A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

ADD/ADHD and Abuse in Marriage

Recently I was talking to a survivor with adult ADHD, and it started me on a path of researching the difficulties in marriages where one partner has ADD or ADHD. My ex told me that he took Ritalin as a child, and he displayed some of the hallmarks of a person with ADHD. In the aftermath of our divorce, I was still reeling from all of the abuse and still trying to get a handle on WHAT exactly had happened to me.

I knew that some of his behavior was clearly abusive (like threatening to beat me), but it was all the “other stuff” that I wasn’t sure about. Now I can put labels on everything and say “yes he was emotionally abusive, a big gaslighter, blah blah blah” — but back then I wondered if everything was the result of a combination of my own flaws (naturally, since he pointed them out constantly) and his ADHD issues.

I won’t post the link here, but there is a website that deals directly with marriage issues related to adult ADD/ADHD. If you read through the marriage counseling articles, and then read the comments from people in these marriages, some really troubling trends jump out at you.

#1. A lot of the commenters describe behavior that is clearly abusive.

#2. A lot of the recommendations for “accommodations to the ADHD sufferer in the relationship” involve things like “let them pick the chores that better suit them” etc.

It looks like there is a community of people who are suffering in marriages with a partner who regularly “forgets” all of their promises and responsibilities. They also seem only capable of doing “activities of their own choosing” and neglecting everything else. Then the partner feels like a nag. And then sometimes, these ADHD sufferers will lash out and blame their lack of caring on their brain disorder.

It has been discussed on this blog in the past (link) that things like Autism are not an excuse for abusing other people. In the same way, a diagnosis of adult ADD/ADHD is not an excuse to ignore your family, disregard all of your responsibilities, lash out with abusive words, or demand that the entire family accommodate you in the same way that an Abuser demands his family to cater to his every (changing) demand. ADHD is not an excuse to scream at your wife for spending $100 at the grocery store, and then turn around and wipe out the savings account to buy an expensive “Toy” on impulse.

That sort of behavior is abuse, and should not be catered to.

18 Comments

  1. Brenda R

    There is no excuse for abusing those that you supposedly love. My X doesn’t have ADD or ADHD, but can conveniently forget things without having those disorders. He does have hearing loss and in the past year is now using aides. He never seemed to be wearing them when I had something to say. Using this disability or any other as a crutch for why they abuse is really stretching the truth beyond reason. There are plenty of people who ADD and ADHD who are kind, caring individuals who would not think of abusing another.

  2. Yes, Katy – it’s very confusing to have a partner that has a neurological difference AND is abusive. I suspect many, many abusers have different wiring – I don’t believe that it is a cause for or an excuse for the abuse. But it does complicate the already complex dynamics of toxic relationships.

    We’re encouraged all our lives to be understanding and accepting and accommodating. For some of us, that’s exactly what our abusers ‘loved’ about us.

  3. Lynda T.

    I recognized symptoms of ADD in my abusive ex, but only discovered a few years later that he met the diagnostic criteria for Borderline Personality Disorder. I have often wondered if his ADD had been recognized and appropriately dealt with when he was a child, would he have developed the full blown personality disorder? It has now been more than 20 years since my divorce, and I view the divorce as one of God’s greatest blessings in my life, a true deliverance from bondage!

    • Hi Lynda, thanks for sharing, and welcome to the blog. 🙂

  4. Still Scared( but getting angry)

    I have dear friends whom both parents and all five kids have some degree of ADHD. They are not at all abusive and function, they get hard, boring chores done. Using it as an excuse is just that, an excuse.

    • That’s so great to hear that, SS. Both parents and five kids:— all have some degree of ADHD, and none of them abusive!

      Let’s sing that from the rooftops! Yes. In and of itself, having ADHD (or any other mental disorder) does not cause abuse.

  5. fiftyandfree

    I have a friend who’s married to a man with ADD. He’s definitely neglectful of his family and she’s suffered in this marriage. I really would like to know what that website is so that I could refer her to it. Would you mind posting it?

