59: ADHD and Marriage

Melissa Orlov on ADHD and Marriage | ADHD reWired

59: ADHD and Marriage

Interview with Melissa Orlov, Author, Marriage Consultant

An ADHD marriage consultant, therapist, and author of a number of related books, Melissa Orlov stops by to discuss common problem areas, issues of intimacy, handling of conflicts, what to know when entering a relationship with ADHD, and more. Host Eric asks Melissa some marriage-related questions as posed by the ADHD reWired community.

About Melissa Orlov:

Common Issues:

  • Most couples Melissa has dealt with didn’t know that ADHD was an issue when they entered into their partnership; many were undiagnosed for years, not knowing what ADHD was or being unfamiliar with its symptoms.

  • Even after ADHD is identified between a couple, a common problems that arises is one of the creation of an imbalance of power.

Power Imbalance:

  • Commonly, the partner without ADHD will assume more of a parental role and the partner with ADHD will end up mainly taking orders or being bossed around.

  • Eric: Often, it seems like those with ADHD will find partners that compliment their skills, with one being detail oriented and the other thinking more in terms of big pictures.

  • When one partner dictates which tasks each partner takes on, it can create problems if they aren’t the optimal tasks for that person.

  • By discussing which tasks each person is good at, enjoys doing, and is motivated to complete, a couple can figure out better what works.

  • Sometimes, partners will be working hard and completing important tasks that may go unnoticed by the other due to a distracting environment, or a lack of understanding of the task.

  • With her own relationship with her husband, after sometimes trying to push toward different strategies, Melissa eventually settled on focusing on what each person did well.

Three-part Model of Intimacy:

  • Melissa would have clients who she would successfully recover to a point of stability in their relationships, and then would ask about future steps.

  • Self Intimacy

    • Getting to know yourself well enough to address your own issues

    • Being able to tell your partner about your deeper feelings, not your superficial ones, so that the two of you can work through them

    • Self intimacy is similar to self awareness, but adds the elements of being comfortable with it and being willing to share it with your partner.

  • Conflict Intimacy

    • Most of the people that come to Melissa have intimacy problems in this area.

    • They can’t move through their conflict to reach a point where they’re comfortable with each other and feel close to one another.

    • You need a process in place that allows you to hear your partner more clearly and to resolve or address issues in a way that makes the partners feel closer to each other.

  • Affection Intimacy

    • All the affection-related

    • How do you show your affection, does your partner hear it, languages of love, sex life, etc.

Non-resolvable Conflicts:

  • The majority of conflicts in a relationship, some say 70%, are considered to be “un-resolvable”, in that they originate from the core of who the people are and why they’re different.

  • When couples realize a particular conflict falls under this category, as opposed to continually struggling or fighting with it, they can then begin to figure out a strategy to work around it and move forward.

  • Eric: This sounds like the basics of cognitive behavioral therapy: If you can’t change it, you need to change how you think about it.

  • Common strategies include the standard “agree to disagree”, as well as agreeing on a schedule that establishes limits on how often each partner will do certain tasks per month or year, biasing the numbers toward each partner’s personal comfort zone.

Entering a Relationship with ADHD:

  • Melissa suggests that those couples starting out should try to become aware of the common patterns and potential conflict areas ahead of time, so that they can be avoided.

  • Understanding that the symptoms, and responses to the symptoms, of ADHD aren’t reflective of personal feelings toward one’s partner is a basic starting point of Melissa’s course on ADHD.

  • Ideally, at the end of her course, those who were really struggling can begin to think about their situation in a completely new way and be re-introduced to each other as people who are much more different than they initially thought.

  • A lot of the work is oriented around empathy: how to understand what it’s like to have ADHD if you don’t have it.

  • Melissa: For those that don’t have ADHD, don’t make any assumptions; your partner is not at all like you in terms of how they think, how they experience things. You can do the same exact thing and you will experience it completely differently, if for no other reason than your brain takes in the information differently and does something different with it.

  • For Melissa, after her daughter was diagnosed with ADHD, she talked with her daughter’s doctor and happened to ask if her husband might have the same thing.

  • It’s too easy to be the partner of someone with ADHD and blame the other for all of the problems in the relationship, and it’s too easy to have ADHD and just blame the other for being angry at them.

Listener Question: How does one fulfill the need to be spontaneous and exciting with sex when dealing with time constraints, a mental to-do list, and needing medication in order for it to happen?

Also, how do you find time and energy to be present and totally into it?

  • Schedule a general block of time wherein you and your partner try doing new or interesting things without dictating specifically what needs to happen during that time.

  • This addresses both the issues with planning ahead (medication, to-do lists) and spontaneity of ideas, while also allowing for the possibility of sex.

  • Eric, after noticing a pattern of issues on his own date nights, realized he needed to plan ahead to make sure his medication hadn’t worn off beforehand.

  • When you have relatively few opportunities for date nights, the outings themselves become larger and more built-up in your mind. So, any small flaws can end up feeling worse than they would otherwise feel.

