The Gottman Method for Couples: ADHD and Relationships with Dr. Michelle Frank
Dr. Michelle Frank returns to introduce us to The Gottman Method, an approach to relationship therapy that just so happens to be uniquely suited to addressing ADHD in relationships.
As we kick off our twenty-third season of Taking Control: The ADHD Podcast, we’re looking at families. These are some of the closest relationships we have in our lives — we live with them, eat with them, play with them, sleep with them — but how does ADHD contribute to our family relationships?
This week, Dr. Michelle Frank returns to introduce us to The Gottman Method. According to the website of the originators of the method, John and Julie Gottman, here’s what we know about The Gottman Method:
The Gottman Method is an approach to couples therapy that includes a thorough assessment of the couple’s relationship and integrates research-based interventions based on the Sound Relationship House Theory. The goals of Gottman Method Couples Therapy are to disarm conflicting verbal communication; increase intimacy, respect, and affection; remove barriers that create a feeling of stagnancy; and create a heightened sense of empathy and understanding within the context of the relationship.
When we spoke to Dr. Frank about couples and ADHD, she was ready to jump right in — she’s a respected specialist in using Gottman Method Couples’ Therapy and sees it as one path that happens to be uniquely suited to improving communication between partners who have some mix of ADHD between them.
Building our Sound House for ADHD Relationships
Dr. Frank introduces us to The Sound House theory and we meet the Four Horsemen (Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness, and Stonewalling). In this context, we look at what allows ADHD to throw our relationships out of balance and how to find realignment along the way.
About Dr. Michelle Frank
Dr. Frank is a clinical psychologist specializing in providing diagnostic and treatment services to individuals with ADHD. Her work with clients is all about finding strengths-based approaches to learning how to live with ADHD. She works with college students, adults, and families and the book she co-authored with Sari Solden — A Radical Guide for Women with ADHD: Embrace Neurodiversity, Live Boldly, and Break Through Barriers — was released last summer. Learn more about Dr. Frank.
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Michelle Frank: I would say it’s always important for the person with ADHD to be making an effort. It can be challenging to do that. So it’s important to think about what do I need in order to fully participate in this to the best of my ability, knowing my partner’s abilities might be stronger, and they might be more proficient in certain areas. What do I have to add? How can I stay involved with that? What does my partner need in terms of my involvement is certainly doesn’t feel good for one person to be the manager of everything. And the other person just got to go along for the ride.
Pete Wright: That is Dr. Michelle Frank. This week as we returned for our 23rd season, we kick off a series on ADHD and family relationships with an exploration of that first relationship, our partners, spouses, or significant others. How do you create balance in the relationship, and leave room for ADHD? That’s up next on Taking Control: The ADHD Podcast. Hello, everybody, and welcome to Taking Control: The ADHD Podcast, on True Story FM. I’m Pete Wright, and that’s Nikki Kinzer.
Nikki Kinzer: Hello everyone. Welcome.
Pete Wright: It’s season 23.
Nikki Kinzer: Very exciting. We’re back from our little July break.
Pete Wright: Do you remember how to do this?
Nikki Kinzer: No, because we both forgot to record on the very first show back that we just recorded. We forgot to record, but we caught it before we actually did the show. So kudos to us.
Pete Wright: Dodged a bullet right there. That was scary, but it’s okay. We’ve got lots of great things that we’re going to be talking about. Today in particular, our dear friend, Dr. Michel Frank is back to join us. We’re going to talk to her in just a bit, but first head over to takecontroladhd to get to know us a little bit better. You can listen to the show right there on the website, or subscribe to our mailing list. We’ll send you an email each time a new episode is released. Connect with us on Twitter or Facebook @takecontroladhd. If the show has never touched you, if your life has been made better in some small way as a result of this show-
Nikki Kinzer: I guess break out in song.
Pete Wright: … we invite you. I might. Hey, I’m watching Brigadoon right now. I want to sing everything.
Nikki Kinzer: Sing. Go, go Pete.
Pete Wright: I want you to know about Pantreon. So anyhow, patreon.com/theadhdpodcast. That is our community of fantastic supporters. For a few bucks a month, you get access to all kinds of fun stuff. You get early access to the show every week. You get to watch the live streams as we record these things, which is always nonsense. You are going to get access to the new Patreon only podcast from Pete. Pete is apparently going to do a podcast.
Nikki Kinzer: Pete is doing a podcast.
Pete Wright: It’s very exciting. Yeah, that’s great.
Nikki Kinzer: It’s not all about Pete, but it could be some things about Pete.
Pete Wright: Yeah, no. It’s mostly going to be things Pete needs to know. Pete needs to learn lessons, lessons that hit me.
Nikki Kinzer: You have to tell the title, because it’s everything that Pete needs to know. So it’s a lot of Pete.
Pete Wright: Right. There’s always something, but it’s a lot. It might be a lot of Pete, but it’s also a lot of you. So for your gracious support, dear listeners this is a show for and dedicated to our members, and things that we need to learn together. So I’m very excited to get started on that. We’ve set this goal and we’re trying to hit this goal and that will be a goal that allows us to afford to do it. Honestly, that’s why we asked for this so we can continue growing what we do here, and we deeply appreciate how you give, so generously back to the show. So visit patreon.com/theadhdpodcast to join today.