  6. Happy2bhere

    I realize this is an old post, but for whoever reads it I just want to point something out. These abusers will use anything as an excuse for not changing their ways! I do think that any mental disorder will make an abuser that much worse and in denial so it probably is a red flag. I say this because I was diagnosed with ADHD for inattention and memory issues. I’ve never done well on tests, trouble finishing projects, forgetting what I’m doing etc. I’m sensitive to medication so none have worked for me. However, I still take care of my children each day, keep a working calendar, and housework gets done. My husband does not have ADD/ADHD, comes from an intact family who were always involved in church, and is abusive. I come from divorced parents who sometimes went to church, have ADHD, and don’t have a desire to control everyone or think I deserve special treatment. I do however interrupt sometimes but I’m aware when I just did it and apologize and let the person finish. I do keep a private journal of his antics because I’m forgetful and one day when I leave I may need to remember clearly. Abusers seem to lack self awareness and of course their entitlement is off the charts. I believe if someone wants change and acknowledges their sin, they can shine a light on what they are doing by telling the truth to someone and if they just can’t help themselves they can choose to leave out of love. But they don’t because they don’t want to be caught and be held accountable, they choose themselves and their need for control nearly each time. I’ve noticed my husband has the capacity to turn it on and shut it off so he doesnt get caught which tells me he is aware on some level. And as you all know, if you give them an inch of compassion theyll take a mile and it just backfires on you as they continue to play the victim. So deceitful its like they have a sickness that hasn’t been named yet, well other than just plain evil!

  7. Needing Out

    So horrible! I have been on meds since I got married to him… ugh….. divorced, foreclosed home, two young children with autism….. plus irresponsibility backed by the patriarchal system. I need out and a safe place to bring my children to rebuild my life. So horrific

    • I changed your screen name for your safety, in case you’d used your real name. Welcome to the blog 🙂 You are not alone. We believe you.

      We have a Resources tab at the top of the blog. Under that tab you will find a section for Safety Planning and another for Hotlines.

      I encourage you to ring a hotline or contact you local women’s centre and ask for support. They ought to be able to arrange for you and the kids to go to a shelter or refuge.

      If you have more time to read, here is our FAQ page.

      And we always suggest that new readers look at our our New Users Info page as it gives tips for how to guard your safety while commenting on the blog.

  8. Valkyrie

    I have a friend who has ADHD, or so he says, and I’ve been a bit iffy about his behavior.

    We aren’t dating. I had a crush on him last year and still kind of do, he said he thinks it’s best to remain friends but didn’t say why.

    His best friend told me that in private all he said to him about it was that he wasn’t ready for a relationship with anyone, and that he never said it was about me and particular, or not liking me but liking someone else instead. But some of his behavior is… iffy.

    I don’t know if he would be abusive, and I only feel positive whenever I’m around him, but I’m wondering if ADHD can cause immoral behavior, even if not abuse. For example, he seems to be excited to see me and loves talking to me, and opens up about some intimate things to me – like fears, dreams, family history, etc., but he doesn’t seem to initiate contact that much or invite me to come see him.

    I have a car and he doesn’t and it’s way more expensive for him, so that could be, but that doesn’t explain him not emailing me as often as I email him. Even though he’s supposedly so enthusiastic about me. Which, in and of itself is weird considering he knows I had a crush on him, at least in the past.

    He seems to be opening up, and now that we’ve gotten closer as friends, I’m wondering if he’s ever ready for a relationship, it could possibly be with me. This is why I’m so worried about the behavior. I’m wondering if there are red flags, or if it is just ADHD.

    • Valkyrie

      in addition, I always have a bad habit of thinking a man is wonderful, and he turns out to be even worse than the last one. Every time I find myself thinking about as wonderful, I get suspicious.

      This man, unlike the last ones, has remained a friend, and our friendship seems to be getting closer. It’s not so much that I wanted him to fall in love with me, so much as that I was suspicious as to why he didn’t, since we seems to be very compatible, and I was suspicious when he became distant after I reveal my crush. Obviously, not every compatible person will immediately develop a crush on you, or might not ever, and it doesn’t have to mean anything. But for some reason, this just struck me as odd, and some other friends thought the same thing. He is known for being afraid of relationships, and for getting distant with people in general, which I don’t know is caused by ADHD, or is caused by not valuing other people the way he acts like he does.

      I know nothing in this behavior is really wrong, or a red flag, but just some odd things about him leave me unsettled. Not unsettled like I think there’s something wrong or dangerous about him. I never ever feel bad when I’m around him, and I always feel supported, and I feel like he’s very open and honest. More unsettled like I think there’s something more to this situation than I’m noticing. I don’t know if this is evidence that he is a selfish person, even if not an abuser, and I’m wondering if I should steer clear of ADHD partners in general.

