"Our Son Has ADHD and it's Hurting Our Marriage"

Listen in as one real-life couple works through a major crisis in their relationship with the help of a marriage therapist.
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THE COUPLE

Emily: 34, elementary school teacher

Kenny: 35, graphic designer

Married: 15 years

Kids: Jack, 8; Caitlin, 5

THE COUNSELOR

Robin Newman, Huntington, New York

THE BACKGROUND

Emily and Kenny are in a standoff. Their son was diagnosed with ADHD, and Emily wants to try medication. Kenny doesn't. The tension is spilling over into the rest of their relationship.

EMILY:

"Kenny and I are always fighting about our son, Jack. If it's not about his bedtime, it's about how much TV he's watching, the toys all over his room, or the fact that we have to tell him something 17 times before it sinks in. Now we can't agree on whether to give Jack medication to help with his ADHD symptoms."

KENNY:

"I'm sick of the arguing, too. We start talking about Jack and that snowballs into fighting about everything else -- laundry, cooking, whatever. We never relax and we have no 'us' time. By the time Jack is asleep, Emily is too exhausted to even think about sex. I wind up taking a backseat to my son. How do I get on her list?"

EMILY:

"Here's a thought: Give ADHD medication a try, like I've been saying we should! If it works, it would solve a lot of problems and give us our life back. The experts we've consulted have said it's worth exploring -- but Kenny is resistant and I don't understand why. We've had Jack tested. He's not hyperactive, or bouncing off the walls, but he's definitely daydreamy and unfocused. We've tried all sorts of strategies at home and in school and we've talked to psychologists and his teachers. Nothing's helped. Most upsetting of all: He's miserable. Every day the poor kid says he hates school and hates his life. Second grade shouldn't be this hard."

KENNY:

"This is so ironic. I had suspected that Jack had ADHD since he was 2, but Emily kept telling me I was wrong. She thinks she's the expert, but I was right then and I'm right now. I should know, I have ADHD myself and it runs in my family. School was tough for me and my parents didn't have a clue how to help. And Jack is just like me: Ask him to brush his teeth and he'll find 93 things to do on his way to the bathroom. But I made it through school and college without pills. Jack's too young to be on drugs that he could be taking for 70 years."

EMILY:

"Just because Kenny sucked it up when he was a kid doesn't mean Jack should. People then didn't know much about this problem or have medications to treat it. Besides, we didn't have anywhere near as much homework in second grade as Jack does. I know there's no guarantee that drugs will help, but I'm a teacher and I've seen kids whose lives turned around once they started the right medication. When you have tools to help, it's insane not to use them."

KENNY:

"That's incredibly condescending. She's the expert so I don't count? I'm the one who actually has the same problem. The solution isn't meds, it's finding the right strategies. How about giving the kid a little structure -- like sticking to the bedtime we agreed on so he gets more sleep? How about making sure he's finished his homework before watching TV? I've always been more focused on structure than Emily is -- this is a fight we've had since the kids were born -- but with Jack's problem it has become crucial. Meanwhile, Emily takes "laid-back" to a new level. When I get home from work she's half asleep on the couch, toys are strewn all over, and Jack and Caitlin are zoned out in front of the TV. I am definitely not okay with TV as a babysitter. But whenever I try to talk to her about this, she either ignores me or starts crying and storms out of the room."

EMILY:

"Now who's condescending? If I'm exhausted after work I don't think it's terrible to let them watch TV for a while. I don't park them there all night long. I'm all for structure and strategies but it's not as simple as Kenny makes it sounds. Being with Jack is exhausting and demands every ounce of my patience and attention. A math sheet can take over an hour. After that we finally get a minute to relax and Kenny walks in and starts yelling at Jack. Even my relatives have noticed that he's much harder on Jack than on Caitlin, who never causes any problems. Kenny has a short fuse, a booming voice, and he talks at you, issuing a string of commands until your brain goes numb. Jack's eyes glaze over but Kenny keeps talking. I get so upset I have to leave the room or I'll lose it."

KENNY:

"Right, and when she walks away, I'm left having to make dinner for two starving kids. My day is long, too, plus I have an hour commute. I don't think it's too much to expect that dinner will at least be started by the time I get home. I do 90 percent of the chores around here."

EMILY:

"Seriously? He must think the underwear fairy folds his boxers and puts them in the dresser. He doesn't see half the things I do or have to think about just to keep this family going. But if it bothers him, he makes a big deal about it. If he decides the house is messy, he grabs a trash bag and races around throwing everything into it -- toys, magazines, anything he thinks is out of place."

KENNY:

"Keeping the house neat is one way to help Jack. He can't go from point A to point B without passing some toy that distracts him. I'm not pushing structure and neatness because I'm a hardass. I'm doing it because it's what our kid needs. She's so obsessed with her own agenda that she can't even imagine that maybe I, too, have some insight into what's best for our kids."

Continued on page 2:  THE COUNSELOR'S TURN

 

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