The Marriage Mirror

by Tanya Ruckstuhl-Valenti LICSW, MSW

Working with couples struggling with the effects of Attention Deficit Disorder I have noticed a pattern that arises with frequency.   It is the fight for one practically-minded person—often a trauma survivor– to feel valued and respected by one intuitively-oriented person—often an ADHD sufferer– who also wants…drum roll here…exactly the same thing!   That is, to feel valued and respected by their partner. 

The practical one, usually the one with a trauma history but without Attention Deficit Disorder, notices and attends to the myriad of things that need to get done:  the due date for the bills, the need for little Tommy to get a haircut, the birthday card to be sent to grandma.  These are not particularly fun tasks, and completing them unassisted often makes the practical one grumpy and resentful.  This is compounded when they feel their efforts are unappreciated or taken for granted, and when they have no time to relax because of the need to continually monitor and accomplish tasks. 

As a youngster the practical one got through life by lowering their expectations of others and taking care of what needed to be done.  Their self-reliance was often praised as “precociousness” rather than recognized as a sign of neglect.  Their over-functioning behavior was driven from fear rather than free choice.  This fear-driven competence can result in bossy, controlling behavior later in life. 

Meanwhile, the intuitive one, usually the one with ADHD, notices and attends to more subtle issues that do not have the immediate importance of bill-paying but nonetheless impact quality of life.  They are usually the first one to notice (but may not say anything) problems in the relationship.  They pay attention to the lighting in the room, the feelings of the children, and often the higher ideals and values such as honesty and freedom.  Because their contributions to the relationship are less tangible, they are sometimes experienced as non-contributors instead of different contributors. 

As a youngster the intuitive person coped with loneliness and neglect by creating a rich fantasy world.  Their fantasy world was more exciting and enjoyable than the real, bricks-and-mortar of everyday life.  Plus they could be in charge of their fantasy in a way that they cannot be over their reality.  Unfortunately the pull of pleasant contemplation instead of action can result in passivity and an over-reliance on being taken care of by others later in life. 

Over time without vigilant efforts by both members of the relationship to stay attuned and connected, the practical one drifts into a resentment-fueled fantasy of being alone or re-partnered with someone who can “pull their weight” and the intuitive one drifts off into a resentment-fueled fantasy about being alone or re-partnered with someone who “isn’t always judging me.” 

And yet, when in balance this couple offers each other the richest of gifts:   a greater intuitive ability for the practical one whose healing requires to be able to come up for air, look around and nurture their imagination, and a more grounded life for the intuitive one whose healing requires the ability to balance their imagination with practical abilities. 

The mirror of marriage is this:  We are attracted to people with the very qualities that we need to attend to and heal most within ourselves.

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3 comments on “The Marriage Mirror

  1. don’t be so sure it is a fantasy world. More than likely it is the spirit world. It can be very difficult for those who can walk in both worlds and it requires a great deal of knowledge and training to handle the two.

    Susan Gale

  2. Wow, sometimes someone says something that hits the nail right on the head for you! This is it! I am the practical one and reading this post is just like “a day in the life” for my husband(the ADD-er) and I.

    We were lucky to have the ADD diagnosed early in our relationship when I realized something was “wrong” between us, but also felt there was so much “right” between us. The diagnosis put our wedding plans on hold, but luckily it was only a short postponement, while we learned more about ADD and how it would impact our lives.

    8.5 years later, we have been married for 7.5 years, have an exuberant 3-yr-old, and do our best to find the balance required to make each partner feel appreciated and loved. It’s tough, but so worth it! Every now and then, my life is made a little bit easier by reading something like your post that is so accurate. Thank you.

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