Nikki Kinzer: That’s right.
Pete Wright: Dr. Michelle Frank is a clinical psychologist specializing in providing diagnostic and treatment services to individuals with ADHD. She is back with us today to talk about relationships, and ADHD, specifically through the lens of the Gottman method. Nikki and I talked to her. We actually talked to her a month ago, and we’re now giving it to you now. We’re really excited about it, because she was so gracious to record when her schedule allowed them. That happened to be some weeks back, but we’re excited to bring it to you right now.
Nikki Kinzer: But this is also a kickoff of our series for the next gosh, one, two, three, four, five, six weeks. I think at least six weeks, we are doing shows all around the ADHD family. So whether you have ADHD, and your kids don’t, or kids have ADHD and you don’t, or the whole family has ADHD. Whatever it is, we’re going to be talking about some different things. So it starts off with Dr. Michelle Frank with talking about couples therapy. We’re going to talk about family tips, things that are actually tips from our listeners. You guys brought in some great ideas and brought to us some great ideas and suggestions. We’re going to talk to an ADHD mom. We’re going to do an interview with her. We have a couple other interviews on mindfulness, and teenagers. Impact parents are going to be coming back. So we are going to have another conversation. I’m sure it’s going to be fabulous.
Pete Wright: I can’t think of a better way to kick off than this conversation with our friend Dr. Michelle. Dr. Michelle Frank is back with us after oh, so long. The last time she was here, I think we were in the height of everything being reopened, but only a little bit. Then everything was about to be closed again. I think the three of us were all very depressed the last time we talked. Michelle, it’s so great to have you back with us. Michelle is a clinical psychologist specializing in providing diagnostic and treatment services to individuals with ADHD. She’s also a very handy expert in our address book on relationships. We’re going to talk all about ADHD and relationships, through the lens of the Gottman method. So glad to have you here, Michelle.
Michelle Frank: Thank you. I’m so glad to be back.
Pete Wright: We’re all feeling better. We’re all feeling better.
Michelle Frank: Yeah.
Nikki Kinzer: Well, you are the very first show of our families with ADHD series, and we are very excited to have you here. I wanted to start with your interview, because families are created by relationships by parents.
Pete Wright: We’d like to know how that works. Lets start at the very beginning.
Nikki Kinzer: So I am excited to have you here, because all different kinds of families listen to our show. It’s important that we understand that if you have a partner, if you’re in a couple relationship, because I know that the Gottman method is not for individuals. I want to be clear about that. It’s for couples, but what a great place to start. So Pete and I connection with the Gottman method is way back when in the early what Pete, two thousands?
Pete Wright: Surely. Yeah.
Nikki Kinzer: I think it was 2000.
Pete Wright: Late 1999, early 2000. Yeah.
Nikki Kinzer: Yeah. We had a group that were of young couples either married or going to be married. We went through this book. I still remember things from it, because when I was reviewing my notes for today I was like, "Yeah, I remember that. I remember that." All very sound advice, because guess what, Pete and I are both married to the same person.
Pete Wright: Still. Yes, still the person.
Nikki Kinzer: Yeah. So something’s working. So, why don’t you tell us a little bit about what this is? What is the Gottman method?
Michelle Frank: So the Gottman method is a form of couples therapy that is based in the research of John and Julie Gottman as well as several others folks like Bob Levenson for instance. John Gottman started researching couples. What makes them work, and what doesn’t. Back in early to mid seventies. So, we’re going on over 40 years of research on what makes a couple successful. At first they started looking at why do couples divorce? From there they moved on to, okay, so why are there successful couples doing so well? What sets them apart? What are they doing differently? Then when John linked up with Julie Gottman, his now wife, she’s an expert therapist. Also very analytical mind. A really wise brilliant woman who specializes in a lot of trauma therapy, had a lot of good therapeutic training. She came on board and said, "We can use this. We can create therapeutic tools." So together they did, started the Gottman Institute, and they started researching their theories. If we do an intervention in this way, does it help couples get to where they’re going? So they use the predictors of divorce, and separation relationship demise to help couples course correct, and find what works.
Nikki Kinzer: How is this different from other approaches that you might find in couples counseling?
Michelle Frank: Well, a big difference is the wealth of empirical validation behind it. It’s also incredibly integrated. Meaning there are elements of attachment theory, cognitive behavioral therapy. There’s a skill building conflict resolution. There’s a lot of moving pieces, but it’s also incredibly well integrated. So that it’s very, very practical. A lot of both couples, and individuals come to me especially with ADHD. They’ve been in therapy before and they’re like, "I have all the awareness, but now what? Now what? Now, where do I go?" The Gottman’s have some really helpful protocols, and exercises to help people build the skills, when they’re building upon the awareness that they’ve gained.
Pete Wright: As I said, we went through it a long time ago. This was actually before I had gotten my ADHD diagnosis. So it was pre awakening I like to call it. But that’s really what I’m into today. Is how does the method, the Gottman approach interact with folks with ADHD. There are mixed ADHD couples. Like mine are two ADHD individuals in relationship together. How do you approach it through this lens?
