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Does ADD Trigger this Destructive Cycle in your Relationship?

Posted on November 15, 2017





If you are an adult with Attention Deficit Disorder, chances are, you are no stranger to criticism. Perhaps you have been hearing about your downfalls and deficits for most of your life – from parents, teachers, employers, your partner, and, possibly your biggest critic of all – yourself. Changing how you respond to criticism however, could bring unexpected changes for the better to your relationship. Dr John Gottman, one of the world’s leading relationship researchers refers to both criticism and the defensiveness that often follows it, as belonging to a cluster of behaviors he refers to as the 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse, so strong is the association between these communication patterns and divorce.

According to Dr Gottman, when one partner is critical of the other, they generally mean well. In the mind of the criticizer, they are merely trying to convey what seems to them to be a better, more logical way to their partner. However, criticism is different from simply airing a complaint. Instead, it comes across as a problem with the person rather than the behavior.

For the person on the receiving end of criticism, the natural response is to defend and may well go something like “you just don’t understand”, “I can’t do anything right for you” or “Nothing is ever good enough for you”. The danger of this cycle is, as negativity builds over time, each partner is likely to become less tolerant of the other and even more critical or defensive. Small issues soon become big issues.

If the criticism and defensiveness cycle is playing out in your relationship these simple changes could make your relationship a happier place.

Instead of criticizing your partner: Try approaching the problem behavior in a more gentle way, and take care to keep your request specific to a specific behavior or need that you have. Make an effort to understand your partner’s point of view on whatever it is that you would like them to be doing differently. Let them know why this is important to you, and express appreciation for other aspects of your partner’s behavior.

Instead of reacting defensively: Try to take responsibility where you can. Rather than continuing to defend, experiment with genuinely opening up to what your partner is saying and owning whatever small part of it you can.

Work on simply understanding each other’s position: See if you can work towards understanding what your partner is saying from their point of view before you react. Within most conflict, there is an underlying need or longing that is not being met. Working on being curious about and understanding these needs can amplify the positive feeling in your relationship.

My husband used to be very critical earlier in our relationship. I can see now that he simply couldn’t understand why I didn’t do things as efficiently or logically as he did and thought that pointing out what I was doing wrong and how I could do it better would help me be more effective. All this did was make me stressed, flustered and defensive and often lead to a fight. Once we stepped out of this cycle and examined what was happening between us, I was able to explain to my husband how his criticism made me feel and we were able to work together to find a way for him to bring things up with me in a way that felt safer.

Learn how to calm yourself down: The other tool that Dr Gottman’s research found to be extremely helpful in de-escalating conflict is to use self-soothing techniques when you notice your stress levels rising during conflict. Due to that history with shame and blame I talked about earlier, it is incredibly easy for people with ADD to become very emotionally activated in the face of criticism or conflict. In fact, once you start paying attention, you may notice your body starting to react before you are able to put words around how you feel. Start noticing any changes in your body such as increased heart rate, shallow breathing, sweaty palms or a rising feeling of distress, and immediately employ calming responses.  What you want to do is send your brain the message that you understand why it is feeling under threat, but that there is no reason for panic. See if you can slow your breathing down a little, take some deeper breaths and release any tension you notice you are holding in your body.

Research has also shown that there are many benefits to taking a break from the conversation or conflict when either or both partners are in a state of distress. If you do take a break, and return to the conversation later on, you will probably notice that it is a totally different conversation now that you are both feeling calmer.

By working to understand how you and your partner’s behaviors impact on each other and stepping out of the criticism/defensiveness cycle, you will be making your relationship a safer and more joyful space for both of you.


Madonna Hirning is a Psychologist and Couples Therapist in private practice in Australia. When one of her children was diagnosed with ADD and she realised that she experienced many of the same issues, Madonna was finally able to understand aspects of herself that she had struggled with her whole life. While difficult and confronting at time, she has found coming to understand both the challenges and the advantages that come with her ADD traits to be a hugely helpful and empowering process.   Madonna writes about self-awareness, empowerment, creating a happy life and other struggles common to the human condition in her blog at

How to Be a Better Listener: 15 Tips to help you Stay Connected

Posted on October 31, 2017



Distractions. Inattention. Boredom.


A woman with ADHD once told me that when she is in a conversation with someone and if the topic at hand isn’t of much interest to her, she – like many with ADHD – zones out. As she put it, “I see their mouth moving but don’t seem to hear the words. My inner world is much more interesting.”

