he’s going (sigh), forgets his cell phone (sound familiar?), and … darn, can’t tell you the rest but this is where the thrills come in.

Non-ADHD partner takes unanticipated “adventures”

We’ve gotten four five-star reviews on Amazon so far. (“A witty, adventure-packed, and timely tale!” “Great story, interesting characters!”) If you read the book, I hope you’ll write a review there and/or submit a comment on this blog. The link to the book is here. And if you’d like to read more about our experience writing together, check out the E.D. MacDavey author blog.

Clinging to old traditions can make you–and your ADD partner–miserable

I’ve long been a holiday Scrooge. Because my family lives far away and I was often alone, I decided years ago that it was better to ignore the hoopla and let Christmas slide by. Sometimes I’d take a walk on the solstice and leave it at that. But my first Christmas with Max, I was dragged back to old expectations. A week before the holiday, Max announced, “Let’s do stockings!” and my eyes lit up. Waking up to the heavy weight of a Christmas stocking at the foot of my bed, filled with small gifts carefully chosen by my mother, was a happy Christmas memory. Max and I reminisced. His stocking always held an orange. My special treat was a big bar of Nestles Crunch.

So I bought myself a stocking–bright red, quilted, a foot and a half long, with embroidered leaves and two jaunty jingle bells on the cuff–and hung it next to his on his fireplace mantel. Two days before Christmas, I surreptitiously stuffed his stocking. Mine, I noticed, was empty. On Christmas Eve, I went to his house at the agreed-upon hour. Max wasn’t there, and my stocking was still empty. Half an hour later, Max rushed in and grabbed my stocking. As I watched, mouth agape, he stuffed an orange in its toe and handed it to me. My heart sank.

ADD and holidays are a lethal mix. (more…)

How to speed up packing when the to-do list is long

I call it “The Long Goodbye”–the agonizing (for me) period during which Max prepares for a vacation. He always has a huge list of last-minute things to do, tasks that could have been done much earlier but are the routine, tedious sorts of jobs that someone with ADD puts off until an imminent crisis (or trip) lights the fire that launches him into action. And when you’re preparing for a 7-week-long trip to Baja, for which you will be driving 3,000 miles EACH WAY with a trailer, and during which you will be hiking, kayaking, snorkeling, and camping, the prep list pretty much hangs off the table and extends a couple of yards across the floor.

Usually I avoid the pre-trip frenzy by sequestering myself in my own calm and orderly house (see Strategy #17 below: “Don’t be around when he packs”), but this time was different. (more…)

An ADD partner will do just about anything for 10 minutes if it happens right now.

If you don’t have ADD, your sense of time is detailed and expansive. “Later this afternoon” is about 4 o’clock. “Tomorrow morning” comes at 8. Next week–you can envision that. Saturday night? I bet you know just where that fits in your weekly schedule.

But for those with ADD, time is a lot simpler. As the saying goes, it’s either Now or Not Now.

So what happens when you want to pick a time with your ADD partner to rake the leaves, hang a picture in the living room, or clean the gutters? Nothing. Because the future, even if it’s just a few ticks away on your internal clock, is Not Now on his.

But there’s a solution here, and it’s an easy one. When you want something done, put on his timepiece. Seize the moment. Embrace the Now.

“Say, Max, before we head out to the movies, would you please take those heavy bags of water-softener salt out of the car and bring them to the basement?”

Works like a charm. For someone with ADD, movement is almost always better than sitting around. And, Max says, “You can get me to do almost anything for 10 minutes.”

Moving furniture, throwing in a load of laundry, cleaning off the kitchen counter, (more…)

Every week I browse a few of the ADD forums, read postings by partners of those with ADD, and get depressed.

“Why can’t my partner …?”

“How can I get him to …?”

“I’m overwhelmed. He leaves his junk everywhere. The house is a mess.”

“I don’t think I can live like this anymore.”

Today, heartbreakingly, someone wrote: “Everything is about him. I feel like my life has stopped.”

Because my relationship is going well, I want to reach out and help but I don’t know where to start. Is there one action someone can take that will cause everything to change? I imagine a block of ice and a pick. Where do you  jam the pick so that the ice shatters? What can you do to break open a cold, frozen relationship so that new ways of interacting are possible?

I thought about my life with Max and the struggles we have gone through. And then I remembered a turning point. I call it the most important lesson I didn’t want to learn. Because you know what? It wasn’t about him. It was about me.

Before my “Aha!” moment, I, too, was consumed by critical thoughts: (more…)