Michelle Frank: So I think it’s important to keep in mind that couples therapy is not a treatment for ADHD. That’s individual work. What couples therapy does is it looks at the impact of ADHD on the relationship. It looks at both person’s experience of ADHD within the relationship. So ADHD, it’s a player at the table. It’s in the room, but ADHD isn’t the only problem. The couple is the client. A lot of times the person with ADHD ends up being the identified client. It’s really easy on both sides of the equation to blame ADHD, when usually there’s a lot of other things going on as well. There’s a lot of meaningly make, a lot of emotional overwhelm, a lot of shame, like all these other things are happening, where those part and parcel of ADHD, but also separate from it. We can create these relational cycles and these negative patterns of interacting that over time compound, and really erode the underlying friendship, closeness and connection we have. [Sari 00:13:00] and I talk a lot about this, about ADHD, but it’s about a lot more. There is a deep well to dive there. So Gottman therapy like most couples therapy, unless some people do very specific ADHD cognitive behavioral oriented couples work. But for the most part, the couples therapy world, you’d be really hard pressed to find people who specialize. The average person is going to have a hard time finding a couples provider who also happens to specialize in ADHD. The important piece of it is going in and saying, "We really want to talk about the impact of living with ADHD, and how that informs derails our connection. How it informs or derails our communication, and how we can be a team about that." A lot of couples end up being very you against me instead of us against the problem.
Pete Wright: Well, that’s exactly what I was thinking. Is because we may not think of the Gottman approach to couples therapy as ADHD therapy. But when ADHD is at the core of the relationship issues, the communication issues, you’re lighting a fire in the relationship, and it’s all because of just sort of the way your brain
Michelle Frank: Your dynamics around that, and what it triggers for you. Your enduring vulnerabilities that [crosstalk 00:14:36]-
Pete Wright: Well, and your awareness of it like me. That’s why we ended up going into couples therapies. Because I didn’t know I had ADHD.
Nikki Kinzer: It’s interesting what you said, Michelle, about individual therapy. I want you to expand that a little bit more, because you were saying if you are looking, and I think you said be able to manage, or help you with your ADHD, that would be individual. The couples therapy is the impact that ADHD has on the relationship. I think that a lot of people that I work with, I think they go to couples therapy thinking it’s going to be a way to manage ADHD.
Michelle Frank: Right. Then the things get really sidetracked. Because then where a couples therapy is dyadic. It’s about two people, not just one person, and their chronic condition. Similar to if that person had MS, or an anxiety disorder. There are other things that need to happen in conjunction. So, a proper evaluation. Perhaps medication, coaching, individual therapy, support groups, education, all of these things. When we’re talking about successfully managing ADHD, we all know it’s not a one-shot solution. It’s really-
Nikki Kinzer: That’s a lot.
Michelle Frank: There are a lot of moving pieces that change over time. So couples therapy is one tool in that toolbox. But what we’re looking at is how do I experience ADHD? How does my partner experience ADHD? How do we do that together? Why are we not doing that well? Because ultimately the problem solving, the strategizing pieces, like having a weekly family meeting to go over the schedule, and the finance. So that’s 5% of the problem and the solution. You don’t need to be in couples therapy to necessarily come to that conclusion. But what’s getting in the way of us getting there, of having a conversation in the first place, following through on that. How do we feeling [crosstalk 00:16:40].
Nikki Kinzer: Not fighting when you’re in it.
Michelle Frank: Exactly. How do we do that effectively? How do we work through everything that comes with it?
Nikki Kinzer: Okay. So I did some digging, and I went into his website and looked at his blog and all of these different things. Oh my gosh, it’s a wealth of information. One of the things that he talks about, and you even have this on your page, on your website too, that explains how to get ahold of you. It’s the sound relationship house theory. So this is to help us understand how the good relationships are working. Is that correct? What is this? How do you explain it?
Michelle Frank: On relationship house is really the crux of the entire Gottman paradigm. It’s a metaphor we use when we’re looking at relationships to say, what’s working, what are the strengths and challenges, and where and how do we intervene? So we think of relationship like a house, and the two load bearing walls are trust and commitment. The first floor is friendship, and feeling respected by your partner. The presence of fondness and admiration. We move up to the second floor. We have some really important relational qualities, like turning towards one another for connection instead of away. Accepting bids for connections of tuning them out, and also our mindset. What sort of perspective do we have a better partner? Do we give them the benefit of the doubt, or do we replay everything that’s ever gone wrong, and really build that what we call the negative sentiment override. The next floor up is conflict management. How do we talk about our feelings? How do we regulate our feelings both together, and separately? So you can see where ADHD is just playing all in here.
Pete Wright: I was just going to say about the first two even. As soon as you talk about my sort of ADHD bent on per separation. I can focus on all the little things if I don’t like really concentrate on breaking those patterns. It’s so easy to get into those loops. Then we have conflict. I can’t even help it.
Michelle Frank: Yes. And vice versa, right? God, the house is a mess and now I have to take care of it. So they always do. So you’re just spinning the negativity wheel. Then the friendship really erodes. Then the top floors are how we create meaning together, shared values. But also it’s like the balance of we and me. You don’t always have to have the exact same life dreams and goals, but how do you make room for that together in your lives? So, some people come in and they just need a total demo run out. It’s just-
Nikki Kinzer: Tear it down and build it back up. Yeah.
Michelle Frank: Especially if trust and commitment aren’t there. [crosstalk 00:19:45].
Nikki Kinzer: Like if one person was not loyal. Yeah.
