View Full Version : Need Help with a Hyper-Sensitive Partner


Hermione Danger
06-26-17, 04:44 PM
We've been married for 5 years, in marriage counseling for three of them. It only just came to our attention that he has ADHD, which he is in the beginning process of treating (meds + therapy). In the meantime, one of his ADHD traits is hypersensitivity to criticism, and manifests itself in being 1) unable to take responsibility for his actions - he rationalizes why there was nothing wrong with it, or that he had no control over it (when he did), in order to avoid even internal criticism; and 2) unable to accept when he is incorrect about anything at all (because being wrong = doing something worthy of criticism). Now, I've learned the hard way (but learned nonetheless) to brush off the small stuff. Who cares who's right about what we had for dinner on Tuesday? I'll admit though that the constant trickling of "No, emphasize how right I am about every tiny thing" builds up and becomes really demoralizing.

The place I see this being the most noticeable is actually in regards to his ADHD and how it affects our marriage and family. He acknowledges that his ADHD is real, that it affects him/us profoundly, and he wants to have a pretty consistent flow of conversation about it. The problem is that if *I* acknowledge his ADHD, his sensitivity goes into overdrive. He instigates the conversations, and requires input, but any that I give is met with rationalizations, defensiveness and anger. But if I don't say anything, and just listen and nod, then I'm not "engaging" and it implies to him that I don't care.

Example from last night:
Him: What do you think of [book about having a partner with ADHD he suggested to me]
Me: It's been great, there's a lot I can relate to.
Him: Like what?
Me: It just felt good to know that there's a reason behind some of the issues we have, something we can work on proactively. I'm not just a crazy partner mis-remembering everything and making unreasonable demands, and you're not a manipulative jerk who doesn't care about anyone else. You can be more aware of your memory issues and trust me a little more, and I can be more aware of what your concerns are and adapt to them. I feel a lot more hopeful.
[A pause as he mulls this over.]
Him: I just don't want you to think this means you're always right.
Me: I'm not saying that, I'm just saying it feels good to know that I'm also not always wrong. I was starting to feel like I was losing my mind.
Him: Well, it doesn't mean you're automatically right either. You still have to listen to me.
Me: I know that, I'm not unreasonable! I'm just saying it is nice to be reminded that you can trust and listen to me too.
Him: It sounds like you're just trying to say because I have ADHD that means I'm going to be automatically wrong.
Me: No, I'm just saying that sometimes I'm right. It seems to always be framed that it's just me who's mis-remembering, and incorrect, and can't keep things straight, even when I was certain about something. I used to wonder if you were gaslighting me! It's really nice to know that sometimes you're mis-remembering, rather than intentionally trying to make me believe something that isn't true.
Him: See what I mean?
Me: ...No? I said "sometimes", how is that me assuming you're *always* wrong?
Him: I just don't want you to assume you're always right because I have ADD.
Me: All I said is "I'm not always wrong". That seems reasonable to me.
Him: It's not reasonable to assume that anything has to do with the ADD.
Me: Did you hear anything I said about how I've been feeling? Or my relief in feeling understood? That's really what I was trying to emphasize.
Him: That's great, I just don't want you to-
Me: Your priorities suck.

And obviously it dissolved into an argument/cold shoulder situation. I'd like to also mentioned that he is the one that told me he has memory issues, that wasn't me just throwing that out. I treat his difficulties the way you treat a woman you assume is pregnant - don't say anything until it's been confirmed by THEM! Anyway, to get to the point/question at hand, I'm really just trying to drive home how he sees everything to do with his ADD as a criticism. He can acknowledge the negative aspects/consequences of his ADHD, and he expects me to take part in those convos, but how??

TL;DR: How do you navigate conversations about ADHD with an ADHD partner who is hypersensitive to anything they perceive as criticism. I'm not here to try to get justification for being irritated with his behavior, I really want to find successful strategies for these interactions so I can help him/us.

