Yesterday was the 4th of July, so let’s talk a bit about independence. I place a high value on self-reliance. I don’t like to accept help from people, and I find it even harder to ask for it. It’s possible that this stems from my obsessive-compulsive anxiety and my need to be in control. Maybe I’m afraid support won’t be available one day. Whatever the cause, my greatest frustration with being neurodivergent is that it puts me in positions where I need help from others.
Yesterday was also my husband’s birthday, and while many people have provided me with help over the years, he is the one helping me get through each day. He drives for me; he cooks when I’m too sore from ticcing; he talks me through my anxiety; he works overtime; he holds me while I cry. I love him, but I hate that I need him.
My reliance on him bothers me so much that sometimes I forget he needs me, too. When one partner provides most of the caregiving, it’s easy for life to become all about the care receiver’s feelings. While I’m feeling inadequate because I need care, he’s dealing with my burdens as well as his own. This post is my reminder to myself (and to you) that we’re partners, and that means doing my part, too.
Say Thank You, Not Sorry
Because of my hang-ups about needing help, I can sometimes feel like I’m taking advantage. To counter this feeling, I need to make it clear to my husband that I do not want to need his help. When I need to, for example, fill a prescription, I might say something like, “We don’t have to do it right now, but I’m running low on my meds. If you don’t mind, could we go to the pharmacy?”
Of course, he knows that “running low” means “damn near out” and that skipping medication will only make life harder for both of us. When we inevitably leave for the pharmacy, I’ll apologize the whole way there– “Sorry you have to take me. I wish I could drive myself.”
From my perspective, I’m acknowledging that he’s inconveniencing himself and giving him an “out” if he doesn’t feel like helping. It wasn’t until my husband called me on it that I saw how selfish this behavior really is.
He pointed out that if he doesn’t want to help, he won’t. My words were for me; by making the task optional and apologizing, I was taking the responsibility of the decision away from myself. My unconscious logic was that I didn’t force him, so the inconvenience wasn’t my fault.
Not only is it wrong to put the burden of decisions on him but it also robs him of the satisfaction that helping me provides. Instead of expressing gratitude, I put him in situations where he has to reassure me, unfairly adding another chore to his day.
Ask Your Partner About Their Needs
When one partner’s struggles dominate the relationship, the other partner’s feelings can get lost in the shuffle. For the past eight months or so, our lives have revolved around my tics. Financially, mentally, emotionally, physically– as a relatively new challenge, they have impacted every aspect of our lives.
When you’re obviously in distress and you have a caring partner, that partner is going to want to make sure you’re okay. They’ll check in on your mental state, listen to your fears, and unfortunately, put their needs second.
That’s not necessarily bad. We promised to be there for each other in sickness and in health, and that has, at different points, meant one of us requires more attention than the other. It does not mean one of us gets all the attention.
There’s a lot of pressure involved in being financially responsible for a household as well as feeling emotionally responsible for your spouse. Every so often, I make sure to check in with my husband about how he’s handling it. Kaylene George, an autistic self-advocate and blogger, notes that it’s important to have these conversations when both of you are calm, otherwise neither of you will be communicating clearly. I’m also more vigilant about signs of stress because I know he may fear adding to my worries by expressing himself directly.
I try to give my husband room in the relationship for things unrelated to my health, too. He has hobbies and interests, and they shouldn’t become less important because of me. When I show interest in his passions, it gives him permission to indulge.
Make Sure They Have Space to Vent
While it’s important that I take an active role in my husband’s well-being, I have to accept that there will be some things he won’t feel comfortable telling me. My husband is a considerate guy; he’s not going to make me feel bad about needing support by talking to me about how difficult it is.
But he should talk to somebody. Our situation is undeniably stressful at times. Keeping all those feelings bottled up can lead to resentment that will inevitably leak (or explode) into our relationship.
We may sometimes feel we have to be all things at all times for our significant others, but that mentality can be toxic to any relationship. Ensuring your partner has strong friendships, family with whom they feel comfortable sharing, or even a therapist can give your partner room to vent without hurting you.
Make Sure You Have Space to Vent, Too
On the flipside, I can’t expect my husband to be all things to me either. As my best friend and roommate, it’s logical that he will be the one to listen to most of my problems. That responsibility can get pretty heavy. The stress of caregiving can even put spouses at greater risk for mental and physical health problems.
By maintaining friendships myself, confiding in family, and even seeing a therapist, I can spread my burdens throughout my support network, making sure my husband isn’t carrying all of my baggage on his shoulders.
Above All, Communicate
All of this advice boils down to some form of communication, but it’s also worth discussing communication in a broader sense. I’ve been with my husband for thirteen years. For most of that time, we have argued over what my husband has perceived as a lack of consideration for his feelings. I constantly need him to repeat himself; I forget conversations from only hours before; I misplace his things; I don’t look at him while he speaks. Does any of this sound familiar?
That’s because all of these acts of inconsideration are symptoms of ADHD. The problem is, we didn’t know that I had ADHD until a month ago. From his perspective, I just wasn’t paying attention, which indicated I didn’t care. When he would ask me why I did these things or why I didn’t try harder when I’d promised I would, I couldn’t explain.
I’d tell him I wasn’t trying to hurt his feelings, but I had no idea how to pay attention to something if I had no idea of its existence. How do you fix something you can’t recognize?
Thirteen years of the same conversation– and then I got my diagnosis.
Understanding my ADHD gives me the tools to communicate what happens in my brain. Now I can differentiate between not caring and brain fog and processing delays and poor working memory.
It can be frustrating for both of us, but I know now that my partner’s brain doesn’t work the same way mine does. Actions that would mean one thing coming from him mean something else entirely coming from me. The only way for him to know the difference is for me to communicate it.
It’s still taking me time to internalize, but I know that sharing my burdens doesn’t mean I am a burden. I’m fortunate to have a caring partner who supports me through the good times and the bad– not everyone does– but it’s my responsibility to make the bad times a little bit better for both of us by making sure he gets the love he needs in return.
Do you have a supportive partner? In what ways do you make sure their needs are being met? Leave a comment!