Michelle Frank: Then other people, for instance, they haven’t ever really had a chance or the time or opportunity to really identify what the shared we in it all is. Then other times it’s things like there’s a big fire on the conflict management floor. So now there’s flood damage down in the friendship. Because it impacts each other. So when we’re starting therapy using the Gottman method, we assess where’s the relationship based on these different characteristics of what we know is essential to making a committed relationship work over time. Just similarity to ADHD coaching, where can we use the strengths to support the challenges, and where do we need to intervene? Frankly, where don’t we? So the relationship house is used really through out couples therapy too as sort of a landmark to always go back to and say, "Where are we at with this?" To use as a metaphor for trying to explain what we’re talking about.
Nikki Kinzer: If you are going into couples therapy, and we’re looking at this house. There’s some of these things we’re doing pretty good. Like trust and commitment, I’m in it, and you can trust me. But what you’re saying is some of these things could need help. So when you’re going into couples therapy, you’re figuring out, or trying to figure out where you want to build and make that stronger?
Michelle Frank: Yeah.
Nikki Kinzer: Okay. So like turn towards instead of away. I can see you get into a fight, people shut down. So that’s turning away. So then that might be something that you would talk about in therapy of… am I getting that right?
Michelle Frank: Yeah, absolutely. There are also smaller ways of turning away. When a couple is in conflict, successful couples in conflict have a ratio of five to one positives to negative interactions. When they’re doing well, it’s 20 to one. So it’s what are we putting in the positivity bank, and turning towards can be really simple. It can be, "Honey, come look at this stupid commercial. This guy’s ridiculous." Or, "Oh, look, it looks like it’s going to rain." Those things seem pretty innocuous, but they’re actually some form of a bid for connection. Share this tiny bit of my day with me, laugh with me, see me, hear me, be close to me. Over time, those things are easy to attend to in the beginning. But over time we can start to let them go. But certainly that is another place perhaps where ADHD comes in, where perhaps an inattentive trade or something like that, or perhaps erosion of an underlying feeling of connection with your partner over time, can lead you to start shutting down some of those beds. So the guys have a say in small things often. It’s not always like these vivid, big, huge moments. It’s also what makes up our daily lives together, and how do we choose each other in that.
Pete Wright: This erosion concept really strikes a chord with me, because that leads to something. A feeling I think that’s really important. Nikki had pointed out a blog post called The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness, and Stonewalling. I feel like I can really relate to that criticism, contempt pear. When you talk about like when a relationship is struggling, and you go down to the five to one versus 20 to one positive to negative experiences, you kind of get the sense of like, when I am feeling compromised in some way in the relationship. It’s so easy to turn that outward.
Michelle Frank: Absolutely. Absolutely. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are the four behaviors that were found to be most predictive of relationship demise over time. Successful couples, they might creep in here and there, but for the most part, they use other ways of communicating and connecting. In ADHD, I see a lot of cycles of criticism, and defensiveness. Counterattack, blaming one another, leading into contempt, leading defensiveness, leading to shut down. So oftentimes we’re working on having the conversations we want to have, and doing those interactions differently. But it can be hard too, and we’re emotionally flooded. Which is also something that easily happens with ADHD. So to give you an example of like what those four things mean. Imagine you’re going about your day la-di-da, and your partner says, "Hey, got a Home Depot returned. Can you take care of that sitting?" You said, "Sure. I wanted to go pick up something anyways." You go, go to Home Depot, you pick up your thing on the way home. You realize, shit, shoot. I forgot the return. So how do you and your partner deal with this? On the surface, it’s a very pretty simple, small ADHD sort of moment. Forgot the return. This happens a lot. But a critical response or criticism would be you returning your partner saying, "You always forget. You always forget everything. I feel like you just don’t care." So it’s attacking the character. It’s a lot of you always, you’ve never, whereas contempt has a mean streak to it. Often there’s a sneer and it’s a sense of looking down on someone. So contempt would be, yeah, of course you did. You always do. I’m married to a teenager. So you get really contemptuous. Mean joke.
Pete Wright: We hear that all the time in people in ADHD relationships, because yeah, totally.
Michelle Frank: Right. That dynamic comes up, but it’s not a healthy way to say it. Then in turn, you get some defensiveness. So that can be counterattack. Well, you said you would leave it on the table and you didn’t. You’re not perfect either. Then there’s like a victim hood thing. So I can never do anything right by you. Nothing I do is ever good enough. Now we’ve got a nice little cycle going. You can see where then now we’re just to going to one up that with more criticism, or defensiveness. Someone’s going to shut down. So now we get the emotional flooding come in, and we can really, like I said, start a fire on the conflict management floor if we’re not careful. Luckily, there are things we can do to shift away from those patterns very effectively. It takes practice, but it’s very, very doable over time. A lot of my work with couples with ADHD is helping them express their feelings, their needs around these moments in ways that are more productive.
Pete Wright: Can you give us an example of what that might look like?
