In a marriage, the common symptoms of the disorder — distraction, disorganization, forgetfulness — can easily be misinterpreted as laziness, selfishness, and a lack of love and concern.
Adults with attention disorders often learn coping skills to help them stay organized and focused at work, but experts say many of them struggle at home, where their tendency to become distracted is a constant source of conflict. Some research suggests that these adults are twice as likely to be divorced; another study found high levels of distress in 60 percent of marriages where one spouse had the disorder.
Of course, complaints that a husband or wife is inconsiderate and inattentive, or doesn’t help enough around the house, are hardly limited to marriages in which one or both partners have attention problems. But A.D.H.D. can make matters much worse.
It can leave one spouse with 100 percent of the family responsibility, because the other spouse forgets to pick children up from school or pay bills on time. Partners without attention problems may feel ignored or unloved when their husband or wife becomes distracted — or, in another symptom of the disorder, hyperfocused on a work project or a computer game. They may feel they have no choice but to constantly nag to make sure things get done.
Spouses with attention deficit, meanwhile, are often unaware of their latest mistake, confused by their partner’s simmering anger. A lengthy to-do list or a messy house feels overwhelming to the A.D.H.D. brain, causing the person to retreat to a computer or a video game — further infuriating their spouse.
“It’s not because they’re lazy or they don’t love their spouse, but because they are distracted,” Ms. Orlov said. “But if you don’t know that distraction is the issue, you start to think the person doesn’t care about you, and anger and resentment build up.”
Ask Mrs. Dreher about what it’s like to live with such a person. Or better yet, don’t.