Dana, a regular poster over as Adder World always posts the best topics for discussion, really meaty and terrific, with lots of facets to consider. This time she’s hit the nail on the head again with a post about whether ADHDers expect too much from spouses/partners. This topic really makes me rumble the ol’ Bingo balls around in the brain. Yes, I’m sure we DO at times, expect “too much”. But there is also a thin line between dedicated caretaking and co-dependency. And anyone who’s spent five good minutes seriously considering the effects of co-dependency knows that co-dependency is a system. Every player is a participant, even the caretaker.
I’m sure there’s book or five about this out there, books about toxic caretaking. I have run into this issue before. I typically pick partners in relationships who are SO independent that they’re just self-centered jerks. But there’s been a handful of gentlemen that have been the total opposite. It’s almost like they want ME to be that self-centered person that defines them, that gives them something to “take care” of because I’m too busy to do the little things, and because in my younger days as an ADHDer I tended to select chaotic lifestyle choices…they want to be the right hand man…but then to resent “the Boss” even though the Boss in this instance, me, doesn’t even want that. Even now, even though I have made great strides in learning new lifestyle choices, and reminder tools I am aware that it could be easy to fall into these stupid patterns over and over if I don’t pay attention.
At this point in my life I am very ambitious, very driven, very absorbed in my projects. In my last relationship I was very open about that fact. I very clearly stated on many occasions that while I loved my partner, I was in the middle of an approximately three-year time slot where I really needed to work to develop some things in my life to the next level. There is a big difference between this, and someone just being a self-centered jerk…but because I’m an ADHD who is self-conscious about people mistaking her focus for self-centeredness, I don’t always honor my own needs as I should, and will give up things that I shouldn’t in relationships. I start to question my own goals and needs because I have someone expecting something different from me.
No exception, my last relationship. But like I said at the beginning, this is not about blame, this post, because it takes TWO to allow a toxic dynamic to occur.
My real point is about how caretakers are not always as benign as they might seem. The person who is always the accommodating one is not always in the right…and is not always supportive, though they work to appear to be. And if they are giving up important parts of themselves too, because of what they think the other person wants…bad times.
Having set this all up…I really haven’t taken enought time in my life to specifically praise my own strengths. Like many ADHDers, I focus a lot on my weaknesses…but my success depends on my strengths (thank you to Drs Hallowell and Ratey). And I have a lot of them…I’m very organized, I’m good at seeing the big picture, I’m a wickedly good event planner and people organizer…and I get along well with people. In order to make the most of these strengths, I am learning to identify my weaknesses so that I can figure out how to address them and help to keep them working FOR me, rather than against me as much as possible. One of the biggest things that I do in order to make that happen, is to set up visual cues for myself in my environment. I’ve posted about my filing cabinet before…and how I had put it in my partner’s office because I knew that HE wouldn’t want it in the living room, even though that would be the best place for it to cue me to do my filing. (See what I mean about it taking two people to create a destrutive dynamic?). He would also move things around on me, which would destroy my whole ability to function…and even after I got him to stop moving “big” stuff, I would notice little things.
I never asked him to just put up with me. What I asked very clearly, was for him to communicate to me when there was a problem, so that we could find a mutually useful response. But because of his OWN emotional baggage, he didn’t want a solution without conflict. He wanted to make himself more in control, by controlling MY stuff, not just his.
For a long time, I let this silent control pattern eat away at me, instead of calling it out. I internalized his actions as a comment on my value, my worth, my abilities. I can’t blame him for the fact that I did that to myself…but once I was ready to take responsibility for it, it was obvious that I could no longer let this type of dynamic continue. I tried a few different solutions, all of which involved both of us working toward a common goal (to be determined by the two of us).
But this isn’t about this relationship…the valuable nugget here is that I had a right to fail OR succeeed on my OWN terms. In this relationship, he, for whatever reason, was absolutely compelled to deprive me of that right. For whatever reason, he needed me to be wrong…he needed me to fail, but on his terms. This dynamic deprived me of the right to either succeed OR fail, on my own terms. He could not let my ways of doing things, which were very different from his, be valid…and that’s just wrong.
Yes I know, every ADHDer is different, and every relationship is different. Many times, ADHDers have partners who take caretaking roles. But there are ways to help care for someone that are respectful, that are not destructive, that are not controlling. It’s that whole teach a man to fish thing…yes, there is a “deficit” with ADHD…but ADHDers and partners need to work to find the line where the actual deficit begins and ends, not where people need it to be because of their emotional baggage.
I knew right where my line was…and I kept trying to communicate with my partner about it, and because of his emotional baggage, he didn’t really want to see where it was…he wanted it where HE needed it to be, at the risk of both of our happiness and potential. He continually ignored his OWN needs by manufacturing deficits that I didn’t even have.
The deficits I do have are enough to deal with…no need to make work where there isn’t work! I am sad that the relationship didn’t work…but I’m not going to own this as a failure, and use it to beat myself up. Ridiculous. Not necessary. I’m not perfect,but I WAS honest about my life, my goals, AND…my deficits. That’s huge as an ADHDer, to be able to do that, and it’s taken me years to be able to do…I deserve to be able to celebrate that.