  • Melissa: I’m a big believer in mindfulness training, to be able to teach yourself to be more present in everyday settings.

  • In terms of sex, it’s important to let go of any extra mental baggage people tend to append to their sex lives and instead focus just on sex as a way for the two of you to have fun together.

Listener Question: Is it common for children of a toxic marriage to remain single for longer than usual?

  • To know that answer for sure, you would need statistics.

  • Melissa: Kids of divorced parents sometimes have difficulty feeling that marriage is worthwhile.

  • Kids that have watched their parents struggle can still learn positive lessons if the parents overcome their challenges.

Listener Question: Can you offer advice on the topic of gendered divisions of labor in the household and how shame can play a part of a woman being diagnosed with ADHD? Do you have any tips to help a partner engage in a conversation about these issues?

  • Start by addressing the ADHD, discussing what it means to have it within your relationship, and what it means to be someone diagnosed with it.

  • Melissa has run into a fair number of ADHD women who really struggle with the issue of their partners thinking they should fall into is this role of being the perfect organizing mom.

  • Shame is a huge issue for both men and women with ADHD because they’re constantly feeling like they’re supposed to be able to do more than they do.

  • Even those Melissa sees as phenomenal workers at the top of their fields will still tell her that they feel a little ashamed of how much more effort it takes to accomplish certain tasks.

  • Eric: My wife is so understanding – and doesn’t make me feel ashamed for the things that I do or don’t do – that I end up feeling guilty about it.

Listener Question: What is your take on separate bedrooms for married couples with ADHD?

  • That’s a very personal choice. Many will say that because of snoring, sleeping apparatuses, differing sleeping patterns, waking the other up when arriving late, that they should have separate bedrooms.

  • Physical touch is a very important part of a relationship and because of that having separate bedrooms had the potential to be problematic.

  • Melissa knows of couples who have been very happy in separate bedrooms; it can work as long as the rest of your relationship is in good shape.

  • If sleeping in separate bedrooms is a way of avoiding dealing with emotional trauma between the two partners, then it might not be a good idea.

  • There are tons of bedtime issues associated with couples with ADHD. Often, the one with ADHD will be late to bed and the one without it will be early.

  • If the late-to-bed person can join their partner in bed temporarily when the earlier-to-bed partner is first getting in, they’ll have an opportunity to interact and converse. Then when one of them is ready to go to sleep, the other has the opportunity to leave to finish other tasks. When they return, they’ll already have been ready to go to bed and be less likely to wake up their partner.

  • Eric: My wife and I started sleeping in separate bedrooms mainly to make sure both of us were well rested enough and to accommodate our son’s schedule, though we still have our time together each evening.

Tips for Gift-giving Ideas:

  • Maintain a note sheet (physical or digital) that you add to whenever you have an idea for a gift.

  • Free associate about topics your partner likes, then write out derivative ideas or do internet searches based off of those terms.

  • Be attentive for small details and then either remember them or take notes of them. A single mention of a concert or tool could lead to a gift later on.

  • Ask a person’s friends or relatives for more information on what they like.

Products Mentioned:

Random Question Round:

  • If you could create an invention or improve upon an existing invention, what would you have made?

  • Where would be the most romantic place to run?

  • What would you name a particular beach you would be running on?

  • If you could have a meal with one person, alive or dead, who would it be?

Melissa’s Parting Message:

There’s a lot of struggle when you don’t know what’s going on with aDHD in your relationship. And, when you can find  out about it, it really can turn your life around.

Melissa is offering a $25 discount off her new Recovering Intimacy course with the code “rewired”. Go to her website,, and look for the course on the front page.

Contact Melissa Orlov:

Other information:

  • Go to to let Eric know if you’re interested in joining the next ADHD reWired Coaching and Accountability group, which is most likely starting in early May.

  • Eric is releasing an ADHD reWired e-book and wants your feedback on its content. Take the one-minute survey and be entered into a contest to win a surprise ADHD-related gift:

  • Eric is collecting videos describing people’s experiences with CHADD. If you are currently involved with CHADD, record a video however you wish (horizontally, please!) of you describing your relationship to ADHD and what CHADD does for you. Send it to Eric via Facebook, Twitter, or email here: [email protected].

  • Help CHADD, an ADHD organization dedicated to improving the lives of those with ADHD through useful research and support, by donating to their fundraising campaign here:

  • Visit for Carolyn D’Argenio’s list of her top audio-book picks, complete with preview links.

  • Connect with people virtually using Eric’s favorite video conferencing and connectivity platform, Zoom, by visiting – the basic service is totally free.

  • If you want you hear your question or comment on a future episode, go to and look for the comment form, or click on the yellow button for either “Be a Guest” or “Record your question”.

  • Are you looking for a coach? You can schedule a free 20-minute consultation with Eric. Go to and click the blue “Schedule an Appointment” button


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