Most of the time, the fact that I have ADHD doesn’t impact my partner much. I’ve been building my coping mechanisms since I was a kid, and I have a system for how I manage my life. I clean up messes as soon as they’re made (or as quickly as I can) because I know that if I procrastinate on a chore, I’ll usually forget about it completely — and find wet laundry in the washing machine twelve hours later, or a bot of boiled over macaroni on the stove hours after dinner is over.
Particularly in light of conversations about the unpaid labor women do to run households, I want to make sure I’m accountable to my partner and that I do my fair share of the work. I don’t want to forget to change our cats’ litter and find her cleaning it later that day. Remembering to do things isn’t exactly my strong suit, so I need to actively plan so that my partner isn’t the only one making lists, cleaning the dishes, and checking that our bills are paid on time.
Here are some of the ways I practice being a supportive partner while keeping my ADHD in mind:
I don’t put it on my partner to tell me what to do.
It would be easy to say, “I’ll do chores. Just tell me what and when to do it.” But that still leaves the responsibility on my partner — who also works and goes to graduate school — to let me know that the toilet needs to be cleaned. That only creates more work for her, and she might think it’s easier to just accomplish a task herself than to tell me that it needs to be done.
Thinking about what needs to get done doesn’t always come naturally to me. I have to practice it, in both my professional and my personal life. To help out, I’ll often do a sweep of our apartment with critical eyes. Do the dishes look clean? Are the dishes in the dishwasher put away? Is there any old food in the fridge that needs to be discarded? How long has it been since we changed the litter box?
Not all problems are visible to the eye, so sometimes I’ll ask friends and family some of the maintenance they do in their homes so I don’t forget about something like changing the sheets on the bed or taking the extra lint out of the dryer.
I make lists and routines.
I work best when it becomes a natural part of my routine to do something, but not all tasks — like getting your car’s annual inspection or changing the fire alarm battery — need to be done on a regular basis. That’s where lists tend to save me. If I come across something that doesn’t need to get done for six weeks or three months, I put it in my planner for later. Once it’s written down, I know I’ll do it. If there’s a deadline attached, like a bill that needs to be paid, I mark that.
Once or twice a week, I look ahead in my planner and think about upcoming needs. Right now, my partner and I are in the process of moving at the beginning of next month. Before we move, there are a bunch of tasks that need to be done: changing our internet service to the new address, buying packing materials, calling our rental agent to get set up for a parking sticker. Depending on how much time I have to get them done, I’ll make note of tasks and then fairly split them up with my partner. We’ll look at paint colors and air conditioners together, but she might call our internet provider while I call about parking.
I make a point to check in with my partner.
Our relationship doesn’t just work because we love each other unconditionally; it works because we both try hard to maintain it. Sometimes that means something simple like planning a date night or surprising her with a handwritten love letter, and other times, it’s offering to rub lotion on her back when she’s sunburnt or taking a bunch of annoying household tasks off her plate.
I make it a habit to talk to my partner about the mundane stuff — just enough that it gets done and feels fair, but not so much that we’re the boring couple discussing taxes over sushi that we used to make fun of when we were in college. I’ll ask her if she feels overwhelmed with work and household tasks and find ways to equitably pick up the slack. It’s important to have conversations about what’s working in a relationship (and yes, that includes who is scooping up cat vomit) and what can be improved.
We both focus on our strengths.
Having ADHD doesn’t mean I’m bad at everything and my partner isn’t. We each have strengths and weaknesses, and things we prefer to do more than others. I can’t smell — at all, since I was born with congenital anosmia — so I’m the perfect candidate for getting smelly, rotten eggs out of the fridge. I’m also practiced at getting phone calls accomplished; I’ve argued my way out of unfair phone bills and into cheaper internet plans for the same service. If my partner needs to dispute something, it’s always me who does it. She’s better at making grocery lists, because she likes to plan her meals out in advance while I prefer to wait and see “what I feel like” that day, so she’s the keeper of our weekly shopping list. If I see we’re out of toilet paper, I’ll tell her to add it to our list and we grocery shop for everything together.
We’re always willing to make a backup plan.
Even the most well thought out plans don’t work out. If our plan was to look at paint samples for the new apartment but I have a headache and my partner’s exhausted, we simply skip doing it and reschedule for a time when we feel better. Then we’ll go home and recharge instead of pushing ourselves to shop when we’re not up for it. It’s not always possible to have a solid backup plan — particularly if you’re someone who does this at the last minute — which is one key reason I try not to procrastinate and I like to get things done in advance. That way, if our schedules shift or an emergency arises, everything doesn’t turn into a huge mess.
I don’t just apologize—I change my behavior, too.
It’s easy to slap on a sincere “I’m sorry” if I completely forget that I was supposed to take the tuna out of the fridge to thaw, but it doesn’t end there. I make amends in the moment, if it’s an option, like offering to thaw the tuna manually so we can still use it or dropping my private reading time to do the laundry so my partner doesn’t have to. I also continually work on changing behavior that I actually need to change. I’m not sorry for who I am, and having ADHD is a part of that, but I’m sorry any time my symptoms make my partner have to put in more effort than she should. If it means being more intentional about my list-making habits or carving out time every day to check the dishwasher, I’m happy to do that.
My partner and I are both women, so we’ve both been socialized to pick up the slack in relationships and do all sorts of unpaid and mental labor to keep things running smoothly. But I don’t want every extra thing I forget to do (or worse, even forget what needs to be done — I once made toast and left it in our toaster oven for two hours!) to fall into my partner’s lap. I’m here to be a supportive partner in this relationship, even if that means littering my planner with routine tasks like “Call our internet provider” when what I really want to do is read a book.