Little Missy
06-26-17, 07:56 PM
when it starts up, find something to do and go do it away from him. quit dignifying his behaviours with a response.

sarahsweets
06-27-17, 02:31 AM
Wow thats tough. Do you mean that you attempt to constructively criticize him and he takes it wrong or point something out thats wrong and then he gets upset? Or do you mean any sort of other opinion means you are criticizing? When someone says a person is hypersensitive to criticism I always wonder how that happens unless the person saying someone is hypersensitive is criticized alot and they are just sensitive to it because it happens alot. I am not saying this is the case with you. What does the therapist say about it?

Hermione Danger
06-27-17, 12:22 PM
My reading and research into ADHD noted that it's common for people with it to have hypersensitivity to criticism. It's one of the first things I learned about it that was a light bulb moment for me IRT my husband, as it was an ongoing theme in our therapy. It's not even about me offering real criticism, it's about him believing I'm inferring criticism. He'll tell me he has trouble balancing too many things as part of his ADHD, then tell me the next day he's overwhelmed because he's balancing too many things, so I'll ask what I can do to help and he'll be offended that I'm implying he can't balance them all himself. I'll point out that he was saying he's overwhelmed, and that trouble balancing too many things is what he mentioned about his ADHD and he'll insist that conversation never happened (another thing he does a lot of, and that is one of the ways his ADHD manifests) and then say I "blame everything on his ADHD".

See the trap I fall into? Not only am I perceived as calling him incapable, I'm perceived as lying about the conversation, and that I'm overly critical of his ADHD.

So you might say, "Don't offer to help, only help if he asks for it." but when I do that then he blames me for not offering to help him when he obviously needs it (I mean, he DID tell me that he has trouble balancing too many things because of his ADHD!) and making him "do everything".

Damned if I do damned if I don't!

Sorry, I'm acting pretty pessimistic today, we had a pretty unconstructive argument last night and I'm having a rough morning because of it. I really DO want to find the solution. I just thought there might be someone here whose partner has the hypersensitivity to criticism manifestation that could give me some tips. I guess it really comes down to deciding which is less harmful - being perceived as critical, or unsupportive?

girlthroughtime
06-27-17, 11:26 PM
I have had that happen. The damned if you do damned if you don't situation. The husband is also hypersensitive - though he tries to accuse me of being the one who can't take criticism. It's a bit of a merry go round. At least yours accepts diagnosis and therapy - mine doesn't realize anything is "wrong." When things/arguments/conversations happen - I try to just point out the facts. If he says I'm nagging him, I politely remind him that I am planning in advance and my questions for him are the unknowns I can't plan for without his input - so if he wants to be included then he has to give input. I feel like if it's a successful conversation, then he accepts the facts I'm reminding him of and he understands - though he might still vocalize that he feels pressured or whatever. And I say well I do t mean to make you feel pressured but I accept that those are your feelings. But the fact remains that you either want to be included or you don't.

I do t know if that's helpful. Doesn't always work. Sometimes he's just beyond irritable and it doesn't matter what the fact is - having any kind of conversation isn't worth it. I probably still push 🤔 Even if I should walk away.

Johnny Slick
06-28-17, 12:39 AM
Yeah, that is *massively* common amongst people with ADHD. I know I have to really try to filter criticism, although the way I always coped with it was to think "oh no, this person really dislikes me! I have to demonstrate that I can take criticism and also get back on their good side" (which may not even be better than what your husband does TBH; being a people pleaser suuuuuuuuuuuuucks). My theory is that especially for those of us who have lived our adulthood with the condition, it's rooted in that unfocused, general idea that there is something intrinsically wrong with us. We hear someone say something negative about us and it strikes that chord, and we all have our ways of keeping it from making us curl up into a little ball every time it happens.

That also doesn't make it any better for you, of course, to know that your husband's reaction to the Rejection Sensitive Disorder that comes with ADHD like a hand in a glove is, like, exactly the same as tens of thousands of other people with the condition. It still sucks to feel like you have to walk on eggshells around him, I know. I think it gets better, especially if he responds well to medication, but these are also behaviors he's probably so used to at this point that he doesn't always know that he's doing them.

