Are you an ADHD “Helicopter” Partner?

ADHD Awareness, Adults with ADHD    November 12, 2013
  • Are you an ADHD Helicopter SpouseDo you hover over your spouse while they’re doing housework or completing other important tasks around the house?
  • Do you take more than your share of responsibility for things in your ADHD relationship?
  • Do you find it is just easier to get things done if you micro-manage your partner’s schedule or better yet, do it yourself?
  • Have you tried nagging, pleading even anger to try and motivate your partner to get things done.

If so, you may be a helicopter partner!!!

Most of the time, a helicopter partner is borne from years of frustration while waiting for job after job or task after task to get completed. Or from a well-founded fear that an important piece of something will be missed in the disorganization, lack of planning or seeming lack of structure typical of your partner. It’s also not uncommon to think we are just “helping” out when our ADHD partner might be struggling to prioritize, follow-through or get back the train of thought they lost.

The problem with being an ADHD helicopter partner, aside from the frustration and imbalance it creates in a relationship, is that it doesn’t allow our partners to learn for themselves. To feel respected. To learn what works for them and what doesn’t.  To experience that sense of accomplishment when they are successful, even when getting there is different than how we might have done it.  So, if you’re tired of struggling to reform your helicopter partner ways,  want to reestablish the balance in your relationship and enjoy the satisfaction when each person is appreciated for their contributions, you can begin by putting the following practices into action:

  1. Remind them only once. No one likes a nag, and no one likes being a nag. Being nagged makes us feel like a child and being a nag makes us feel like a parent.  Not very sexy. So give a single reminder when you must, and then step back and let your ADHD spouse rise to the occasion.
  2. Leave it. Just because you can fix or do something quicker or easier, doesn’t mean you have to, or even that you should. So the next time you realize your ADHD partner has left for work, but his wallet is on the kitchen table or his briefcase sits by the front door, leave it.  They are a grown up and the consequences they’ll face might seem difficult at first, but consequences leave a meaningful impression –– and are more likely to make the impact needed for your partner to create change all on their own.
  3. Stop taking responsibility for your partner’s actions. You know what I’m talking about –– that subconscious impulse to make an excuse for our spouse’s actions.  Like offering the apology when your spouse is late, when they forget an important date, are disorganized, make an impulsive comment or totally dominate a conversation.  Adults, including ADHD adults, take responsibility for their own actions, not another’s.  Rather than make excuses, make a plan.  A plan that your spouse comes up with to take accountability and responsibility for their actions.
  4. Let them fail. This is a toughie. As a spouse or partner we can feel like our ADHD partners success or performance is somehow (intimately) connected to our own self-worth –– “If they fail, I am a failure.” “If they look bad, I look bad.” But the truth is that we learn best from our own failing, and a whole heck-of-a-lot less when we are rescued! Not to mention the near impossibility of being there all the time to “save” them.  An occasional save might be appreciated, but as an everyday occurrence, it becomes a bit enabling.
  5. Let them learn from their own experiences. As partners, we are…well partners, not parents and our role is not to protect our partners from being uncomfortable. The fact is, when people are uncomfortable, they are more likely to change. A partnership is between two adults who support each other equally with the strengths they have learned from their own experiences.
  6. Don’t do for your partner what they can do for themselves. This includes calling or texting to remind them of what they are supposed to be doing or where they need to go. Packing for our ADHD partner’s trip, taking time out of our morning to make them breakfast or pack their lunch is not letting them do what they can do for themselves. Often this habit grew out of love for our partners, right? But we have to remember that they’re capable. When we do for someone else what they are capable of doing themselves we rob them of the feeling of enjoying personal success.
  7. Name the feeling. If your efforts to pull back from being a helicopter partner make you feel a little uncomfortable, you’re probably doing something right. Instead of curing that unsettling feeling by stepping in and doing whatever it is you’re trying to remind yourself not to do, name the feeling. Saying it out loud (“Letting him/her be late for that meeting because I didn’t text to remind them, feels uncomfortable”) or writing it a journal can help you process what you’re feeling without giving in to the temptation to over-partner. Naming it allows you to know it and you can then choose how you want to act.

Finally, remember that this is a process. We’re not going to get it right every time. What counts, though, is that we’re making progress and focusing more on creating a healthy, equal partnership that we can enjoy for years to come.

One Response to Are you an ADHD “Helicopter” Partner?

  1. Ann     January 8, 2014    3:38 am    Reply

    I found this article very helpful, but I would be curious as what advise would be given when dealing with a “Helicopter” Partner.

    Thank you

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