Michelle Frank: So with criticism, the attitudes criticism is a softened startup. So that looks like saying, "I feel X about Y, I need Z." So how I feel let down that you forgot to make the return. Just last night we were talking about how crazy busy things have been for me lately, and how I can’t handle one more thing. So when you came home and said you forgot, I just felt crushed. I’m like it’s all on me. I really could use some reassurance that you have a plan, and a time of taking care of that. The antidote to contempt is both using self and startup when you’re actually communicating, but it also involves some background work that takes some time. Which is working on that negative sentiment override. Building up a list of things you appreciate about your partner, giving them the benefit of the doubt, not dwelling on the constant negative appraisals of your partner. When we’re flooded, that’s easy to do, but it’s just not helpful. So taking some time and doing some self-soothing, and then reminding yourself of the good qualities of your partner. So thinking to yourself that annoyed me and we had a great morning. They didn’t do this on purpose given them the benefit of the doubt. These moments are hard and this is a perpetual problem we’re working on, but I’m sure there’s a solution.
Pete Wright: I just want to reflect a little bit, because that to me, it’s just a reminder that that is as much in an effort to stave off future conflict as it is for me to put the brakes on my own emotional on wrap.
Michelle Frank: 100%. 100%, yes.
Pete Wright: Because if I get good at saying X, Y, and Z, I love the way you put that. I feel like this. Here’s what I need ultimately. Then it’s almost a practice of slowing down.
Michelle Frank: Absolutely. Now, we’re in it together. We volley that back and forth. So the defensiveness, you can notice. You can even say to your partner, "All right, I’m starting to take this personally. I’m feeling a little defensive." I feel really badly that I forgot this because that’s something we’ve been working on. You know I’ve been working on, and it’s hard for me to hear that I let you down. What I need is for you in this moment to give me the benefit of the doubt, and know that I have a reminder set, and I’m going to take care of it tomorrow. I don’t have the energy tonight. So I could also use a little break tonight, and I’m going to do it tomorrow on the way to work. So again, you’re going back in that soften startup, but you’re taking a little bit of responsibility too. You’re owning something. Again, you don’t have to own it all. You don’t have to be completely on the same page for it to be workable. Validating, reflecting your partner’s point of view, slowing down and using the soften startup. None of that is saying, "You know what? I completely agree with you 100%." It’s simply saying, "I hear what you’re saying." Given what you’re saying, given your perspective, I see how you got there. I didn’t return the item. I didn’t follow through on what I said. Here we are.
Pete Wright: Can you reflect a little bit on the other side of that though, because you just hit me. Which is you’re taking a little bit of the responsibility. You’re sharing the responsibility, you’re owning what’s yours. Yet what I find and what I feel like I hear is when you’re living with ADHD, and something happens that you… a ball drops for a reason that you attribute to your ADHD. It is very easy and very quick to say, "It’s all my fault. I’m a terrible person." My experience is that’s also diminishes the relationship, and your ability to move through conflict
Michelle Frank: 100%, because then you shut down, or you flood. Sometimes then the partner will feel, "Okay, great. So now we’re in your shame spiral. So we’re, again, not dealing with the problem. I don’t feel heard." But what needs to happen in those moments is a break. That’s another huge piece of this. Especially with the ADHD propensity to emotionally flood. A break is longer than 20 minutes, no longer than 24 hours. It’s truly separating yourself. Not sitting in the other room, and fighting with your partner in your head. But taking a walk, reading a magazine, doing a deep breathing. But an important part of taking a break is saying, "I’ll be back." So your partner knows we are going to get there. Right now I’m feeling shame spiral coming on. I’m starting to feel defensive. I can’t hear you the way I want to hear you. I can’t express myself the way I want to express myself. So I need to take a break so that my frontal lobe can come back online, and then we can have the conversation we really want to have.
Pete Wright: I don’t want to make this about me. We’re at risk of doing that. Give me a time out.
Michelle Frank: Right. I need to do some self-soothing here.
Nikki Kinzer: Going back to one partner has ADHD and the other partner doesn’t. The partner that has it doesn’t feel like the other one really gets it, or really does feel like they’re blaming them. It’s that contempt. They go straight to contempt. So when I’m hearing you talk about that story, and different options of how to kind of deal with that. One scenario that kind of comes into my mind that feels like it would work is here you’ve got somebody that doesn’t have ADHD, and you explain it to them, like what might’ve happened, or why this could have happened. So you’re having an understanding of how the ADHD worked in that situation. Having some kind of acceptance that that’s what it was. Then moving on to thank you for listening. I’m going to do this tomorrow. I’ve got my reminder. I feel like, is there some kind of acceptance around the ADHD that needs to happen from both partners?
Michelle Frank: Absolutely. Absolutely. That’s hard that doesn’t happen overnight. When it comes to understanding ADHD, I see a lot of people give books or articles, or there’s a charismatic social media figure. They send the TikTok. This objective person can tell you, because I don’t know that I can find the words, or we get caught in our dynamic, and I don’t feel understood. Some people do learn best that way. Through reading, for instance, or their coping mechanism involves heavy research. But for a lot of couples, it goes a lot farther if you both sit down and have a conversation using sentences that start with help me understand. Help me understand what happens for you in these moments. I’m going to put aside my judgment, I’m going to take notes. That can be helpful. Then if you have an impulsive thought, you can jot it down. You can write down their keywords, so you don’t forget or interrupt each other. You reflect back what they’re saying, and then they do the same for you. That’s how we ultimately work on understanding. It got many uses the research of Anatol Rapoport, who was an international conflict resolution researcher. They thought, "Hey, we’ll take this as applies to the marriage." So they did. What found is that any attempt at active problem solving was totally ineffective and inefficient unless you first had understanding. So the goal in these conversations is always to be able to understand, and repeat back your partner’s perspective in a way that is satisfying to them. Yes, you got it. That’s how I feel.