We miss so much- teachers’ lectures, lovers’ murmurings, children’s innocent wonderings and questions, driving directions, movie plots…all due to our distractibility. How can we improve our listening skills so we’re connected with our loved ones, bosses, friends and others?

How to Be a Better Listener: 15 Tips to help you Stay Connected

1. Become aware of your tendency to mentally roam.

2. Stay in the here and now. Remind yourself that you can think about other things later.

3. Find ways to stay connected. For some, it’s watching the person’s mouth or eyes.

4. When your mind wanders, mentally repeat what the person is saying.

5. Become more interactive in the conversation. If you tend to be a passive listener, practice interjecting your thoughts and ideas.

6. People love to talk about themselves. Ask questions; you’ll be more likely to listen if you are more active in the conversation.

7. If you’re in a class, business meeting or other type of lecture, bring fidgets to help you stay focused. Or doodle on a piece of paper. Some find it easier to listen if they take copious notes.

8. Sit in the front of the room at meetings, classes and presentations. You’ll be less likely to get distracted by others around you.

9. Many with ADHD have a tendency to take over a conversation. Remind yourself to take a break and allow others to have a chance to talk.

10. Don’t be afraid to ask the person to repeat himself. If you let the conversation go too long when your mind is elsewhere, it will only get tougher to re-connect. No explanations are needed other than, “can you say that again?”

11. Pretend that you’ll be tested on the information/conversation you’re hearing.

12. Practice not interrupting (very hard when you have ADHD). Wear a rubber band on your wrist and pluck it when you get the urge to speak out of turn.

13. Repeat (some!) of the words the speaker is saying so that it “sticks.” For example, if a person is giving you directions, re-state them verbally.

14. Be aware of distractions and eliminate them if at all possible, i.e. turn off the TV or radio. Move to a different room that is quieter. Sit away from doors and windows.

15. Think of how you can learn from this person- what is their message? How will you better understand her? Think of the conversation as a learning experience.

Listening is an art form. Having ADHD and learning to listen is a skill that you can hone with practice and patience.

36 Tips for Families with ADHD

Posted on October 16, 2017



Statistics reveal that approximately 4% of adults in the U.S have ADHD. The majority of those affected are not getting diagnosed, nor are they receiving appropriate treatment. This is most likely due in part, to the fact that ADHD in adults was not widely recognized until the mid 1980s. Since then, researchers have found that adults with ADHD are at risk of having significant lifetime impairments, partly because they often suffer from other disorders, such as anxiety and depression in addition to their ADHD.

Keeping in mind that ADHD is highly genetic and that there is about a 50% chance of an adult with ADHD having one or more children with ADHD, it’s no wonder that families with multiple ADHD members tend to have high stress levels, marital conflicts and find parenting to be a daunting responsibility.

Consider the common symptoms seen in both adults and children with ADHD:

  • Inattention
  • Hyperactivity/impulsivity
  • Distractibility
  • Forgetfulness
  • Problems with procrastination
  • Difficulty finishing tasks/projects
  • Emotional lability

When both child and adult share ADHD symptoms, it becomes extremely difficult and challenging for all family members involved. For example, how does a distracted parent keep an inattentive child on task? How does a disorganized parent teach a child organizational strategies? How does a parent with a short fuse tend to an overemotional child?

The adult with ADHD faces the already formidable task of raising a challenging child while at the same time trying to cope with his own personal struggles. If the parents’ ADHD issues are not addressed, they will experience tremendous difficulties fulfilling their roles as effective parents. The unique needs of each individual family member must be met in order for the family to manage effectively.

The challenges ADHD families face is addressed in the article, “When Mom and Dad are Distracted, Too: Parenting When Both Parent and Child Have ADHD.” Below are specific strategies families can use to improve relationships, self esteem and family life in general.

Family Strategies for Living Successfully with ADHD:

