Ned and Sue Hallowell Exclusive Interview: “Married to Distraction”
There are a handful of professionals in the field of ADHD who have literally changed my life. Because of the impact they had on me and how their work influenced my own personal life, I decided to change the course of my professional work so that I, too, could help those challenged by ADHD.
One of those people who opened my eyes to understanding my own ADHD as well as my clients’, is Dr. Ned Hallowell. His first book on the topic, Driven to Distraction, which he co-wrote with Dr. John Ratey, was truly life-altering.
I’ve heard Ned present at local and national conferences many, many times over the last 15 years and I never left without a lump in my throat or another wise collection of “Ned-isms”- inspirational stories he shares about his own life- which I continue to bottle up and take home with me to share with my clients, readers and yes, my own family.
I’m proud to call Ned a friend and was thrilled when he and his wife, Sue Hallowell, LICSW, accepted my request to interview them about their new book, which they wrote with the help of their colleague, Melissa Orlov.
Married to Distraction, Restoring Intimacy and Strengthening Your Marriage in an Age of Interruption “show(s) you how to make your relationship special, in the way that we all want our number one relationship to be special. We believe in romance, but we also believe in practical advice and dealing with reality.”
Married to Distraction recently received a starred review in Publishers Weekly, the major review publication of the industry. Each week, Publishers Weekly reviews around 25 books and usually only gives two or three of them starred reviews, so this is a major literary achievement. The people who review books for a living think Married to Distraction is excellent. So will you!
The book will be out March 16. Before then, it can be ordered on amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, and other online outlets. For more information, visit Dr. Hallowell’s website at www.DrHallowell.com or join his fans page for Married to Distraction on Facebook.
1. Can you briefly describe your new book, Married to Distraction, Restoring Intimacy and Strengthening Your Marriage in an Age of Interruption, and what it can offer partners where one or both has ADHD?
This book grows out of our 21 year marriage, and our combined 50 years of clinical experience in working with couples. We look at how the issues of distraction, interruption, overbooked-ness, crazy busy-ness, pervasive clutter, and non-stop information–so common both in modern life and in life with ADHD–impact marriage and other close relationships.
We offer a host of practical solutions to the most common problems, such as, how to break “the big struggle;” how to reverse the parent-child dynamic that so often develops between spouses; how to make time for what matters most; how to develop genuine and useful understanding of the other person; and many other common issues that come up in marriages these days.
We close the book with a workbook called “30 Minutes, 30 Days” in which we give couples exercises to do together, 30 minutes a day over 30 days, to help develop better communication, closeness, and empathy. Many people have told us that the workbook itself is worth the price of the book.
2. Why did you decide to write this book? Aren’t there others out there that already cover this topic? What makes yours different?
We decided to write this book because we have learned so much about the topic through our own marriage (Ned has ADHD, Sue does not) and through our vast clinical experience. Ned has an M.D., is Board Certified in Psychiatry, taught at the Harvard Medical School for over 20 years and has been seeing patients regularly in private practice since he finished training in 1983. Sue has an LICSW, taught at Simmons School of Social Work for 12 years, and has been seeing patients in private practice for about 25 years. Both of us have been treating couples and families in which one or more people have ADHD for decades.
Since we have seen and learned so much over the years, we are uniquely equipped to write this book.
While there are some excellent, well-researched books out there that address couples and ADHD, there is no book on the topic we know of written by a couple in which one partner has ADHD, nor is there a book written by two experts who, for decades, have been actively engaged in treating couples where there is ADHD.
Because we have seen so much and worked with so many couples and families, not to mention lived our own years together, we have learned in the trenches of true life the importance of empathy, communication, and positive energy in couples. We also see a positive side to ADHD, not just an endless list of negatives, not because we “believe in” a positive side, but because our immense clinical experience has shown it to us, time and time and again. But we also have seen how frustrating and terribly destructive untreated ADHD can be in a marriage or a family. We know that getting the diagnosis and proper treatment can be utterly life-changing.
For those reasons, this is a unique book, one that can save a marriage or make it better.
3. What is the biggest challenge in an ADD marriage?
The biggest challenge is developing mutual empathy and understanding. Without that, couples slip into the blame game. They struggle and fight. The non-ADHD spouse comes to feel as if she is the parent, not the spouse, of her ADHD mate. The ADHD spouse feels as if he is the naughty child, always being reprimanded or scolded, always slipping up, always causing problems. What Sue and I call “The Big Struggle” quickly becomes the standard pattern of interaction.
4. Can you offer 2 tips from the book that will help improve marriages when ADHD is part of the picture?
We’ll offer three, because the first one, which may be the most important one, can be difficult to carry out due to the shortage of doctors who truly know how to treat adult ADHD.
1) Make sure both spouses understand what ADHD is, and make sure that it is properly treated in the ADHD spouse by a doctor who really knows what he or she is doing, i.e., someone who has extensive experience with adults who have ADHD.
2) Set aside time every day to discuss and plan. Build a boundary around this time. No interruptions! Make a rule that during this time there is to be no blaming, fighting, or leaving the room. The purpose of this time is to discuss–not argue–and to plan what has to be done that day, that week, that month. As you do this, you will gradually learn how to communicate rather than struggle, and solve problems rather than create more of them.
3) Try to understand conflicts from the other person’s point of view. This is often difficult! But doing it gradually leads to mutual understanding, better communication, and deepening of love and respect.
5. How can one differentiate enabling vs supporting an ADHD spouse?
Enabling is a concept that comes from the world of addictions. The classic example is the wife who covers for her alcoholic husband, thus allowing him to continue to drink and not deal with the negative consequences.
A similar pattern can develop if one spouse has ADHD and the other spouse covers for all the missed appointments, obligations, and other mishaps that commonly occur in life with ADHD.