Nikki Kinzer: You hear me, you understand me.
Michelle Frank: You hear me. The other partner to do that back before you move into problem solving. Oftentimes, especially with ADHD, it’s like, "Well, I’m going to use my reminder. I can’t remember things." That isn’t necessarily enough to get to the heart of understanding each other’s lived experiences in that moment and how it comes up. Because you also don’t know what enduring vulnerabilities are coming forward in that moment. A lot of times it comes down to things like, I feel like you don’t have my back. I feel alone. I feel like I’m a caretaker just like when I was 13 and my sibling was terminally ill, or you know what I mean? It can get really heavy in ways that we don’t always see coming. We can’t take understanding too lightly. It isn’t just cognitive. It has to be emotional.
Pete Wright: Yeah. I think back to how many times you have the conversation. I couldn’t pick up that thing from Home Depot. I have ADHD. You know I can’t do those things, or blaming the ADHD, or on the other side of it, you have ADHD. You can’t do those things. Either way, you’re not talking about sort of the real issue. You’re talking about kind of a symptom.
Michelle Frank: Right. Because I notice both the Two Horsemen of the Apocalypse came up there. I can’t. I have ADHD defensiveness. You always say that, you can’t get anything right criticism. So we’re not actually in the zone of truly being able to relate to each other on this.
Nikki Kinzer: It’s interesting to me the connection between understanding before you’re trying to manage the conflict. That really connects because it does make you think, "Okay, take a step back and really feel what the other person is feeling, or hearing what they’re feeling." That’s really interesting. I also remember before I got married, somebody told me, I don’t remember. But it really goes into what he’s teaching. They said you can tell how successful a couple’s going to be on the way they fight. I have got to admit that that’s pretty true. Because when you look at share fondness and admiration, I don’t know if any of you have been in a situation where you’re at a dinner or you’re at a party. You’re talking to some couples and they’re just so rude about each other.
Pete Wright: Oh, yeah.
Nikki Kinzer: It’s so uncomfortable. It’s so awkward because they’re either going to get in a fight or they’re in a fight. But they’re mean to each other in front of people. So then I always think of what are they like at home? But my question here contempt to me is really mean, and I remember telling my daughter when she started being interested in boys. These relationship hurdles. I told her, I said, "Your dad and I, I have never called him a name, and he has never called me a name. Now, we have fought and we’ve argued, but we’ve never like you so-and-so." But if you’re getting that from somebody, how do you resolve that? Is it possible to save your marriage?
Pete Wright: It’s like when you’re at the party with you and your partner and all four horsemen have all come with you. [crosstalk 00:39:35]. All six of you are there.
Nikki Kinzer: When do you walk away or is it, I don’t know.
Michelle Frank: That’s a good time to get therapy. A good time. Probably could have happened sooner. Couples usually start therapy six, seven years too late. I would add it’s not just how couples fight. That’s an excellent point. It’s how they repair, because there are different types of couples that do conflict in different ways. Some are more conflict avoidance, some are more conflict pursuance. It’s not just how you fight, but it’s how you repair too. Do you accept your partner’s attempts at repair, or do you shut them down?
Nikki Kinzer: Oh, good point.
Michelle Frank: That’s a big thing. So the I’m really sorry. I want to do this differently. I want to work on this, and then you’re met with, "Yeah, right." That hurts. As opposed to I want to get there, and I’m still feeling all the feelings, and I need some time. So like there’s different ways to communicate it. Again, it was attempt to really… and it is the biggest predictor of divorce because it really erodes everything. So it takes time and it’s about rebuilding a sense of fondness for your partner. It’s about communicating with respect and intention. So it involves a lot of emotional regulation pieces. It involves not saying the first thing that comes to mind, but trying to slow down and communicate in this new way. Then really trying to rebuild the positive moments of connection. Building up that piggy bank in your emotional deposits is really truly essential. Because once the friendship is gone, you can do it. But it’s just a lot of work.
Nikki Kinzer: Yeah. You got to like to hang out with the person. Yeah.
Michelle Frank: Do you like your partner? Do you like them? too? That matters.
Pete Wright: No. I know. I’ve had too many conversations with people who don’t reflect on the fact that their partner, they’re also a friend. They’ve moved into this romantic relationship and they still spend more time cultivating their best friendships with people outside their relationship than actually looking at the person they’ve married. That’s a good reminder.
Michelle Frank: Yeah. Right. You married them for a reason. That reason was not because they are exactly the same as you. So when you have these moments of inevitable difference can be helpful to remember you married them, because you embrace the ways you’re different. Sometimes that is hard.
Pete Wright: Also because they’re much cooler than me, and I tricked them.
Michelle Frank: There you go.
Pete Wright: I just bamboozled them the whole time. Yeah.