  1. Elicit help from your spouse and work as a team.
  2. Educate yourself about the disorder by reading as much as you can about ADHD in adults and children.
  3. Knowing that ADHD is part of the family mix, begin to shift expectations of yourself and your child. Expect that there will be more chaos, disorganization and tension in your home.
  4. Get babysitting help even if you are at home.
  5. Take parenting classes to acquire specific parenting tools.
  6. Realize that suggestions from well meaning friends and relatives may work for their (non-ADHD) children, but not for yours.
  7. Make sure that both parent and child’s ADHD is optimally treated.
  8. Hire someone to do homework with your child. This will knock down the stress level immediately for the entire family.
  9. Give yourself time outs when you feel you’re about to lose control of your temper; teach your child the same tactics. Ask your spouse to take over when you feel overwhelmed.
  10. Simplify your life in all areas: learn to say NO, or get into the habit of responding to outside requests by saying, “I’ll think about it and get back to you.” This tactic forces you to think carefully about the commitment before jumping in. Stop over-committing.
  11. Delegate chores to each family member – don’t take it all on yourself.
  12. Spend time with each child, where the focus is only on FUN.
  13. Learn to see the positive traits in all family members and remember to verbalize them often.
  14. Spend time away with your spouse, friends or alone to re-charge.
  15. Hire a Professional Organizer to get systems in place. Often times, children and adults with ADHD don’t have a natural understanding of organizational methods; a professional organizer can be extremely helpful in teaching such strategies.
  16. Consider hiring an ADD coach to help with prioritizing, time management, organizing your day, etc.
  17. Whenever possible, hire outside help with such chores such as house cleaning, lawn upkeep, etc.
  18. If budget is an issue in getting outside help, consider swapping chores with friends, relatives and neighbors. Ask relatives/friends to take over, then reciprocate with something you can do for them.
  19. Have quiet time for yourself after work. Consider spending 20 minutes at a coffee shop on your way home in order to re-charge, so that you have energy for your family.
  20. Have quiet zones set up in your home to help minimize distractions and sensory overload.
  21. Allow yourself to have “messy zones” at home so that there isn’t constant anxiety and frustration in trying to keep the entire house in order.
  22. Turn off the TV and phone during meals and turn on the answering machine.
  23. Have weekly family meetings to discuss problems and ways to solve them.
  24. Find humor in ADHD mishaps.
  25. See it coming and have a plan. For example, if your child has tantrums at the supermarket, leave him/her home with your spouse or sitter.
  26. Find creative ways for the family to do chores, i.e. singing/dancing; have contests to see who finishes first; offer weekly prizes, etc.
  27. Keep a large wipe-off board and color code using markers for each family member- for schedules, chores, homework, etc.
  28. Have a “home” for daily items that typically get lost, i.e. keys, backpacks, glasses, wallet.
  29. Have things ready ahead of time so there’s not a last minute frantic dash before heading out for the day: pack lunches the night before; put briefcase and backpacks next to the door where the family exits.
  30. Place a small white board on the fridge for family members to jot down needed items from the grocery store.
  31. Remind yourself and your family that ADHD is not a death sentence and that together, you will get through this through humor, creativity and thinking outside the box.
  32. Remember the basics: exercise, good diet and adequate sleep. Some find that meditating is helpful to maintain calm and focus.
  33. Simplify meals if cooking isn’t your forte’. Allow yourself to carry dinners in, and use shortcuts to make simple, fast meals. Many kids with ADHD are very picky eaters and it’s best not to fight the issue. Some parents find that having kids develop menu ideas and helping out in the kitchen motivates them to be more interested in their food choices. Supplement poor eaters’ diets with healthy snacks and vitamins.
  34. Use checklists and other organizing strategies such as a Palm pilot or paper planner. Make sure the system works for you, rather than investing in the latest gadgets just because they are popular.
  35. Pick your battles- let go of things that aren’t all that important. Ask yourself if it’s essential that your son’s socks match at soccer practice; is it worth getting into a fight over it?
  36. As parents, be consistent with house rules and show a united front. Follow routines; children with ADHD thrive on structure.

Things to Remember

Raising a family is challenging, even in the best of circumstances. Add ADHD to the mix, and the stressors can take a toll on all members involved. It’s important to recognize the special challenges these families face. Allow yourself to take a step back, to change your expectations and forgive yourself when you feel that you’re not doing a “good enough” job juggling family and work responsibilities. Think about new strategies, starting with the ones above, to help improve daily family life. Remind yourself that having ADHD is not your fault, but on the other hand, it should not be an excuse for the problems your family may be facing.

Recognize that you are doing your best, but most likely you will need outside help and support- from working with mental health professionals, to securing household help in managing some of the chores when possible. Remember to delegate household responsibilities, keep your sense of humor and get the necessary treatment for all members challenged by ADHD.

Each family member lends a special uniqueness to the family, with talents, strengths and insights; pointing this out on a regular basis will help improve self-esteem and draw your family closer together. We tend to laser-focus on the negatives which only creates more family tension and resentment.

Your job as a parent with ADHD parenting children with ADHD is extremely challenging. Keep your sense of humor and remind yourself that you’re doing the best you can.

(Originally published 2008)