In many households, the wife often serves as the CEO, taking responsibility for keeping the house in order, stocking the pantry with food, and also managing the family finances. Some women may enjoy the task of keeping order at home, but for Gina Pera, it's a daily necessity that she can’t just pass on to someone else.
Pera lives in the San Francisco Bay-area in California with her husband of 12 years, who was diagnosed with adult ADHD about a year after they got married. She knew he was “absent-minded,” but she just chalked it up to his being a brilliant scientist. But absent-mindedness led to constant fights, carelessness with money, and some real marital problems that led them to couples counseling. It didn't work. Pera knew something else had to be at play, but she couldn't put her finger on what it was.
Stumbling Upon an ADHD Solution
One day, Pera came across a book about adult ADHD and a light bulb went off in her head. The ADHD symptoms sounded suspiciously like her husband — and he agreed. Finally he was diagnosed, and Pera was relieved.
She says she exclaimed, “Eureka!” and thought, “We have found the reason. All I need to do is turn him over to the MDs and I can stop being his external pre-frontal cortex.” Unfortunately, it wasn’t so simple. The first ADHD treatment he tried, Adderall, only made things worse. “My husband got even more aggressive and irritable. I thought, 'The cure is worse than the condition,'” she says. “He was more focused, but the price of it was intolerable.”
Pera was struggling with her husband's ADHD as much as he was, and she had to find a way to cope. “I was very depressed and beaten down,” she says. Not only did she have to remember everything, manage everything, and maintain control over their finances, but she was “having to live with this constantly irritable person.” Pera was working from home, and they had recently moved so she had no friends or family around her to pull her away for a cup of coffee or to see a funny movie.
The doctors told her that it was her responsibility to be his manager, his organizer, to help him through this. She was supposed to be his medication. But that was tough to do when she was so angry at her husband, and thought that the responsibility couldn't be hers alone. “I thought that was nutty,” Pera says.
Seeking Support for ADHD
Pera knew she couldn't be the only one suffering this way. So she decided to search for other spouses of people with adult ADHD. She started an online support group, then wrote a book to help others in her same situation.
She and her husband spent many tough years working through the resolutions to their problems and finding an ADHD treatment that worked for him, and she wanted to spare others as much as possible. “I went through a horrible learning curve,” she says. “Nobody should have to go through this hell for lack of information.”
Learning Your Roles With ADHD
Today, Pera's husband's ADHD symptoms are well-controlled — so much so that “sometimes I forget he has ADHD,” Pera says. After all these years, she's learned the role that she has to play to make their marriage of three — Pera, her husband, and ADHD — work well. She's the initiator. She needs to take control of many situations and come up with a game plan — even when it comes to planning a hike on a Saturday afternoon. And it works for both of them.
Pera offers this important advice to spouses of people with ADHD: “It's a highly impairing condition,” she says. “It can take you both down.” Education is essential — but not just about ADHD itself. You can't simply overlook it when your spouse maxes out your credit cards. You can't be afraid to cross boundaries and take control to protect your family when necessary, she says.
It's also important to understand that you simply can't ask your spouse to figure it out alone. Your role as a partner is essential in every aspect of your relationship, particularly when your spouse has ADHD. Pera helps her husband stick to a routine that helps him manage his ADHD behavior. For instance, they turn off the computers in their house no later than 9 p.m. each night; they stick to a healthy diet and get regular exercise.
No marriage is without its challenges, and opportunities for growth as a couple. Having a spouse with ADHD brings a unique set of struggles, but they're not insurmountable for a couple who is prepared to tackle them together.