      • Hi Valkyrie,

        I have read both your comments. And before I published them I edited them a bit to make what you said more clear.

        It sounds to me like you are asking help to develop your discernment about red flags that might indicate someone is abusive and that grey zone of discerning whether a person’s pattern of behavior and personality is due to ADHD or is due to the fact that the person has a mentality of entitlement and is basically a selfish person who is going to take what he wants from a partner without respecting partner’s feelings, dignity or personhood.

        I don’t think there are any easy answers I can give you. But I applaud you for wanting to develop your discernment. 🙂

        What I have learned is this:

        If you say “No” to a guy when he asks you or urges/pressures/coerces you do to what he wants you to do, watch his response.

        If he respects your “No,” that’s a good sign. If he over-rules your “No”, or ignores it, or makes you feel small when you say “No” to him, then he is not going to be a good friend, let alone a good partner. You might choose to keep him as an acquaintance-friend, but it would be unwise to keep him as a close friend.

        And in my observation, there are many professionals in the mental heath field who are unable and untrained in recognising abuse. So, to my way of thinking, even if some professional has said “This person has ADHD… or bipolar disorder, or antisocial personality disorder, or narcissistic personality disorder… ” —– so what?

        The bottom line is, do you feel this man respects you — your personhood, your dignity, your wishes and preferences – even when you say “No” to him? Do you feel he is respectfully and mindfully considering you needs, your wishes, your preferences, your dignity, when he interacts with you?

      • Valkyrie

        Hi Barbara, and thank you for your reply. No, I never feel like he pushes me into anything. But sometimes I feel like he doesn’t always respond back easily, or isn’t as invested as I am, yet at the same time, I feel like he is enthusiastic to be around me when I see him in person, and he opens up to me. A girl who has known him for years said she thought he was love with me when she saw us in person, but then she said that he vaguely denied it later. I find this a little strange.

      • Hi Valkyrie, we are glad you are commenting on the blog, but please understand that commenting on the blog is not like seeing a counselor privatly and pouring out each and every one of your thoughts in a 50 minute session.

        As the main moderator of comments at the blog, I have many many things on my plate and my time is limited. I read every comment that comes in, but please respect that I’m not superhuman.

        I encourage you to read what we have at this FAQ page:
        https://cryingoutforjustice.com/is-my-abuser-passive-aggressive/

      • Valkyrie

        Yeah, I hear you. In fact, it’s even worse when they are trained to recognize ADHD, Asperger’s, whatever, because that ends up giving the abuser an excuse.

    • Valkyrie

      I think we also need to recognize that many unhealthy or selfish types of people love to use unrequited love as an excuse to be too distant or unappreciative of you or even mistreat you. I’ve lost count of the amount of times that I’ve gotten crushes on guys, they’ve treated me in an objectively unfair or mean way, then blamed my dislike of their treatment on my supposed unrequited love, rather than just admit that they had been nasty and unfair, and that my anger was due to that. So when it would inevitably happen again, I would think, there I go with my unrequited Crush again, and my entitlement, rather than recognize that I was yet again involved with a selfish and nasty person.

      the same thing I feel happens with things like ADHD and other diseases. People blame bad behavior or bad character or priorities on lack of attention span, rather than, well, bad behavior character or priorities! It becomes very difficult to tell the line between disliking someone’s lack of interest in you as a romantic potential, and disliking objectively distant and unappreciative mindset on their part.

      what complicates things even more, is when someone isn’t interested in you romantically for an unethical reason. I’m not saying that anytime you like someone they should have to like you. But sometimes, a person’s reason for not liking you in this particular case, is due to something ethics related, like they don’t appreciate you because they don’t appreciate people in general, or you are too moral for them or too Christian, or they act like they are compatible with you, and so you figure a relationship or a crush with naturally develop, and it doesn’t, and you later figure out that it didn’t because they weren’t who they said they were and didn’t have those same traits… Stuff like that. But try telling that to someone without sounding loopy.

      to further complicate even that, throw into the mix the fact that some of us, as bible-believing Christians, believe that there is such a thing as a right or wrong romantic choice, even if there is no dishonesty or unethical mentality involved, and that a completely kind and caring person who appreciates others and is who they says they are, can choose someone who wouldn’t make a good wife or husband or mother or father.

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