Tears streamed down my face as I pleaded with my husband Matt. Yet again, he had forgotten to follow through with something simple I’d asked him to do, and I was fuming mad about it.
In my mind, I had every right to my anger. He dropped the ball this past week on cleaning the living room, an effort intended to help ease the physical burden for me. I’m seven months pregnant, and bending down is more work than I can handle right now. Despite being the resident house cleaner and primary stay-at-home parent, I’ve had to surrender my full duties as my baby boy grows like a giant watermelon in my stretched belly.
No matter how many text reminders or gentle nudges I had given him this week, Matt’s assurance about cleaning that room turned to the predictable forgetfulness I’d come to expect in our relationship. Arguing with Matt whenever he fails to remember stuff never seems to help matters, but I’m a child of divorce and old habits die hard. Experience has also taught me that long, emotional fights lead my hubby to mentally check out, yet I always hope against hope for a different outcome.
I’m only just now realizing that a different outcome requires more love and patience than I ever expected to give in my marriage.
Now, I totally get how familiar these circumstances may sound to just about every mom out there. I think we’ve all read blog posts and articles about the “mental load” of wives and mothers, but before you chalk this up to gender gap issues, please know that my particular situation is different.
Matt is, hands down, the true love of my life. He’s helped me through some of my darkest days as I navigated heartbreaking postpartum depression and PTSD after the birth of our daughter. He makes me laugh till it hurts, cheers me on in every aspect of our lives together, and is the hardworking breadwinner of our family at the moment.
Despite being one of my greatest reasons to smile, however, my hubby tests my patience on a weekly basis. He fidgets during long talks with me, forgets things on the regular, and gets really upset when I interrupt him in the middle of a busy work day. For a long time, I assumed Matt’s negative behaviors were just bad habits, but recently, I’ve come to learn they are actually symptoms of a larger issue.
The truth is, my husband juggles a personal mental load so consuming, it often forces me into the domestic driver’s seat — and he’s only just recently clued me in to just how debilitating his struggles are. For the past 25 years, my husband has been living daily with ADHD, a brain-based disorder that has been quietly wreaking havoc on our marriage.
Matt was diagnosed with ADHD when he was 13 years old, and his doctor immediately put him on medication. Unfortunately, the pills dulled his personality and led to a whole lot of tiredness, so he stopped taking them and found ways to get by for many years. His symptoms, however, would continue to pop up at the most inconvenient of times.
For much of his childhood, Matt struggled to maintain long conversations with people and procrastinated like a pro to avoid focusing on a school project. It often took him way more mental effort to get started on any kind of task, and once he began working, interruptions and distractions were downright painful to encounter. In his late teens, Matt even temporarily dropped out of high school and fell into the world of addiction to cope with his disorder.
Despite us being together for four years, my husband only felt comfortable sharing his mental health battle with me a few months ago. Once he did, I was surprised at how much relief I felt after the conversation. Finally, I was able to piece together every single time I’d spent countless hours stressing over something Matt had done or not done as a result of his ADHD.
It started out with small things. He’d forget to pick up something I needed at the grocery store. Or he’d leave the trash bags inside after multiple requests to take them out. The forgetfulness would seem like a classic husband move, and as annoying as it was, I was able to let it go for a while.
It didn’t stop there, though. Before I knew it, I was unknowingly becoming my spouse’s full-blown personal assistant. Matt would receive ongoing reminders from me to communicate with his ex-wife about arranging my stepdaughter’s days with us. I’d have to bug him about weekday commitments he’d confidently agreed to a few days prior. Certain bills wouldn’t get paid on time, phone calls wouldn’t get made, and I’d end up jumping in to finish something Matt had only started.
Each time, I’d feel stressed beyond belief from taking on extra obligations, while my husband would feel embarrassed and guilty that he couldn’t step up in the moments his wife needed him.
Until he opened up about everything, I constantly worried that I was to blame somehow for why Matt didn’t seem to care enough to remember. What I didn’t realize was that my husband’s lack of awareness had nothing to do with me and everything to do with his ADHD. More than that, his ongoing shame over being unable to function like everyone else led Matt to keep his diagnosis locked up deep inside, even from me.
Of course, grappling with any kind of long-term shame is an agonizing burden to carry.
It’s one thing to say you’ll love your spouse “in sickness and in health,” but quite another to actively embody it. If I’m being honest, Matt’s ADHD has caused a lot between us to get lost in translation. Even to this day, we both still feel so lost at times — but since my husband vulnerably opened up to me a few months ago, our marriage has strengthened in the most surprising of ways. I’ve become a more compassionate, understanding, and flexible human being as I’ve adapted to embracing Matt’s disorder. It’s also forced me to dive deep into self-love waters, so I can make sure I’m taken care of in the process.
Learning how to support my husband’s mental health has also helped me appreciate how much he has supported mine. Especially after everything he has done to lift me up, I want to be there for him in every way I can. This may not always translate into immediate acceptance when my husband forgets to clean the living room — but it does mean I’ll include love in the equation at every possible moment.