The Rating Game Beats The Arguing Game

Michele Novotni, psychologist, coach, and ADHD expert
Michele Novotni, psychologist, coach, and ADHD expert

Psychologist, coach, and ADHD expert Michele Novotni is the author of What  Does Everybody Else Know That I Don’t?: Social Skills Help for Adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder.

Below, she offers this simple  advice for you and your ADHD partner to start establishing priorities about tasks and chores:

“I want my husband to understand that I don’t do it on purpose. He thinks that I ‘forget’ to close the cabinets or ‘forget’ to put something away on purpose.”

Ginny, a client in my group for adults with ADHD, was sharing her frustrations over living with a husband who doesn’t have ADHD.  Her ADHD-specific need for relationship advice is common, especially when it comes to domestic tasks.

Alan, who nodded in agreement, added, “I wish my wife understood how hard I’m trying. She just doesn’t get how much effort it takes for me to do things that come easily to her.”

Those two comments opened the floodgates, spurring a lively gruop discussion about the challenges of marriage when ADHD is involved.

When I met with some of my clients’ partners—many of whom don’t have ADHD—they had their own frustrations:

  • “Sometimes I think I am raising another child.”
  • “Why can she focus on things she enjoys but on nothing else?”
  • “If she can do it sometimes, why can’t she do it all the time?”

All couples must navigate challenges and learn to communicate effectively and work cooperatively, but ADHD can place particular strains on a relationship. Many of my adult clients with ADHD have partners who are so highly organized that they are jokingly accused of having Attention Surplus Syndrome, or ASS. Over time, it seems, the “opposites-attract” qualities that originally drew the two to each other lose their appeal.

When a relationship hits a rough patch, I advise couples to focus on each other’s strengths, not their weaknesses. I tell them to think of themselves as a team.

Every winning team needs a variety of skill sets to make it work—players who can execute a detailed game plan in a timely manner as well as those who inspire with their high energy and spontaneity. A football team comprised entirely of quarterbacks won’t win on game day.

Play the Rating Game

Gauging a couple’s responsibilities and needs—both of which may have changed over the years—is a productive way to start.

One strategy for doing this is describing—on a scale of 0-10—how important or exhausting a task is for each of you. For example, instead of telling your partner how hard it was for you  to organize the holiday party, say, “It was a 10—or even an 11—to put that party together.”

Couples are sometimes surprised by the results of this rating game. One couple found that having down time after work was low in the husband’s list of needs, while his wife rated getting early-evening help in the kitchen a 10. The result? The husband helped with dinner prep the second he got home from the office.

Ginny and Alan went home and discussed with their partners the degree of energy that various tasks demand of them (again, on a scale of 0 to 10). Each of their partners was genuinely surprised at the effort required to complete some tasks he or she had thought were effortless. They also discussed the relative importance each accorded a given task. This gave Ginny and Alan a clear sense of what was important not only to them but also as to their spouses.

Armed with this information, each couple renegotiated responsibilities. For example, Ginny was surprised to learn that her husband didn’t care about eating the gourmet dinners she threw herself into after work  (he scored it a “3”). His preference by far:  having an uncluttered family room (a whopping “9”).

Ginny and her husband did agree completely on one important area:  Each gave a “10” to wanting to be loved and appreciated for themselves.


  1. Shanna says

    After years of me suggesting ADHD as the root of behaviors that surfaced after our child was born, and several therapists who didn’t have an ADHD background, and some time with me going to therapy to sort out coping mechanisms, my husband is seeing a therapist who knows ADHD and he is in drug trials now. He is on probably his 4th drug so it hasn’t been easy for him. I am hoping this one is the one.

    I would like to see my husband co-exist peacefully with “time”, moving away from time being a rival and the lack of time being a profound disappointment. I would like him to be more at peace with the things that he chooses to drop or delayed rather than seeing them as failures or huge losses. I would like my husband be able to work better with time outside of “now”. I would like to see him initiate and follow through in a timely manner with things at all levels. I believe this could help move us out of the parent-teenager roles we have evolved into. I would like to see my husband incorporating a “we” frame rather than a “me” frame a significant amount of the time, giving the family thoughtful high priority.
    I would like to see my husband sleep at least 7hours day, be in bed by 11 a majority of the time and get up at a time that allows him to initiate his plan for the day.

    I would love to hear from others for whom this set of difficulties strikes a cord.

  2. says

    Hi Shanna,

    Thanks for visiting and posting.

    I hope the physician is asking for your input as the medication is titrated.

    From your other post, I know that you’ve read my book, so perhaps you read the section on why a team approach is important. I also wrote about it at my other blog:

    As for time, yes indeed, that is a BIG issue for many adults with ADHD. Medication helps many people with ADHD develop a more conscious awareness of time, and it also helps them to complete tasks in a more timely manner — minus distractions, etc. But for the balance, it’s always helpful for the person with ADHD to “externalize” time as much as possible. That means calendars, buzzers, and clocks that make the passage of time visually significant. Example:

    Initiating and prioritizing….also common challenges with ADHD. In addition to medication, it’s often helpful for the adult with ADHD to learn new habits. My book covers some of those, too, and provides some guidelines for finding a therapist or coach who might help.

    Dr. Russell Barkley has a new book coming out that is full of practical strategies for adults; it’s due for publication August 2010.

    Happy New Year!

  3. Sarah says

    Gina….I am so happy that I found your website, I am in tears.

    My husband was diagnosed, as a child, with ADD. He is not on any medication and really hasn’t ever been. When we were just dating, part of me thought, well it must not be that bad, so I never really gave further thought about it. However, after marrying and having a child, I can see that he truly has ADD and needs help.

    We fight constantly about “time” and that he just cannot accomplish, things which seem very simple for me. I did not realize the true effect of ADD and hadn’t done any research on it. Every situation that other couples on your website fight over, such as, closing cubbards, is a daily occurrence and fight in our home. I thought that he was doing it to upset me or that he was lazy and unmotivated. Yet, he can focus to accomplish goals that he wants to do frequently. Now I am begining to understand why he doesn’t sleep, why he likes to pick fights and why he cannot complete anything!!!! Everything on your website is so helpful and I am finally realizing that we may be able to not have as many daily issues. I am ordering your book today and cannot wait to begin reading it! We are/were on the verge of divorce…hopefully understanding and combating these issues in a different manner will effect positive change in our marriage.


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