I don't know how much more I can add, except that I've been in relationships with people who reacted like your husband does to criticism and it's no fun and I never did figure out how to get around it. Oh, one thing that I think helped was to compliment my SO at random points in time, for no particular reason. I mean, that's good to do anyway, but I also know that it's easy to get into a rut where you only give someone compliments when you're trying to get something out of them, and I also know that if you do this with empty compliments it feels almost as bad as if you didn't say anything. That being said, in the fleeting moments where I was able to have this (before I just plain forgot, or got too into myself, etc. to keep finding cool things I liked about the other person so that I could tell them), I think it did increase my (ADHDer suffering from RSD) partner's willingness to communicate to me.

That's probably a tiny, tiny thing though, and I think the other people here have already said most of what I could say otherwise.

sarahsweets
06-28-17, 05:56 AM
My reading and research into ADHD noted that it's common for people with it to have hypersensitivity to criticism. It's one of the first things I learned about it that was a light bulb moment for me IRT my husband, as it was an ongoing theme in our therapy. It's not even about me offering real criticism, it's about him believing I'm inferring criticism. He'll tell me he has trouble balancing too many things as part of his ADHD, then tell me the next day he's overwhelmed because he's balancing too many things, so I'll ask what I can do to help and he'll be offended that I'm implying he can't balance them all himself. I'll point out that he was saying he's overwhelmed, and that trouble balancing too many things is what he mentioned about his ADHD and he'll insist that conversation never happened (another thing he does a lot of, and that is one of the ways his ADHD manifests) and then say I "blame everything on his ADHD".

I hope I didnt give you the impression that I think you are being critical of him on purpose. I didnt mean that. I totally get what you are saying about him inferring it. Sometimes a lifetime of criticism from others in our lives, and especially in the years we were growing up can make us super sensitve to situations where the conversation is unpleasant but not actually critical. I dont think in his case that he is responding to criticism from you based on what you wrote. In all honesty he sounds combative, irrational, selfish,bitter, discontented, self centered, 'stuck', in a rut and unwilling.
I am not trying to be mean so please do not take offense.

See the trap I fall into? Not only am I perceived as calling him incapable, I'm perceived as lying about the conversation, and that I'm overly critical of his ADHD.

Being told you literally did not have a convo that you did have is really crazy.

So you might say, "Don't offer to help, only help if he asks for it." but when I do that then he blames me for not offering to help him when he obviously needs it (I mean, he DID tell me that he has trouble balancing too many things because of his ADHD!) and making him "do everything".

The funny thing about blame is..we cant be blamed for something unless we take ownership of the issue. Someone can say all they want about how we caused the problem and its our fault but we are the ones that let those words mean something to us. You know your own intentions. To thine own self be true. If he says something about what you are or are not doing- and says you are blaming him or he is blaming you- if you arent and your didnt- try not to give it another throught. Resist taking that bait. One way to take the higher road with people like this is to not react. He wants a reaction. He wants the chaos and stimulation of a fight-dont give it to him.

It really sounds like there is more going on here than just his adhd. You cant possibly be expected to stay married and live this way for years to come. what does the counselor suggest you two do in these situations?

Hermione Danger
06-28-17, 04:23 PM
Ugh, you guys are the best. I'm so glad I found this community! <3

Because I've been unaware of what ADHD really means (I was totally uneducated), we've been seeing a MC who doesn't know much about it either. So she's been treating me as an equal partner in the issues, and those amazing disappearing conversations are just as much me not communicating properly as it is him "misunderstanding" the conversation. I'm 100% not saying the problems are all the ADHD, I'm saying that she's been treating it as 50/50 when it's probably closer to 70/30. We're going to get nowhere until we move to a MC who understands ADHD.

I'm so hopeful! But I also need to make sure I'm reacting appropriately in the meantime. Thank you for all of your feedback.

jokopsy
07-11-17, 04:43 AM
I had similar situations with my friend. it was so perplexing and I felt so devastated like the ground was taken from under my feet. sometimes it looks like she turns any of my actions or opinions in a way that I offend or criticise her or just being unfair generally. and I can't avoid that because trying to ignore situations like that is also treated as an offence. and it goes round and round :(