Nikki Kinzer: So I have a question, Michelle. This actually got brought up in our discord, and a couple of different listeners were feeling it. So I’m just curious what your thoughts are around planning vacations, and planning dates. How do you balance that, I guess is probably the best way to say it. Because somebody with ADHD, they’re saying it’s hard. It’s hard to plan ahead. It’s hard to do all of the details, but the person that doesn’t have ADHD may feel like it’s always being brought on them, and they always have to come up with the ideas. How do you figure that out? So, there’s either a compromise or something that works for both people?
Michelle Frank: My answer’s probably going to be different for every couple in every family. I think you have to identify what is negotiable and what isn’t. Where are my boundaries around this. Ultimately, like are me and the kids going on this cruise no matter what, or what does that look like? But I would say it’s always important for the person with ADHD to be making an effort. It can be challenging to do that, and so it’s important to think about what do I need in order to fully participate in this to the best of my ability. Knowing my partner’s abilities might be stronger, and they might be more proficient in certain areas. What do I have to add? How can I stay involved with that? What does my partner need in terms of my involvement? So again, we’re having a conversation about our needs, and what we can contribute. But it certainly doesn’t feel good for one person unless it’s already negotiated to be the role. It certainly doesn’t feel good for one person to be the manager of everything, and the other person just get to go along for the ride. That’s a recipe for resentment. So it might be, "Honey, I’m not good at this, but let’s sit down. I want to be there when we booked the tickets. So I want some input. Let’s talk about it. Here’s what it would look like to have a really good time." What are both of our dreams, and expectations around this trip, or around how we manage the kids’ summer schedule for both of us. What does it look like to do that really well? Are we even on the same page about what a fun vacation looks like, or managing the kids summer looks like? So there’s a lot at play there.
Pete Wright: What I’m hearing you say, which I think is really interesting is I think there are a lot of areas where I might say, "You know what? I hate grocery shopping. I hate it so much. There’s a lot I’m willing to give up in terms of choice, so that you’ll just take care of it for me." Just tell me what you need from me. You want me to pick a meal for the week, I’ll do it. Then you go do the grocery shopping. In exchange for that, there’s this thing that you hate doing, which is the laundry. So there’s balance, but this one, like vacation planning seems different to me. I really liked the way you put it, because even if I hate vacation planning, generally, giving up the choice on the conversation might be more damaging to my relationship with my friend, and my partner than stepping in and trying at least to exercise that creativity muscle to think about the things that I do care about within the vacation. I might not care about times, travels, trips, booking cruise versus train. I don’t care about any of that, but what you just said were some things that frankly I do care about. I didn’t even know I cared about them. But they might actually build a nice, solid foundation for a great trip. I still don’t have to do the parts that I hate that she might love.
Michelle Frank: Right. Then can I sit with the discomfort of the things that are hard for me knowing that I’m doing it? Because it matters to my partner. It brings us closer when I do sit down at these meetings, and we do these things together.
Pete Wright: Yeah. It goes back to the positivity bank. Yeah.
Michelle Frank: There you go. Frankly, why are you going on the vacation if there’s absolutely nothing that excites you about it? Most people with ADHD, they have a million things that you’d get excited about if they really put some thought into it. So maybe it starts with having a conversation about that. What excites us about this idea?
Pete Wright: The risk is that the time I get excited about a trip is when I’m on the trip. I can’t think that far in advance.
Michelle Frank: It’s so stressful.
Pete Wright: But once I get there, I care about a lot.
Nikki Kinzer: So I have a question from one of the things that you said earlier, and it was sort of in a joke, well, not joking, but in passing about, "Well, they probably should have been here six years earlier, or six or seven years earlier in therapy." I’ve heard that before where a lot of times, again, probably from the same person who me about the argument thing. But that a lot of times one partner, once you’re in therapy, one partner most likely has already checked out. I don’t know if that’s true. I don’t know what that’s all about, but when you said, I think maybe they do come too late. There’s got to be something to this. So, how can you prevent not going too late?
Michelle Frank: Not all cases is one of the partners checked out. It’s just that these patterns have been going on for-
Nikki Kinzer: For so long.
Michelle Frank: … for a while. First, highly recommend premarital counseling, or counseling as newlyweds ounce of prevention and all of that. Also noticing like do I see some of these four horsemen come up? Do I feel understood by my partner too? Do I really understand their inner world? Do I feel connected? Is our friendship strong? Are we really hurting each other when we fight? These are questions to ask to say, "Could we use a bit of a checkup?" How do we deal with stress together? Well, half times I see couples who are soon salient when things are going well, and there aren’t many external stressors. But you add on the loss of a job, COVID, any number of things, and suddenly boom, like things really go boom. So how do we deal with stress together? It’s never a bad thing to go and just have a session, a few sessions, see how things are rolling. If you’re like I think we’re pretty good, then you leave feeling pretty good. If you leave with some homework, and some things to work on, that’s great. So there’s never a bad time to enter into couples therapy. There’s just times where there’s more work involved or less.
Nikki Kinzer: Yeah. Right. That’s interesting.
Michelle Frank: But it depends too on people’s goals. People navigate relationships in very unique ways and it’s not always the status quo. So it’s also the what do we want our relationship to look like? What’s most important within this relationship? People have different answers to that. Things that I think would make me unhappy in a relationship, or a marriage, aren’t my cup of tea. Would be great for the next person. So that’s how we [crosstalk 00:50:20].
