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How to cope with my ADHD husband’s RSD?


My ADHD spouse has Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria (RSD). I have compassion for how difficult this is for him, but as the Non-ADHD partner, I experience this with him. It is beyond challenging to handle this every day.

My husband will strive for perfection on tasks that a neurotypical person would likely decide to let go of, so his hyper-focus kicks in. That means if we had plans, or he had other commitments, or he had a work deadline, those are out the window. I feel disappointed, unimportant, and last in line. Our kids are still young but are starting to experience similar feelings around this too. Clients get upset–this costs our family money.

There are many topics I think my husband and I should discuss together as partners–money, kids, schedules, etc. Sometimes he avoids the conversation altogether, so I go ahead as I think we should. I pay the bills, save for retirement, decide if we can afford a vacation, enroll the kids in school, sports, activities, figure out the calendar he may or may not check. By the way, I work full-time, and he does not. I worry that I parent my partner by handling so many things, but someone has to do them. Or I will have to ask and remind him several times in many gentle ways. Or it will get done late and cost extra. I feel exhausted and overburdened with all the tasks that fall on me.

Perhaps I should ask him to help me? This is when I see the strongest RSD reaction. God forbid I ask him to unload the dishwasher or clean something. He hears a mountain of criticism when I ask a simple question.

Also, there is an RSD reaction if my ADHD spouse and I don’t have the same view on a topic, like let’s take out another loan. My ADHD spouse gets anxious, twists the conversation, and says hurtful things unrelated to the topic. Then it becomes more about how I didn’t say something in the correct tone, but he can’t provide an example of how I should say it. Sometimes I think he blows up on purpose to get out of taking responsibility. I feel I’m in fight-or-flight mode most of the time around him. I worry this is bad for my health and our kids. His RSD has impacted our marriage and friendship. I feel anger and resentment toward my spouse. I don’t know how to come back from that.

I do believe my ADHD husband can control his RSD when he tries and uses tools he has learned from therapy and coaching. He never does this with strangers. I have never seen him explode with friends. He is the kind of guy that seems so nice and friendly to everyone. I have, however, seen him react to a sibling and a parent. The RSD reactions have decreased over the last few months. I think our marriage counselor and support groups have helped, but the progress is so slow. My husband says he’s learned a lot from the (audio) book Positive Intelligence.

There is no sure way of knowing if RSD will pop up when I talk to my ADHD spouse. This is how I currently cope with the RSD:

• Minimal conversation in the morning until his ADHD medication kicks in.
• No critical topics in the evening. Medication has worn off. My partner is hyper-focused or looking for a dopamine rush and we will have a long emotional fight.
• Do NOT feed into the RSD reaction.
• Validate feelings and try to move on. It is tough to do this sometimes.
• Keep thoughts and opinions private. If the conversation topic is reoccurring, we likely won’t have the same view.

This is not the communication I had in mind for my marriage and family, but this is where I’m at, as the Non-ADHD partner.

What works for you and your partner?

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