Instead of covering–which means doing the work of two people–the non-ADHD spouse can show support by making sure the ADHD spouse gets the help he or she needs. If the spouse rebuffs such help, the non-ADHD spouse should allow the ADHD spouse to face the consequences of his mistakes. That is actually more supportive in the long run than covering is, because it forces the ADHD spouse to deal with the problems he or she is creating.
The non-ADHD spouse can say, “I love you so much I am not going to help you become an invalid. I am not going to help you disown responsibility. I am not going to help you become less of a person than you could become. I am going to risk your anger, even your rejection, because I love you so much. I am not going to collude with you in bringing you down.”
6. How does an ADHD partner, who most likely struggles with distractions, impulsivity and/or inattention, work on improving communication and connection with his/her partner?
Above all, get the ADHD treated! As I mentioned above, this is not always easy, as doctors who know how to treat adult ADHD can be hard to find. But, you can contact the nearest medical school’s department of psychiatry and ask for a referral. Usually, academic centers know of skilled professionals in this area. Search high and low. Your marriage may hang in the balance.
In addition, read about ADHD. As you understand the complexity of this trait, its many manifestations, both positive and negative, you will develop methods of dealing with it that work for you. In addition to our new book, Married to Distraction, which is aimed at marriages, I’d also suggest reading Delivered from Distraction, which gives an in-depth look at ADHD in adults and contains many suggestions on how to deal with it.
Finally, make sure the person with ADHD is working on making changes he really wants to make. If he is only doing what he’s told, with no real buy-in on his part, the efforts will soon fizzle.
7. How long have you been married and how do you make it work, given ½ of you has ADHD? What is the secret to your successful marriage?
We got married in 1988. We both agree that the secret to our marriage is the secret to most marriages that work. So it is no secret. It is that we respect each other a ton. We argue, we fight, we disagree, but there has never been any doubt in either of our minds but that we respect each other.
Of course, that’s not all it takes. We also like each other, and we have fun when we’re together.
And we share a common dream. This is particularly helpful. We both had difficult childhoods, so our common dream is to give our 3 kids the happy childhood neither of us had. We make many sacrifices of time and money for our children, but they do not feel like sacrifices because they are in the service of this dream we both cherish.
8. What makes an ADHD marriage different from a non ADHD marriage?
LOL. So much! But then again, so little. At some level, all marriages face the same problems: getting done what needs to get done; financial planning; deciding what temp to set the thermostat at, what TV show to watch, what allowance to give the kids, whose house to have Thanksgiving at, etc.; and most of all, understanding the person you’re married to.
ADHD can speed everything up, introduce more chaos than most couples contend with, make communication especially difficult, timeliness a struggle, and bill-paying a dilemma. But, if understood and managed well, ADHD can also make a marriage lively, passionate, full of energy and new ideas, adventuresome, full of humor and wit, and just full of exuberance and love.
We really believe that if people learn how to manage ADHD correctly, it can become an asset not only in the life of the person who has it, but in the life of the couple and family as well.
9. How does having children affect an ADHD marriage?
More LOL. With children come a ton more responsibilities than you ever had before. You give up your time, your money, your energy, your sleep, pretty much everything for these wonderful little ones. There is so much more to plan! And planning is not easy for someone who has ADHD. There is so much more to do. And prioritizing is not easy for someone who has ADHD. There is so much more to attend to, and attention is not consistent in someone who has ADHD.
BUT, if you learn how to manage all this, chaos need not reign. If you visited our home, you would not find perfection, but you would find that we are a very close and warm family. We argue, but we love each other to pieces. And our kids are growing up to be wonderful people—so far, knock on wood, thank God.
10. Ned, you often say in your presentations that one of the best ways to treat ADHD is to make sure you marry the right person. Given one’s impulsivity, inattention, etc., would you say that many adults with ADHD do NOT marry the right person?
Many adults with ADHD in fact do NOT marry the right person. Nor do they find the right job. They make the same mistake in mate selection that they make in job selection. They marry and/or work for a caricature of a controlling 5th-grade teacher. They marry and/or work for a demeaning, reprimanding, angry person. Why do they do that? Because they got the idea, back in about 5th. grade, that that’s what they needed! Of course, that is the last person they need. They need someone who loves them for who they are and who can help bring out the best in them.
11. Sue, how do you manage living with a house full of ADHD family members? If I remember correctly, at least two of your kids have ADHD. Life must be pretty interesting, if not downright hectic for you. Any advice?
All 3 of our kids have ADHD–and wouldn’t trade it for the world. But yes, my day starts off with me having to organize many people’s lives. This is actually a skill of mine. For example, I am Chair of the Board of Trustees at the private school all our kids attended pre-K through 8th grade. I’m a good organizer and the social worker in me likes to find each person’s strength and help that to grow.
If I had expected or demanded of myself–and my family–that we be House Beautiful with recipes color-coded and everyone marching to my orders, I would have been sorely disappointed with what I got.
But that’s not what I was looking for. I wanted an interesting man I loved, and I wanted kids who would become whoever they were meant to become. I have that, and I have a career that I love as well.
It’s also important that I have a life of my own outside the family. I am part of many groups outside the home. I do not feel that I have to ride herd on every member of the family every minute of every day.
12. What is the “30 Minutes, 30 Days” Workbook included in your book?
We end the book with a workbook that gives an exercise couples can do together each day for 30 days. They spend 30 minutes together, allow no interruptions, and do the exercise. Each one is aimed at improving empathy and communication. As we said above, many people have told us the workbook alone is worth the price of the book.
Order Married to Distraction at Amazon.
Copyright © 2010 Terry Matlen, ACSW
Contact Terry Matlen at terry@MomsWithADD.com