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'When my son was diagnosed with ADHD, the doctor said it might affect my marriage. He was right.'

When our brilliant, whirlwind of a son was diagnosed with ADHD a couple of years ago, what the paediatrician said next came as a bit of a surprise. 

"Do you have a strong support system to lean on? Couples with neurodiverse children face very challenging times and you will need to make your marriage a priority."

Dazed from having finally been given some answers for my boy, I could hardly process what the doctor had said about ADHD let alone his heartfelt advice about our marriage. 

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I remember going home and mentioning it briefly to my mum, but then it faded away into the background whilst we hit the ground running to help our son.

The years ticked by, the appointments with all of our son’s support services filled our diary along with working, juggling the lives of three children, trying to upgrade our home ourselves and everything in between. 

Every so often I would recall the doctor’s advice but truth be told, I was tapped out. 

My husband would nag at me to spend quality time together. To ask family if they could take the children maybe once a month so that we could spend time on us, just us. 

But unless we had what I felt was a ‘legitimate’ excuse to ask my family to babysit, the thought of asking for help with the children didn’t sit right with me.

When my family did babysit, I would spend most of the time worried about my son’s behaviour, worried if they were coping with him and anxious about what I would be told when we got home.

I knew how hard it could be looking after three young children especially if my oldest was going through a tough time, which happened often. His outbursts were hard to handle, and I felt it was my sole responsibility to deal with it. I felt selfish to ask others for help. And so, our marriage continued to suffer. 

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We became housemates as opposed to a couple. We lost all intimacy and lost sight of each other. We started arguing all the time and my husband brought up marriage counselling. “Counselling? For us? We can’t afford it,” I would bite back.

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With a single income and everything we were spending on our son and just living in general, I point blank refused to spend money on anything to do with me. 

I told him I would sort it, convinced that once I was working again everything would somehow get better. But what I was so obviously failing to acknowledge was that my husband was drowning. That we were drowning.

Everyday life for a child with ADHD is challenging, from the moment they begin the day to when their busy minds finally rest at night, it is one fast-paced, roller coaster ride of emotions and we care givers have no choice but to go along for the ride. 

I was barely able to parent my children at times, absolutely emotionally spent and exhausted. The thought of then having to invest emotionally in my husband seemed too much of an ask.

I used to tell him he didn’t understand what it was like having to deal with the craziness that was our home life whilst he went off to work.

But, truth be told, he was every bit as tired as I was. Looking back, if I had just heeded the advice of the paediatrician and made our relationship a priority, then perhaps I wouldn’t have ended up feeling so exhausted and empty. 

For many couples who have children with additional needs, the natural and immediate focus is on the children. 

It is our job to support them, help them grow, keep them healthy and happy, just as it is for parents whose children do not have additional needs, but the heavy emotional burden we bear is something we carry silently, which weighs down every aspect of our lives. 

And what often happens, as with our marriage, is one parent can end up fully focused on the child whilst the other is less so. 

My husband and I were no longer on the same page. I became hyper-focused on our son’s progress, while my husband threw himself into work. 

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Our one saving grace has been that we have realised we still have the same goals for our family, for our son. And so, we are now clawing our way back to each other. 

The paediatrician was trying to get us to remember to look after ourselves, to remember the two people who created this family, to keep our foundation strong for our super brained boy and his wonderful siblings. 

Even with the ‘best’ of circumstances, some marriages fall apart. Marriages with additional strains like raising neurodiverse children have more odds stacked against them. 

So far, my husband and I have been some of the lucky ones. We are still in it together. There will be many more storms to weather, no doubt, especially as our boy starts high school. But for now, we at least see each other again through the fog. 

It’s a start. 

You can join Rachel's support group for parents of children with ADHD here.

Feature Image: Getty.

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