Opposites often attract, and the marriage of opposites can create some interesting clashes. Introverts marry extroverts, spenders marry savers, Redskins fans even marry Cowboys fans. (Note: rooting for rival sports teams can have major implications once you have kids.) There’s one pairing of opposites, however, that has not gotten enough attention: the Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and the Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) marriage.
Watching an ADD’er with an OCD spouse can be like watching a train wreck in progress. Spouse #1, the ADD’er, brings in the mail after work and drops it on the floor while petting the dog. Then he/she pulls out pasta for dinner but absentmindedly puts it down by the computer while running a quick email check. Turning on the news, spouse #1 carries the remote away to the bathroom while washing his or her hands from petting the dog. Spouse #2, the OCD’er, then walks in the door and finds the mail on the floor, the TV blaring (but the remote missing), and no pasta anywhere for the pot of water that’s boiling on the stove.
The scenario sounds harmless, but repeated over the course of many weeks, months or years, and the ADD/OCD combination is seriously combustible. The OCD spouse, overwhelmed by the ADD-related chaos, comes to think of his or partner as unreliable and stubborn. The ADD spouse, confused by the OCD reaction, which can range from exasperation to fury, sees someone who is chronically unreasonable and over-reactive. The constant friction increases household tension and can, over time, create an unlivable situation.
Like any environmental stressor, the level of tension caused by an ADD/OCD mix depends on what else is going on in life. If life is relatively calm, a spouse’s behavior may be “quirky” rather than grating. However, add on pressure from work, or a new addition to the family, or a sudden illness, and suddenly the tension skyrockets.
Luckily there are a few simple things you can do to lessen the ADD/OCD friction. Anything that cuts down on chaos is good. For example, in the “so simple it sounds silly” category, buy some bins that you can place strategically around the house. You can have bins for mail, bins for school flyers, bins for TV remotes, even bins for things that need to be carried up the stairs. Putting things in bins requires very little work, and they dramatically lessen the visible chaos.
Set up routines that are easy to follow. If getting bills paid on time is an issue, pick a time every week to spend ten minutes reviewing bills together. Create a space to pile any unpaid bills and keep it stocked with pens, a checkbook, envelopes and stamps.
Most of all, be aware of what spousal behaviors cause the most conflict. Address them together and decide what can be done to help the ADD spouse focus and the OCD spouse let go of the small stuff. You may find that simple behavior modifications work (like using bins and developing routines), or you may decide to look into medication or individualized coaching or therapy. Whatever the case, keep in mind that “mixed marriages” can work, and work well. After all if a Redskins fan and a Cowboys fan can live happily ever after, so can an ADD and an OCD spouse.
For information on coaching and how to manage the chaos of ADHD—your own, your spouse’s or your child’s–contact Inez Costanzo at 301-871-5408.