Nikki Kinzer: But having that conversation, like you said. The pre-marriage, or premarital counseling. Having those conversations at the very get-go are so important. Especially if you’re younger, you’re just thinking of the wedding and all of the fun, but it’s not the marriage. It’s not the actual connection there. Yeah. This is so fascinating. I love talking about this.
Pete Wright: Yeah. This is great.
Nikki Kinzer: It’s really interesting.
Pete Wright: I know. So useful. I think it’s stuff we don’t talk about it enough with each other in a relationship. It’s you get into the groove and before long it’s a rut.
Michelle Frank: Right. Daniel Wilde, another famous couples therapist said, an author said, "Every marriage is a mistake." Pick your poison. He’s basically saying there’s always going to be something that is difficult. Gottman’s research shores that up 69% of conflicts in an ongoing relationship are ongoing problems. They’re perpetual problems. It’s the same fight over and over. So, the sort of pick your poison when you choose a partner, and no one’s going to be fully conflict free, and your best friend and your everything in the world without some work.
Pete Wright: Well, we had Seth Nelson, divorce attorney on the show to talk about ADHD and divorce. I guess we probably should have had you on first. But this was one of the things that came out of it, was like divorces by the time they get to him, the attorney, they’d been on the path for divorce for at least four years. So in hindsight, when you’re sitting down with your attorney, and you reflect a little bit on how did we get here. You got here over four years of work toward this path. Unintentional though it may be. It’s because you didn’t take those steps four years ago to ensure you didn’t get here. It’d be a great back-to-back episode. We should have done that.
Nikki Kinzer: Right. I have another clarification that I wanted to… before we wrap up. So you had mentioned that it’s hard to find a therapist who does couples, and who will understand ADHD, or maybe understand it, but specialized in ADHD. So for our listeners out there who know that that’s going to be difficult, but they do find a therapist that does marriage counseling, or find someone who does the Gottman method. Can you just remind us, or review how do you present that to the therapist?
Michelle Frank: Yeah. I would start by saying that ADHD is a really important part of our story, and it’s an important, really central piece to a lot of our communication and conflict problems. So it’s really important that it’s present here in this space. We want that to be something that we focus on. Do you feel like that’s something you can offer? If this person’s like ADHD, I don’t know if that’s even a thing. Well, then you know to get on out of there. But a lot of them can help you have these conversations about… part of it too is what is your brand of ADHD, and how do you explain that to your partner. It’s not so cookie cutter. So they can help you have those conversations and help you come up with solutions that work for both of you. You can always ask if you can spend some time talking with them in an individual session. Oftentimes couple therapists will then offer like an individual to both partners to just get some perspective. You can talk more about the impact of ADHD on you and your life and your relationship. Have your partner maybe do the same. You can ask if they’d be open if there’s a blog posts or something, or a meme or something that really spoke to you. It was like, this is what we go through. Bring it, share it. So they don’t have to specialize. I think there are more and more therapists who do get it, who are understanding it better than ever before. But you’re not always going to find the unicorn that specializes in the two, or three or four things that you want. A lot of times ADHD is part of the picture, but people have complex lives. They have a kid with special needs. They have-
Nikki Kinzer: Financial problems.
Michelle Frank: … financial problems, mother-in-law. List goes on and on. So it’s not so much about them having all a bookshelf full of books on ADHD as it is a willingness to have those conversations [crosstalk 00:55:26] in them.
Nikki Kinzer: Something you said our story. That really hits me, because I think that so many times people are going in with my story, his story, her story. But when you said our story, it just gave me chills, because that’s what you want it to be. You want to be a partnership going in and getting help so that your partnership just gets better. Yeah, I just want to say I noticed that our story. I love that.
Pete Wright: This is great. Oh, Michelle, thank you so much. I hope people get something out of this. We appreciate your time, and having you back to share your wisdom, and having a better year of it.
Michelle Frank: Yeah.
Nikki Kinzer: Better than 2020, low bar.
Michelle Frank: That’s right.
Pete Wright: That’s right.
Nikki Kinzer: We got some good things going for us. That’s for sure.
Pete Wright: We got to do the plug part. It’s been so long since we’ve heard from you. What are you up to?
Michelle Frank: Our book just came out on Audible, which is awesome. So it’s a radical [crosstalk 00:56:31]-
Pete Wright: Did you read it?
Michelle Frank: No, unfortunately not. But someone who reads books out loud for living dead. So I trust them with it. So it’s a radical guide for women with ADHD, and brace neurodiversity, live boldly, and break through barriers. That is now on Audible. So that’s exciting.
Pete Wright: Well, I will say this then. If you go to audibletrial.com/theadhdpodcast, and sign up for an account there, you can get that book for free. You can keep it forever as long as you stick around for a month you get the book.
Michelle Frank: Awesome. That’s great.
Nikki Kinzer: Well, thank you so much.
Michelle Frank: You’re welcome.
Nikki Kinzer: It’s a pleasure to have you.
Pete Wright: Absolutely. Thank you everybody for downloading, and listening to this show. Thank you for your time and your attention. Don’t forget if you have something to contribute to this conversation, we’ll be heading over to the show talk channel in our discord server. You can join us right there by becoming a supporting member at the deluxe level. On behalf of Nikki Kinzer, I’m Pete Wright. We’ll see you right back here next week on Taking Control: The ADHD Podcast season 23. Crazy. Thanks everyone.